The Ball St Cardinals (6-1) travel to Waldo Stadium to take on the winless Western Michigan Broncos (0-7) on Saturday at 2pm EST. In week 7 things were a little too close for comfort in Ball State's 27-24 win over Kent St, but it officially gave the Cards bowl eligibility and showed the nation that even during the least of sharper performances that they have the ability to find a way to win especially coming from behind.
Ball St has now won 8 straight MAC Conference games. Trailing 24-20 the Cardinals drove down the field twice toward the end of the game. After failing to convert a fourth-and-six on the previous drive, the Cardinals faced another fourth down deep in the redzone, but converted it as QB Keith Wenning found Willie Snead again for a 7-yard go-ahead score with 1:29 remaining. Wenning completed 23/46 passes for 305 yards and 4 TDs and only 1 INT. Led by Wenning (164/271 2301 15 TD 5 INT), the Ball State offense has been efficient and balanced as they come all season. Snead (51-867 7 TD) has good outside speed and field presence representing Wenning's top target. Jordan Williams (40-603 5 TD) and Jami Smith (34-477 2 TD) add to the passing options especially in 3 and 4 receiver spreads. However most intimidating about the Cardinals offense is their duo tandem ground game featuring Jahwan Edwards (84-447 5.3 10 TD) and Horactio Banks (71-384 5.4 5 TD). That does not bode well for Western Michigan who yields 275 rushing yards per contest. Also glaring enough is that the Cards don't waste time putting up quick strikes. That's evident by their TOP which is only 27:00, so it's even more crucial that WMU makes consistent stops and puts together long drives in order to neutralize and contain the offense.
The good news is that WMU's pass defense is ranked 6th in the country giving up about 163 yards per game. However this could be a true test as Wenning has topped 300 yards every game so far this season. The Cardinals are efficient in the red zone, having recorded points on 31 of 36 chances and 24 of which have been touchdowns (15 rushing, 9 passing). Ball State has the tendency to mix up their play calling with the ability to throw off opposing defenses successfully wearing down their opponents as evident with their near 40 ppg average. In order to have a chance to stay close, WMU will have to win the turnover margin given they are last in that category in the MAC at -12. The Broncos have forced 9 turnovers and given up the ball 21 times so far this season. Ball St had numerous chances to put away Kent early in week 7 however they uncharacteristically coughed up the football twice in the first quarter inside the red zone.
In last week's 33-0 embarrassing humbling defeat to Buffalo, the Broncos managed barely 200 yards of total offense while committing 4 turnovers. QB Zach Terrell (40/81 489 2 TD 5 INT) completed just 16/34 passes for 164 yards and 2 picks. Who will be under center for the Broncos on Saturday is anybody's guess. Senior quarterback Tyler Van Tubbergen (80/178 906 4 TD 10 INT) suffered a shoulder injury in Western's 47-20 loss to Toledo on October 5th. Judging by their winless encounters, there's not much disparity between the two under center. In addition to turnovers, drive-killing penalties only adds to WMU's misfortune. RB Brian Fields (93-398 4.3 4 TD is one of the few bright spots in addition to Dareyon Chance (81-337 4.2 1 TD). Corey Davis (36-504 2 TD) has sported the bulk of the receiving core, and can expose isolation one on one if he can get behind Ball St's secondary.
Because Ball State likes to operate at a higher faster pace, the defense tends to play more plays and possessions than average. The defensive progress also manifested itself in individual success as defensive end Jonathan Newsome, linebacker Kenny Lee and defensive tackle Nate Ollie have all garnered defensive player of the week honors at points this season. Led by Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, Ball State yields about 24 ppg which is about a TD improvement from 2012.
Last weekend was quite a disappointing effort by the Cardinals as they let down and nearly lost. However there are just too many advantages for Ball State in this contest. Don't be surprised if Wenning and the Cardinals offense becomes more one dimensional knowing that WMU has constant problems stopping the run. The matchup is textbook for the Cardinals for an opportunity to correct the rough performance last week. WMU will have to wait at least one more week before reaching the left side. Best of luck however you play!
Be sure to also check back in this thread between 4 and 5 PM EST for a possible Saturday evening pick especially given the status of my early play.
YTD 6-2 .750