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INDIANA vs. BALL STATE: Game preview, odds, how-to-watch, and more

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Ball State gave Notre Dame a scare last week which means they surely wouldn’t do it two weeks in a row, right? Right?!?

NCAA Football: Ball State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Game Info / How to Watch

Who? Indiana Hoosiers (2-0 [0-0], #44 S&P+) vs. Ball State (1-1 [0-0], #90 S&P+)

When? Saturday, 9/15 12:00 PM, Bloomington, IN

Channel? BTN

Vegas? INDIANA -14.5

S&P+ Projection? INDIANA 33 - 14


Last week wasn’t pretty and, over the final five minutes of the game, Indiana looked more like a team hanging on for desperation than one that should have won the game convincingly.

But a huge performance from Stevie Scott and a defense that is slowly proving it can handle the loss of big-time impact players made the difference last week. That and Mother Nature helped.

Two wins in two contests shouldn’t be much to gloat over, but the early returns are that the Hoosiers are going to be one of the better Big Ten teams this season. Indiana has seen its projected S&P wins jump to 7.2 wins, slotting them FIFTH in the Big Ten overall and fourth in the division.

Ball State represents not only a potential 3-0 start, but the midway point of bowl eligibility. Saturday will be a big day in Bloomington.

Now, FINALLY, to the numbers!

Five Factors

- Explosiveness (86%) Efficiency (83%) Field Position (75%) Finishing Drives (72%) Turnover Margin (73%)
- Explosiveness (86%) Efficiency (83%) Field Position (75%) Finishing Drives (72%) Turnover Margin (73%)
INDIANA (#78 offense) 0.95 (116th) 48.7% (31st) 28.4 (82nd) 4.00 (99th) 1 (43rd)
BALL ST. (#63 defense) 1.24 (92nd) 38.2% (64th) 31.0 (103rd) 3.10 (25th) 0 (61st)
- - - - - -
BALL ST. (#103 offense) 0.95 (115th) 44.0% (61st) 26.1 (110th) 4.46 (78th) 0 (61st)
INDIANA (#25 defense) 1.05 (42nd) 34.4% (37th) 24.8 (22nd) 5.25 (106th) 1 (43rd)

First, a bit on Indiana. The Hoosiers are, more or less, the same team as last year through two weeks this season. Offensively, while Indiana has improved in its efficiency in staying on schedule drastically this season, they’ve gotten even worse at finishing drives, a problem that plagued the team last season and even dating back into the Kevin Wilson days.

On the defensive side, again, Indiana is largely who they were last season. The Hoosiers keep teams off schedule and limit big plays which means lots of three-and-outs. The added bonus this season is Indiana is turning over teams after having some terrible luck in that regard last season.

On a deeper dive on some numbers, the offensive line is certainly a huge improvement through two games this season. Indiana has a rushing opportunity rate of 52.3 percent this year, 41st in the country, after managing a mark of 31.8 percent last year, 125th in the nation. While Scott was certainly impressive last week, the offensive line is actually opening up holes this season. In the same vein, the line has a sack rate of 1.7 percent, 23rd in the country, further signifying how improved they’ve been this season.

The other area that jumps out is the havoc rate of the defense and specifically the line. Indiana’s defensive line ranks 16th in the country in havoc rate. While that has translated directly into sacks, it has helped the Hoosiers stay at 33rd in rushing defense S&P+ despite losing Tegray Scales and Chris Covington.


The Opponent

Ball State turned some eyes last week at Notre Dame, losing by only eight in a game the scoreline would indicate was a close contest.

The advanced numbers, though, do not back that up.

The Five Factors box score of the game does not paint a pretty picture for the Cardinals, giving them a win probability of 2.0 percent in the contest. Games played in monsoons tend to play out weird and that was the case in South Bend.

Similar to the Indiana-Virginia game, one team dominated throughout while another team hung around and made it look closer than it was or should have been.

Offense

The Cardinals have an offense that has been very, very bad this season despite playing at the 11th-fastest pace in the nation. Against the Fighting Irish, Ball State threw the ball 50 times for 180 yards. You don’t need an advanced stat to know that is inefficient offense.

Ball State enters with an offensive S&P+ of 106, the worst offense Indiana has faced by a wide margin this year. Through the air, the team is a trainwreck, ranking 107th in efficiency and 102nd in explosiveness. Riley Neal is a mediocre quarterback at best and one the Hoosiers should feast upon.

The area Ball State has found success this year is on the ground thanks to a solid offensive line. In the run game, the line’s opportunity rate of 53.8 percent ranks higher than Indiana and is 35th in the country, leading to the Cardinals having a rushing S&P+ of 35th overall.

James Gilbert is the leading rusher at 172 yards but has a staggering opportunity rate of 63.6 percent on 33 carries this year. Caleb Huntley has also rushed for over 100 yards but those figures are a bit bloated thanks to 316 team rushing yards against Central Connecticut.

In the air, the line has allowed one sack in two games, even if one of the games came against Central Connecticut. They are bang average against the blitz (57th in success rate), are 38th in havoc rate allowed and help the offense largely stay on schedule. The line does it’s job, which further points to the mediocrity of Neal.

Defense

The Cardinal defense is really buoyed by keeping teams out of the endzone and a solid linebacking crew.

The Ball State defense is 25th in finishing drives, signaling a bend but don’t break philosophy. The defense was aided by three interceptions last week against Notre Dame but even then, the Cardinals are 97th in passing defense S&P+.

Where Ball State finds success defensively, much like its offense, is on the ground. The Cardinals are 38th in rushing defense S&P+ and 16th in stuff rate, which accounts for tackles at or behind the line of scrimmage. They don’t allow many opportunties, though when they do they have been gashed at times this season.

Much of their success against the run can be attributed to the inside linebacker duo of Jaylin Thomas and Jacob White. The two have a combined five tackles for loss and 6.5 run stuffs this season. Right behind them are two more linebackers in Ray Wilborn and Jeremiah Jackson with 4.5 run stuffs between them.

That has led to the Cardinals have a linebacker HAVOC rate that puts them second in the country. The rest of the defense isn’t going to get too wild, particularly the weak secondary, but the linebackers are clearly the heart of the defense for Ball State.

Things to watch

  • IU defensive line vs. Ball State offensive line - Ask any 50-year old high school football coach and he’ll tell you games are won in the trenches. Saturday may not be much different. The IU defensive line has been great but is coming up against a solid offensive line. If Indiana can finally turn some of it’s success into sacks and stuffs in the run game, it could make for a long day for the Cardinals.
  • Jumping ahead early - The quicker Indiana can force Ball State into passing situations, the more success they should have. Not only does it force Neal to throw, but it also negates Ball State’s biggest strength offensively in its ground game.
  • The Stevie Scott response - Every fan knows about Stevie Scott now and you can be certain Ball State will be keying in on him this week. What time of response will Indiana have? Will they still be able to create lanes for Scott? Will the freshman be able to adjust and still gash the Cardinal defense? And if Ball State is loading up for Scott, can Payton Ramsey (or Michael Penix) make them pay through the air?

Prediction

My reverse jinx worked to perfection last week, though Bryce Perkins did look like the best player on the field for large portions of the game. This week, no reverse jinx is needed. I think Indiana overwhelms Ball State. Indiana wins 31-10.