Arkansas State 23, Ball State 20
Basically … Just when it seemed like the game was going into overtime with a personal foul penalty putting Ball State into field goal range to possibly tie the score, Arkansas State made amends as Scott Secor's 38-yard field goal attempt was blocked. With just 32 seconds to play, ASU took the lead on a 13-yard touchdown catch from Allen Muse after the two teams traded field goals throughout the second half. The Red Wolves got three field goals from Brian Davis, and Secor helped Ball State keep pace with two, but Ball State had the lead late helped by a nine-yard Willie Snead touchdown catch in the first quarter, but ASU scored 13 straight points to take the lead going into the fourth. Ball State took it back with a 37-yard Secor kick early in the fourth, and a one-yard Jahwan Edward touchdown run with 1:33 to play, but Fredi Knighten ran twis and went 3-for-3 on the game-winning drive.
- Arkansas State QB Fredi Knighten completed 15-of-20 passes for 115 yards and a touchdown with a pick, and led the team with 97 rushing yards on 19 carries.
- Ball State QB Keith Wenning completed 23-of-44 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown.
- Ball State RB Jahwan Edwards ran 28 times for 146 yards and a touchdown.
- Arkansas State PK Brian Davis missed a 34-yard field goal, but he hit from 41, 18 and 29 yards out. -
Arkansas State LB Qushaun Lee made 15 tackles with an interception.
Ball State (10-2) vs. Arkansas State (7-5) Jan. 5 9 pm ESPN
Here's The Deal … In theory, this should be a decent game and it could end up being better and more entertaining than the BCS championship, and at the very least, the MAC and Sun Belt have forged a nice partnership in this game that should take another step forward.
This is the third straight GoDaddy for Arkansas State, who beat Kent State last season 17-13 and lost to Northern Illinois two years ago. The MAC has taken three of the four games in the series, and while the wins didn't register anything on the college football radar, it's been a nice second-to-last act to the respective seasons. It's the appetizer before the main course.
Ball State has been fantastic, losing a tight game to North Texas on the road early in the year and to Northern Illinois late. Around those two losses were lots and lots and lots of wins over really, really, really bad teams. The Toledo win was good, and beating Virginia on the road was nice, and getting by Central Michigan isn't too bad, but for the most part, the Cardinals built up their record on the backs of the weak and the sad.
But that's how the world works in the MAC – beat the teams you're supposed to and all will be right with the world.
The offense has been devastating, averaging over 40 yards per game thanks to a high-octane passing attack that slings it all over the field and isn't afraid to take a few chances. There were a few hiccups, but the O never scored fewer than 27 points and going 9-0 when scoring more.
Arkansas State gives up 26.7 points per game.
The Red Wolves haven't been Hugh Freeze or Gus Malzahn scary good, but they blossomed as the season went on, overcoming a 3-4 start to reel off four straight wins before losing the regular season finale to WKU. The Red Wolves were in rebuilding mode, and now they're doing it again as the stepping-stone job program for coaches with Bryan Harsin off to Boise State and North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson in. John Thompson will be the interim head man, but the program is used to dealing with the coaching carousel.
This is just the fourth bowl game in Arkansas State history, losing the first two before last year's win over Kent State. Ball State is 0-6 all-time in the post-season, getting blown out in all of them except for the 18-15 loss to Nevada in the Las Vegas. The Cardinals lost to UCF in the 2012 Beef O' Brady's.
Players to Watch: It's the final game in the great career of Keith Wenning, who's closing on red hot, hitting 82% of his passes for 445 yards and six touchdowns in the win over Miami University, and throwing 34 scoring passes with just six picks all year. Accurate and consistent, when he gets into a groove, forget about it – he and the offense are unstoppable. A veteran, he makes the right reads and doesn't make the big mistakes, but he threw two picks in two games this year including the loss to North Texas. Big, strong and talented, now he needs to leave a legacy with a Ball State bowl win after struggling a bit in the loss to UCF last year.
Trying to get to stop up the Cardinal O is Ryan Carrethers, a 6-2, 310-pound run plugger who earned First Team All-Sun Belt honors for the second straight season finishing second on the team with 87 tackles with four sacks and eight tackles for loss. Not just an anchor, he's a playmaker in the interior who allows everyone to work around him.
The Red Wolves uncovered a playmaker as a freshman in WR J.D McKissic, who caught 103 passes for, 1,022 yards last year, and while he didn't come up with the same sort of season this year, he was still outstanding. The All-Sun Belt star led the team with 72 catches for 578 yards, and while he wasn't a deep play hitter averaging just eight yards per carry, and he just scored four times, he nailed Missouri for 15 catches for 117 yards in the loss. While he's not huge, he's a terrific route runner with great hands – he doesn't miss a play.
Trying to match McKissic, and on the other end of several Wenning passes, is all-star Willie Snead, a speedster who can strike from anywhere, he caught 89 passes last year and 97 balls this year for 1,429 yards averaging close to 15 yards per catch with 14 scores. He found a groove over the second half of the season catching a touchdown pass in seven straight games and catching 23 passes for 254 yards and two scores over the last two games.
Arkansas State will win if … the defensive front can pressure Wenning and get into the backfield and screw things up. The Red Wolves had problems against most passing teams, but they were still able to win a few games after getting lit up – they beat Troy after getting hit for 504 yards – but pressure into the backfield has been the key to the season so far. ASU is 5-1 when coming up with five tackles or more, and lost four games on the four worst days for the front seven, coming up with just two tackles for loss against Memphis, Missouri and WKU, and just four against ULL. There were other major problems in three of those games, scoring just 33 points total in blowouts against the Tigers – both kinds – and Ragin' Cajuns, but getting the D off the field and being disruptive was a big issue. Ball State can't have time to get the offense moving.
Ball State will win if … the deep ball is working. The offensive line did a tremendous job all season long of keeping Wenning upright, and he's terrific at getting the ball out of his hands in a hurry, but the Cardinals need the short-to-midrange passes to turn into big plays. BSU averaged just 6.6 yards per pass against Kent State, with Wenning throwing two picks, and the O bogged down despite 305 yards coming through the air. In the two losses, Wenning averaged 7.2 yards per pass with two picks – the third-loses yard-per-attempt of the season – against North Texas, and 6.6 yards per throw in the loss to Northern Illinois. Arkansas State has to keep everything in front of the secondary, but that's easier said than done.
What Will Happen: Ball State's offensive line has been terrific, and it's going to be the difference as the offense gets things moving right away and keeps ASU pressing. The Red Wolves are going to struggle a bit with the head coaching changes, while the Cardinals will be determined to come up with one of their biggest wins ever. Wenning will be the difference.
Prediction: Ball State 38 … Arkansas State 27
Line: Ball State -8.5 … o/u: 64
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