2009 GMAC Bowl Preview - Ball State vs. Tulsa
Ball State's Nate Davis & Tulsa's Tarrion Adams
Ball State's Nate Davis & Tulsa's Tarrion Adams
Posted Jan 4, 2009

It's the second-to-last game of the college football season, and it should be a good one. Ball State and Tulsa should be a nice warm-up act before the headliners take stage on Thursday night. Expect lots of scoring and lots of offense. Check out the CFN 2009 GMAC Bowl Preview & Prediction.

2009 GMAC Bowl  

Tulsa (10-3) vs. Ball State (12-1)

Jan. 6, 8:00 p.m. ET, ESPN

$750,000   Location: Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile AL

2009 GMAC Bowl Player Profiles, Histories, & More

National Rankings
Ball State Tulsa
Total Offense
11th  459.38 ypg 1st  565.08 ypg
Total Defense
54th  347.92 ypg 83rd  391.15 ypg
Scoring Offense
16th  36.62 ppg 2nd  47.38 ppg
Scoring Defense
19th 18.62 ppg 85th  29.08 ppg
Run Offense
24th  192.69 ypg 7th  254.85 ypg
Run Defense
65th  141.77 ypg 44th  133.46 ypg
Pass Offense
22nd  266.69 ypg 7th  310.23 ypg
Pass Defense
56th  206.15 ypg 103rd  257.69 ypg
Turnover Margin
22nd  0.62 96th  -0.62
Ball State
Neastern W 48-14
Navy W 35-23
at Akron W 41-24
at Indiana W 42-20
Kent St W 41-20
at Toledo W 31-0
at W Kent. W 24-7
East Mich W 38-16
No Illinois W 45-14
at Miami Un W 31-16
at CMU W 31-24
WMU W 45-22
Dec. 5 MAC Champ
Buffalo L 42-24
at UAB W 45-22
at N Texas W 56-26
N Mexico W 56-14
Central Ark. W 62-34
Rice W 63-28
at SMU W 37-31
UTEP W 77-35
UCF W 49-19
at Arkansas L 30-23
at Houston L 70-30
Tulane W 56-7
at Marshall W 38-35
C-USA Champ
East Carolina L 27-24
Position Ratings
relative to each other
B 5 highest
1 lowest
5 Quarterbacks 4
5 RBs 4
4 Receivers 4
4 O Line 3.5
3 D Line 3
3 Linebackers 3
3 Secondary 2
4 Spec Teams 3
4.5 Coaching 5

Forgetting that there’s a cloud of overall disappointment and strangeness to the game, this really should be a nice opening act to the big band coming up two nights later.

From the way Tulsa gagged away the Conference USA championship game with seven turnovers against East Carolina, to the way Ball State gagged away the MAC championship game with five turnovers, to the name of the bowl itself, to the timing of the game, seeming a bit out of place after the New Year’s Day bowls, everything about the game is a bit off. But fortunately, the matchup itself should be fantastic.
Tulsa, not Oklahoma, led the nation in total offense, averaging 565 yards per game, with the Gus Malzahn offense striking a tremendous balance finishing seventh in the nation in rushing and seventh in passing. On the other side, Ball State is loaded with offensive firepower, finishing first in the MAC in scoring and total yards averaging 459 yards and close to 37 points per game.  While this looks like a can’t-miss game with lots of fun and lots of fireworks between two teams that probably should’ve won their respective conference titles, that hasn’t always been the case with this bowl.

Last year, Tulsa and its No. 1 offense took on Bowling Green in what was supposed to be a firefight; Tulsa won 63-7. After Marshall’s epic comeback to beat East Carolina in the 2001, 64-61 classic, this game has been among the worst of the bowl season with five straight decided by 17 points or more.

Tulsa started off the year 8-0 with its high-powered offense blowing through everything in its path, but outside of a 63-28 win over Rice, there weren’t any wins of note. And then came the prove-it game against Arkansas, and one 23-20 loss later, the team tumbled down the tree when it came to national respect. Two weeks later came the 70-30 loss to Houston, and the once-great season suddenly looked like it was going into the tank.
Fortunately for the Golden Hurricane, Tulane and Marshall were up next to ease the pain of the two losses, and then came the disaster, at home, to ECU in the title game. Now, considering the only win over a bowl team was against Rice, Tulsa needs this win to legitimatize an otherwise strong year.
Ball State, even with the stunning loss to Buffalo, came up with the most impressive year in the program’s history. There was a nice win over Navy, a blowout of a Big Ten team, even if it was Indiana, and win after win with 11 of the 12 coming by 11 points or more, and the one close battle a 31-24 victory at Central Michigan that dethroned the two-time MAC champion. It’s not like the Cardinals went in the tank against UB; they put up 503 yards of total offense and held Buffalo to just 301.

