Ball State 33, EMU 31: missed opportunities
So very many missed opportunities.
After a close loss, it seems like there’s always a desire to find a scapegoat, to lay blame at the feet of one person or one squad.
In truth, this was a game that could have been won by one yard more from the offense. Or one good tackle from the defense. One different play called. One penalty avoided. A hundredth of a second here, and an inch there. That’s how close this game was, and how many opportunities EMU missed.
EMU’s offense piled up an awful lot of yards on the Cardinals — 501, to be exact — which got them 31 points. On average, that many yards should get you closer to 40 points. The Eagles had six drives, totaling 200 yards, that went into Ball State territory without reaching the end zone. For those 200 yards, EMU got 3 points.
Missed opportunity #1: After giving up 11 yards on the first play, EMU’s defense held on the next three downs, including a great play to break up the third-down pass (I thought it was by Marcell Rose, but the box score says it was Justin Cudworth) to force Ball State’s punt, and EMU took over on their own 29. The Eagles were putting together what looked like it might be a nice drive. Alex Gillett tossed the ball 12 yards to Demarius Reed for a first down. Dominique Sherrer ran twice for five and six yards and another first down across midfield. After a 2-yard first-down run by Dominique White, EMU went for a trick play on second-and-eight. Gillett lateraled to Reed near the right sideline, who threw what was first ruled a complete pass to Nick Olds at about the 27, but later deemed an incompletion. On the third down, Javonti Greene, lined up as the slot receiver, was whistled for a false start, which put EMU at third-and-thirteen. Gillett ran for ten, but after the penalty, it wasn’t enough and the Eagles had to punt.
Missed opportunity #2: After a perfect kick by Jay Karutz and excellent coverage, the Cardinals took possession on the 1-yard-line. After an incomplete pass and a five-yard run by Jahwan Edwards, Ball State faced third-and-five from the six-yard-line. Keith Wenning heaved up a long pass to Torieal Gibson, who ran it in for a 94-yard touchdown.
Missed opportunity #3: After the teams traded scores for the next four possessions, EMU took over early in the second quarter at their own 22, down 17-14. Despite a false start at the beginning of the drive, the Eagles got things going, going 33 yards in their first five plays to get to midfield. Dominique Sherrer was tackled two yards behind the line of scrimmage, Garrett Hoskins caught a short pass but was immediately tackled, and on third-and-seven Gillett ran for just one yard. If memory serves this was one of several plays in which EMU did a whole bunch of running for a negligible gain.
Missed opportunity #4: After a pass from Gillett to Tyreese Russell put EMU up 21-17, Jamill Smith returned the kickoff 78 yards to the EMU 15-yard-line. Fortunately the EMU defense was able to hold the Cardinals to a field goal, but a field goal decided the game.
Missed opportunity #5: EMU received the kickoff to start the second half, and quickly drove to mid-field. After being held to no gain on third down, EMU elected to go for it on fourth-and-two on the Ball State 43. Gillett rolled out right and threw the ball 30 yards downfield toward Garrett Hoskins for an incompletion. No one was really covering Gillett as he rolled out, and if he had simply tucked the ball and taken off down the field he could have picked up at least an easy five yards and a first down, and probably gotten EMU into field goal range a play or two later.
Missed opportunity #6: So EMU failed to convert on fourth down and Ball State took over at their 43-yard-line. Three of the next four plays were passes, and each time an EMU defender was in position to make an immediate tackle but got faked out by the receiver (Briggs Orsbon once, Torieal Gibson twice), who then picked up 3-5 additional yards. On a third-and-three at the EMU 20, the Eagles got the stop, but Willie Williams was offside and the five-yard penalty gave the Cardinals a first down. On the next play Jahwan Edwards ran fifteen yards for a touchdown, putting Ball State up 27-21.
Missed opportunity #7: Early in the fourth quarter, Bryan Pali intercepted the ball at the Ball State 41, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Marlon Pollard pushed EMU back across midfield to their own 44. Three yards each on first, second, and third down, and EMU was forced to punt from the Ball State 47, rather than getting to the 32 and either going for it on fourth down or trying a long but do-able (49 yard) field goal.
Missed opportunity #8: Ball State’s drive in the middle of the fourth quarter. On third-and-seven at the 50-yard-line, Ball State converts. A few plays later, with the ball at the EMU 28-yard-line, EMU held the line on a first-down run and Nate Wilson broke up the pass on second down, forcing third-and-ten. The Eagles held twice on third down, but first Javon Reese and second Marcus English committed penalties to keep the Cardinals’ drive alive. Ball State advanced to the six-yard-line before kicking a 23-yard field goal for a 30-28 lead, a much easier kick than the 45-yard attempt they would have had from the 28.
Missed opportunity #9: Taking over with 6:52 left in the game, EMU zipped down the field, gaining 56 yards on four carries by Gillett and two by Sherrer, bringing the Eagles to a first down on the Ball State 12. After three more carries, EMU had a first-and-goal inside the one-yard line. Altogether, five shots from inside the 10-yard-line failed to get EMU in the end zone and the Eagles were forced to settle for a field goal with 1:18 remaining. I don’t fault Ron English for taking the field goal on fourth down; if they had gone for it and failed to score the game would have been over there, while the field goal gave them a chance to win, if the EMU defense could hold, but I’m a bit befuddled as to how a team averaging 4.8 yards per carry for the game and 4.91 for the season could fail to gain a single yard on three tries. This reminded me of EMU’s failed goal-line conversions at Michigan also. I’m not sure whether to blame the play-calling or if it has to do with the way the players are being coached, but it is clear that EMU is doing something wrong in these situations.
Missed opportunity #10: After the kickoff, Ball State had the ball on their own 27-yard-line, with 1:11 left and needing only a field goal to win. Keith Wenning’s first- and second-down passes were incomplete, and he was hurried on each play, but Justin Cudworth was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct on the second down and the Cardinals got a new first down at their 42. After a few more plays, in which the Eagles let Ball State’s receivers get out-of-bounds after each catch (see also: EMU at Central Michigan), it looked like EMU had the Cardinals stopped at the 40-yard line. After holding for three downs, on fourth-and-seven Wenning connected with Briggs Orsbon to get to the 27, setting up the 44-yard game-winning field goal.
So there you have it. Ten missed opportunities, four by the offense, five by the defense, one by special teams, any one of which probably would have changed the outcome of the game.
In the end, though, this game may be remembered even more for the off-field opportunities that were missed. There was, of course, the opportunity to have a winning streak against an FBS team other than Buffalo, but that’s minor in the grand scheme of things. I’m really talking about the opportunity to move into a tie for the lead in the MAC (yes, the West Division, but also the conference as a whole). The opportunity to possibly (if Toledo loses again) play for a championship. Even the opportunity to travel to a bowl game might have slipped away yesterday — going 7-5 in the MAC is certainly no guarantee of a bowl bid (especially with the declining likelihood of a bowl-pocalypse), and games at Northern Illinois and Kent State (yes, Kent State!) look a lot tougher than they did a few weeks ago.
So very many missed opportunities.