MUNCIE, IN– Residents of the Hoosier state have suffered through a brutal winter with record snowfall and unusually tardy warm weather, but the arrival of Ball State’s 2014 Spring Game signifies a change in the season. The sun-soaked afternoon reintroduced Cardinals faithful to football in Muncie and gave fans their first glimpse of the future of Ball State football.
In addition to the game itself, there was plenty to distract from memories of Ball State’s last game, a painful 23-20 loss in the GoDaddy Bowl that could have been the program’s first bowl win. A bouncy house at the entrance to Scheumann Stadium and an Easter-egg hunt at the North end of the stadium awaited the kids. 500 free hot dogs were given out to fans and several lucky students won prizes including an I-Pad and flat-screen television. After the post-game huddle, the players approached the southwest corner of the stadium to sing the school fight song with fans, and then were made available for pictures and autographs.
The distractions were only temporary though. During the game, concerns regarding Ball State’s new cast on offense quickly arose. The biggest concern is who will replace former quarterback Keith Wenning.
Head coach Pete Lembo has said all four quarterbacks on the roster will have an opportunity this spring, and that the competition may extend beyond. Unfortunately for Cardinals fans, nobody stepped up on Saturday.
Ozzie Mann took the field for the opening drive, but it quickly ended. After short-arming a pass on a 10-yard out route to the right side, Mann threw an interception on the second play that was returned to the five-yard line. It may have been just the first two plays of the game, but it was also the first two in a series of mistakes from the quarterback position that left more questions than answers.
Mann wasn’t the only quarterback to struggle. He was the only one to throw an interception, but his 58 percent completion percentage was the highest of the bunch. Collectively, Mann, David Morrison, Kyle Kamman, and Jack Milascompleted 22 of 52 passes for 234 yards. Nearly a third of the yards came on a 71-yard pass from Milas to wide receiver Shane Bell. Bell ran a go route on the left side and Milas delivered a perfect over the shoulder the ball. It was a great play to watch and got the fans excited, but it was a rarity in Saturday’s game. All four quarterbacks regularly short-armed and threw late on outs, curls and comebacks or threw into traffic on crossing routes. Some struggles are to be expected from this inexperienced group, but they aren’t limited to just the quarterback position. In addition to losing their starting quarterback, Ball State lost three of its top four receivers from last year.
Jordan Williams is the only returning player from last year’s top four recievers. KeVonn Mabon likely will receive the majority of reps on the first team alongside Williams. He led all receivers with six receptions in the spring game and was targeted several other times. The question with Mabon is how he’ll react to being thrust into the starting role with so little experience. He played in just three games last season and made seven receptions. His inexperience revealed itself in the second quarter when he found himself wide open but dropped the pass for what would have been a sure first down. Some help from the running game would open things up for the passing game, but the running game didn’t look great either.
Running Back Jahwan Edwards thrived last year in Ball State’s high-flying offense, but without the threat of a prolific quarterback and receiving core this year, he could struggle. He averaged just 2.0 yards per carry on 13 carries Saturday, compared to 5.2 yards per carry during the 2013-14 season.
“I think our defense continues to move forward and grow up,” said Lembo. “Offensively, we are a work in progress.”
The spring game featured a unique scoring system that awarded points to the defense as well as the offense. The defense played well all game, giving up just a handful of plays, and was rewarded with a 44-22 win. The big question though is how will Ball State win games if it can’t score? They still have time to sort out the offense, there first game isn’t until August 30 when they host Colgate, but for now much uncertainty remains.
Daniel Frank is the Ball State Athletics Beat Writer for the Indy Sports Report and is recognized as an accredited member of the media by the Ball State Athletics Dept. with full media access. FollowDaniel and the Indy Sports Report on Twitter.
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