Early Analysis: Ball State at NIU

PHOTO: USA Today Sports

Ball State (9-1, 6-0) at #20 NIU (9-0, 5-0)

Wednesday, Nov 13th, 8 PM EST, ESPN 2

Line: NIU by 6

This MAC showdown features the only two teams in the MAC West who are still undefeated in conference play. NIU comes into this game having won 20 straight regular season games and 20 straight regular season conference games. Ball State is an impressive 9-1 but they have been a recipient of a light schedule as their wins have come against teams that have a combined winning percentage of just 30%.

Last year, NIU made it to the big show as they earned a trip to the Orange Bowl against FSU. Their head coach Dave Doeren moved on to NC State so there were doubts if they could maintain their success under first year head coach Rod Carey. So far so good as NIU is on pace to be better than their 2012 version as they hold road victories over both Iowa and Purdue. NIU leads the MAC in points per game (44.2) and total offense (545.4)

Pete Lembo is in his third year at Ball State and has improved the team every season. They started at 6-6 in 2011, moved to 9-4 in 2012 and now they sit at 9-1 in 2013. The Cardinals are second in the MAC in points per game (39.9) and second in total offense (475.7).

For Ball State to win: The first thing the Cardinals must do is manage their turnovers. In their only loss of the season, to North Texas, the Cardinals turned the ball over five times. They need to limit big plays (NIU leads the MAC with 19 plays of 40 or more yards) and they need to limit the run game of NIU. The Ball State defense gives up 4.91 yards per carry and has let all of their FBS opponents (except CMU) average at least 4.5 ypc. NIU leads the MAC in rushing with 312 ypg (and had 314 in the game last year against Ball State). Ball State needs to make NIU beat them with the passing game.

For NIU to win: In last years game, NIU converted just 2 of 12 on third down and lost the time of possession battle by seven minutes. The Huskies need to do a better job sustaining drives and controlling the football. They also need to get off to a good start. Last year, NIU had to come from behind to beat Ball State. This year it might not be as easy if they fall behind by more than one score.

Key Player, Ball State: QB Keith Wenning. In last year's game, Wenning threw 71 passes. He completed 42 of them for 434 yards but only had 1 TD against 2 INT. This year Wenning leads the MAC in passing yards (3164), passing TD (27) and QB rating (155.6). Wenning is the straw that stirs the Cardinals drink and he will lead them to victory or loss in this crucial game.

Key Player, NIU: QB Jordan Lynch. After trailing 23-14 in the 2012 game, Lynch had TD runs of 12 and 71 yards and led the Huskies to a come from behind victory against the Cardinals. He totaled 207 yards on the ground and 195 through the air and was responsible for four TDs. Lynch won the Vern Smith Leadership Award in 2012 (which goes to the best player in the MAC). To be the man you have to beat the man and for Ball State to overtake NIU in the MAC they have to stop Jordan Lynch.

Key Stat: NIU has a four game win streak over Ball State but in the last two games played at NIU, the margin of victory for the Huskies is just 4.5 points per game.

About Kevin Causey

Dry humorist, craft beer enthusiast, occasionally unbiased SEC fan, UGA alumni, contributor for The Comeback.