But Ball State needs to be extra sharp all the time to get any respect, mainly because of the MAC tie-in. This year, with Central Michigan losing to Florida Atlantic in the Motor City Bowl, Northern Illinois losing to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl, Western Michigan getting bombed on by Rice in the Texas Bowl, and Buffalo getting run over by UConn in the International Bowl, Ball State needs to come up with a win just to save a little face for the league that might dip below the Sun Belt in overall pecking order.

There are only two games left in the college football season, and then it’s on to bigger and better things … and looking ahead to the 2009 campaign. In a few weeks, you’ll be mad if you missed this game; it’ll be exciting enough to make it appointment television on a January Tuesday night.
Players to watch: Is this it for Nate Davis? The Ball State star has said he plans on staying in school for his senior year, and he would likely be the top quarterback prospect for the 2010 NFL Draft, but it might be too tempting to not think about coming out early. He didn’t have to be the entire focus of his offense this season, he had a nice running game to work with, but he came through with a solid season throwing 26 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions, while running for four scores. While he might not be huge, he has a live arm, decent mobility and running skills that he doesn’t use nearly enough, and he has a total command of the offense. If this really is going to be a shootout, then Davis should be able to handle the pressure of the game without a problem.
Tulsa’s David Johnson only got to start for one year, after working behind Paul Smith, and he made the most of his opportunity throwing for 43 touchdowns and for 3,866 yards. However, he had a problem with interceptions, throwing 18 on the year and five in the loss to East Carolina. He’s a smart, tough, accurate passer who doesn’t have the liveliest of arms, but he’s great at getting the ball to his receivers on the move and he’s unstoppable when he gets on a roll.
While Johnson got most of the headlines for the Tulsa offense, it was senior Tarrion Adams who great into the special playmaker for the ground game. He was in the midst of a strong season, and then he ripped off 323 yards and a score against Tulane and followed it up with a 123-yard, three touchdown day against Marshall. On the year, the speedy north-south back finished with 1,316 yards and 11 scores with six of those touchdowns coming in the final three games.

Adams isn’t necessarily a thumper, but at 210 pounds he brings the power. On the other side is Ball State RB MiQuale Lewis, a diminutive runner who ran for 1,701 yards on the year with 22 scores, and caught 34 passes for 311 yards. While he’s not going to run over anyone, he’s amazing when he’s able to break through and get into space. Give the 5-6 junior a few inches, and he’ll rip off yards in chunks.
Ball State will win if... the Tulsa turnovers start flowing. Ball State was stingy all year long until the Buffalo fiasco, and it has the defense to be able to force a few takeaways. Tulsa had turnover problems all season long with 30, but 15 of them came in the three losses. It’s not a stretch to say that Tulsa would’ve beaten East Carolina and Arkansas had it been better at hanging on to the ball, while the Houston game turned into an ugly blowout because of the mistakes. The Ball State passing game should be able to do whatever it wants to against the mediocre Tulsa secondary, so if Davis gets time against the aggressive Golden Hurricane defensive front, and if the defense wins the turnover battle, the MAC will finally get its bowl win.
Tulsa will win if
... it wins the battles on the lines. The pass rush has been fantastic all season long, but the run defense has been mediocre, even if the stats don’t say so. Everyone spends so much time throwing on the secondary that they forget to pound the ball, but Ball State has a good enough offensive line to control the game from the start and get Lewis going. The Tulsa offensive line has had a fantastic year, helped by the offense that works on getting the ball out of Johnson’s hands in a hurry. However, in this game, there shouldn’t be too much worrying about a Cardinal pass rush, so Johnson might have even more time than usual to work. That extra half second should be a very, very big deal if the Tulsa offensive line can provide it.
What will happen: Malzahn will be off to Auburn as its offensive coordinator, but he’ll stay on through the bowl game. Even so, the offense isn’t going to explode on a Ball State defense that never got enough credit with all the attention going to the offense. Davis will outplay Johnson and Lewis will run for 150 yards as the Cardinals get their first ever bowl win in five tries.

CFN Prediction: Ball State 38 … Tulsa 30 … Line: Ball State -2.5