2015 CFB Preview – Ball State

    Ball State CardinalsGo to Team Page CardinalsGo to Selection Page           Was it just a year off or was 2014 an indication of things to come? By Pete

    July 2, 2015

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    Was it just a year off or was 2014 an indication of things to come?

    By Pete Fiutak | @PeteFiutak

    Just when it seemed like Ball State was on the verge of being a MAC superpower – with 19 wins and two bowl appearances, the team came up with the first losing season in the four year reign of Pete Lembo. This year’s team has the potential to come back and roar.

    The 2013 team blew up offensively, cranking up 6,199 yards of total offense and coming close to 6,000 yards in 2012. QB Keith Wenning was done last year, the passing attack took a step back, and the Cardinals went 5-7. However, they kept fighting and battling and provided a glimpse of what might be to come.

    Good enough to beat Central Michigan and Bowling Green, and flaky enough to come out flat against Indiana State and Massachusetts, Ball State has to be more consistent and has to be more explosive. Previous Lembo teams overcame issues with a big-time offense that simply bombed its way out of jams.

    Can Ozzie Mann be that type of quarterback to take the O to another level? Can the D come up with a clutch stop here and there in close games? It’s not like the Cardinals fell off the map, with enough close-call losses that could’ve gone the other way to suggest a quick turn back to their previous form.

    Just about everyone is back on an offense that only loses RB Jahwan Edwards, while the defense only loses two starters from a group that came up with a decent 2014, but not a great one. It’s about tweaking this year, not rebuilding, and the results could lead to a MAC title if it all comes together.

    Lembo is destined for a bigger head coaching gig, but as long as he’s in Muncie his teams won’t make a slew of big mistakes, they’ll win the turnover battle, they won’t commit penalties, and they’ll be in almost every game.

    Expect more this year. Expect a bowl season, and expect the Cardinals to show that 2014 was just a blip.

    What You Need To Know About The Offense: The offense wasn’t up to Ball State snuff, at least in the Pete Lembo era. It wasn’t horrible, but it didn’t dominate, either. Can the Cardinals get their passing mojo back? Ozzie Mann is back at quarterback and most of the top targets return with Jordan Williams, KeVonn Mabon and Chris Shillings forming one of the MAC’s better receiving corps. All five starters are back up front, but with Jahwan Edwards gone, it’ll be Horactio Banks and Teddy Williamson as the diminutive rushing tandem.

    What You Need To Know About The Defense: It needs to be a bit tighter after being consistently mediocre after a good first few games. Three starters are back on the defensive front, including the tackle tandem of Darnell Smith and Keenan Noel, and all three starting linebackers return including leading tacklers Zack Ryan and Ben Ingle. The secondary loses stalwarts Brian Jones and Eric Patterson, but they missed time late in the year allowing a few young options to see time – the secondary only loses SS Gilbert St. Louis off the final two-deep.

    What to watch for on offense: Can the attack find that pop and explosion to the passing game again? Ozzie Mann wasn’t bad, but the offense wasn’t moving and he got benched for Jack Milas, who was starting to grow into the job before suffering a broken wrist. It was easy for Lembo early on in his tenure – the QB was Keith Wenning, and everything worked. The passing game that did such a great job of pushing the ball down the field became more of a dink-and-dunk attack after a monster 2013, but as long as the chains keep moving, the O will be doing its job.

    What to watch for on defense: The line has to get into the backfield more, and now the pressure is going to be dialed up. The D didn’t have pass rushing terror Jonathan Newsome anymore to work around – he came up with 16.5 sacks in two years – and the line didn’t adjust. Overall, the Cardinals came up with just 16 sacks on the year – after cranking up 27 the year before – and 52 tackles for loss after generating 74 in 2013. This year, with enough experience and enough depth to get more creative, watch out for more disruption behind the line – even if there isn’t a Newsome-like talent up front.

    The team will be far better if … it owns third downs again. It wasn’t just that the offense was more explosive and better with Keith Wenning at quarterback, it was more effective and more consistent. The big problem last season was the inability to keep the chains moving, converting just 38% of the third down chances and only getting the job down 40% of the time in five games. In 2013, Ball State converted third downs 45% of the time and hit the 40% mark in nine games. There can’t be so many empty drives.

