By Alan Gerould, Senior Writer, BroncoBlitz
This week for Western Michigan University's fifth regular season game, at home for a third straight game, the Broncos take on Ball State University to kick off conference play. We are pleased to have five questions for Fort Wayne News-Sentinel sports writer Tom Davis. Tom is now on the BroncoBlitz hot seat.
BroncoBlitz: Riley Neal was injured in last week's game versus Western Kentucky but redshirt senior Jack Milas came on and did a pretty good job of bringing the Cardinals back. What's the latest on Neal's status for Saturday and what's the dealio on Milas?
Tom Davis: BSU coach Mike Neu told News-Sentinel.com Monday that all of the injured Ball State players (Neal included) are "week to week." He was going to try and work this week in practice and see how he felt by Saturday with the leg injury. Milas had his moments at Western Kentucky but he has barely played in his career and when he has, he has been turnover prone, as he was against Western Kentucky.
BroncoBlitz: Caleb Huntley and Malik Dunner did a good job filling in for James Gilbert but Gilbert is special. We understand that he will play on Saturday. What makes him special?
Tom Davis: His strength as an inside runner. He fights for yards and adds a yard onto each run after hit. Good offensive line and QB (if Neal plays), plus depth at RB equal a very solid offensive unit.
Bronco Blitz: Anthony Winbush is the national sack leader with 7.5 after four games and Damon Singleton had nine tackles nlast week. The defense is playing good at times under a new coordinator now that Tim Daoust has moved to Western Michigan. New DC Dave Elson has pretty good credentials. How is the defense different under Elson?
Tom Davis: First of all, the defensive line is really good regardless of who is coaching them and when you can bring that level of continued pressure, it helps everywhere else. But Elson has done a very nice job of bringing pressure from a multitude of spots, not just the front four. With the level of change that the Cardinal defense has endured in its coordinators, Elson made a smart move by keeping the scheme relatively simple and emphasizing fundamentals. It is definitely an improved (not great through) defensive unit.
BroncoBlitz: The Cardinals lost a close one (24-21) to Illinois in the season opener before two convincing wins and last weeks late loss toWestern Kentucky, which is no slouch. Ball State seems to be better thanmany expected, including yours truly, where is this group of Cardinalsgoing this season and does Cardinal Nation still have Coach Neu on a pretty long leash?
Tom Davis: Neu has an extremely long leash and this Cardinal team is a lot better (when healthy) than anyone thought. Neal is improved from a year ago and the defense is improved. Ball State was very competitive in most of their defeats a year ago (Western Michigan game being an exception), and quite frankly, Ball State very easily could be 4-0 right now. If they were healthy at WKU they would have won and they out played Illinois the entire game in Champaign.
BroncoBlitz: Part of the Cardinals success has been red zone conversions, 14-17 trips have ended in touchdowns. Plus they have had very few penalties( 14 total in four games), the Broncos had almost that many flags in thelast game alone. This is the first MAC game for both and both teams are 2-2. What must Ball State do to win this road game and what say you for aprediction?
Tom Davis: The Cardinals need to be healthy at QB. They can survive injuries at RB, OL (Vinnie Palazetti) and DBs (Marc Walton). If Neal plays, Ball State will score points via both a strong and deep run game (including from Neal), as well as the passing game. The Cardinal defense will bring a lot of pressure on WMU's QB, who will have a long day and the secondary has been opportunistic at times. The Cardinal special teams (coverage units and kicking game) have to be much better this week than they have shown at times, as well. If Neal plays, WMU wins 34-31.