WHERE: Tropicana Field
St. Petersburg, Florida
THE LINE: UCF -7
RADIO: WLBC 104.1 FM, WCRD 91.3 FM
Run Offense v. Central Florida
One of the reasons Ball State has been so successful this season is how balanced the offense has been. Defenses can’t key on the passing game because they have to respect Jahwan Edwards and Horactio Banks in the running game. Luckily for the Cardinals, UCF allows 162 yards rushing per game, Jahwan Edwards should be able to meet his goal of setting a school record for rushing yards in a bowl game.
Match Up to Watch: The offensive line v. UCF’s front seven
The offensive line has been banged up the last couple of games, with multiple players shuffling in and out of the lineup due to injury. The long break should have provided Dan Manick with an opportunity to be near 100%, Edwards and company will need the line to open holes and get up to block the second level if they are going to have the opportunity to make big plays. UCF safeties Kemal Ishmael and Clayton Geathers are UCF’s top two tacklers, that’s a good sign of a big night to come for the Cardinals on the ground.
Pass Offense v. UCF
The big question on everyone’s mind is if Keith Wenning will play tonight or not. On Ball State’s official depth chart for the game he’s listed as the starter, albeit with an ‘OR’ following his name. Obviously Keith’s the starter for a reason over Kelly Page, but given the length of time the coaches have had to prepare either quarterback to start I’m not concerned if Wenning can’t go. Jamill Smith is back from injury and will help attract attention away from Willie Snead by the UCF secondary.
Match Up to Watch: Ball State’s offensive tackles v. Troy Davis
Davis is a senior who leads the Knights with 6.5 sacks, redshirt freshman Deion Green is second with four and is brought in on obvious passing downs. The Cardinals have been one of the stingiest teams in the country at surrendering sacks, if Wenning does play he will still likely be slowed by his ankle injury and be unable to escape pressure, so the line will have to continue doing a great job of keeping his jersey clean.
Run Defense v. UCF
UCF is the 45th ranked rushing offense in FBS and enters the game averaging 178.7 yards a game. They’re an old school power rushing offense that uses a tight end and fullback to clear the way for Latavius Murray, a bruising senior running back. Murray and his two backups, Storm Johnson and Brynn Harvey, are all big, physical running backs with a downhill running style.
Match Up to Watch: Ball State’s defensive line v. the UCF offensive line
Brandon Newman has really come on strong to close out his senior season after seizing the starting nose tackle job from Donovan Jarrett. He’ll be going up a very good center in Jordan Rae, who lacks prototypical size but was first team All-C-USA. With the exception of Rae, the UCF offensive line is both tall and big, Ball State will need the defensive linemen to eat blockers to keep the linebackers clean and flowing to the ball. UCF’s running backs are surprisingly fast given their size, the linebackers will need to hit them hard early before they get the chance to build up a head of steam.
Pass Defense v. UCF
We all are very aware of how much Ball State’s secondary struggled this season, but the secondary has able to make some plays lately and been more of a bend but don’t break unit. They’ll be facing a very good quarterback in Blake Bortles, who has thrown for over 2,700 yards and 22 touchdowns. Bortles tends to spread the ball around, J.J. Worton is UCF’s leading receiver with 562 yards; the Cardinals will have to keep an eye on Quincy McDuffie and his backup Rannell Hall, both have caught passes for 50+ yards this season.
Match Up to Watch: Blake Bortles v. Jonathon Newsome
As always, a good pass rush can disrupt even the best of quarterbacks and Newsome has been on a tear lately. Even if he doesn’t get to the quarterback for the sack, he’s still applying heavy pressure and making the quarterback’s life miserable. Bortles is also a very good runner, so the defensive line will have to be responsible while applying pressure to avoid providing him a lane to step into and take off down the field for some big plays. Safety Jarrett Swaby will face off against his old teammates tonight, how great of a story would if be if he could have a good game and pick off Bortles?
- Wenning can’t go and Page suddenly looks like an overwhelmed redshirt freshman again
- Bortles lights up the Cardinals defense on the ground and through the air
- Murray and company run over the Cardinals front seven
Start planning the victory party if:
- Wenning/Page play well and keep the offense moving
- Edwards and Banks are able to have a big day on the ground
- The defense is able to force UCF to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns
This should be a great game against a challenging opponent, but Ball State has a good chance of pulling off the upset and winning its first bowl game ever. Central Florida is the more talented team, but Ball State has been beating or hanging right with more talented teams all season long. Las Vegas might like UCF’s chances, but I’m not going to bet against Pete Lembo and Rich Skrosky, especially not after they’ve had this long to devise their game plan. Ball State pulls off the upset and wins 41-38.