BALL STATE CARDINALS (2-10, 0-8 MAC in 2017)
Injuries were a huge factor for Ball State last season, taking out a veteran quarterback, All-MAC running back, top receiver and two key offensive linemen even before conference play. Not surprisingly, the Cardinals struggled mightily on offense. Just how much they can recover this season is a big question mark. Certainly, the travails of 2017 provided other players with opportunities to gain valuable experience.
⚑ “He has really progressed with his football knowledge and is in a good place right now.” Neu on Riley’s mental work and contributions after his injury.
⚑ James Gilbert, meanwhile, is a 5-8, 200-pound junior capable of turning in some of the conference’s most exciting plays. There’s depth at the position, with Caleb Huntley and Malik Dunner also capable of big plays.
⚑ “The three guys had a tremendous spring and carried that into summer. … We want to fun the ball. There is no secret about that. That’s a quarterback’s best friend. If we can do that, (it will open) the play-action passing game,” Neu on the Cardinals strong running game.
⚑ Sophomore Justin Hall corralled 76 passes for 801 yards as a freshman and will be joined by junior Riley Miller. Newcomer Yo’Heinz Tyler is a bigger target (6-4) that may help the receiving corps.
⚑ Injuries along the offensive line had the Cardinals scrambling from week to week. How they come together as a unit this season will be a key factor in BSU’s quest for more success.
⚑ Given their offensive issues, the Cardinals defense spent more time on the field than it would have liked. That helped put the Cardinals last in scoring defense (40.7 ppg). The secondary was often put under stress, and BSU was last among MAC teams in pass defense efficiency. Surrendering big plays is part of the problem, and Neu indicated preventing such plays was a focus in spring drills. Three starters return on the back end.
⚑ Linebacker has been a relatively effective unit for the defense. Jacob White and Brandon Martin will return to that group, which will be expanded to four as Ball State moves to a 3-4 scheme. White led BSU with 72 hits last year. Neu noted the Cardinals will be very young up front, but using four linebackers could help his squad create some new and effective pressure. “We do have an excellent linebacking core … we can move around.,” he said.
⚑ Ball State hopes to avoid major injuries early as it faces some tough non-conference challenges. The Cardinals early schedule includes road games at Notre Dame and Indiana. They also host Western Kentucky in Week 4. With Ohio and Miami as MAC East matchups, 2018 will again provide a very challenging schedule.