Analyzing the Enemy: Ball State Cardinals (9/23/17)

Hannah Page, Editor
Inside Hilltopper Sports

Day: Saturday, September 23

Time: 6:00PM CST

Location: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium

Network: WatchStadium

Series Record: Ball State leads 2-0. Ball State and WKU last met in 2008; the Cardinals won 24-7.

Betting Line: WKU by 8.5 via ESPN.com (as of 9/22/17)

Position Group Predictions

Quarterback

Mike White vs. Riley Neal (through first three games)

Mike White

Riley Neal

Pass attempts per game

36.3

33.0

Completions per game

24.3

22.3

Completion %

67.0

67.7

Passing yards per game

242.6

219.6

Average passer rating

124.3

137.5

Yards per pass attempt

6.68

6.66

Passing touchdowns per game

0.33

2.0

Rushing touchdowns per game

0.66

0

Interceptions thrown per game

0.33

1.0

Looking at pure talent, Mike White would beat a majority of college quarterbacks. Despite the team's disappointing 1-2 start, White is incredibly poised, calm, consistent, and we have now seen him rush for 2 touchdowns.

If we look at this matchup from a statistical viewpoint, White and Riley Neal are extremely similar. You may interpret this as you wish, but White is posting these numbers with a struggling offensive line while Riley has comparable numbers with a decent offensive line.

If WKU's offense can click on all cylinders, White would receive the nod. However, the offensive line is still making costly mistakes.

Advantage: Statistically? Tie. Looking at pure talent? White.

Running Backs

WKU vs. Ball State Running Backs (through first three games)

WKU

Ball State

Rushing attempts per game

32.3

42.6

Rushing yards per game

85.6

186.3

Yards per rush attempt

2.2

4.6

Rushing TDs per game

2.3

2.3

Talking about WKU's run game is a bit difficult considering the Illinois game was a bit of an outlier (only 6 rushing yards). Take away that game, and WKU's run game has averaged 40.5 carries, 125.5 yards, 3.1 yards per attempt, and 3 touchdowns per game. Saturday's loss to LATech saw its best rushing performance despite being without D'Andre Ferby:

-Quinton Baker: 79 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per carry, and 1 touchdown

-Marquez Trigg: 48 rushing yards, 3.4 yards per carry

-Jakairi Moses: 19 rushing yards for 1 touchdown

Ball State's run game through three games are comparable to LATech's run game through two games. WKU was able to hold Tech's run game to a season low of 122 yards and 1 touchdown. Look for James Gilbert, Caleb Huntley, and Malik Dunner to make an impact. On the season:

-Gilbert has accumulated 207 rushing yards for 3 touchdowns. In 2016, Gilbert was able to pass 1,000 rushing yards (1,332) and posted 12 touchdowns. He is questionable to play this weekend after sustaining an injury against Tennessee Tech.

-Dunner has 110 rushing yards for 3 touchdowns.

-Huntley has 182 rushing yards for 1 touchdown.

Ball State's rushing defense has allowed an average of 174.3 yards per game. WKU's rushing defense has allowed 113.3 rushing yards.

Advantage: WKU

Receivers

WKU Receiving Stats

Rec./Average # Rec. per game

Yards/Yards per game

TDs/Average

Long

Average per rec.

Lucky Jackson

13/4.3

196/65.3

1/0.33

66

15.1

Nacarius Fant

18/6.0

167/55.6

0

23

9.3

Xavier Lane

6/3.0

71/35.5

0

20

11.8

Ball State Receiving Stats

Rec./Average # Rec. per game

Yards/Yards per game

TDs/Average

Long

Average per rec.

Justin Hall

17/5.6

212/70.6

2/0.66

27

12.5

Riley Miller

10/3.33

128/42.6

0

18

12.8

Corey Lacanaria

9/3.0

77/25.6

0

17

8.6

tables do not reflect entire receiving stats nor all receivers

There is nothing remarkable nor are there red flags from WKU's and Ball State's receiving corps. Of course, I say this after being accustomed to Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris.

In many ways, it feels like the Hilltoppers [and Cardinals] are on the brink of a breakout performance. Every player has shown promise, however, none have really gained the momentum and consistency needed for a high-octane offense. Between WKU and Ball State, only Nacarius Fant (WKU) has had a 100+ yard game.

Much to the delight of die-hard Hilltoppers, WKU's tight ends shined against LATech. It appears that WKU is turning to its TightEndU roots; against LATech, the tight ends were 9-9 and 99 yards: the best performance from tight ends since Tyler Higbee in 2015.

Advantage: Tie

Offense Line

...a tale of "same story, different day." Against LATech, WKU's offensive line allowed 4 sacks on Mike White: bringing the average to, about, 3 per game. Things will not be any easier for WKU as Ball State boasts the nation's sack leader.

I am not sure if I even need to discuss Ball State's offensive line (who has allowed a grand total of 3 sacks) at this point. As long as WKU's offensive line is missing assignments and leaving White vulnerable and exposed...

