The RedHawks (5-6, 5-2 MAC) need just one more win to become bowl eligible, just a season after finishing 3-9. Head coach Chuck Martin’s team lost its first six games before beating Kent State on Oct. 15. Miami hasn’t lost another game since, including a 35-24 victory over Buffalo two Saturdays ago.
Ball State (4-7, 1-6), which also posted a 3-9 record in 2015, got off to a strong start but has since fizzled. The Cardinals were 3-1 a month into the season but have lost six of their last seven. Their last victory came a week ago, also against Buffalo, beating the Bulls 31-21. Ball State isn’t like to go bowling even with a win Tuesday night, but it would be a positive note to end the season on.
There’s rich history between these MAC programs, as they played their first game in 1931. Miami leads the all-time series 16-12-1, but Ball State was won the past three meetings.
Ball State at Miami (Ohio)
Kickoff: Tuesday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN3
Spread: Miami (Ohio) -7.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Ball State running back James Gilbert
Despite the Cardinals’ less-than-stellar season, Gilbert isn't to blame for the shortcomings. Gilbert, who is second in the MAC in rushing, has 1,215 yards and 12 touchdowns. Behind Gilbert, the Cardinals are averaging 217.5 rushing yards per game, which makes for an interesting matchup, as Miami (Ohio) is only allowing 129.9 yards on the ground per game.
Gilbert, a sophomore, has been limited to just 73 rushing yards in his last two contests. He’s posted six 100-yard rushing game, including a season-high 264 on Oct. 15 against Buffalo, which also was Ball State’s last win.
2. RedHawks’ defense
For all of Miami’s offensive troubles — 10th out of 12 MAC teams in both total and scoring offense — its defense is one of the reasons why the RedHawks are one win away from bowl eligibility. Miami leads the conference in total defense, giving up 347.5 yards per game. The RedHawks also have held opponents to 24.7 points per game, which is fourth in the MAC.
Miami has been solid against the both run and the pass, as the RedHawks are second in the conference in rushing defense (130.1 ypg) and rank fifth in passing defense (217.4 ypg). Miami’s defense also has basically the same number of interceptions (13) as touchdown passes allowed (14).
3. Ball State wide receiver KeVonn Mabon
Quite frankly, Mabon would be a threat in whichever conference he played. At 6-foot-2, 215 pounds, the senior is a quarterback’s dream. Mabon has just two touchdown catches this season, but he’s tallied 850 (seventh in the MAC) yards on 74 receptions (third). He posted a season-high 149 yards and two touchdowns on Nov. 8 against Eastern Michigan.
While teammate James Gilbert has emerged as the star of the offense, Mabon is a valuable cog capable of making the big play when needed.
Yager Stadium will be electric as the RedHawks faithful are sure to pack it out to witness their team try to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since the 2010 season. Even with Ball State getting a chance to play spoiler, Thanksgiving will be extra special for Miami (Ohio) this year as a win over the Cardinals puts the RedHawks in position for a postseason appearance.
Prediction: Miami (Ohio) 28, Ball State 17
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.
(Top photo courtesy of www.miamiredhawks.com)