Whole Nine Sports

Ball State Football Preview

John Esposito
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Imagine an offense that averaged 463 yards and 35 points per game.  Got it?  Ok, now imagine their record.  Got that? If you said 5-7 overall with a MAC record of 4-4 you were correct, and you just know that it is the Ball State Cardinals.  5th year coach Mike Neu must have had nightmares as he cheered his offense on to the #1 spot in the MAC only to have the defense give up 421 yards and 31 points a game.  Don’t let the 15-33 career record fool you, Neu stepped into a mess at his alma mater and has some pieces this year to hopefully put it all together.  The 6’5 former CFL player can coach.

Obviously, the offense was the strength.  The passing game was led by QB Drew Plitt who threw for almost 3,000 yards with 24 touchdowns and only 7 picks.  The 6’2 redshirt senior showed a lot of improvement while earning the starting job.  His legs brought him five touchdowns and he showed movement ability behind a porous offensive line.  Plitt has leading receiver Justin Hall coming back to lead the receiving corps.  Hall is small at 5’9 181lbs, but with speed to burn he grabbed 684 yards last year with 6 touchdowns.  6’3 Yo’Heinz Tyler is the down the field playmaker as he averaged 19 yards per catch last year with 5 touchdowns. 

That poor offensive line I spoke of, I should clarify was poor against the pass rush.  The running game averaged close to 220 yards per game.  Top tackle Danny Pinter is gone, and the line will be anchored by Curtis Blackwell a 6’5 304lb senior from Uniondale, Indiana. Running behind the line is Caleb Huntley the 5’10 226-pound senior returns after his year of 1,275 and 12 touchdowns all while earning Second Team All-MAC honors.  That small receiver Justin Hall showed he can do more that catch with his 726 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns.  He will be once again that change of pace back to keep the defense on their toes.

The defense that gives Coach Neu nightmares actually led the MAC in takeaways, which shows there is talent on this side of the ball.  Losing leading tackler Jacob White will hurt the middle without a doubt, but there are some playmakers.  6’0 230-pound tank Brandon Martin will be called upon to lead the defense, a redshirt senior who missed all but the opening game of last season due to injury. 6’4 231-pound redshirt junior Jordan Williams, who led the team in sacks (4.5), forced fumbles (2), and fumble recoveries (3), will need to be even better this year in order for the defense to succeed.  6’1 231-pound ILB Jaylin Thomas is a redshirt senior the earned 2019 Third Team All MAC honors last year as he led the team with 97 tackles, is back hoping to be even more productive.  The most interesting player on the team returns in true sophomore Justin Ramsey.  A nose tackle coming in at 5’11 300-pounds.  The man clogs up the middle and should allow Martin and Thomas make the tackles they need to.

A secondary with one good corner will make most happy, but the Cardinals are able to start one on each side.  Junior Amechi Uzodinma earned 2019 Second Team All MAC honors with 5 interceptions that ranked seventh nationally.  Don’t think you can stay away from that side because the other side is senior Antonio Phillips who earned 2019 First Team All MAC honors with 4 interceptions himself.  These two will need to be good again as second leading tackler safety Ray Wilborn is no longer there.

Ball State has the talent to compete in the MAC West and they showed flashes of it last year.  The defense let them down in 3 different games that could have gone their way, changing the entire season.  Mike Neu has a lot to look forward and if the offense can produce as they did in 2019 and the defense can generate any kind of pass rush letting the two corners play their game, those losing games last year will change into wins.