Start Time: 6 PM CT
TV: Find the channel for your provider in your area in this PDF.
Betting: Western Kentucky are favored by 7.5 according to Oddshark.
The Series: Ball State leads the all time series 2-1. The Cardinals won their last meeting in Bowling Green in 2008 by a score 24-7 under the guidance of then head coach Brady Hoke. The Hilltoppers only win in the series came all the way back in 1929.
Last week, WKU’s outing against Louisiana Tech was arguably their strongest performance of the young season. The Tops had a season high 377 total yards on offense and Mike White had his highest completion percentage of the year completing 25 of 35 passes on the day. It was all for not, however, as Louisiana Tech scored ten unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win the game 23-22.
While the result obviously wasn’t what WKU fans wanted to see, the game showed that their offense is progressing. The rushing attack was exponentially better than the Illinois game. Quinton Baker is growing into a bigger role, which he showed by netting 79 yards and a touchdown last Saturday. Though if you told me before the season that Mike White would only have more rushing touchdowns than passing touchdowns after three games, I wouldn’t have believed you. The changing of emphasis this year from scoring as much as possible to trying to control the time of possession will take some getting used to.
The offensive line continues to be an issue for WKU, however. At this point in the season, they’ve allowed Mike White to be sacked 10 times, which is the second most in Conference USA. The performance of that position group has to improve this week as Ball State has one of the best pass rushers in all of college football in Anthony Winbush. Winbush leads all of FBS with 6.5 sacks on the year, along with three forced fumbles.
Offensively, Ball State has had a pretty balanced attack on their way to a 2-1 record. Their wins came against UAB and Tennessee Tech, and their loss was a close one to Illinois. Quarterback Riley Neal is completing 67.7% of his passes with six touchdowns and three interceptions on the year. In the rushing attack, James Gilbert leads the way but the Cardinals have two other backs in Caleb Huntley and Malik Dunner that are making notable contributions in terms of yardage or touchdowns. Long story short, there’s no one guy the WKU defense can afford to focus all of their energy on with this one. That’s a big part of the reason why Ball State has already scored 100 points through three games.
Western Kentucky’s offense has not progressed at the rate I thought it would. While I think they’ll eventually get it figured out, the Cardinals have proven in this early part of the season that they aren’t a team you want to be ironing out the kinks against. To boot, WKU’s struggling o-line has to contend with a defensive line that’s playing at a very high level right now. I think Ball State wins this one by two touchdowns.