Game 7 preview: Ball State Cardinals
The Ball State Cardinals are a team I love to hate on, and Stan Parrish has made it so easy. Since he took over, they’ve gone 1-2 against FCS teams, and already embarrassed themselves several times this year. Their bad games this year have been every bit as bad as EMU’s bad games, but their good games have game has been quite a bit better.
Record: 2-4 (1-1 MAC)
Recent games: In their last the games, the Cardinals have seemed bipolar. They managed a 31-17 shellacking of Central Michigan in Mount Pleasant — which wasn’t that close; the score was 28-3 heading into the fourth quarter — but it was preceded by a 45-0 embarrassment at Iowa in which they didn’t even have a single scoring opportunity and only crossed mid-field once, and followed last Saturday by a 45-16 home loss to the also-not-very-good Western Michigan Broncos (28-0 early in the second quarter).
Quality wins: The aforementioned Massacre in Mount Pleasant.
Embarrassing losses: In addition to the losses to Iowa and Western Michigan, Ball State also lost 27-23 to Liberty, an FCS team.
Last meeting: Last year Ball State came into Rynearson with a 9-game losing streak, in a game that many people thought would give Ron English his first win. EMU scored first and held the lead, which twice reached 14 points. But the Eagles gave up two touchdowns and a safety in the third quarter, and neither team managed to score in the fourth quarter, giving Ball State a 29-27 win and giving Stan Parrish his first win as head coach of the Cardinals.
All-time series: Ball State leads the all-time series 29-20-2, and has won the last five games. The first meeting between these schools was a 6-0 EMU win in 1936. They’ve played every year since 1973. In 1970, EMU won 60-0, which ranks as EMU’s fourth-highest single-game scoring and EMU’s second-largest margin of victory.
Coach: Like Ron English, Stan Parrish is in his second season at his current job. Unlike Ron English, Parrish has ten years as head coach at other schools, though it’s been a while. From 1979-82, Parrish was the head football and tennis coach at Wabash College in NCAA Division III (non-scholarship), where his football teams went 42-3-1. From 1984-85 he was the head football coach at Marshall; in 1984 he led the Thundering Herd to their first winning season in 20 years, and in 1985 they started 5-0, earning a #3 national ranking (Division I-AA) before finishing 7-3-1. From 1986-88 he took over at Kansas State, where he went 2-9, 0-10-1, and 0-11 before being replaced by Bill Snyder. Parrish spent the next two decades as an assistant at Rutgers, offensive coordinator under Lloyd Carr at Michigan, assistant at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and offensive coordinator under Brady Hoke at Ball State.
Following the successful 2008 season, which saw the Cardinals go 12-0 in the regular season and earn a #12 national ranking, head coach Brady Hoke left for San Diego State, and Parrish was named the new head coach. He coached the Cardinals to a 45-13 loss to Tulsa in the 2009 GMAC bowl, following which they went 2-10 last year. As I mentioned, in the last two years they’ve played three FCS teams and lost to two of them.
Offense: Ball State comes into this game averaging 18.3 points per game, which is more than EMU, but just barely. In terms of yards per game, Ball State is averaging 303, while EMU is averaging 304.5 — a truly insignificant difference. The Cardinals run the ball nearly twice as often as they pass, and they average nearly as many yards per run (4.8) as yards per pass attempt (5.1). In passing yards per game, Ball State ranks 117th nationally, while their rushing yards per game are 34th.
Sophomore Eric Williams seems to have been the key to the Cardinals’ offense so far this year. He’s listed as a running back, but in addition to being the top ball carrier (72 rushes for 363 yards), he’s also a top receiver (5 catches for 101 yards) and kickoff returner (14 returns for 398 yards), contributing 144 all-purpose yards per game. Williams’ success has somewhat eclipsed senior running back MiQuale Lewis, who is in second-place on Ball State’s all-time rushing list. After rushing for more than 1700 yards two years ago, Lewis is on pace to finish below 400 yards this year.
The Cardinals also seem to have a bit of a quarterback controversy between true freshman Keith Wenning and sophomore Kelly Page. To put it simply, the two have alternated bad performances so far this season. Between them they average an interception per game.
Defense: Ball State’s defense comes into this game giving up a lot of points (28.0/game), though not nearly as many as EMU. Their passing defense ranks as one of the worst in the country, giving up 243 yards/game, an average of 7.7 per attempt, but their rushing defense is respectable, holding opponents to 4.5 yards/carry.
Keys to watch:
- Which Ball State team shows up, the one that easily handled the Chippewas, or the one that was embarrassed by Iowa and Western Michigan?
- Are EMU’s key offensive players (Dwayne Priest, Kinsman Thomas, and Donald Scott) able to play, after missing last week?
- Can Alex Gillett pass the ball? He needs to complete more than 50% of his passes, and needs more touchdown passes than interceptions, neither of which he’s managed to do the past two weeks.
Predictions: Betting lines seem to have Ball State as approximately a two-touchdown favorite, and I can’t really argue with that. I can imagine this game being anywhere from a 10-point EMU win to a 35-point Ball State win, depending mainly on the three key factors I mentioned above. I think the most likely outcome will be somewhere around Ball State 31, EMU 17, and I’d give the Eagles about a 15% chance of winning this one — though if I knew that Priest, Thomas, and Scott were all able to play and contribute 100% efforts, I’d upgrade that to Ball State 28, EMU 24 with a 33% chance of an EMU win.