It’s week two of the young Indiana football season and this week the Hoosiers take on Ball State in their home opener at Memorial Stadium. This week I spoke with the radio voice of the Cardinals, Joel Godett, to get a feel for their improved defense, first year head coach Mike Neu and more.
David Sugarman: Some strengths for both teams last week, IU gave up just 63 rushing yards while Ball State ran for over 300 yards. What do you think is the key for the Ball State offense to win the battle at the line of scrimmage?
Joel Godett: I think it comes down to the end of the game. I think when you take a look at what Ball State was able to do against Georgia State; they only ran for 50 some odd yards in the first half. Where that game was really won was in the trenches and on the line as the game wore on and as Ball State’s offensive line really wore down Georgia State’s defensive line. 267 yards rushing in the second half is what won that game for the Cardinals. It was an ability for a young offensive line to really come together, to be well enough conditioned, to have the endurance to just break the spirit of Georgia State’s defensive line as that game went on. Whether they are going to be able to do that against a Big Ten team is an interesting question. I’ll be curious to see how they stack up against a line that’s going to be bigger, that’s going to be more athletic, that certainly is going to have the ability to go into a little bit of a higher motor. But that’s the biggest thing is if Ball State can outlast you and can really hold out and play the long game, I think that bodes well for the Cardinals offense and certainly for their run game.
DS: With the rushing game clearly being a strength, what do you think is one of the biggest weaknesses Ball State is looking to improve upon from the opener?
JG: The pass game most certainly. Riley Neal first and foremost will tell you he wasn’t happy with the way he played quarterback last week, but at the end of the day he got the W. So it’s kind of a wash. But you’re going to have to be able to go out there and complete more than 51% of your throws and you’ve got to limit your interceptions. Which is something he did last year. It took him 150 passes to throw a pick in his college career and it took him two series to throw two this year. So he’s going to come out looking to improve upon that and I would expect him to. That creates the interesting storyline of what Ball State’s offense is going to look like. Will it be as run heavy as it was last week? Or will we saw a little bit more through the air as Riley Neal gets more comfortable?
DS: As Neal gets more comfortable with the offense do you think they’d rather switch to a pass first offense? Where do you see the offense going when he’s at his best?
JG: They’ll be balanced regardless. They’re going to take what defenses give to them and for the most part you’re going to see balance in college football. They will run if you force them to. They’ll pass if you force them to. They’ll run to open the pass and they’ll pass to open the run. So I think you’ll see a nice balance as things going forward, but certainly I think you’ll want to see more production from Riley Neal than you got a week ago.
DS: Taking a step back for a moment, Ball State goes 10-3 in 2013 and makes it to a bowl game. Since then it’s been tough sledding. 8-16 over the last two seasons and they lose eight out of their last nine down the stretch last season. Can you talk about what new head coach Mike Neu brings to the table, his philosophy and some of the new things he’s brought into the program?
JG: I just think there was a new energy and kind of a new vigor that came along with Mike Neu. When you talk to him and just see him interact with people his passion for this program comes across and it’s not even close. You know within the first three seconds that this is an important place to him. And that I think rubs off on the players. He encourages them to have fun and enjoy themselves and go out there and play football. It’s not work football, it’s play football. You certainly see that come through with the way the guys play, with the way the guys carry themselves. They have a good time, but they’re certainly there to work as well. But I think if you ask any of those guys if they’re having a good time and if they’re enjoying themselves, they’re going to say yes. And that’s the big thing for this bunch. To have that energy, to have that passion, to have that burning kind of desire and belief in themselves which down the stretch last season, when you lose eight of nine, can get squandered and go away a little bit regardless of how good your coaches are, how good your players are, what your mental state is. It’s going to go down when you keep taking hits. So I just think it was a new energy and I think that’s inherent within him and he’s past that off to his guys.
DS: Both teams struggled defensively last season and both played well in their openers. On Ball State where do you think the biggest improvements were in week one from a season ago?
JG: Pass rush is number one. They only had one sack, but Corey Hall came up with an interception in the first quarter of that game that was caused by pass rush. They were in the backfield all night long. They got consistent pressure all night long. They were able to stop the run and the defensive line was huge there, but then also that effected the pass game as well. Front four was outstanding. Front seven was outstanding. There really was no answer for Zack Ryan, the middle linebacker, when he came on blitzes. So I just think it was pressure. It was pressure to pass. It was pressure when they tried to run. You saw a relentless aggressiveness out of the Ball State defense and it was more of an attacking mode then it’s ever been over the last couple of years. The last few years it was much more of a kind of a sit back and wait, bend but don’t break. Play it conservative. But this year it’s much more aggressive. They’re going to take chances. They might get burned. They didn’t last week, but on the other side they’re going to take some chances and maybe come up lucky sevens across. It’ll be interesting to see as the year goes on, but that’s certainly been a change in mentality.
DS: Who’s one offensive player and one defensive player that Indiana fans should definitely know going into this game?
JG: Well certainly Riley Neal on offense. He’s the quarterback. He’s a local kid from Yorktown which is right outside of Muncie; big-bodied kid. 6-6, 215 pounds and he has an NFL body. I think has an NFL future if he continues to grow. A true sophomore so it’s very early. He runs, he can throw, he makes all the throws and I’m not just saying that. He can make NFL type throws. Throwing it to the field and getting it their quickly so Riley Neal is obviously the guy to watch. Outside of him I’d put a hat on KeVonn Mabon, their top wide receiver. He’s got a chance to be the all-time leading receiver here when his career is done at the end of the season. Defensively, we just talked about the defensive line so I’d start with the ends. Josh Posley the transfer from Cincinnati. He’s an Indianapolis kid, went to Warren Central High School and is a next level kind of player. When he transferred from UC, which is obviously a higher-level school, he chose between Ball State and Tennessee. That tells you what his pedigree is. And then Anthony Winbush who is the other rush end. He just has tremendous pass rush ability and between the two of those guys they create a pretty good pincer on that line. I know you asked for two and I gave you four, but quarterback, wideout and d-end are the places I would look first and foremost.
DS: I know a lot of people don’t like to put predictions on games, but can I get a prediction out of you for the week?
JG: I don’t know at this point. I can probably tell you better about both of these teams come Saturday night. Not just because I’ll have seen them, but because it’ll be two weeks in. I mean I don’t know how good Florida International is and I don’t know how good Georgia State is and because of that I don’t know how good Indiana is and I don’t know how good Ball State is. All I can tell you is that both teams played really well, their defenses came to play and how that will compare, I don’t know. I would think it would be close, but Indiana’s a Big Ten team and they’ve got an unbelievably explosive offense and a defense that played well. It’ll be interesting to see how this thing plays out.
You can follow Joel on twitter @JoelGodett and listen to him call Ball State football on WLBC 104.1 FM.
Follow David on twitter @David_Sugarman2 and on Instagram at david_sugarman