2011 Ball State Preview – Offense
Ball State C Kreg Hunter
Ball State C Kreg Hunter
Posted Jun 12, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Ball State Cardinal Offense

Ball State Cardinals

Preview 2011 - Offense

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What You Need To Know: After a miserable 2009, the offense was supposed to be far better and far more efficient and effective last year. Instead it was last in the MAC in passing and finished 106h in the nation in total yards. Expect a major change with the coaching staff going with an up-tempo, no-huddle attack – but it's NOT a spread offense; the coaches are emphatic about that – that can adapt to the situation. The passing game is going to start doing much, much more with the passing game going to be the main mode of transportation thanks to a veteran receiving corps and more expected from second-year quarterback Keith Wenning. The running backs are deep and quick, and they should shine behind an experienced, good line with five players with starting experience back.

Returning Leaders
Passing: Keith Wenning
128-235, 1,373 yds, 14 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: Eric Williams
127 carries, 613 yds, 5 TD
Receiving: Jack Tomlinson
29 catches, 484 yds, 6 TD

Star of the offense: Junior RB Eric Williams
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore QB Keith Wenning
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman WR Willie Snead
Best pro prospect: Williams (as a kick returner)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Williams, 2) WR Briggs Orsbon, 3) WR Jack Tomlinson
Strength of the offense: Experience, Line
Weakness of the offense: Passing Efficiency, Power Run Blocking


State of the Unit: Ball State appears to be sick of not being able to throw the ball. After finishing last in the MAC in passing and 101st in the nation in passing efficiency, with 18 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions and a mere 1,843 yards, the new coaching staff is going to change things up. The no-huddle offense isn't the spread, but there will be plenty of short to midrange passes and lots of production compared to last year.

Sophomore Keith Wenning is a big, strong passer who was brought in to upgrade the air attack, and he had some decent moments last year throwing three scoring passes in the win over Akron and showing enough to think that he can run the new attack without a problem. He's 6-4, 220 pounds, and talented. A fantastic get for the program, he was a late bloomer who was given the option to walk on at Ohio State, but instead he'll take his Ohio state champion résumé, with 40 touchdown passes as a senior, to Muncie. He's smart, has a big arm, and has the potential to be exactly what the offense needs.

Junior Kelly Page is a big, veteran backup who can step in and produce when needed. At 6-3 and 211 pounds, he has the size and he has the arm, and he has the experience starting in the season opener and completing 10-of-17 passes in the win over SE Missouri State. He was the main man in 2009 before getting knocked out for the year with a thumb injury, and while he threw seven touchdown passes as a freshman, he also threw nine picks. Last year he completed 54% of his passes for 470 yards and four scores and two picks.

Watch Out For … The passing production to be far, far better. The efficiency might not be there, but watch out for the passing game to crank out more yards with Wenning and Page combining for over 3,000 yards.
Strength: Big passers. Wenning is a good talent who has the size and the arm to push the ball all over the field. Page might not have a gun, but he has a strong enough arm to do what the offense wants.
Weakness: Running. Page has a little bit of mobility and ran for 128 yards, but Wenning isn't going anywhere. More efficiency would be nice with too many picks and not enough big plays.
Outlook: The new offense should combine with the experience of Wenning at just the right time. The passing game might have been a bit of a train wreck over the last two seasons, but that will change. The quarterbacks are going to have fun with the up-tempo attack.
Unit Rating: 5

Running Backs

State of the Unit: The running game got a big break last year when MiQuale Lewis got a sixth year of eligibility, and while he was good, he wasn't so great that he's not replaceable; he didn't even lead the team in rushing. The Cardinals welcome back a slew of very quick, veteran backs who should shine with big holes to dart through. The more they can catch, the better.

