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The Arizona Bowl is set. On Thursday, the Ball State Cardinals (6-1) will take on the #22 San Jose State Spartans (7-0) at 4pm EST. The game can be viewed on CBS Sports Network. Here’s what you need to know:
The fact that this matchup has no hype is beyond frustrating. College football only boasts ten total Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences. That means only ten teams are crowned conference champions, out of 130 total. This contest features two of those ten.
San Jose State was crowned kings of the Mountain West Conference on December 19th. The Spartans did so by burying Boise State, doubling their yardage 498 to the Broncos’ 233. This win lifted the Spartans to a 7-0 season record and their first National ranking in eight years.
Offensive success has been a constant for the Spartans lately, outgaining their last four opponents each by over 100 yards. The Spartans attack the defense primarily through the air, accounting for 68% of their yardage. This matchup is favorable to the Spartans, as Ball State ranks 119th against the pass.
On the other side of the ball, the San Jose State defense is solid. They rank 23rd in total defense and 14th in yards per play. If the Cardinals draw up a scheme to stop this explosive passing attack, the Spartan defense can keep them in the game.
The Ball State Cardinals come in as Mid-American Conference (MAC) champs. They are coming off one of the most impressive defensive performances by any team this season. In the MAC Championship Game, the Cardinals held Buffalo running back Jaret Patterson to only 47 yards on 18 carries. Why is this important, you may ask?
Even with the lowly ranked defense, the Cardinals took away the most efficient rusher in the nation. Patterson was coming into the game vs. Ball State averaging over 271 yards per game in his last three contests. This just goes to show that this defense is up to the task, no matter how tall.
On offense, the Cardinals are fairly balanced and love to spread the rock. In the run game, they have two running backs that are only separated by six carries (74 and 80). In the passing game, Quarterback Drew Plitt has distributed the ball perfectly. Three players have at least 36 receptions, but none have more than 49.
Even though San Jose State does produce on the defensive side, they are vulnerable against the pass. If Ball State wants to work their balanced offense, they may have to get a couple of quick completions and spread the defense out. Running the ball on this defense that only allows 111 yards per game may not work instantly.
Players to Watch:
San Jose State – Quarterback Nick Starkel
There may be nobody in the FBS more traveled than Nick Starkel. After failed tenures at Texas A&M and Arkansas, Starkel finally found a home in San Jose. He’s completing 65% of his passes and is instrumental to this air attack.
Ball State – Wide Receiver Justin Hall
Hall is their absolute go-to player. He’s the player with the 49 catches, but also has 30 rushing attempts. That’s 79 touches on offense in only seven games. He’s getting the ball often, he’ll be hard to miss.