Start time: Saturday, September 24th, 6:00 p.m. EST
Location: FAU Stadium, Boca Raton, Florida
Betting Line: FAU +3, Over/Under 56
All-time Series: First Ever Meeting
Ball State Outlook
First year head coach Mike Neu is a former Ball State quarterback and in his first three games he has gone 2-1 with a road win over the Sun Belt’s Georgia State and a win over FCS team Easter Kentucky. Their lone loss was on the road against Indiana 30-20.
The Cardinals are a run-first offense as they are averaging 219 yards per game on the ground. James Gilbert is their feature back as he leads the team with 281 yards and three touchdowns.
Ball State isn’t an explosive offense as they rank 106th in IsoPP but if they get any chunk plays it will come from the rushing attack, as they rank 38th in rushing IsoPP.
The Cardinals’ passing attack isn’t very explosive as they rank 113th in Passing IsoPP but they do rank 29th in Passing Down Success Rate which suggests that when they need to pass, they convert.
Their quarterback is Riley Neal, a sophomore with good size at 6’6 and mobility as he has 91 rushing yards with one touchdowns. He has thrown three touchdowns and three interceptions for 599 yards.
Defensively Ball State doesn’t do anything particularly great, but doesn’t possess any glaring weaknesses either. Their great at stopping the run as they are 10th in Rushing Success Rate, but they do allow explosive running plays as they rank 76th in Rushing IsoPP
They aren’t great against the pass, but aren’t awful either. Indiana is the best offense they have faced to this point and the Hoosiers were able to do whatever they wanted as Ball State couldn’t tackle in space. If FAU’s athletes get the ball in space, they could do some damage.
FAU enters this game with massive questions across the board. They haven’t looked any different from their previous two years in this early season and fans are starting to worry after the Owls suffered their worst loss in school history against Kansas State last week.
I had been waiting for what the advanced stats would look like for FAU to see if there were any silver linings for the team over the first three games and there wasn’t any. This season FAU just hasn’t looked good.
This week probably won’t be any better as this matchup against Ball State plays right into FAU’s weaknesses. The Owls are near the bottom in every advanced stat defensive rushing category, including dead last in Opportunity Rate. Opportunity Rate measures who wins the first five yards off of the line of scrimmage and 49.2 percent of the time, FAU allows at least five yards per rush.
Ball State doesn’t do a great job at defending the pass, but Jason Driskel has not shown the ability to attack a weak secondary so far this season. FAU can try and see if Buddy Howell or Kerrith Whyte can have success and to an extent they probably will, but if offensive line issues are still an issue the relying on the run won’t cut it. FAU is going to have to pass the ball downfield and that means the game will be determined by Driskel’s play.
Ball State has already shown that they can win on the road, taking down Georgia State in the season opener so playing at FAU Stadium isn’t going to phase them. Against Georgia State, Ball State rushed for 325 yards on 52 carries for four touchdowns.
FAU was in this same spot last season needing a win against a MAC team to get the season back on track. At 0-2, Jason Driskel made his first career start against Buffalo and at home FAU had an awful day on offense losing 33-15. If you prescribe SBNation recruiting guru Bud Elliot’s theory that recruiting is the be all, end all, FAU should win this game easily.
But something isn’t right with FAU. Travis Trickett’s spread offense looks out-of-sync and the defense just can’t stop the run. I think Ball State wins by playing ball control and running the ball at will. 28-20 Cardinals.