In the loss that made it officially ineligible for the postseason, Ball State (4-7, 3-4 MAC) struggled the entire game on defense, but particularly in the second half in the loss to Kent State (5-6, 4-3 MAC). The Cardinals had several opportunities to capitalize on offense but were unable to when it mattered most. Here are four takeaways from the Cardinals’ 41-38 loss to the Golden Flashes.
Not close enough
The Cardinals have lost their past three games by four points or fewer. A game-winning field goal, a go-ahead 2-yard touchdown and a go-ahead 9-yard touchdown were the plays that cost Ball State in each of its last three games. All of those plays came in the final two minutes of the game.
The Cardinals would get the ball back on offense in each of those games, but they were unable to put themselves in position to win. Compared to last season, Ball State’s margin of defeat is significantly less this season. Last year, the Cardinals lost eight games, and only two of those were one-score losses.
Since the loss to Ohio, the Cardinals have yet to record a score in the final three minutes of a game. However, their opponents have scored twice in the final three minutes with each of those scores deciding the game.
The defense has been the deciding factor in the past two losses. The Cardinals have given up a total of 54 second-half points to their opponents. Of those 54 second-half points, 24 came in the fourth quarter. Ball State’s defense has not been able to stand up when it counts.
Pound the rock
Since conference play began in the beginning of October, The Cardinals have recorded more than 200 rushing yards in every game but one. In the loss to Kent State, Ball State recorded 330 rushing yards on 59 carries, just the second time it has topped the 300-yard mark this season.
Junior running back Caleb Huntley was the main man as usual for the Cardinals. Huntley rushed for a career-high 192 yards and two touchdowns. He recorded half of his yards on two plays. Huntley took one 54 yards to set the Cardinals up in Kent State territory. In the fourth quarter, Huntley took a 42-yard rush the distance.
Graduate student running back Walter Fletcher had his usual game for Ball State, rushing for a complementary 90 yards on 16 attempts. In the second half of the season, the rushing game has been the focus for the Cardinals. The combination of Fletcher and Huntley has been difficult for opponents to stop, as both running backs have averaged more than 100 yards rushing in the past two contests.
Ball State has struggled to convert on third down in all of its losses this season. In the loss to Kent State, Ball State only converted five of 14 third downs. That trend has been seen throughout the Cardinals’ conference losses this season. In their conference losses, they have only converted 23 of 53 third downs (43 percent).
Kent State was able to take advantage of Ball State’s offense on third and fourth down. The Golden Flashes turned two Cardinal punts into touchdowns. They also scored off of a Ball State turnover on downs.
However, the Cardinals were also able to turn the Golden Flashes’ missed conversions into points as well. Ball State was able to turn two Kent State punts into points.
Chunk plays served key
Kent State thrived off of the chunk play Saturday. The Golden Flashes recorded 10 chunk plays on the afternoon, rushing for more than 15 yards four times and passing for more than 20 yards six times. Junior quarterback Dustin Crum recorded two of those chunk plays on the ground, and redshirt senior running back Will Matthews had two of his own.
The Golden Flashes thrived on offense by way of Crum finding sophomore wide receiver Isiah McKoy four different times by way of the chunk play, gaining a total of 151 yards of offense. On those chunk plays alone, three resulted in touchdowns for Kent State. The Golden Flashes were able to record 8.58 yards per play.
Ball State recorded some chunk plays of its own Saturday. Redshirt junior quarterback Drew Plitt recorded three of them through the air. One of those plays resulted in a touchdown for the Cardinals. The team was also able to pick up chunk yardage on the ground. Huntley recorded two plays that went for a total of 96 yards. Those two rushes by Huntley accounted for half of his total yards. Fletcher also recorded one rush that went for 15 yards.
Contact Grant Covey with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @grant_covey.