Junior Eric Williams led the team with 613 yards and five scores, averaging 4.8 yards per run, and caught six passes for 108 yards and two more scores. A true gamebreaker, he's also an elite kickoff returner averaging over 25 yards per try. The 5-10, 203 pounder wasn't a workhorse, but he ran for over 100 yards in the two games he got 20 carries are more; the Cardinals won both games. A speedster, he runs a 10.6 100, and he has more power than the rest of the backs.

5-10, 198-pound sophomore David Brown ran for 117 yards against Central Michigan, helped by an 80-yard touchdown dash, and finished third on the team with 348 yards and a score averaging 5.6 yards per carry, and he caught five passes for 33 yards. He's a quick, darting back who'll take on a bigger role, and he'll do even more if he can make more things happen for the passing game.

Senior Cory Sykes is only 5-7 and 160 pounds, but he's a very quick, very productive back when he gets his chances averaging 5.7 yards per carry with 260 yards and two scores. While he didn't catch any passes, he could be used as a deadly playmaker if he gets the ball on the move.

Watch Out For … More catches from the back. There will be several check downs and more throws to the backs to get them the ball in space. They'll be used as safety valves.
Strength: Quickness. There's breakaway speed and lots of cut-on-a-dime quickness with Williams, Brown, and Sykes all able to zip for five yards a crack.
Weakness: Power. Forget about it. Williams brings a little bit of pop, but if the backs don't have creases to fly through, and/or if they can't make things happen on their own, the running game isn't going anywhere.
Outlook: The Ball State running backs aren't exactly along for the ride, but they'll be complementary players in the offense if everything goes right. There's too much experience and too much quickness to not utilize all the options, and while Williams has the tools to be a major producer, and even flirt with 1,000 yards if he gets the ball enough, it'll be a running back-by-committee approach.
Unit Rating: 5.5


State of the Unit: The receiving corps will have a fun season. The passing game will undergo a major upgrade with the new coaching staff, and with more experienced quarterbacks throwing the ball, there will be more chances to crank out big plays. Most of the top producers return, and there should be an excellent rotation, but now all the targets need the ball.

Senior Briggs Orsbon had a disappointing year catching just 29 passes for 295 yards and a score after making 51 catches as a sophomore and 68 grabs for 813 yards and five scores as a true freshman. He wasn't able to come up with a big breakout performance, but he caught four passes or more in three of the final four games. His only touchdown came on a nine-yard play against Eastern Michigan, and he has to use his experience to do more at the Z. At 6-0 and 189 pounds, he's a tough target who can make the tough catch. Sophomore Jamill Smith was a special scout teamer, and now he needs to use his incredible quickness to make more plays as a key backup. He's only 5-8 and 137 pounds, but he can fly.

5-9, 160-pound sophomore Jack Tomlinson led the team with 29 catches for 484 yards and six touchdowns, highlighted by an 80-yard play against Northern Illinois and a three-score day against Akron. He's not all that big, but he can hit the home run making big play after big play over the second half of the year. He'll get the first look at the W working in a rotation with senior Torieal Gibson , who caught 13 passes for 119 yards and a score. Extremely quick with the potential to blossom into more of a big play target, he's great in the open field. Now he just needs to get the ball on the move.

True freshman Willie Snead will get the first look at the outside X position. At 5-11 and 182 pounds, he has decent size, smarts, and a nose for the end zone. The Michigan Player of the Year was a dual-threat high school quarterback, and now he should be a dangerous playmaker on deep balls. He'll combine with 6-1, 187-pound sophomore Connor Ryan , a little used backup who caught one pass for a ten-yard score against Purdue.

The versatile offense will use a hybrid/combination position of fullback and tight end. Sophomore Aaron Mershman was supposed to be the starting quarterback going into last year, but he was quickly switched over to a receiver role catching 13 passes for 125 yards and a score. Now the 6-2, 211-pounder will be a tight end and a blocker, but he can be a field stretcher. A 400-meter sprinter in high school, he has the wheels. 6-3, 233-pound junior Zane Fakesis more of a true tight end who saw time in the first four games, catching four passes for 42 yards, before getting knocked out for the year with a knee injury.

