Five years ago, Indiana secured its first non-losing season in 13 years and a likely bowl bid by defeating Ball State 38-20 on November 3, 2007. Since then, the Hoosiers have dropped two in a row to the Cardinals, losing 42-20 in 2008 in Bloomington and 27-20 in last season's opener in Indianapolis. Tomorrow night, the Cardinals return to Bloomington for the first time since the biggest win in their program's history, and they want more. IU, hopefully, is desperate for a win in this series. I know I am.
If you haven't seen what we've written here as the week has transpired, here it is:
About that "biggest win in program history" thing:
Do you remember IU's homecoming win over Illinois in 2009? I do, but certainly can imagine that plenty of people do not. IU won 27-14. Not a blowout, but not really a close game, either The Hoosiers went on to finish 4-8 and Illinois was 3-9. Generally a forgettable game between forgettable teams. Had Ball State won that game, it would have been among the handful of biggest wins in programs history. Ball State, in 2008, defeated an IU team that finished 3-9 and that I argued was the worst team in school history, or at least the worst team since the Big Ten moved to an 8-game schedule in 1971, worse even than the winless 1984 team. (If you're wondering, IU's 2011 team was -195 in Big Ten play, so despite finishing 0-8 as opposed to 1-7, the 2011 Hoosiers still had a better point differential than the 2008 team). I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow, but I do know that Ball State's two wins over IU came against IU's two worst teams of the last 20 years. And those are the two biggest wins in their program's history. We were struggling for something beyond the "little brother" analogy for Ball State. Having read the various BSU postings across the internet about IU this week, aren't they all a variant of this Fredo Corleone quote from Godfather II? "I can handle things! I'm smart! Not like everybody says... like dumb... I'm smart and I want respect!" Now, the analogy breaks down, because IU's football program is in no way analogous to Michael Corleone (other than perhaps the last scene of Godfather III). But the number of people who feel the need to tell us they got into IU, too, is pretty astounding. No IU alumnus ever has to say he was or could have been admitted to Ball State. It's implied.
All that said, the Cardinal football program has a pretty fearsome running game, and it will take a strong effort, better than what we saw in 2011 and better than what we saw against Shakir Bell and Indiana State, to keep the BSU offense in check. BSU currently ranks 30th in total offense and 8th in rushing offense. Jahwan Edwards made his debut against IU last season and ran 16 times for 84 yards. He gashed Eastern Michigan for 200 yards and 3 TDs in the opener, but was less effective against Clemson, running 11 times for 54 yards. Freshman Horactio Banks ran for 120 yards on only 7 carries against Clemson last week and scored two touchdowns. I don't know how much stock to put in Ball State's offensive performance against the Tigers. Clemson led 45-10 at halftime. Ball State had 180 yards in the first half, nearly all of which came on the Cardinals' two scoring drives. Junior quarterback Keith Wenning is very experienced, having been thrown to the wolves as a freshman in 2010, and he made major strides last year. This season has been more of a mixed bag so far. He played well against EMU, completing 63 percent of his passes and throwing for 267 yards, but against Clemson he had only 128 yards and two picks. After throwing 19 TD passes last season, he doesn't have one yet this season. Connor Ryan is the Cards' leading receiver to date.
While OTP and other Ball Staters have made the comparison to their 2008 team, I think the comparison may be stronger to their 2007 team, a solid team with a really strong offense led by Nate Davis, Miquale Lewis, and Dante Love, but without the better defense that characterized their 2008 team. Against Eastern Michigan, a team that lost at home to an FCS team last week, the Cardinals still allowed 186 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns in the air. It's always tough to draw conclusions based on openers, or based on beatdowns by top 10 teams. But the defense hasn't shown many glimmers (although in fairness, many of EMU's points and yards came in desperation mode). Good news for Cameron Coffman: BSU hasn't sacked a quarterback yet this season.
When comparing the Cardinals to IU, it seems obvious that this isn't going to be a 10-3 game. There will be lots of points and plenty of defensive breakdowns. I think it's very important for IU to establish its running game to take the pressure off a rookie quarterback, and obviously IU will be doing that with a strong stable of running backs but without Tre Roberson. My feeling is that it's going to be a bit of a nailbiter, but that IU will prevail and move to 3-0. Indiana 42, Ball State 35.