For just the second time in program history, Ball State football failed to defeat a conference opponent in a season.
The Cardinals’ (2-10, 0-8 MAC) 28-7 loss to the Miami RedHawks (5-7, 4-4 MAC) meant that the team would be 0-8 in MAC play for just the second time in its long history.
And just like the vast majority of those eight losses, Ball State was not competitive in Tuesday’s loss.
“We need to create more and more depth,” head coach Mike Neu said. “We were forced into a situation this year where some guys had to get into action probably a little bit earlier than they were ready for in terms of development.”
The Cardinals notched just 26 total yards of offense in the first quarter and failed to reach 100 total yards of passing between two different quarterbacks during the whole game.
Senior quarterback Jack Milas led several unsuccessful drives, and threw for just 39 yards before he was replaced with freshman quarterback Drew Plitt who passed for 59.
The only bright spot of the night was freshman running back Caleb Huntley. He had 159 yards on 25 carries, and passed 1,000 total rushing yards on the season.
Huntley becomes just the second Ball State freshman running back to ever reach the milestone.
“There was a lot of movement going on, a lot of people going down [on the offensive line], people flip-flopping everywhere and in every different position, so you’re going to have up-and-downs, you’re going to have a little bit of chaos in a situation like that.” senior offensive lineman Vinnie Palazeti said. “I’m proud of the way we settled down and found our rhythm, got things going in the end.”
Palazeti played all three positions on the offensive line at some point in his career at Ball State.
Ball State’s only score came late into the fourth quarter, when sophomore running back Malik Dunner broke off a touchdown run.
Even the Cardinals’ final drive of the season ended in failure. Plitt and the Cardinals had drove nearly the length of the field to the Miami one-yard line when his fade pass was intercepted in the end zone by Miami junior cornerback Deondre Daniels.
It’s been a tough go for head coach Mike Neu since he took over the program, as both of his first two seasons ended in losing records. The loss moves Ball State to 6-18 under his leadership.
“Coaching is one of those things, I’ve had some great years coaching and I’ve had some challenging years coaching,” Neu said. “This has certainly been a challenging year.”
The last nine games were a long fall for the Cardinals. After starting the season 2-1 with an impressive 51-31 victory over now bowl eligible UAB, Ball State lost nine straight games by an average of over 20 points.
Only once in eight MAC games did Ball State even finish within two scores: a 40-24 loss to Buffalo on Nov. 16.
But Ball State was without both its leader passer and rusher from a season ago for the entirety of conference play: junior quarterback Riley Neal and sophomore running back James Gilbert.
Having them back in 2018 could make a big difference for Ball State’s chances.
“We have a lot of talent, you can see flashes of talent a lot,” cornerback Josh Miller said. “But we’re young, so there’s a lot we got to learn because talent is not going to win you games, you got to have experience to.”
Now, the Cardinals begin the long off-season ahead. The first game of 2018 is scheduled for Aug. 30 against Central Connecticut State.