Advantage: Ball State

Secondary

WKU Secondary Stats

Total Tackles (Solo/Assist)

INT

PD

Devon Key

29 (13/16)

0

0

Joe Brown

14 (9/5)

1

2

Drell Green

14 (6/8)

0

0

Leverick Johnson

12 (8/4)

0

1

Antwon Kincade

8 (4/4)

1

0

DeAndre Farris

6 (5/1)

0

3

Juwan Gardner

5 (2/3)

0

1

Roger Cray

5 (3/2)

0

2

Ta'Corian Darden

4 (3/1)

0

0

Marcus Ward

1 (0/1)

0

0

Total

98

2

9

Ball State Secondary Stats

Total Tackles (Solo/Assist)

INT

PD

Bryce Cosby

17 (10/7)

1

0

Romero Wade

12 (8/4)

0

2

Josh Miller

11 (5/6)

1

2

David Moore

10 (5/5)

0

0

Lamar Anderson

9 (7/2)

0

0

Antonio Phillips

8 (5/3)

0

1

Marc Walton

8 (6/2)

0

1

Brett Anderson II

8 (4/4)

0

0

Armani McNulty

4 (3/1)

0

0

Mitch Larsen

1 (1/0)

0

0

Total

88

2

6

...same as last week; I could not fit ever statistical category into the Yahoo Rivals table template, so I stuck to those most applicable to the secondary: tackles, interceptions, pass deflections.

During the LATech game, it was obvious that the Bulldogs were aware of the Hilltoppers' rushing defense. Not that LATech avoided the run, but they chose to exploit WKU's secondary. The normally [at best] mediocre performance of J'Mar Smith was able to post 306 passing yards and 1 touchdown. In the game, WKU's passing defense was worked on a deep, 87 yard pass. Corner Joe Brown was able to come up with an interception later in the game.

Against UAB and Illinois, Ball State was able to hold the opponents' passing game to under 200 yards. Regardless, they have yet to meet a quarterback like Mike White.

Riley Neal and receivers are better than J'Mar Smith and Co. However, I think the combination of Devon Key and Joe Brown could cause Ball State some issues.

Advantage: Tie

Linebackers

WKU Linebackers Stats

Total Tackles (Solo/Assist)

Sacks

PD

HU

INT

Joel Iyiegbuniwe

26 (12/14)

0.5

0

0

0

Masai Whyte

20 (11/9)

0

0

0

0

DeAngelo Malone

10 (3/7)

0.5

0

0

0

Daeshawn Bertram

7 (0/7)

0

0

0

0

Ben Holt

4 (2/2)

0

0

0

0

Demetrius Cain

1 (1/0)

0

0

0

0

Kyle Bailey

1 (1/0)

0

0

0

0

Der'Quione Mobley

1 (0/1)

0

0

0

0

Total

70

1.0

0

0

0

Ball State Linebacker Stats

Total Tackles (Solo/Assist)

Sacks

PD

HU

INT

Damon Singleton

17 (10/7)

0

0

0

1

Jacob White

14 (8/6)

1.0

0

0

0

David Rueth

11 (4/7)

0

0

1

1

Jeremiah Jackson

11 (4/7)

0

0

0

0

Brandon Martin

6 (4/2)

0

0

1

0

Jaylin Thomas

1 (0/1)

0

0

1

0

Total

60

1

0

3

2

...again, I could not include ever statistical category.

Iggy and Whyte continue to lead the Tops.

Despite 10 fewer total tackles, the Cardinals' linebackers have been able to come up with some quarterback hurries and interceptions.

Considering WKU's o-line status, Ball State's linebackers could take advantage of any offensive issues caused by a weak offensive line. On the other hand, Iggy and Whyte can be sharks.

Advantage: Tie

Defensive Line

WKU's rushing defense has allowed 340 rushing yards, 2 rushing touchdown, and 3.3 yards per rush attempt. Ball State's rushing defense has allowed 523 rushing yards, for 7 touchdowns, and 4.7 yards per rush attempt.

The Hilltoppers will have to stop Gilbert, Dunner, and Huntley, but it should not be a problem for the Hilltoppers. Derik Overstreet will have to sit out the first half of the game due to the targeting penalty he picked up against LATech.

Ball State's d-line stars Anthony Winbush who leads the nation in sacks. He poses a problem for WKU's o-line and Mike White.

Advantage: slight edge WKU

What to expect on Saturday

The headline of the game is, of course, that the Hilltoppers will face former head coach David Elson. Now serving as the Cardinals' defensive coordinator, Elson led WKU into the FBS era.

Aside from the headline, this will be a close contest. There are some similarities between LATech and Ball State that will probably become evident. If the Hilltoppers have resolved any of their issues, they should win: not a big win...but a win.

WKU is 13-1 vs. nonconference, non-Power Five opponents since 2012. Their last loss was to Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.

"We're only three games in...this isn't who we are. I hate to regurgitate back to last year, but three games in, that team we were wasn't the team we finished [with]."

Prediction

1st half: 17-14

2nd half: 13-10

WKU wins 30-24

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