On election night fans in the Glass Bowl and those watching on national TV (ESPN2) will have the opportunity to see the best QB since Kellen Moore and his Boise State Broncos were in the Glass Bowl, September 11, 2012. That night Moore was 32 of 42 for 455 yards through the air with five TD passes.
The Cardinals (6-3, 3-2), under the direction of second year Head Coach Pete Lembo, are making a case for the most improved team in MAC West and maybe the MAC if Kent State stumbles. A major reason is the play of QB Keith Wenning who directs Ball State University Cardinals high-octane offense. Last year the 6-6 Cardinals were snubbed by the Bowl selection committee. Not this year.
Cardinals on Offense
The Cardinals put up points on the scoreboard irrespective of who or where they are playing. Only once has Ball State failed to score 30 or more points and that was against NIU. In that game, Keith Wenning threw the ball 71 times completing 42 for 434 yards but just one TD and two interceptions. It was also the only game the Cardinals were held scoreless in the fourth quarter or any quarter for that matter. It was mainly due to the pressure the Huskies put on Wenning despite not being sacked once during the game.
Since that game, Ball State's offense has been more balanced between run and pass. While rushing chores have been by a trio of backs, Horactio Banks (5'10", 184#), Barrington Scott (5'11", 214#) and Jahwan Edwards (5'10", 225#). With Banks recent play limited by a knee injury, Edwards has become the main guy and he has responded. He is just 51 yards shy of the 1,000 yard rushing mark and is averaging nearly 5.7 yards per attempt. In the last three games, Edwards has gained more than 100 yards with the team gaining more than 200 yards on the ground per game. B. Scott has a solid 4.0 yards per carry average while Banks picked up 5.2 yards per rush before his injury. He is listed as questionable for the Toledo game.
The rejuvenated running game is a tribute to BSU's offensive line. Despite losing starting Center Dan Manick to an ankle injury in the Central Michigan game, this unit continues to excel in pass protection for Wenning and getting a push for the Cardinals running backs. They pull as a unit creating a plowing effect as they form a pushing wall leading the way for Edwards and company. Manick is listed as questionable for Tuesday's contest.
The increase in running plays seems to have improved the BSU passing game. Over the last three games, Wenning has connected on 78% of his passes for six touchdowns and three INTs. If Wenning runs the ball it can be considered part of the Cardinals' trick-play-book, one that features a wide receiver pass option from a reverse.
The BSU passing game is one of precise routes and sure-handed receivers. Leading this group are wide receivers Willie Snead, Jamill Smith, Connor Ryan, KeVonn Mabon and tight end Zane Fakes. Snead is tops in receiving with 68 catches for 901 yards with Smith tallying 60 receptions for 641 yards. Together they have 10 of the Cardinals 18 TD grabs. Wenning typically takes a two or three step drop and zips the ball to the open receiver. BSU receivers do not bunch in groups but rather spread out putting the defenders in one-on-one coverage resulting is a repetitive assault of five, ten and twelve yards pass plays. With the running game clicking, the play action roll outs set up Wenning to work the sidelines for short to mid-range throws. When Wenning goes deep it is typically to Snead and Smith along the sidelines.
Cardinals on Defense
The front four of the 4-3 scheme is led by Jonathan Newsome, the OSU transfer and high school teammate of Terrance Owens, and Nathan Ollie. Newsome leads the team with 6.0 sacks and 9.5 TFLs.
The line backing corps is lead by Travis Freeman who leads the Cardinals in tackles with 96.
Eric Patterson and Jeffrey Garrett lead the secondary. Patterson has a team high two INTs, eight pass break ups and ten pass defections. The defensive backs close to the ball well.
The BSU defense ranks 99th against the rush (202.8 yards/game) and 96th against the pass (262.4 yards/game). I would not describe this group as bend but don't break unit. Rather, they hang in until the other team stops itself through dropped passes, ill-timed penalties or turnovers. They are more of a speed bump slowing up the opposition until the Cardinals offense can put it in overdrive.
Cardinals on Special Teams
This is a better than average group led by punter Scott Kovanda and kicker Steven Schott, both fifth year seniors. Kovanda is averaging 41.2 yards/punt, a bit more than Vince Penza is at 40.8 yard average. It's noteworthy that Kovanda has punted just 34 times compared to 43 for Vince.
Steven Schott now tops the nation in field goal kicking making 20 of 24 FGA replacing Jeremiah Detmer who is currently tied for fourth place connecting on 18 of 23 field goal attempts.
Scott Secor handles the kickoff duties and is statistically the equal of Jeremiah Detmer.
The BSU kickoff coverage team is solid but can give up a big return. Their punt coverage is another story allowing just six yards on four returns.
Jamill Smith handles kickoff and punt returns and is a threat to break a sizable return.
What to Look for:
The Rocket defensive ends to put pressure on Wenning with outside speed rushes.
Wenning to go deep to Snead at least three times along the sidelines.
The Cardinals to run between the tackles with RBs trying to bounce outside if the middle is clogged.
Excellent coverage on Kovanda's high punts.
The Rockets to come with back side corner blitzes from Wenning's left.
TE fakes to come in motion left to right across the back field and release into the flat as a receiver.
RB Edwards to pitch to Smith on a reverse to the right.
Bernard Reedy to be the target of quick out passes and sideline slants to get to the corner and up field.
The Rockets to start their ground attack by sweeping to their left, then switching it up in the second quarter to the right side.
WR Mabon to run short crossing routes across the middle.
Fluellen to outgain Edwards.
BSU punt return team to employ decoy receiver on Penza punts to a sideline with intent of drawing coverage away from the punt returner.
Reedy to have a 30+ yard kickoff return.
No more than one QB sack for either team.
Time consuming drives by the Rockets.
Third and short QB keeper by Wenning on very quick counts.
Rockets to have at least one INT.
WR Smith to sweep right and throw either down field or back to Wenning on a double pass play.
The Cardinals to get into offensive formation very quickly, getting plays off within 20 seconds.
The Rocket pass rushers to get their hands up to tip at least three passes.
Terrance Owens to be more involved in the running game.
Turnovers and penalties to be a big factor.