Kings of drama
The Cardiac Cowboys will look to climb to 3-0 after scoring victories over Montana State (19-16) and Northern Illinois (50-43) with touchdowns from 75 yards in the final two minutes. Sean Chambers held onto the game in the balance, completing a 21-yard touchdown pass to Treyton Welch with 47 seconds left to beat the Bobcats to Brent Vigen and run for a 9-yard touchdown with 1:35 left for get the Pokes to the finish line against the Huskies after a second half misstep. The two winning scores came to third base. UW has scored 24 points in the fourth quarter this season.
Back to back vs MAC
The Cowboys improved to 2-0 in classic games against NIU. After Josh Allen took the game-winning dive over the goal line to seal the 40-34 triple-overtime victory in the wee hours of Game 1 of 2016, Chambers managed to get the Pokes out of the mat after that the team wasted a 42-16 led last Saturday at Huskie Stadium. Now UW, which improved to 9-4 against the Mid-American Conference, will host Ball State. The reigning MAC champion and preseason favorite, the Cardinals defeated Mountain West champion San Jose State 34-13 in the 2020 Arizona Bowl for the first win in program history. Ball State is 1-3 all-time against current MWC members. UW defeated Central Michigan 37-14 in an MWC-MAC clash in the famous 2017 Idaho Potatoes Bowl.
The Cowboys defense to test
The UW defense will be looking to bounce back from last week’s faltering performance in DeKalb, Ill.. The Pokes had three interceptions but allowed 477 total yards, 244 rushing yards and 43 points to NIU. Now defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel, whose unit ranks 97th in the FBS for rushing yards allowed (182.5 per game) and 90th for total yards allowed (399.0 per game), will face one of the most experienced offenses in the country. Ball State quarterback Drew Plitt has totaled 6,520 yards and 50 touchdowns in his career, wide receiver Justin Hall already holds the school’s career receiving record (271) and running back Carson Steele is one of only two true freshmen to rush for a touchdown in both games to open the season.
UW’s vertical passing game is back with the emergence of Isaiah Neyer as a potential All-Mountain West first-team selection. After being limited to three catches for 32 yards by Montana State, Neyor finished with four receptions for 87 yards and two touchdowns against NIU. He also ran for a 5-yard touchdown on a reaction sweep and caught a 2-point conversion. Chambers and Neyor should be able to release a Ball State defense that ranks 121st in passing yards allowed (310.0 per game) so far this season. Penn State quarterbacks Sean Clifford and Ta’Quan Roberson completed a total of 22 passes for 31 for 253 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions in last Saturday’s 44-13 win over the Cardinals.
A month of September to remember?
Beating the reigning MAC champions will be the toughest hurdle for the Cowboys on the road to a 4-0 start. And the first two games turned out to be draws late in the fourth quarter. Plitt is an outstanding quarterback and one of 16 Super Seniors on Ball State’s roster. The Cardinals also have three of the MAC’s top 15 tackles, linebacker Jaylin Thomas and defensemen Bryce Crosby and Brett Anderson. Head coach Mike Neu, a former Ball State quarterback, has the schedule in place for another great season after last year’s 7-1. But UW head coach Craig Bohl also has a full and experienced roster capable of fighting for an MWC crown. A victory on Saturday would put UW, who play hapless UConn on September 25, in a position to start a season 4-0 for the first time since 1996. The Pokes are the 7-point favorites on Saturday.