Miami set to face defending MAC champion Ball State -- ‘the kings of the trick plays’

Miami (Ohio) quarterback AJ Mayer (10) throws during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Cincinnati, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)
Miami (Ohio) quarterback AJ Mayer (10) throws during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Cincinnati, Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Jeff Dean)

Credit: Jeff Dean

Credit: Jeff Dean

If Miami’s football scout team enjoys any week of the season, it’s Ball State week.

The Cardinals, under sixth-year coach Mike Neu, run more trick plays than any team in the Mid-American Conference and perhaps the nation. That meant the RedHawks’ scout teams had to help the first-team defense prepare for a bag of tricks that rivaled anything a Halloween trick-or-treater might unveil.

“We’ll be practicing more trick plays,” Miami coach Chuck Martin promised during his weekly media session.

Somebody suggested the scout team members’ minds might be reeling at what they had to learn on short notice. Not so, Martin responded.

“They love running those plays,” he said. “They love breaking one.”

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Ball State (4-3, 2-1), the defending MAC champion, brings a three-game winning streak into Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game Scheumann Stadium in Muncie, Ind. The streak includes wins over Army and Eastern Michigan, two teams that Miami (3-4, 2-1) has already lost to this season.

The Cardinals are tied with Western Michigan and Central Michigan for second place in the MAC West Division behind 5-2 and 3-0 Northern Illinois. The RedHawks are tied with Kent State for first place in the MAC East.

Martin’s primary concern going into Saturday’s game was Ball State’s big-play capability, led by quarterback Drew Plitt, a sixth-year senior who helped lead Loveland to Ohio’s 2013 Division II state championship, and fifth-year senior wide receiver Justin Hall, a dangerous returner who leads the MAC with an average of 141.8 all-purpose yards per game.

Neu was the 1993 MAC Offensive Player of the Year while playing for Ball State.

“I have a lot of respect for Ball State,” Martin said. “They’ve been good for a while. In 2019, they were as good as any team we played all year. They’ve been really good offensively for six years. Plitt is really good at running their stuff. The last four or five years, he’s been as good as anybody in the MAC.

“They’re the kings of the trick plays. We watched one game where they ran four or five in the first quarter and you start thinking, ‘They’ve got to be running out of trick plays,’ and then they come up with a reverse. They had two straight games where they scored on the first play.

“Hall can score from anywhere on the field. They come out swinging.”

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Plitt threw a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first play of Ball State’s 45-20 win over Western Michigan on October 9, one week after Hall ran the opening kickoff back 99 yards for a touchdown in a 28-16 win over Army.

Despite their explosiveness, the Cardinals rank only ninth in the 12-team MAC in scoring and passing yards per game and 11th in average total offense and rushing yards per game. Miami might have to be more concerned about a Ball State defense led by fifth-year safety Bryce Cosby, who’s been the MAC West Defensive Player of the Week each of the last two week. Cosby piled up a game-high 11 tackles, including a sack, and is the only player in the nation to log multiple games of at least 10 tackles, one sack and one forced fumble.

“Their defense is filled with crazy athletes,” sixth-year Miami wide receiver Jack Sorenson. “They can match that with our offense. We have to protect the ball, and we have to work on sustaining drives, which has been a problem this year.”

The RedHawks and Ball State renewed the “Redbird Rivalry” last Nov. 4 in the opener for both teams of a season shortened by pandemic protocols. Miami won in Oxford, 38-31, coming back in the second half from a 21-10 deficit behind the passing of A.J. Mayer, who threw for 211 yards and three touchdowns, two to redshirt freshman Jack Coldiron.

The win was Miami’s fourth in the last five games between the two rivals. The RedHawks lead the overall series, 20-13-1.

Miami will be off after Saturday until playing at Ohio on Nov. 2. Kickoff time for that game has yet to be announced.


Miami at Ball State, 3:30 p.m., ESPN+, 980, 1450

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