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Addressing the State of the Balls

A lot of Ball State fans were upset in my last entry when I stated that Western Illinois might be better than the Cardinals. That is a fair argument, as we're all fans of our respective teams. We get upset when Notre Dame fans disrespect us, so it is only fair that Ball State fans get upset when I get down on their team. They have their chance to prove they are better than Western Illinois this week when they come to Ross-Ade. A Ball State victory will make me believe it.

On paper, this is another game in which Purdue should have little trouble. Western Illinois at least demonstrated a balanced offense with Matt Barr, Bryce Flowers, Caulton Ray, Terriun Crump, and Lito Senatus. They also had a surprisingly good defense that should pave the way for a much improved record against 1-AA competition. Ball State, on the other hand, has proven none of these things.

As I wrote earlier this week, we need to see some improvement this week. This is the perfect team to do it against. Ball State has so far proven to be a one dimensional offensive team that has struggled to contain a pair of 1-AA offenses. This needs to be a big win.

2010 record: 1-1

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

Ball State Offense

Purdue should be able to get off to a fast start against the Cardinals. Ball State has been outscored 21-10 in the first quarter so far this year, and neither team has scored a point in the second quarter of their games. Ball State's offense is most dangerous just after halftime, as they have outscored Liberty and Southeast Missouri State 34-7 in the third quarter. Until a quarterback switch in the sceond half against Liberty the passing game had done next to nothing.

Running backs Eric Williams, Cory Sykes, and MiQuale Lewis have combined to rush for 355 yards and three touchdowns. Lewis is a former all-star, rushing for over 1,700 yards and 22 touchdowns during Ball State's magical 2008 season. He battled injuries last year and only had 871 yards and five scores before being granted an extra year of eligibility due to injury. He only has 71 yards so far, taking a back seat to Sykes and Williams.

The quarterback situation is a little more unsettled. Kelly Page started the season as the #1 guy, but he only threw for 85 yards with an interception against SEMO. He started again agaisnt Liberty, going 5 of 10 for 64 yards before being replaced by Keith Wenning. Wenning finished the game 13 of 18 for 129 yards and a touchdown. Wenning is a true freshman, and will probably get the start this week and give them a little more punch through the air.

Our secondary should have a good game to get more acclimated to college football. Ball State's leading receiver is Otis Brown who only has six catches for 56 yards. Aaron Mershman has three catches for 48 yards and the only receiving touchdown on the roster. Daniel Ifft and Torieal Gibson also have four catches apiece.

When I look at this game I see it as the perfect opportunity for our defense. Let's face it, we still suck at stopping the run. This is a game where the passing threat is negligible. It makes sense to concentrate on stopping the run in the front seven and improving in that area. Our defense backs should be able to handle their receivers with ease. The offensive line has given up three sacks and 12 tackles for loss so far, so Ryan Kerrigan and Kawann Short can start setting up camp in the backfield right now. As long as Ricarco Allen, Chalrton Williams, Josh Johnson, Albert Evans, and Logan Link can keep the secondary locked down we should be able to focus on run defense.

Ball State Defense

The Cardinals have been greatly helped out by their defense in two games. While Ball State beat SEMO 27-10, it was tied 7-7 at the half and the defense allowed just three points over the final three quarters. A defensive score by Charlie Todd kept them in the game against Liberty. Sean Baker has proven to be the best player on the defense. He has 13.5 tackles, a sack, two pass defenses, a forced fumble, a blocked kick, and a pair of interceptions. The junior safety has had an impressive career to this point. He was a Sporting News Freshman All-American in 2008, a National Defensive Player of the Week, and the 2008 Freshman of the Year in the MAC. At 6'1" 204 pounds he has some definite pro potential.

Other than Baker, however, the pass defense hasn't done a lot. Travis Freeman is the only other player with a sack, proving there is not much of a pass rush. The Cardinals have given up 388 yards and three touchdowns through the air. Even without Keith Smith, we should be able to move the ball via the pass. With the sheer talent differential between two 1-AA teams and a Big Ten offensive line we should see improved protection for Robert Marve this week. If not, there needs to be changes along our line.

Ball State's run defense has been about average, giving up 244 yards and three scores. This is where Dan Dierking and Al-Terek McBurse can get in on the action. Marve, Rob Henry, and Jared Crank should probably get some carries too. Sophomore linebacker Tony Martin will be busy, as he is second on the team with 12.5 tackles. Jason Pinkston, a 6'2" cornerback with 10 tackles, will also be a player to watch. 6'2" is massive for a corner. It will be interesting to see who he will guard with Smith being out.

Ball State Special Teams

This area is very solid for the Cardinals. Ball State is known as punter U. and has another good one with Scott Kovanda. He is averaging an astounding 48.2 yards per kick over six tries. He doesn't quite have enough punts to qualify for the national list, but he would be third nationally if he did. Hopefully our defense will be good enough to force enough punts for him to get on this list.

The kicking game is also very good. Ian McGarvey is 5 of 6 on field goal attempts, but only has a long of 29 yards. His one miss was from 44. With five kicks coming inside 30 yards that tells me Ball State has some serious red zone issues.

Finally, we do need to watch out for Eric Williams on kickoff returns. He is averaging 31 yards per return. That is good for 14th nationally.

Final Thoughts

Obviously, two games is a very small sample size, but they are two games against lower division competition. Ball State is also one of six teams in the country that has dropped a game to a 1-AA foe. While that does not mean this should mean an automatic win, especially after the way Kansas rose up and knocked off Georgia Tech last week, it does make me feel better about our chances Saturday.

This is a game we should dominate. In going 7-0 against our in-state opponent from Muncie we have rarely been tested. The last game in the series was the closest one ever. We have margins of 52, 14, 22, 28, 17, and 19 in previous wins before winning by 10 in 2006. Many of those wins have come when Purdue hasn't exactly had its best roster, either.

I feel like I can't stress the point of seeing improvement enough. This is a game we should win under any circumstances. A loss would be even more disastrous than last year's loss to Northern Illinois. A close win will likely have fans grumbling as this appears to be a one-dimensional offensive team that even our defense can stop. With little to no pass rush our offensive line needs to prove it can protect the quarterback and open holes for the running game.

Be encouraged if Purdue goes out and does what it should have done this past weekend. Be fearful if the line continues to struggle with blocking and the defense gets gashed on the ground.