    The schedule:
    Enjoy that win over VMI to start the season, because it gets really ugly really fast. The Cardinals have just one home game over a five-game stretch until the October 17th date against Georgia State. The lone home game? Toledo.
    – BSU will know where it stands over of a two game stretch against Toledo and at Northern Illinois in early October.
    – Considering the November 5th game at Western Michigan is on a Thursday, the Cardinals get a long break with the bye week coming right after. They go 12 days without a game.
    – The road slate might be tough early, but there’s a three-game home stretch over the second half of the season and a run of four home dates in five weeks.
    – WATCH OUT FOR … the trip to Eastern Michigan. It’ll take an upset to come up with a win in any of the other road games, but it could be a trap sandwiched in between Texas A&M and Northwestern.

    Best offensive player: Senior C Jacob Richard. While it would be nice if one of the quarterbacks or a receiver turned into the team’s offensive star, it all begins up front. The Ball State O line did a fantastic job in pass protection, and once in a while it rocked for the running game. All five starters are back now with Richard the all-star center to anchor the veteran group. He might not be huge, but he gets good leverage and is solid on the move.

    Best defensive player: Senior LB Ben Ingle. It’s a very small, very active linebacking corps that utilizes mostly safety-sized outside defenders, and it’ll be up to the 226-pound Ingle and the 233-pound Sean Wiggins to try to hold up inside. Ingle is the longtime producer who’s great at coming up with stops when things are funneled his way, but he has the instincts and quickness to always be around the ball.

    Key player to a successful season: Senior RB Horactio Banks. Jahwan Edwards carried the ground game with 1,252 yards and 12 scores closing out a career as the team’s leading rusher for four straight years and three straight 1,000-yard seasons. The 5-8, 200-pound Banks is a smallish scooter with a little bit of power, he needs to serve as a bit of a workhorse to take the pressure off the still-emerging quarterback situation.

    The season will be a success if … the Cardinals win the West. After so much success in 2012 and 2013, and with so much experience returning, it’s okay to set the bar a little bit higher than it probably should be. It’s more realistic to shoot for a winning season and a bowl appearance, and it’s possible with VMI and Georgia State two winnable non-conference games and enough easy MAC dates to get to six wins. The Bowling Green, Toledo and Central Michigan games are at home meaning …

    Key game: Oct. 10 at Northern Illinois. To have any real prayer of winning the West, Ball State has to beat Toledo at home or else there won’t be any margin for error. Do that, and all of a sudden the Cardinals can take control of the division with a victory in DeKalb the week after. Ball State has lost six straight in the series.

    2014 Fun Stats:
    – Fourth Down Conversions: Ball State 11-of-13 (85%) – Opponents 11-of-22 (50%)
    – Second Quarter Scoring: Ball State 118 – Opponents 61
    – Fumbles: Opponents 23 (lost 14) – Ball State 15 (lost 8)

    Players You Need To Know

    1. C Jacob Richard, Sr.
    The 6-1, 275-pounder isn’t tall, he isn’t huge, and he’s built to be a center, earning all-star honors as the anchor of the offensive front. The captain and leader of the offense, he’s great in pass protection and he gets good leverage providing a good pop off the ball. Very smart and very strong, he’s an all-star in the classroom as well as on the field. The former walk-on might not have the right look, but he’s been around long enough to be considered the MAC’s top centers.

    2. LB Ben Ingle, Sr.
    While he was banged up with an ankle injury and took a step back overall, he still came up with a great year finishing second on the team with 87 tackles with a pick and two tackles for loss. The 6-0, 230-pound team captain was built for the inside, making 116 stops two years ago, and now he’ll man the middle again as the leader of the front seven. He doesn’t miss a tackle, coming up with 14 stops against Toledo and 12 against Western Michigan, but he has to stay healthy. If he’s 100% all year, he’ll lead the team in tackles.

    3. DT Darnell Smith, Sr.
    Strong on the inside and decent at getting into the backfield, the Third Team All-MAC performer came up with a team-leading four sacks and 37 tackles. At 5-11 and 270 pounds, he’s not huge, but he’s an interior pass rusher who knows how to get behind the line and be disruptive. One of the team’s strongest players, he can do it all – he’ll be the anchor the line works around.

    4. LB Zack Ryan, Jr.
    The team’s leading tackler came up with 91 stops with a pick, a sack, and six tackle for loss working on the weakside. A pure tackler, he finished second on the team as a freshman with 92 tackles, holding up well at just 219 pounds on a 5-10 frame. Tough enough to work on the inside in the middle, he’s even better on the outside with great range and athleticism, coming up with double-digit tackle in each of the last four game, ripping off 52 tackles over the final month. Expect all-star honors this year.

    5. WR Jordan Williams, Sr.
    The Cardinal offense needed more help for the passing game with Willie Snead gone, and Williams provided it as the team’s most dangerous receiver. The 6-2, 223-pounder isn’t built like a deep threat, but he has good enough deep speed to get by and he’s great at fighting for the ball with a team-leading 753 passing yards and six scores on 56 grabs. He lit up against Western Michigan with 11 catches for 179 yards and two scores, but he came up with just one other 100-yard day. Even so, he was good enough to earn All-MAC honors.

    6. WR KeVonn Mabon, Sr.
    Jordan Williams might have led the team in receiving yards, but it was the 6-1, 215-pound Mabon who led the way in catches making 59 for 717 yards and five scores earning all-star honors, too. He started out the year with 11 catches for 110 yards and a touchdown in the opener against Colgate, but he didn’t get another 100-yard game until the season finale with 119 yards and a score on six catches against Bowling Green. Tough and quick, he can play an even bigger role.

    7. QB Ozzie Mann, Jr.
    Jack Miles turned out to be the team’s leading passer with 1,302 yards with nine touchdowns and five picks, but Mann was the best playmaker when he got his chances, starting six times and completing 59% of his passes for 1,281 yards and ten touchdowns with two picks. While he’s mobile, he didn’t do much running and wasn’t much of a threat. The 6-1, 205-pound Mann is a bit more of a playmaker, but he got benched when the offense wasn’t moving. Miles is a 6-0, 215-pound passer with a live arm – the former baseball pitcher can bring the heat – but he missed time last year with a broken wrist, giving Mann a shot at the gig again.

    8. LB/S Aaron Taylor, Jr.
    Part linebacker, part nickel defender, the 5-11, 206-pound Taylor was used in a variety of ways as a playmaker for the defensive front. Quick enough to be solid in pass coverage, and tough enough to hold on against the run and get his nose dirty, making 13 stops against Northern Illinois. He finished fourth on the team with 60 tackles to go along with two sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss.

    9. P Kyle Schmidt, Jr.
    A big kicker with a strong leg, the 6-2, 223-pound junior get in a little bit of work in 2013 and came out blasting last year averaging over 42 yards per kick and putting 14 inside the 20. Ten of his 52 kicks went more than 50 yards and cranked up a 70-yarder against Eastern Michigan.

    10. RB Horactio Banks, Sr.
    Is this his running game now? The 5-8, 200-pound senior worked behind Jahwan Edwards, who ran for 1,252 yards and 12 scores, and Teddy Williamson will get his chances this year, but after finishing with 353 yards and a score, he’s ready. While he only averaged 4.7 yards per pop, he has good speed and works well in the offense, running for 134 yards in the opener against Colgate. It’s asking a lot, though, to replace Edwards.

    Head Coach: Pete Lembo
    5th year: 30-20
    15th year overall: 109-56
    Schedule
    Sept. 3 VMI
    Sept. 12 at Texas A&M
    Sept. 19 at Eastern Mich
    Sept. 26 at Northwestern
    Oct. 3 Toledo
    Oct. 10 at Northern Illinois
    Oct. 17 Georgia State
    Oct. 24 Central Michigan
    Oct. 31 Massachusetts
    Nov. 5 at Western Mich
    Nov. 14 OPEN DATE
    Nov. 17 at Ohio
    Nov. 24 Bowling Green
    Ten Best Ball State Players
    1. C Jacob Richard, Sr.
    2. LB Ben Ingle, Sr.
    3. DT Darnell Smith, Sr.
    4. LB Zack Ryan, Jr.
    5. WR Jordan Williams, Sr.
    6. WR KeVonn Mabon, Sr.
    7. QB Ozzie Mann, Jr.
    8. LB/S Aaron Taylor, Jr.
    9. P Kyle Schmidt, Jr.
    10. RB Horactio Banks, Sr.

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