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Know thy Opponent 2010: Ball State Cardinals

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Holy crap what a morning! Here I thought I had wasted my day with that U.S. match, but they totally redeemed themselves in about the most dramatic fashion possible. I am still jittery hours later. Fortunately, I had the Ball State preview to focus on.

It was week three last season that everything began to fall apart. We had a convincing win over Toledo in the opener, followed by the tough loss out at Oregon. Things were looking pretty good with a mediocre MAC team coming to town. That is when the bottom dropped out. The team can make all kinds of excuses about being tired from the west coast trip and what night, but I know 18-22 year-olds don't need a week to recover from a cross country flight. We looked disinterested at best and inept at worst as Northern Illinois pantsed us in our own home.

That game was really the low point last year. If you play it nine more times I would bet Purdue wins eight of them, but we were never really in sync at all. This year, we get another MAC opponent in week three as Ball State comes to town. The Cardinals are a regular on the schedule every four or five years. If Purdue can manage a win in the opener it will give us an edge in the Indiana state championship for Division 1A

2009 Record: 2-10 (2-6 MAC West)

Bowl Result: None

Blog Representation: Over the Pylon

Series with Purdue: Purdue leads 7-0

Last Purdue win: 38-28 at Purdue on 9/16/2006

Last season for the Cardinals

Ball State fans have been on quite a roller coaster of late. In 2008 the Cardinals won their first game ever over a BCS conference team when they won at Indiana. The Cards started that year 12-0 to reach the MAC Championship game and the highest ranking in school history at #12. That is when things went south. Buffalo upset Ball State in the MAC title game 42-24. The Cardinals then lost the GMAC Bowl to Tulsa 45-13 before starting last season 0-7. it was enough to make David Letterman even not claim them.

In that 0-7 start the Cardinals showed how much they missed star quarterback Nate Davis, who left for the NFL early. Losses to North Texas (who finished 2-10) and 1-AA New Hampshire at home did not help matters. Only a 29-27 win over Eastern Michigan (who was 0-12) and a season ending 22-17 win at Western Michigan prevented the year from being a total disaster. Both of those victories came away from Muncie, so they finished without a home win for the first time since going 0-11 in 1999.

As for their history with Purdue, it is not great. The closest game of the series came in their last visit to West Lafayette. As mentioned, their only win ever over a BCS conference team came over Indiana, which barely counts. In 2007 they put a hefty scare into Nebraska in Lincoln before losing 41-40. Also, in 2006 they lost a tight 34-26 game at then undefeated Michigan. In addition to the 10 point win in 2006 Purdue has wins by margins of 52, 14, 22, 28, 17, and 19. They should be 2-0 coming into the game against us as they host Southeast Missouri State and Liberty, both 1-AA schools, before coming to Purdue.

Ball State offense

This should be the second straight week that Albert Evans, Michael Eargle, Chris Quinn, and company in our secondary has a fairly easy week. In 2008 Nate Davis passed for almost 3,600 yards in Muncie. The production in the passing game dropped off dramatically with his departure as well as coach Brady Hoke's defection. Kelly Page had a rough freshman campaign under center, throwing for only 1,019 yards and seven touchdowns against nine interceptions. Tanner Justice also saw time at quarterback in what was his senior season, but he only threw for 594 and two score against five picks. Page started the first seven games of last year before breaking his thumb against Bowling Green and missing the rest of the season.

The lack of a top receiver was one reason that Ball State struggled. A porous offensive line that gave up 29 sacks was another. Junior Briggs Orsbon had a decent year with 51 catches for 461 yards and a score, but those totals were tops on the team. Torieal Gibson was the #2 target with 25 cactches for 337 yards and three scores, but those aren't good numbers. Ball State will likely benefit from getting Page another year in the system. Since most of his team returns, they should be better.

One very nice piece to work with is senior running back MiQuale Lewis. Lewis had a bit of a down year last year with just 871 yards rushing and five scores. He also had 28 catches for 151 more yards. This was after a monster 2008 season where he ran for over 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns. He was granted an additional season in 2010 because of a knee injury suffered at Nebraska in 2007. He might regret having not declared for the draft after that huge 2008 year, so he comes into his final season with something to prove. Though only 5'6", Lewis is a powerful 201 pounds with good speed. He is a big play threat that can also give you 25-30 carries per game. The Cardinals will look to establish him early.

