Bobcats rolled over by Ball State offense

With two and a half minutes remaining in the first half Wednesday, Ball State junior quarterback Keith Wenning dropped back and handed the ball to junior wide receiver Jamill Smith. Instead of continuing to play the fake, Wenning kept running upfield, where he gathered a 17-yard pass from Smith.

As he clamped down on the pass while breaking down the far sideline, Ohio’s once-promising season seemed to flash in a “now-you-have it, now-you-don’t” encapsulation, as the catch, which later led to an easy touchdown trot, was only one of many big-play daggers that hit the heart of Ohio’s Mid-American Conference free-fall during its 52-27 loss.

The defeat was Ohio’s worst since the 2010 R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl and marked the 11th time in the past 12 seasons it suffered a skid in which it lost at least three of four games.   

Ohio (8-3, 4-3 MAC) allowed its opponent to compile 357 yards on 9.2 yards per carry — their highest in either category this season — and gave up a season-high 21 fourth-quarter points.

Needless to say, there weren’t many positives for Ohio to pull from the outing.

The Bobcats, which entered the game with a slew of players sidelined with season-ending injuries, also watched defensive linemen Neal Huynh, a redshirt senior, and Carl Jones, a senior, be carted off the field with apparent lower-body injuries with less than 11 minutes remaining in the first half.

“We have guys playing that are banged up, and I think that has taken a toll,” Ohio coach Frank Solich said.

The Bobcats and Cardinals (8-3, 5-2 MAC) traded blows in the first half, where  the lead changed hands six times.

The Bobcats’ touchdown plays were one- and two-yard runs, but were the result of a line of explosive plays.

Ohio redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Tettleton hit the ground with time winding down in the first quarter for a 17-yard gain, and, on the second quarter’s opening play, reached redshirt sophomore wide receiver Chase Cochran on Ball State’s six-yard line for a 31-yard strike.

Redshirt junior running back Beau Blankenship handled it from there, taking two plays to make the end zone plunge.

On their next drive, the Bobcats once again took care of business, as freshman Daz’mond Patterson took a swing pass 68 yards to the Cardinals’ two-yard line. Two plays later, Blankenship sneaked through the line untouched for the Bobcats’ second score.

Aside from the quarterback catch, after which Wenning didn’t return because of an ankle injury sustained on the play, Ohio’s breaks were wedged between bursts from Ball State.

Sophomore Willie Snead, the MAC’s leading receiver, cashed in on a bubble route reception for a 42-yard score to supply the Cardinals’ other first half highlight.

The trend continued into the third quarter, but didn’t last long.

“We didn’t consistently move the football. We had spurts of being able to get things done. We put 27 points on the board, and there are times where that is enough to win football games,” Solich said.

Ohio’s lone second half touchdown was directly followed by a Ball State one-two punch, where sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards got outside for a 68-yard run and junior tight end Zane Fakes sealed the deal by snagging a three-yard pass for a touchdown on the next play to give the Cardinals the lead for good.

After trading field goals, the Bobcats lent the Cardinals a hand by committing a pair of compounding personal fouls on an already-46-yard return kickoff, giving the Cardinals prime position on Ohio’s 23-yard line.

It took only one play for freshman Horactio Banks to make his way to the end zone, shaking off defenders like Pop Warner players.

On their next drive, the Cardinals secured a 13-yard touchdown toss to Fakes to bring the score to 45-27, and added another touchdown, a 28-yard run from Edwards, with just more than two minutes remaining.

Ohio redshirt senior defensive lineman Corey Hasting tried to put the loss in perspective. If heading into the game with no chance of making the MAC Championship wasn’t enough, the Bobcats will possibly be fighting for bowl contention next week against Kent State.

“We need to realize we still are 8-3,” he said. “We still may not feel like it after this loss … but lots of teams around the country would like to be 8-3.”

It might not be the worst place to be, but it sure isn’t where the Bobcats saw themselves when they became the nation’s first bowl eligible team in week six.

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