MUNCIE, Ind. — For the second straight week, Ball State football looked vastly inferior to its opponent.
This time it was at Mid-American Conference foe Western Michigan (2-3), where the Cardinals (1-4) took an early 3-0 lead before allowing 21 unanswered points and eventually falling 42-24 in their conference opener.
Here's what we learned from the team's second-consecutive blowout loss:
Ball State football's defense has major issues
Whereas there were reasonable excuses why Ball State couldn't matchup with high-powered offenses from Kentucky, No. 1 Georgia and Georgia Southern, the Cardinals failing to stop a Broncos team that entered averaging 20.8 points per game marked a low point this season.
BSU's defense, which was without starting cornerback Damion Charity and only saw limited snaps from starting safety Loren Strickland, looked helpless to limit WMU's up-tempo style. Whether it was getting beat downfield, lagging behind on outside runs or leaving receivers wide open from miscommunications, the Cardinals offered little resistance as Western Michigan built its lead.
Ball State's passing defense was particularly susceptible. Western Michigan entered averaging just 169 passing yards per game but surpassed that total in the first two quarters by scheming receivers wide open in all areas of the field.
The second half wasn't any better as WMU scored on its first drive via a 31-yard play-action pass to a Broncos receiver with no Cardinal within 10 yards of him, and then had a 58-yard completion in the fourth quarter against similarly-broken defensive coverage.
Western Michigan finished with 328 passing yards, a season high, in addition to 133 rushing yards.
Ball State has allowed 691 total passing yards in its last two games.
Ball State football was undisciplined
Ball State's poor play was exacerbated by costly mistakes.
Penalties doomed BSU on both sides of the ball as it was called for eight in the first half, resulting in 87 total yards. Multiple came on third down as well, one of which negated a key conversion and led to a strip sack on Hatcher the following play, while others extended WMU drives that resulted in TD's instead of punts.
The Cardinals were also called for multiple personal fouls. Safety Jordan Riley committed a late hit after a TFL by linebacker Cole Pearce, which led to WMU's second TD, and Strickland was injured and ejected from the game in the third quarter after being called for targeting.
He will miss the first half of next week's game as well.
Ball State finished the afternoon called for 10 penalties for 107 yards, both season-high totals after entering with just 28.3 penalty yards per game.
Ball State football's offense started slowly but showed promise
Quarterback Layne Hatcher got his second start of the season, replacing Kadin Semonza after the true freshman threw two interceptions and failed to lead BSU into the end zone during Week 4's home 40-3 loss to Georgia Southern.
Hatcher and the offense showed some promise throughout, tallying a field goal on their opening drive and going 73 yards in six plays for a touchdown on their fourth series, but the unit couldn't keep up with a Broncos attack that outgained the visitors 273-175 yards in the first half.
The offense didn't find consistent rhythm until it was too late, stalling several times near midfield. Still, Hatcher had the best performance from a BSU quarterback this season, completing 26 of 37 passes for 316 yards and three TDs.
Running back Marquez Cooper was effective with the ball as well, using his 12 touches to gain 102 yards in the first half before finishing with 136 total yards in the game.
Receiver Qian Magwood also notched the best performance of his career, totaling nine catches for 110 yards and one highlight 32-yard TD where he broke several tackles and reversed fields three times.
Receiver Ahmad Edwards had a highlight of his own, too, with a 57-yard TD catch early in the fourth quarter.
Great route and throw here by Layne Hatcher to Ahmad Edwards for a 57yd TD. pic.twitter.com/TAhrH5x5mP
— Gus Martin (@GusMartin_SP) September 30, 2023
But the offensive line's pass protection crumbled in the second half and allowed six sacks for 48 yards in the game.
Ball State will look to rebound at Eastern Michigan (2-3) at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, October 7.
Gus Martin is a sports reporter at The Star Press. Follow him on X (platform formerly known as Twitter) @GusMartin_SP, and contact him at email@example.com.
This article originally appeared on Muncie Star Press: Ball State football blown out at Western Michigan: What we learned