Saturday's contest between the Ball State Cardinals and the host Western Michigan Broncos promises to be a hard fought game. In addition to both teams being very talented, they will also be jockeying for position in the race for the MAC West title.
The Broncos currently sit at 3-4 but are yet to lose a game in the MAC West. The Cardinals, on the other hand, currently sit at 4-3 but already have a MAC West loss at the hands of Central Michigan. A loss on Saturday almost certainly knocks them out of contention.
The game, which kicks off at 2:07, is Western Michigan's Homecoming game and should give the Broncos a large crowd and a strong home field advantage. The Broncos lead the all-time series 19-14 including a win last year in Muncie.
When Ball State has the ball
The Cardinals' running game has struggled since the loss of Miquale Lewis. They have been forced to rely on freshman Frank Edmonds and converted cornerback Koreen Burch for the majority of their carries with mixed results. Part of this has been due to poor line play.
Western Michigan, led by Dustin Ducloplayed well up front last week and should continue to add to the Cardinals' recent frustrations.
Highly regarded quarterback Nate Davis will look to air it out early and often to playmaking receiver Dante Love and Darius Hill, his big athletic tight end. Love is a threat to score from anywhere on the field and has already scored 9 touchdowns for Ball State this season.
Hill is a tough match-up for a lot of defenses and has pulled in 35 catches this season with 6 going for touchdowns. While he has decent speed, Davis does not look to run much.
This bodes well for a Bronco defense that will have to focus a lot of energy on covering Love, Hill and Louis Murphy who recently returned from the injured list.
The Broncos counter with corners E.J. Biggers and Londen Fryar. Both are pretty good at not giving up the big play and should be kept busy on Saturday. Additionally, hard-hitting safety Louis Delmas should prevent Darius Hill from doing too much damage on the day. Anthony Gebhart is a sure tackler.
All in all, Ball State will get their share of yards in the passing game. However, their running game is not very strong and Western shouldn't give them too many big plays.
When Western has the ball
Coach Cubit runs a very balanced attack with almost a 50/50 split between run and passes. When he chooses to run, the combination of Mark Bonds and Brandon West should give the Ball State front seven fits.
Bonds' bullish power coupled with West's speed and instincts should force a Ball State defense that struggles stopping the run to put a couple extra defenders in the box.
In spite of some early season struggles, Tim Hiller has the talent to make the Cardinals pay once they start loading up the box. He will look primarily to Jamarko Simmons who has already caught 60 balls for 6 touchdowns on the year. Tight end Branden Ledbetter is also a threat along with West coming out of the backfield.
Ball State's leading tacklers are linebackers Bryant Haines and Mike Dorulla. They lead a front seven that has had its share of troubles this year. B.J. Hill leads the secondary with four picks and will be responsible for seeing to it that the Broncos are one-dimensional on Saturday.
At the end of the day, the Broncos should be able to get their fair share of points as long as Hiller can lead a consistent air attack.
Bottom Line: Ball State is going to get their points through the air. However, the Broncos should be able to get just about whatever they want against a suspect Cardinal defense.
In the end, the Broncos should be able to get the extra stops necessary to please the Homecoming crowd and knock Ball State out of the MAC West race.
Western Michigan 38 Ball State 27
Ask the Coach
This weeks question comes MileHighBronco in Denver, Colorado.
Question: Coach Cubit, the defense doesn't seem to be attacking as much this year. Not a lot of blitzes and not much gambling. Why not?
Cubit: No, we're not blitzing as much this year, and there are a few reasons. The main reason we aren't gambling as much this year is the caliber of teams we've played and the quarterbacks. Last year we didn't face that many great quarterbacks. We could risk taking someone out of coverage and sending them at the quarterback, because most of the teams we faced didn't have a great QB. Central, with Lefevour was one of the first top quarterbacks we faced last year and he beat us up pretty bad.
This year we faced Slaton, Chase Daniel down at Missouri, then Kellen Lewis. These guys are all mobile solid quarterbacks who can burn you with the run or the pass. We just didn't face those kinds of quarterbacks last year. This week we get another really good quarterback. But no, we haven't blitzed as much. We have some new guys back there, but that's not the big reason for staying more in coverage. It's more to do with the teams and the quarterbacks we've faced.
If you have a question you'd like to ask Coach Cubit or a Bronco player, put it on the message board under the "questions for coach" thread, and we'll try to get it answered.