2015 Preseason Media Prediction: 4th MAC West
Head Coach: Pete Lembo (5th season)
Editor's Note: This is Part 3 of MAC Reporter Online's 2015 football preview series. Keep checking for more previews as we approach the season.
►Can the Cardinals make it back to a bowl game despite playing in the tough MAC West?
► Can Ball State get off to a better start this season after dropping five of its first six in 2014?
► Can available running backs step up after the departure of Jahwan Edwards?
► Can the Cardinals get consistent production from the quarterback position?
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► Despite inconsistency at the quarterback position, Ball State managed to finish tied for fourth among MAC teams in scoring (30.6 ppg).
► Jahwan Edwards, a BSU running staple for four seasons, is finally gone. He amassed 4,558 yards with 51 TDs in his career. Last season, he averaged 4.8 ypc on 262 carries for 1,252 yards. Throw in 29 receptions for 236 yards, and it amounts to huge contribution. “We’ve got to spread it around,” Cardinals coach Pete Lembo said of replacing Edwards’ production.
► A plus for whoever gets the ball is an experienced front line. In fact, the entire offensive front returns, anchored in the middle by All-MAC Third Team center Jake Richard. Only one team was better at protecting the quarterback in MAC play. Northern Illinois allowed four sacks. Ball State and Kent State were next at seven (although KSU played one less game).
► “It starts up front. We’ve got a group that (collectively has) started over 100 games,” Lembo said. “We feel like we’ve got seven offensive linemen that can play – and play multiple spots.”
► The Cardinals have two experienced quarterbacks at their disposal. Ozzie Mann got the call early last year, but after a 1-4 start, then-freshman Jack Milas stepped in. Producing 326 yards and four TD tosses in his first start, Milas remained at the controls until a Game 11 injury. Mann then guided the Cardinals to a season-ending upset at Bowling Green, 41-24.
Milas seems to have the edge heading into 2015. “He’s had an exceptional off-season and really good spring,” Lembo said.
With Edwards gone, there could be even more pressure on the both the running and passing games.
► After thriving on the passing game in 2013, Ball State slipped to ninth in MAC play (227.4 ypg) last year.
► In addition to the front line, quarterback play should benefit from experience and potential among the receiving corps members. Jordan Williams earned Second Team All MAC honors, while KeVonn Mabon was a Third Team All MAC selection. “We’ve got some really good looking receivers,” said Lembo, who also likes some of the less-experienced targets. “They’ve (just) got to do it consistently.”
► BSU was middle-of-the-pack (6th) in scoring defense, yielding an average of 27.2 ppg. The Cardinals were eighth in total defense (428.8 ypg).
► MAC opponents rushed for 202.6 ypg against the Cardinals, leaving BSU ranked ninth. The 251.1 ypg average in pass defense put Ball State 10th.
► As with the offense, BSU will have experience up front
► The Cardinals totaled 16 sacks in 2014, tenth among MAC teams. DT Darnell Smith provided four of the sacks on the way to All-MAC third team honors. Defensive back Eric Patterson, also a third team selection, is gone. The Cardinals, however, hope to get back safety DaeShaun Hurley (ACL, Week One of 2014).
► There is experience across the linebacker level, with Aaron Taylor (Jr.), Ben Ingle (Sr) and Tyree Holder (Jr) returning. A little bump in productivity – and maybe some sacks – would probably help the overall picture on a defense that will be challenged just about every week in the MAC West.
►Placekicker Scott Secor, MAC Special Teams Player of the Year in 2014, was good on 25 of 30 field goal attempts and 34 of 35 PATs. BSU will need to find a replacement for the very productive Secor. Kyle Schmidt averaged 42.1 yards on 52 punts (5th MAC) in his freshman season.
► Ball State could have as many as 17 returning starters in the lineup come Sept. 3, when it opens the season at home against VMI.
► The Cardinals get an early MAC date this year when they play Eastern Michigan Sept. 19 (Game 3) in Ypsilanti.
► BSU actually topped the pack in turnover margin (MAC play) with plus-11. That was three better than Bowling Green in second place. Part of the credit went to interceptions. The Cardinals registered 10 MAC picks, tied for second in the conference.
► “It was a tough season,” Lembo said of 2014. “The thing I am proudest of last year is that everybody just stuck to it. … Injuries, close loses, whatever – they just kept showing up, and it started to pay off around mid-season.”