What is Dispatches from Blogfrica? Pretty simple: I ask questions of an blogger for an opposing team; he answers. A truly revolutionary idea, no? Today: Keith at Hustle Belt, SB Nation's fine blog for all things #MACtion
1) Ball State did a damn fine job of beating up on toothpaste (remember: always squeeze from the bottom of the tube) last weekend, downing Colgate, 30-10. What worked well for the Cardinals in that game? What didn't work so well?
The first thing that will jump out to all fans, and was no secret to the Ball State faithful entering 2014, is the strength of the running game. With a new quarterback under center, the Cardinals will rely on the ground and pound all season long. Jahwan Edwards and Horactio Banks put up big numbers last Saturday, becoming the first two Ball State running backs to top 100 yards in one game since 2010. These guys are vastly different rushers. Edwards is a bruising back at 5'10" 219 pounds, capable of breaking off the big run, who will likely be Ball State's all time leading rusher by the time the season ends. Banks is 5'8" 200 pounds, and if you blink, he's gone. He's a lightning quick back, and gives the Cardinals a different look in the backfield.
Any criticisms, fair or otherwise, will likely fall to the quarterback play. I firmly believe Ozzie Mann is the signal caller who will keep the Cardinals going to bowl games. It's always a difficult transition when you lose a QB like Keith Wenning (now with the Baltimore Ravens). Prior to last Saturday, Mann had thrown a grand total of nine passes. While he looked shaky at times against Colgate, and I can't fault any concerns Ball State fans may have, he'll only continue to impress. I've no illusions of him torching the Iowa defense, but I think hanging tough against a Big Ten school will help immensely once conference play begins.
2) Following on from that... one of the things that jumped out to me in the box score for that game was the Ball State rushing attack. You had a pair of 100-yard rushers (Horactio Banks and Jahwan Edwards) and over 300 total rushing yards, which is a mighty impressive total, regardless of the opponent. Last year, Ball State was oriented far more toward the pass (12th in the nation in passing offense, 324.2 passing yards per game, 35 passing TD), but senior QB Keith Wenning is gone now. Is the run-heavy focus of the Colgate game a sign of things to come this year or just a case of rolling with something that was working very well in that particular game?
The run heavy offense is the game to expect. Ball State certainly has weapons at receivers, but as Mann continues to get his feet wet, coach Pete Lembo will rely on the seniors, Edwards and Banks. There's more depth in the backfield, as Teddy Williamson and Darian Green tallied seven carries each in the fourth quarter against Colgate. Lembo and new offensive coordinator Joey Lynch (himself a former Ball State quarterback), love to air it out, and that's something we may see later in the season or in 2015. For now though, expect the Cardinals to keep the ball on the ground.
3) It sounds like Ball State has been dealing with a lot of injuries lately, between fall camp and the game last Saturday. Can you give us a sense of how much that might affect the Cardinals on Saturday? Will there be any key players missing from the lineup this weekend?
It's interesting, I think a lot of Ball State fans grew more and more concerned simply with the amount of injuries that occurred. We never had that big blow that lost a critical piece for the season, but certainly it's discouraging to see so many Cardinals leave the field. Jordan Williams is an explosive playmaker at receiver who left the game with an ankle injury after catching one ball for six yards. He is our number one asset in the passing game and was upgraded from questionable to probable on Wednesday. It's likely that the Cardinals will be without wide receiver Shane Bell, who also suffered an ankle injury against Colgate, and starting safety Dae'Shaun Hurley, due to a knee injury.
4) Who are a few offensive players that Iowa fans might want to be wary of ahead of Saturday?
Keep an eye on Jordan Williams if he plays. At 6'2" 224 pounds, he's the class of the MAC at receiver, and put up some big numbers a year ago in the shadow of now New York Giant, Willie Snead. In his absence however, KeVonn Mabon was very impressive last week against Colgate. Mabon played in three games last season before his year was cut short due to injury. He received a medical redshirt and in his first game back led all receivers with 11 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown. To get both of these guys on the field together, and healthy, significantly expands the Ball State aerial attack. Chris Shillings and Aaron Hepp also impressed against Colgate.
5) Give us a quick primer on Ball State's defensive schemes. What formations do they primarily like to do? What sort of approach are they likely to take with Iowa on Saturday? Are they aggressive and blitz-happy or more likely to adopt a bend-don't-break approach with Iowa?
It's called the "spread defense" and Ball State defensive coordinator Kevin Kelly described it to Ball State Sports better than I'll be able to.
"We call it the spread defense, because most of the types of offense you see nowadays, you have to be a defense that's very flexible," he said. "That's what we are. We're a 4-3 defense and we're able to adjust to any formation we might see on first and second down. As far as defending offenses, on first and second down, we usually use our base defense. We try not to get too detailed and run too many calls, because there's a lot of offense we have to defend."
"When it comes to third down, now we try to get more complicated, show more looks, because the offense simplifies itself, because they want to see the whole picture. In terms of the spread defense, we keep it simple and stupid on first and second down, and on third down, we get more complicated and try to show the offense several looks."
Kelly is in his first season as Ball State's defensive coordinator leaving his head coaching position at Georgetown. He retained a lot of elements of Jay Bateman's 2013 defense, who left to become the new DC at Army.
6) Who are a few defensive players that Iowa fans might want to be wary of ahead of Saturday?
Ball State has certainly aimed to break the scoreboard in previous seasons under Lembo, but in 2014 there's a buzz about the defense. Team captain, linebacker Ben Ingle, was the leading tackler last season with 116, and picked up where he left off. Against Colgate on Saturday, Ingle led Ball State with 11 tackles. Defensive end Michael Ayers was critical to stuffing the rushing attack last week, helping to hold the Raiders to 90 yards on the ground. Seniors in the secondary, Brian Jones and Eric Patterson, are hard hitting, play making veterans who swarm to the ball. Their contributions will be even more important on Saturday, with the injury of starting safety Dae'Shaun Hurley.
7) OK, prediction time -- who ya got?
Man, I wish we had played this game last season. I know, I know, it's not last season. I'm no dummy. I've already prepared myself that's it's likely Ball State doesn't get the win on Saturday. That said, I'm be happy with a close game at halftime, and keeping it within two scores by the end of the game. More important is that we see the continued development of Ozzie Mann, and that the defense hangs tough against a Big Ten opponent. Oh yeah, and DON'T GET HURT. Vegas has the Cards as 17 point dogs. I'll be slightly more optimistic. Let's say 24-10 Iowa. You get the win, we get better for conference season, and please don't forget the $900,000 check on our way out of town.
Thanks for being a good sport, Keith, although I still hope your team loses by 50 on Saturday. You can check out Keith and the rest of the HB crew at Hustle Belt. You can also follow Keith on Twitter at @BSUKeith and Hustle Belt on Twitter at @HustleBelt. The Iowa-Ball State game is in Iowa City, IA on Saturday, September 6, and is scheduled to start at 2:30 pm CT, with television coverage from ESPN2.