It has taken a lot of self-control not to go off on a massive rant about last week’s performance. Many hours were spent meditating and practicing yoga (not really) and I have come to terms with a lot of things. First, we have a great defense. Not good, not very good, but great. Sure we got trounced by Oregon, but they are in the elite air this year. Everyone else we face, save maybe Clemson, should be under season averages for yards and points. Secondly, that great defense is wasted on this team because we have no offense. I don’t regularly turn a game off twice, but I did last Saturday. The defense plays an inspired game, and you go 3/18 on 3rd downs, punt the ball 9 times, and put the pigskin on the ground 5 times? Horrible. But like I said, serenity now. So incomes Ball State, who we had as the ‘team most likely to win that we should beat’ team in our season preview, and they haven’t missed a step from last season. So, sigh, what should we expect this week from the Cardinals?
Ball State History
This is the first ever meeting between Ball State and Virginia, but playing a MAC opponent is not. UVa is 10-1-1 all-time versus the Mid-American Conference. The tie came in 1948 when Miami of Ohio came to Charlottesville and left with a 14-14 tie. Virginia finished 5-3-1 that season. We all remember the loss. 2006 to Western Michigan 17-10. At home. On Homecoming. That was really the ‘Al Groh reality check’ game, as it followed a 13-12 OT win against Wyoming, and marked the beginning of the real decline in UVa football.
Ball State Now
The Cardinals are 4-1 on the season and 2-0 already in the above mentioned MAC. They beat up on FCS Illinois State and Army to start the year, then dropped a close 34-27 game against North Texas, before starting the year off right in conference by taking care of Eastern Michigan and Toledo on the road.
Ball State, like most MAC teams, will run a spread, with 3 WRs, 1 TE, and a single back. Now while they have been moving the ball down the field on the pass, they have found scoring success on the ground. The leader is senior QB Keith Wenning, who has a very solid 64.1% completion percentage with 1650 yards, 9 TDs, 3 INTs. As you might imagine, they will spread the ball around to a lot of different targets, but the 3 you need to keep your eyes on are Willie Snead (611 yards, 4 TDs), Jamil Smith (397 yards, 1 TDs), and Jordan Williams (361 yards, 3 TDs), all of them outside receivers that can burn defenses on the outside and deep slants over the safeties. Now two-thirds of their touchdowns come by way of the rushing game, with Horactio Banks (350 yards, 5 TDs) and Jahwan Edwards (219 yards, 7 TDs) splitting the lion’s share of the load. They will run out of the shotgun and pistol formations to keep the linebackers honest, then hit them with the pass down the field. It’s called the ‘Setup’ play, and it’s the same as the flashing plays in Madden.
They could run 8 guys on the field and stop Virg….oh, we’re live? *Ahem*. [shuffles papers] The Cardinals will set up in a base 4-3 defense and will sit in it most of the game, especially against a pro-set team like Virginia. And, like Virginia, they will bring pressure, especially from the linebacking and safety positions. WLB Ben Ingle (46 tackles, 2 TFL, .5 Sack, 1 INT) and MLB Zack Ryan (42 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 Sacks, 1 FR) lead the way with support from SS Brian Jones (40 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 3 FR). The other linebacker, SLB Kenneth Lee, is not too shabby either, with 15 tackles, 2.5 for loss, 2 sacks, and an interception.
Keys To Victory
1. Figure out the Offense. All of it.
2. Don’t Turn The Ball Over. 2 turnovers vs. Pitt. 2 touchdowns off of short fields. 14-3 loss. Easy enough.
3. Figure out the Offense.
It might look like we phoned in the Keys to Victory, but are there really any other issues? Sure you could nit-pick the defensive secondary a little and Terrell returning punts, but in the grand scheme of things, it comes down to putting points on the board. Yes, Ball State has not played a ‘Big 6 or 5’ opponent all year, and none of the other teams really excelled on either side of the ball. So we allow less than the 51 points they put up against Illinois State, or the 40 from Army, or even the 24 Toledo scored. Say it is 21 or 17. Can we score more than that? 19 is the most we scored on any FCS team this year, and even that seem hard to contain when we (will) gift them a touchdown. Overreacting a little? Very possible. Ball State’s defense has given up an average of 24 points per game to not-great offenses, and holding them under that should not be a stretch of the defense. And while the yardage comes through the air, the points for Ball State come from the run game, which UVa has defended very, very well this year. But if we play like we did against Pitt, it will be 2006 Western Michigan all over again. The spread right now is UVa -6, but will most likely end up around -5.5 or -5. Any other year and I would take it, but not this year. This one will come down to the last play. Prediction: UVa 17, Ball State 14.