Can Cardinals compete sans turnover troubles?
Ball State’s 2016 record might well have been better had it not been for the “T” word.
Turnovers, the bane of any team, were something of an albatross for new head coach Mike Neu’s Cardinals. They were next to last among MAC teams in turnover margin (-10).
Such miscues can be particularly injurious for teams that struggle on the defensive side, and that was again an issue for BSU in 2016. However, with some playmakers on offense, the Cardinals could be tough on opponents should they clean up some problem areas.
After winning three of . . .
BSU had just one turnover (versus none for Miami) and had just seven less total yards. However, MU’s three passing TDs and 380 yards through the air reflected the Cardinals Achilles heel.
● The Cardinals have been blessed with some good runners over the years, and James Gilbert has already proved his worth. The 5-8, 194-pound junior earned First Team All-MAC honors last year, providing 1,332 yards and 12 touchdowns on 251 carries (5.3 ypc).
There is also depth, as well, with Darian Green (5.5 ypc) and Malik Dunner (6.3 ypc) returning after combining for 463 yards last season.
● Neal’s passing efficiency rating was 10th among MAC passers. He completed 242 of 394 attempts (61.4%) for 2,541 yards, but also tossed 12 interceptions against 13 TDs. With two years remaining and the former BSU quarterback Neu as his head coach, Neal will be expected to improve on at least some of his numbers.
● One of the challenges for the passing game will be replacing KeVonn Mabon. The Second Team All-MAC wideout registered 85 receptions for 972 yards (11.4 ypc) and tallied three TDs in his senior campaign.
The Cardinals second-leading receiver, Damon Hazelton, transferred to Virginia Tech after catching 51 aerials for 505 yards and scoring four touchdowns.
Entering the receiving picture is Khalil Newton, who will be joining the likes of senior Jordan Hogue and junior Devin Reece. They combined for 30 receptions280 yards and two scores in 2016.
● Senior Pat Maloney and Vinnie Palzeti will anchor the left side of what could otherwise be a young line.
● The Cardinals will be operating under a new defensive coordinator this season. David Elson, an Indianapolis native who served as Western Kentucky’s head coach from 2003-2009, has experience as both a defensive back coach and defensive coordinator. Both will come in handy for a team that finished last in both total defense and pass defense. Elson is also expected to emphasize creating turnovers – not exactly a strong point in 2016.
● A really bright spot for the Cardinals last year was a total of 32 sacks – good for second among MAC teams. Only Ohio, with a whopping 44, was better.
Moreover, Ball State’s “sack-master” returns. Defensive end Anthony Winbush racked up 8.5 sacks last time around. He reportedly has added some weight and is primed for a big senior campaign.
● Just four starters return on defense.
● All-MAC Third Team member Sean Wiggins, who led BSU with 109 tackles in 2016 is gone, along with the other two LB spots. However, there is a sense that underclassmen like Damon Singleton and Jacob White will be ready to step up.
● Junior cornerback Mark Walton led the team with three interceptions last year. The other four were divided among four players. Senior David Moore brings experience to a unit of mostly juniors and sophomores.
● Junior Morgan Hagee is consistently productive within 40 yards (12 of 13) last season. He was 3 of 6 beyond that, with a long of 44. Depending on how fall camp goes, he could also be handling punting.
● Ball State brings back just 12 seniors. How much Neu’s first two recruiting classes can contribute on the short term is one the questions for 2017.
● Neu, a former very successful Ball State quarterback, spent two years coaching Saints QB Drew Brees before returning to coach is alma mater.
● BSU opens the campaign at Illinois before hosting UAB and Tennessee Tech. After that, it’s a double western – at Western Kentucky and home to open MAC play against Western Michigan. It will be the Broncos first MAC game since head coach P.J. Fleck moved on to Minnesota.
● Cross-divisional opponents are at Akron, Buffalo and Miami (regular season finale)