Watch Out For … Snead. He's being put into the mix as a true freshman and is being asked to spread the field. With the attention needing to be paid to Tomlinson and Orsbon, Snead will have chances to his some big home runs.
Strength: Quick veterans. Tomlinson and Orsbon are the two leading receivers from last year, and Mershman and Gibson are reliable veterans who each came up with 13 catches. This group will figure out what it needs to do right away.
Weakness: Physical play. This is a very quick receiving corps that can fly into the open without a problem, but the blocking isn't there and the more physical defensive backs can shove this group around. Jam the Cardinal receivers, and it's over.
Outlook: The potential is there for this to be among the MAC's best receiving corps if the quarterback play is better. Orsbon and Tomlinson are No. 1 caliber targets, Gibson is a strong veteran, and Snead has a world of upside.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Offensive Line

State of the Unit: For all the problems on offense, the line wasn't an issue. The front five finished second in the MAC in sacks allowed and did a decent job for a running game that didn't get any help from the woeful passing game. Four starters return to a veteran front that has the potential to be fantastic as long as it doesn't have to try to get too physical. This isn't a big line, but it can move.

Michael Switzer is the one regular starter gone after starting the first part of the year at left guard before moving over to left tackle. Sophomore Jordan Hansel is a 6-4, 300-pound Strong Guard who started during the middle of the year at left guard and held his own. He's a tough brutish blocker who's one of the biggest bodies up front, and he'll combine with 6-3, 276-pound senior Jerrod Gray for the spot. Gray started the second half of last year at center, and will be the backup this year, but he'll see most of his time at guard.

6-3, 294-pound senior Kreg Hunter started every game at center as a sophomore, but he missed time with an ankle injury and was out for the second half of the year. Very smart and very tough, he's a true anchor who knows what he's doing as the quarterback of the veteran line.

Junior Austin Holtz was a spot starter over the second half of last year starting out at right tackle before moving over to the left. The 6-5, 296-pounder is a good, sound pass blocker and is just good enough on the move to be a reliable left tackle. He'll start at the Quick Tackle spot, while 6-6, 289-pound sophomore Matthew Page will get in the mix as a promising, athletic backup. He has the feet and a good frame, but now he needs more time.

True junior Kitt O'Brien was the only lineman to start every game last year getting the call at right guard. The 6-6, 305-pounder will be called a Quick Guard now, and as the team's biggest blocker he'll be used for most of the power plays. A mauler, he benches 225 pounds 36 times, and while he's lumbering, he's tough to get around.

Junior Dan Manick is a 6-4, 286-pound pass protector who started all but two games last year. Getting the call at Strong Tackle, he's a guard who plays on the outside, but he holds his own just fine against the better pass rushers. Versatile, he can play just about anywhere on the line. He'll be backed up by 6-6, 289-pound junior Cameron Lowry , who beefed up after starting out his career at 255 pounds. He has decent feet and is a good athlete, and he can step up at either tackle spot.

Watch Out For … Hunter to be an all-star. He was on his way to a great season before getting hurt, and he's about to come up with a terrific season as the main man in the middle.
Strength: Experience and pass protection. The injury issues of last year helped get several key players experience going into this year. Now there's depth, versatility, and the potential to be even better.
Weakness: Power run blocking. This isn't exactly a finesse unit, but it's not going to shove anyone into the fourth row. This is a relatively thin group that's supposed to make things happen on the move.
Outlook: The line fell off the map in 2009 and came back with a much, much stronger 2010. Now the line should be dominant at times if everyone can stay healthy. The starting five will be a rock, and there's good depth to work into the mix if needed. Be shocked if the line isn't great in pass protection.
Unit Rating: 5.5

- 2011 Ball State Preview | 2011 Ball State Offense
- 2011 Ball State Defense | 2011 Ball State Depth Chart
- Ball State Previews 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006