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2019 Indiana Football Preview: The Ball State Cardinals

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Indiana. Ball State. Lucas Oil Stadium. Feel the excitement.

NCAA Football: Ball State at Northern Illinois
Ball State Cardinals quarterback Drew Plitt drops back to pass against the Northern Illinois Huskies during the second quarter at Huskie Stadium.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

This marks the beginning of our preview for the 2019 Indiana Hoosiers football season, in which Indiana will win nine games, naturally. You can find future parts of the preview here. Like, comment and subscribe or something. Patreon in bio.


The Hoosiers open their season with in-state foe Ball State, the third matchup between the teams in four seasons and 10th matchup overall. Indiana has won the previous two, including last year’s 38-10 victory in Bloomington. Prior to those two matchups, Ball State picked up three straight, including a 27-20 victory in Indianapolis to open the 2011 season and Kevin Wilson era. This will also be the third time the two will square off in the first game of the season.

What To Expect From The Cardinals

The Riley Neal era is officially over in Muncie, as the former Cardinal quarterback is now a graduate transfer at Vanderbilt after playing in 34 games at Ball State. He was a source of consistency for nearly four years, totaling almost 7,400 passing yards at a 60% completion rate and 46 passing touchdowns.

Taking his place will likely be junior Drew Plitt, who is less mobile and will probably force the Cardinals to throw more often without Neal’s feet and former starting running back James Gilbert. Although the backfield lacks experience the entire offensive line is back as well as starting tight end Kyle Schrank and six of the team’s top seven receivers from last year. In the first game of the season, Ball State will be forced to have some answers right out of the gates when they clash with Indiana. It will likely be a pass-heavy attack, so the Hoosier secondary will be tested by a loaded wide receivers group.

On the defensive side, nine starters are coming back from the best Cardinal passing defense under head coach Mike Neu. Last year the Cardinals allowed just 210 passing yards per game. A lot of production is coming back including the top seven tacklers from last year’s squad. Nine of 11 projected starters are upperclassmen, so this is an experienced group of defenders that has a proven track record. This feels like a team that is going to rely on its defense early in the season while the new quarterback finds his groove, before making a run through the MAC to try and make a bowl game for the first time since 2013.

Three Names To Watch

  1. Riley Miller, WR. The former walk-on saw a huge increase in production in his second season last year, more than doubling his receiving yard total from 300 to 878. He has a legitimate chance to reach the 1,000 yard mark this season, and will likely be Plitt’s go-to-guy as he finds his footing under center. He caught five passes in eight of 11 games last year, so expect to hear his name called early and often.
  2. Ray Wilborn, LB. The senior linebacker is an absolute animal and is going to give Indiana trouble somehow, some way. At 6’4”, he’s able to break up plays on the ground (83 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, and three sacks last year) and in the air (four pass break-ups and two interceptions). He will lead what could end up being the one of the best linebacker groups in the MAC.
  3. Christian Albright, LB. The team’s leader in sacks last year (5.5, the fifth most of any returning defender in the MAC) is back for more. With Wilborn covering the entire field, Albright will be unleashed to try and put some pressure in the backfield. This group of linebackers is going to set the tone defensively for Ball State, and it’s up to Indiana to work around them and break the game open.

How Indiana Can Win

The talent gap is big enough here where it’s your typical “just play your game and don’t screw up royally and you should be fine” game. But, that comes with a twist for Indiana—a new offensive scheme. The Hoosiers can essentially put this one to bed early if the offense shows it’s ready to go and takes an early, sizable lead. The defense should be good enough to hold the new Cardinal quarterback in check, which means the offense should likely only need to put together a few nice drives and just take care of the ball—this probably won’t be a shootout. The offense seems ready to showcase what it’s capable of, and if they’re ready to walk the walk, this one could be fun if you’re wearing cream and crimson.