Indiana vs. Ball State preview

Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports /

After winning their season opener against Florida International 34-13, Indiana comes home to face Ball State – Saturday, 4 p.m. Kevin Wilson claimed he has a few adjustments he wants to implement after three sloppy quarters Thursday in Miami.

The last time the Ball State Cardinals rolled into Bloomington was 2012, and it wasn’t pretty for the Hoosiers. The game was back and forth but the Indiana team, who had special talents like Cody Latimer, Shane Wynn, and Tre Roberson, were unable to close it out and Ball State won on a 42-yard field goal as time expired.

Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports /

That was only Kevin Wilson’s second year at the helm at Indiana, and much has changed since then. In fact, much has changed since last season as evidenced last week against Florida International. First thing being the defense.

Last week, IU returned two interceptions for touchdowns – the first time this feat was accomplished since 1966. They also only surrendered 331 total yards to Florida International, which was a massive improvement from the 509 yards per game average last season.

The defense stepped up in crucial moments during the game, specifically during the first half when the Hoosier offense struggled to put points on the board. They made a couple of red-zone stops and forced field goals, buying enough time for the offense to do what they do.

This is a game that Indiana needs to win. With the conference schedule expanding to nine games instead of the usual eight, there’s less opportunities for wins once Big Ten season starts. IU has to take advantage of non-conference teams and ensure they don’t fall back into the pattern of losing some of their early games.

After just two more games, Indiana will take on the likes of Michigan State, Michigan, and Ohio State. Two of those teams, Michigan and Ohio State are ranked the top 5 of the AP Poll this week, and Michigan State isn’t far behind sitting at #12.

The Hoosiers will hope to get a clean win and go into their early bye week with a 2-0 record, as well as loads of confidence.

Ball State

The Cardinals strength is at the quarterback position. Ball State returns their starting quarterback, Riley Neal, who started as a true freshman last season. He started nine games, throwing for 2,276 yards, ranking 6th most by true freshman in 2015 – just behind some of the best in the country, Josh Rosen (UCLA), Jake Browning (Washington).

With a year of experience, and the knowledge that he has what it takes at the collegiate level, Neal will hope to improve on those numbers in 2016. He was also awarded the John Hodge award that annually goes to the most valuable freshman on Ball State.

Look for the Cardinals to sling the ball around the field and run some zone reads, an offense eerily similar to the Hoosiers. Because of this pass oriented offense, their running game suffers.

Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports /

Their leading rusher last season was Darian Green, who tallied 730 rushing yards for the season on just 145 attempts. He started all twelve games and was the Cardinals primary bell-cow, although these statistics are less than stellar. To put these numbers into perspective, Indiana’s backup rusher last season, Devine Redding, had considerably more yards on the ground, rushing for 1,012 yards on 226 carries. Coming off the bench, Redding carried the ball almost 100 more times than Green, giving Indiana much more experience at the running back position.

While Green might not have had much yardage in 2015, they have another back that has some experience – Senior Captain, Teddy Williamson. He appeared in all twelve games last season, however, he only rushed for 40 times for 136 yards. He’s a proven leader, taking on the captain’s duties for the upcoming season, despite producing far from impressive numbers.

The Indiana defense should be able to zone in on Riley Neal and the Ball State passing game and let the running game take care of itself.

Ball State comes into this contest like the Hoosiers, sitting at 1-0 behind a victory against Georgia State, a team that recently joined the ranks of the FBS just three years ago. Shockingly enough, they won behind the running game as their trio of backs rushed for 325 yards.

Needless to say, this Georgia State team is far from the caliber of team that Ball State will be facing this Saturday in Bloomington. The Panthers are coming off a 6-7 season that saw them lose to San Jose State in the Auto Nation Cure bowl. While 6-7 is the same record as the Hoosiers last season, the two seasons prior they finished at 0-12 and 1-11, respectively.

Simply put, Georgia State is a team that Ball State should beat and Ball State is a team that Indiana should beat, this Saturday in Bloomington.

Next: Three takeaways from the Indiana vs. Florida International game