Margin of defeat
Of the team’s nine losses this season, this is the third closest. Northern Illinois (11) and Old Dominion (14) are the only games with a closer margin.
The game would have been totally different had Matt Thornton – the team’s fourth string center – not snapped the ball horribly to Reggie Bell in the third quarter, resulting in a Ball State touchdown.
That leads me to my next point.
The offensive line
The offensive line is arguably the worst part of this team right now. Losing players like starting center Jake Hurcombe and backup Cam Allison as well as the inconsistencies of players like Thornton and Lincoln Hansen – who allowed a wide open shot at Bell in the third quarter – have plagued this team.
Bell has been sacked eight times in the last two games – six of them coming against Western Michigan last week.
There’s one game left this season, so my expectations of the line’s improvement are next to zero. If EMU coach Chris Creighton wants this team to be better next year – that’s where he needs to start.
Losing the turnover battle is what lost this game for Eastern. Thornton’s fumble that was kicked around a couple of times before being picked up for a Ball State touchdown and the fumble by Tyreese Russell midway through the fourth quarter that led to another Cardinals touchdown is what cost EMU the game.
That said – I was impressed with Bell’s zero interceptions. He threw two bad ones last week and improved against Ball State.
For whom the Bell tolls
Bell had a really good day against Ball State. He was 36-of-49 for 409 yards and three touchdowns – his best passing day as an Eagle. He completed some really good passes to Russell, Kris Strange and David Gibson in the second half.
Bell also rushed for 101 yards on 18 carries.
This is the only good takeaway I have from the game – Bell will be good for a long time if Creighton and his staff can get him some weapons to utilize the next three years and an offensive line that will keep him off his back.
Keeping it real
Creighton spoke to me after the game and I heard something in his voice that I haven’t heard all season – real frustration. Statistically, EMU had the upper hand on Ball State in everything but turnovers and rushing yards. To put it simply, Eastern should have won this game – the first road win for this team in over a year. Instead, it’s on the bus right now heading to the airport having lost 5 of its last 6 games.
Nobody expects EMU to beat Toledo on Friday and what’s worse – nobody will be there to see it. Creighton said after the game that playing all 60 minutes was the “absolute standard” and that nobody was going to compliment them for doing it anymore.
He was right.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanSports