The 2022 edition of midweek MACtion gets started with a matchup between Ball State and Kent State on Tuesday night. The two teams have identical 2-2 records in conference play, so both the Cardinals and Golden Flashes need a win to open November or risk falling further behind the respective division leaders — Buffalo in the East and Toledo in the West.
Ball State (4-4) comes into this one after losing 20-16 on Oct. 22 to Eastern Michigan. The Cardinals led by six points entering the fourth quarter but couldn't hold on at home as their three-game winning streak came to an end. That same day, Kent State (3-5) put an end to its two-game losing skid with a 33-27 home victory over Akron.
Ball State has historically dominated the head-to-head series with Kent State, holding a 21-8 edge, although the Golden Flashes won last season's meeting, 41-38.
Ball State at Kent State
When Ball State Has the Ball
Points have been somewhat difficult to come by for the Cardinals lately. They have averaged 19.3 points per game over their last three, although they have managed to win two of those. That wasn't the case last week when the Cardinals totaled 292 yards in their 20-16 loss to Eastern Michigan.
Quarterback John Paddock had big shoes to fill replacing three-year starter Drew Plitt, but the redshirt senior ranks among the MAC leaders in passing yards (1,985, third) and touchdowns (14, fourth), although he's also thrown nine interceptions. Wide receiver Jayshon Jackson (54 rec., 633 yds., 2 TDs) has been one of the conference's top targets while tight ends Tanner Koziol and Brady Hunt have combined for nine touchdown catches.
Ball State's running game is pretty much a solo act. Carson Steele leads the MAC with 890 rushing yards and is tied with eight touchdowns — and that's 79 percent of his team's rushing yards and all of the scores on the ground.
Fortunately for Ball State, Kent State's defense has had trouble stopping teams this season. Now some of the statistical ugliness is due to a gauntlet of facing Georgia, Washington, and Oklahoma in September, but the Golden Flashes haven't exactly shut down their conference mates either. In MAC-only games, they are tied for 10th in points (32.5) and 11th in total yards allowed per game (461.8). The pass defense has been particularly generous (268.8 ypg, 9 TDs in conference games), but either way, the Cardinals should be able to find some success moving the ball on Tuesday night.
When Kent State Has the Ball
The Golden Flashes have dealt with some significant injuries on both sides of the ball, particularly on offense. Quarterback Collin Schlee missed the Oct. 22 game against Akron with what head coach Sean Lewis called a "lower-body bruise," which has his availability for this game in question. True freshman Devin Kargman replaced Schlee and threw for 213 yards and two touchdowns with no turnovers in the 33-27 victory over the Zips.
But the bigger potential issue for Kargman and Kent State's offense is the availability of Dante Cephas, the MAC's leading receiver in terms of yards per game (91.4). Cephas has a lower-body injury, and his potential absence could have a big impact on the Golden Flashes' passing attack. Outside of Devontez Walker, who is tied for the conference lead with seven touchdown catches and is fourth in yards (616), no other player on the roster has caught more than nine passes or gone over 108 receiving yards.
On the ground, Marquez Cooper is right behind Ball State's Steele with 845 rushing yards and also has scored eight times on the ground. When on the field, Schlee provides a running threat (339 yds., 3 TDs), and Kent State has a deeper backfield as the team leads the MAC and is tied for 18th nationally in rushing offense at 209.6 yards per game.
This could pose a problem for the Cardinals' defense, which is dead last in the conference when it comes to stopping the run. In four MAC games, they have given up 207.5 rushing yards per contest with 10 touchdowns on the ground. Ball State also is giving up the same number of yards per game through the air, although they have surrendered just four touchdown passes so far.
Ball State has the slightly better overall record, but Kent State's is skewed by a brutal non-conference slate that included defending national champion Georgia. Against conference foes, both teams have had their defensive issues but the Cardinals' biggest liability, stopping the run, seemingly plays to the Golden Flashes' greatest strength. That advantage should be enough to help Kent State secure a much-needed home win.
Prediction: Kent State 31, Ball State 28
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