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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Opponent preview: Ball State

In case you missed the beginning of our opponent previews, you can click on Louisiana Tech, Mississippi State and West Virginia to go back and read the first three installments.

Next up, Ball State, so let's get started. And remember, follow the War Eagle Extra on Twitter here.

Ball State Cardinals
  • Head coach: Stan Parrish (1st season at Ball State; 11th overall, 57-42-3 at Wabash College, Marshall and Kansas State)
  • 2008 record: 12-2 (8-0 MAC, 1st in West), lost to Tulsa 45-13 in GMAC Bowl
  • Returning starters: 11 (4 offense, 7 defense)
  • Total offense: 442.5 (1st MAC, 17th nationally)
  • Total defense: 368.2 (4th MAC, 69th nationally)
  • Series: Auburn leads series 2-0
  • Last meeting: Auburn won 63-3 in 2005 at Jordan-Hare Stadium
  • Consensus prediction: Fifth place in the MAC West
Five-week schedule glimpse
  • Sept. 12: New Hampshire
  • Sept. 19: at Army
  • Sept. 26: at Auburn
  • Oct. 3: Toledo
  • Oct. 10: at Temple
Ball State had a dream season for 12 games, riding quarterback Nate Davis to a perfect regular season and getting as high as No. 12 in the polls. Then came the MAC championship, where the Cardinals got upset by a Turner Gill-coached Buffalo team 42-24. After coach Brady Hoke bolted for San Diego State in December, Ball State got hammered by Gus Malzahn's offense at Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl, an inglorious end to what was supposed to be a dream season. Davis left early for the NFL, where he was a fifth-round choice by the San Francisco 49ers. With a new coach and no star quarterback, the Cardinals, who once were bottom feeders in the MAC, might be in for a difficult season.

To find out how things this are going for the Cardinals this year, I contacted Doug Zaleski, Ball State beat writer at The Star Press in Muncie, Ind. You can read his work online here and his blog here. Here's what he had to say:

AB: Ball State moved pretty quickly in promoting offensive coordinator Stan Parrish to replace Brady Hoke, who left to become head coach at San Diego State. Parrish has been on board for the entirety of the Cardinals' recent turnaround, so the continuity is there, but he hasn't been a head coach since a pitiful three-year run at Kansas State from 1986-88 when he went 2-30-1. Is he the right man for the job?
DZ: Ball State needed to do something with its head coaching job quickly last December with a bowl game looming and Hoke leaving for San Diego State. Parrish was handy, which made him a convenient selection, but he also had the respect of the school's administration, players and fans. He's the architect of the Cardinals' high-octane offense, so that continuity is there. Certainly Parrish's record as a head coach is not good, but the Kansas State job when he held it was among the worst positions in the country.
AB: Parrish might still be around but all-everything quarterback Nate Davis opted for the NFL instead of coming back for his senior season. Who will replace Davis and what fraction of his production can Cardinals fans expect out of the quarterback position this year?
DZ: Kelly Page was anointed the likely starter heading into spring practice, and he was named the starter coming out of spring ball. Page redshirted as a true freshman last year, and Davis told me he saw enough of Page to think he's going to be a great player at Ball State. Page has all the physical tools to play the position, but he obviously lacks experience. That deficit, combined with a mostly new offensive line could spell some trouble for the passing game this year.
AB: Running back MiQuale Lewis set school records in rushing yards (1,736) and touchdowns (22) last season but still played largely in Davis' shadow. Is Lewis up to the task of being this team's offensive centerpiece and will he approach any of those numbers after Ball State lost four starters from last year's offensive line?
DZ: Everything went perfectly for Lewis last year, and it's doubtful he'll approach similar numbers this season. He will be the centerpiece of the offense, but without a feared passing attack to complement his running skills, the same lanes won't be open. Defenses are certain to load up to stop Lewis and make the passing game beat them. That could be a tough task for Ball State. Parrish is going to try to get Lewis out in space a little bit, lining him up as a pass receiver at times, to get him the ball on the edge, where he can use his shiftiness.
AB; Not too much was written about last year's defense, which gave up only 20.5 points per game, ranking 29th nationally. How much talent is on this unit after losing both starting cornerbacks (Trey Buice and Kenny Meeks) and two starting linebackers (Bryant Haines and B.J. Hill) from last season?
DZ: The big loss for the defense is the corner positions. Besides Buice and Hill, nickel corner Trey Lewis also graduated. The corners who win starting jobs in the fall will be largely untested as regular contributors. The front seven of the defense looks pretty good. Ball State should be able to absorb the loss of Haines and Meeks (coaches are extremely high on freshman LB Travis Freeman), and the front four headed by Brandon Crawford should be solid with lots of starting and playing experience.
AB: Until December of last year, Ball State was having a dream season. Then it lost the MAC championship to Buffalo, was throttled in a 32-point GMAC Bowl loss to the Gus Malzahn-coordinated offense of Tulsa and watched its head coach bolt for the sunny skies of San Diego. Was the Cardinals' success last year fleeting or is it sustainable for the foreseeable future?
DZ: Last year's success was the culmination of a 5-year building process with lots of talented seniors contributing in many areas. Ball State likely will take a step back this year in the MAC because of the inexperience it will have on offense. But Hoke thought his last two recruiting classes were the best of his regime, and Parrish was pleased with this year's newcomers. The players in those classes will need time to mature, but they should prevent Ball State from falling off the map.
NCAA '10 on PlayStation 3 says ... Auburn 45, Ball State 13. Oh, what a rout! Where to start? How about Auburn's 479 yards of total offense? Kodi Burns throws for 220 yards and three touchdowns and scores another on the ground. Ben Tate runs for 148 yards and a score. Mario Fannin adds 75 rushing yards. And Tim Hawthorne has a big day in the air, catching six passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. An all-around strong offensive day for the Tigers, as they improve to 3-1 while handing Ball State its first loss.

Up next: We get back to conference play, with Auburn's first road trip of the year, what's sure to be a thrilling trip to Knoxville to take on Tennessee.


KungFuPanda9 said...

Hey Andy.

First I want to compliment you on writing these informative articles on our opponents this coming season. I like the fact that you interview people familiar with each program. They know the latest changes, improvements, personnel gains and losses, etc. In this way, they keep up with new developments with which casual observers are unaware. In this way, we get a more accurate snapshot of the program as it exists today.

I get a kick out of reading the way some sportswriters perceive Auburn's coming season. I can tell they are looking at us only as we ended the season last year, as though we haven't had team personnel changes, not taking into account the way the new coaching staff will add fire and creativity to the program.

Just wanted to give you a little feedback on a well-executed clever idea.

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