From the other campus: High-powered offense leads Ball State

Nick Shook

Kent State’s latest defeat, 38-24 at the hands of Northern Illinois, sent the Flashes to 2-4 overall. Despite the loss, the Flashes have plenty to be proud of after reviewing game film. Though the statistics don’t say so, it was one of their best games of the season and although it came in a loss, NIU — now ranked No. 23 nationally — was no slouch, and Kent State stood strong. However, with only six games left in the regular season, time is running out on the Flashes.

Week 7 brings yet another challenge for Kent State, as the Flashes hit the road again to travel to Ball State, where they will face excellent quarterback Keith Wenning and the Cardinals’ high-powered offense. Daily Kent Stater football beat reporter Nick Shook caught up with sports editor Matt McKinney of the Ball State Daily News to learn more about the 5-1 Cardinals.

Nick Shook: It’s been a meat grinder of opposing quarterbacks for Kent State. First, it was LSU’s Zach Mettenberger. Since then, the Flashes have faced Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg and Northern Illinois’ Jordan Lynch. It gets no easier this week with Ball State’s Keith Wenning. What sets him apart from the other quarterbacks?

Matt McKinney: Wenning doesn’t have the athleticism of a Jordan Lynch, but what he does bring is an elite level of accuracy for a collegiate quarterback. One thing Wenning has improved upon this season is his deep accuracy. He’s throwing the deep passes to Jordan Williams and Willie Snead at a better level than in previous seasons. However, he has been a little prone to overthrows on deep passes. Strength-wise, Wenning can make all the throws in a game. 

NS: Plenty of playmakers line up alongside Wenning in the Cardinals’ offense. We heard a lot about Willie Snead during the weekly press conference. What does he and the rest of the offense bring to the table?

MM: Snead is the most pro-ready wide receiver to line up for Ball State in years. He isn’t the fastest, quickest or biggest wideout on the team, but his route running is what sets him apart. Snead can separate with the best of the Mid-American Conference cornerbacks. He doesn’t make the mental mistakes you would see from a college athlete. The players lining up around him aren’t bad, either. Sophomore wide receiver Jordan Williams is in the midst of a breakout year. He uses his 6-foot-3 frame and 218 pounds to muscle his way through arm tackles. Senior Jamill Smith is one of the smallest players in the country at 5-foot-8, 140 pounds. His value comes from the return game and after the catch. Running back Jahwan Edwards is a touchdown machine and now holds the Ball State record for career touchdowns rushing. The backup, Horactio Banks, is electric (though not as electric as a certain Kent State back) and has more speed than Edwards.

NS: At 5-1 and 2-0 in the MAC, the Cardinals appear to be on a roll. Their biggest win of the season came last week against Virginia. Do you attribute the hot start to a favorable schedule (excluding Virginia), or is this team for real?

MM: A little bit of both, to be honest. It’s very clear this team is improved from earlier this season. Against Illinois State and Army, the offensive line was having a lot of problems getting a push for the running backs. The line has jelled since then, and is playing the best it has so far. Jonathan Newsome, a senior defensive end, earned two sacks last week. He also had an interception two weeks ago, the first of his career. Ball State is getting hot at the right time, with some better Mid-American opponents coming up.

NS: How do you expect Ball State to approach this weekend’s game against Kent State?

MM: I expect it to do what it has all season, and that’s get off to a hot start and continue piling on the points. I believe head coach Pete Lembo has learned his lesson about kicking to Dri Archer, and I don’t expect him to have the impact he did in last season’s game. I don’t expect Jahwan Edwards to score three touchdowns against Kent State, as he has the past three games.

NS: Your prediction?

MM: I don’t think Dri Archer is enough to keep up with all the weapons on Ball State’s offense. Ball State wins, 35-14.

Contact Nick Shook at [email protected].