Ball State (2-1) at Eastern Michigan (1-2)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 21, 1:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Rynearson Stadium (30,200) -- Ypsilanti, Michigan. Television: ESPN3. Home Record: BSU 2-0, EMU 1-0. Away Record: BSU 0-1, EMU 0-2. Neutral Record: BSU 0-0, EMU 0-0. Conference Record: BSU 0-0, EMU 0-0. Series Record: Ball State leads, 31-21-2.
GAME NOTES: Both sides will be looking for a perfect start to their Mid- American Conference season as the Ball State Cardinals take on the Eastern Michigan Eagles at Rynearson Stadium.
Ball State fell to 2-1 last week as it suffered a 34-27 loss to North Texas on the road. Its first loss of the campaign came after it downed Illinois State, 51-28, and Army, 40-14, at home in Muncie in its first two games. In 2012, Pete Lembo guided the Cardinals to the Beef'O'Brady Bowl where its six-game winning streak ended with a loss to UCF. Lembo is 17-11 as Ball State's head coach, including a 10-3 mark in games decided by a touchdown or less.
The Eagles still are a win shy of their 2012 total after being defeated, 28-10, by the Scarlet Knights at Rutgers. EMU opened its season up with a home win over FCS foe Howard and lost 45-7 at Penn State in week two. Now in his fifth year with the program, coach Ron English has compiled an 11-40 record.
English is 1-3 versus BSU since taking over at EMU. The Cardinals won last season's meeting 37-26 in Muncie to extend their all-time series lead to 31-21-2.
Ball State coasted to the win last season as Jahwan Edwards rushed for a career-high 200 yards and three touchdowns. Edwards has been sidelined in recent weeks due to a concussion, but is probable to return this week. His return to the offense could ignite the recently struggling offense as he was unstoppable throughout the 2012 campaign, rushing for 1,410 yards and 14 touchdowns on 232 carries.
With its star tailback out with an injury, Ball State's offense has been led by senior quarterback Keith Wenning, who completed 27-of-46 pass attempts for 333 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to NT. The senior signal caller now has nine 300-yard passing games in his career after reaching that mark in three straight games to begin this season. He has accounted for nine total touchdowns for the Cardinals, who had been explosive through the first 10 quarters of the season before being held scoreless in the second half by the Mean Green. The leading receivers continued to perform well. Willie Snead tallied 77 yards and two scores on five catches, while Jamill Smith racked up 115 yards on four receptions. Snead, who led the MAC in receiving in 2012, has reeled in 19 receptions for 305 yards and four touchdowns on the season.
Last week, Ball State racked up 366 yards of offense in the first half, including a 77-yard touchdown run from Horactio Banks, but the Cardinals were held to 130 yards after the break. It didn't help that kicker Scott Secor missed two field goals and an extra-point try in the seven-point loss. Banks contributed 141 yards and a touchdown on 11 attempts and will continue to see action when the starter returns.
One week after allowing 439 yards of total offense to Army, the Cardinals surrendered 505 yards and 31 first downs to the Mean Green in their first road test. Ball State was one of the weakest defensive teams in the FBS in 2012 and it appears that it still has a long way to go in the rebuilding process on that side of the ball. BSU's defense has a pair of promising underclassmen linebackers in redshirt freshman Zack Ryan and redshirt sophomore Ben Ingle. As a rookie, Ryan is leading the team with 25 total stops. Ingle is second in tackles with 22, including two for loss, and also an interception.
EMU's offense has not been efficient since facing Howard in week one. Tyler Benz was accurate, completing 17-of-26 attempts, but never had time to set up any big plays against PSU's pass rush and finished with 115 yards in week two. The junior quarterback overcame six sacks by the Scarlet Knights to set a career-high with 24 completions on 40 attempts for 335 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception. The Eagles took the double-digit loss despite out-gaining RU, 373 to 274 in total yards of offense.
EMU's most frequent target in the aerial attack is tight end Tyreese Russell, who reeled in nine catches for 84 yards at Rutgers. Russell is currently leading EMU in catches (19) and yards (185), despite missing a game. Dustin Creel is second on the team in both categories with 10 receptions for 127 yards after his career-high 77-yard performance last week.
In the running game Bronson Hill is a workhorse, but has not been able to match his 2012 success yet this season. The junior gained 910 yards on just 140 carries, including a 283-yard outing against Toledo last season. He has been held to just 169 yards on 54 attempts through three games.
The Eagles really stepped up their performance defensively last week and limited the Scarlet Knights to just one third-down conversion on eight tries. Rutgers scored two of its three offensive touchdown on 50-plus yard runs by running back Paul James. Outside of those two backbreaking runs, the Scarlet Knights compiled only 167 yards of total offense on 40 plays. EMU had given up 574 yards in total to the Nittany Lions the week prior. Seniors Mycal Swaim and Sean Kurtz have both registered 20 tackles this season and has a interception each as well.
Now back on their own turf and against a conference rival, the Eagles will need to limit big plays to have a shot at a 1-0 MAC start. Benz will also have to continue to move the chains, especially if Hill continues to struggle. Hill should have better success this week against BSU's streaky defense. The Cardinals will pull away if Edwards shows no signs of rust.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Ball State 35, Eastern Michigan 30
09/18 10:31:30 ET