MAC play begins at Rynearson Stadium this Saturday at 1 p.m. when the Eastern Michigan University Eagles (1-2) host the Ball State University Cardinals (2-1) in the homecoming game.
Ball State will look to continue with its recent success against the Eagles with a 7-1 record vs. EMU in the teams’ last eight meetings.
“They’re a very well-coached football team and it will be a great football game on Saturday,” head coach Ron English said.
The Eagles are coming off the team’s second loss in a row where it fell 28-10 at Rutgers University last week, despite allowing just 274 total yards and having the ball 15:52 longer than the Scarlet Knights.
The majority of EMU’s offense came from redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Benz, who has 660 yards passing and three touchdowns with a 131.9 QB rating on the year. Benz threw for 335 and a TD against the Rutgers.
“I really like how [he’s] making plays right now,” Ball State head coach Pete Lembo said. “He throws well on the run.”
Benz’s go-to receiver will be junior tight end Tyreese Russell, who leads the team with 19 receptions for 185 yards and 1 TD that he caught in week one.
As it’s been all season, most of the EMU offense will come through the air.
“[They have] a pretty thick playbook in terms of play-action passes,” Lembo said.
Ball State University is coming off of a loss of its own last week to the University of North Texas 34-27. The Cardinals will be looking for the team’s first 2013 road win this Saturday at EMU.
The Cardinals will have senior quarterback Keith Wenning under center, who leads the MAC and is fourth in the FBS in passing yards with 998.
“They have a tremendous quarterback,” English said. “[He’s] very, very accurate.”
Wenning has a 62.7 percent completion percentage and MAC-best 7 passing touchdowns.
The Cardinals have a handful of players that can handle the ball when it comes to receiving. Junior Willie Snead, senior Jamill Smith and sophomore Jordan Williams are the team’s top wide receivers.
Snead and Smith are fourth and fifth in the MAC with 305 and 261 receiving yards, respectively.
BSU runs the ball with success, as well. The running game is led by sophomore Horactio Banks, who has 235 yards and four touchdowns on 38 carries.
Keys to the game
Cardinals’ run defense:
EMU has struggled running the ball so far this year. Its most recent outing showed them putting up just 38 yards on 40 attempts.
However, BSU’s 668 rushing yards allowed this season is more than its 632 passing yards allowed. If the Cardinals are unable to defend the run this Saturday, it could present the opportunity for running backs junior Bronson Hill and sophomore Darius Jackson to shine.
EMU’s pass defense:
With one of the top quarterbacks in the country having so many options to throw the ball to, the Cardinals’ pass offense poses a serious threat.
Wenning has connected to four different receivers for his seven touchdown passes. He has also completed at least seven passes to six different receivers.
The Eagles have been decent so far this season with containing its opponents’ passing game, but haven’t seen an offense like this yet. EMU will need to put some serious pressure on Wenning to make sure he and the BSU offense don’t spark and set fire.
Players to watch:
EMU TE Tyreese Russell: Russell hasn’t scored a touchdown since the opening week of the season, but with the passing game being established as the main part of the EMU offense, look for him to play even a bigger role Saturday.
BSU QB Keith Wenning: The performance that this man gives on Saturday will determine the outcome. He’s thrown for over 300 yards in every game this season with multiple TD passes. He’ll have many receivers to work with to help him move the ball.
Follow Derrick Vergolini on Twitter: @DerrickVergo