Ball State's offensive line is one that struggled to keep the ground game moving last season. As mentioned, they gave up 29 sacks while Cory Sykes (559 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Lewis were the only consistent offense. There are some decent pieces to hope for a turnaround though. 6'8" 297 pound tackle Travis Arnold returns for his final season with five starts under his belt. Arnold was a high school teammate of Lewis, giving them a small advantage together. Cameron Lowry also had 12 starts at tackle last year, giving the Cardinals experienced player on both ends. Kreg Hunter started all 12 games at center last year to give even more consistency. Dan Manick and Michael Switzer each have starting experience at the guard spots. Switzer has made 39 consecutive starts since he was a true freshman. This should provide an interesting challenge for Ryan Kerrigan, Gerald Gooden, Kawaan Short, and the rest of our line.

Ball State defense

While the offensive numbers were bad, the defensive numbers were even worse. Ball State gave up more than 28 points per game last year and more than 150 yards per game rushing. Al-Terek McBurse, Dan Dierking, Keith Carlos, and maybe Ralph Bolden should have plenty of running room. The pass defense did even worse with only 10 interceptions and 26 touchdowns given up through the air.

Junior safety Sean Baker was one of Ball State's best defensive players with four of those interceptions, a fumble recovery, and 61 tackles. He is joined in the secondary by sophomore cornerback Jason Pinkston, who had three interceptions and 25 tackles. Charlie Todd is another experienced cornerback that had 8 tackles and an interceptions last year.

Senior linebacker Davyd Jones, a high school teammate of Kerrigan, returns after a 100 tackle season to be the best Cardinal linebacker. He is joined by Travis Freeman (93 tackles, 1 interception) at middle linebacker. These are two quality players with loads of experience that can make Ball State a lot better in a hurry.

Getting to the quarterback was a difficult proposition for everyone last year except Robert Eddins. He comes into his final season with seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss as Ball State's best pass rusher. Unfortunately, he is their only proven threat at getting to the quarterback.

Ball State special teams

If the Cardinals can get into the scoring position hey will put points on the board thanks to senior kicker Ian McGarvey. McGarvey was 18 of 21 on field goals last year and has range from 50 yards. For his career he is a solid 41 of 51. Scott Kovanda had plenty of practice punting last year with an amazing 57 kicks for a 40 yard average. He was one of the best in the nation at limiting yardage as Ball State only gave up 3.8 yards per punt return and he down 15 punts inside the 20.

Todd represents a danger as a punt returner. He averaged better than 11 yards per return in 2009 and even had an 87 yard score on a punt. Running back Eric Williams handled kickoffs returns with a respectable 23 yard average and he will be back to see some action in 2010.

Intangibles

When I look at Ball State I see a team that struggled to replace some big names like Davis and Dante Love, but they return a lot of experience. That could pay huge dividends in MAC play. They get a pair of games to get warmed up before coming to Purdue, so we had better be on our guard lest we get bitten again. Lewis is the type of player that can dominate a game if you let him. Ball State's offense was explosive just two years ago, but that was with a different quarterback and head coach. There are some nice pieces on both sides of the ball that could make this game interesting.

My colleagues over at Black Heart Gold Pants have done an excellent preview, as they face Ball State later on. As they point out, 17 starters return, including 10 of 11 on offense. That is just enough to make this team a little feisty. The defensive preview shows that there are some players to watch out for like Eddins and Baker, but we're still an improving Big Ten team. This has to be a win.

Game Outlook

This one may turn out a lot like our 2006 game. Ball State hung around in that one, but mistakes (such as a pair of turnovers in the red zone) cost them. The thing everyone remembers most in that game is Dustin Keller trucking about 493 players in the Cardinal defense:

Dustin Keller trucking Ball State defenders

As I said above, this has to be a win. A loss means we're looking at a long Big Ten season because we should be better than Ball State at all times. This is a program that has rarely played us close and was often a whipping boy even for a Colletto coached team.

Prediction:

Ball State hangs around for about a half, but Purdue begins to pull away in the third quarter because of depth and talent. Our quarterbacks also love to go apeshit against them (see Kyle Orton in 2004) so Robert Marve could have a huge day. Purdue 41, Ball State 17