Behind Enemy Lines: Ball State football beat writer Jordan Guskey discusses CMU game
Central Michigan Life's Evan Petzold spoke with Ball State beat writer Jordan Guskey from The Star Press to preview Central Michigan's 3:30 p.m. Nov. 16 game against the Cardinals at Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Indiana.
Ball State is 4-5 this season and 3-2 in the Mid-American Conference, taking close losses early in the season to Indiana (34-24), Florida Atlantic (41-31) and NC State (24-23). The Cardinals have dropped back-to-back conference games against Ohio (34-21) and Western Michigan (35-31).
In 2018, the Cardinals finished 4-8 overall and 3-5 in the MAC. Ball State took down Central Michigan, 24-23, on Oct. 13 at Kelly/Shorts Stadium in Mount Pleasant.
Guskey discussed Ball State's dynamic offense, ability to earn takeaways on defense, strengths, weaknesses and much more on both sides of the ball in this exclusive Q&A.
What is there to know about Ball State entering this week's game?
While Ball State maintains it's taking things one week at a time, and that's exactly how coaches and players should be trying to take things, this game will have ramifications past just which team can say it's 1-0 this week and which has to say it's 0-1. The Cardinals are taking their third shot at tallying a fifth win on the season and doing so would be significant in their run at attempting to play in a bowl game. What's there to know about Ball State ahead of this game? Know Ball State is coming off a two-game losing streak and itching to get back to how things were when it opened MAC play with a three-game winning streak.
What makes the offense flow?
It's led by a quarterback in Drew Plitt who's like a coach on the field with his ability to read defenses and put his teammates in positions to succeed. It's got an offensive line that can pass protect and open up running lanes. It's got a couple running backs in Caleb Huntley and Walter Fletcher who the Cardinals can rely upon to move the ball whether or not Plitt is having a good day passing. It's got a number of weapons for Plitt to throw the ball to in Justin Hall, Riley Miller, Malik Dunner and more. There are just so many different players who head coach Mike Neu and offensive coordinator Joey Lynch can go to for a big play and those players are why this offense is one of the best in the MAC. Once this offense gets rolling it's hard to stop.
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Cardinals?
On offense, the strengths are addressed in the previous question and, outside of at times an inability to protect Plitt well enough when he drops back to pass, there aren't many weaknesses. Ball State can move the ball through the air or on the ground depending on how the game is going and what it needs. On special teams, Dunner is a force returning kicks as he showed when he returned one for a touchdown against Western Michigan and Ryan Rimmler (kicker) and Nathan Snyder (punter) have had their impressive moments. But, sometimes Rimmler and Snyder have struggled. And that's brought their reliability into question. On defense, this team knows how to force turnovers. It's one of the best in the nation at it. When it gets one, it usually gets at least one more. However, the past two weeks it's struggled to stop the run as it had done well early in MAC play. That needs to change if it wants to win Saturday.
Is there anything specific to note about the defense?
As stated, it's one of the best in the nation at forcing turnovers. It's forced a lot of key ones over the course of the season, and if it's able to do that against CMU then BSU may be in for a big win. However, as stated, it also needs to be better against the running game.
If there's an underrated aspect of Ball State, what would it be?
Not sure if underrated is the right way to describe this group, but the offensive line should get a lot of credit and probably more than it has to date. There may have been times it's struggled, as all aspects of this team and all teams have at some point, but this offense has been able to be one of the conference's best in large part because of what the line has been able to do. It's had injuries. It's battled through adversity. It's supported a running game that's been key to Ball State's success even when it's been obvious that's how the Cardinals were going to move the ball.
If Central Michigan wants to pull off a win on the road, how are the Chippewas going to beat Ball State?
Central Michigan will pull off a road victory if it's able to collect a few big plays on offense, force a turnover or two on defense and establish the running game in order to both move the ball and control the clock. CMU has struggled on the road to this point, only winning once and losing four times. It needs to find a way to take the momentum away from Ball State and hold onto it as Ohio was able to do against BSU not too long ago. It needs to keep the Cardinals' offense off the field as much as possible. It needs to keep the Cardinals' defense on its heels. If CMU doesn't, it won't win.
Ball State 34, Central Michigan 24