The return of a healthy Sean Chambers behind center has injected the Wyoming offense with a sense of confidence that was frequently missing last season. After rushing for 894 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first 13 career games, Chambers' running abilities were no secret heading into 2021. His growth in the passing game has been perhaps most impressive through two games, however. The Kerman, California, product has passed for three touchdowns and 400 yards on 57% passing, while averaging 8.2 yards per attempt. Ball State has its own seasoned signal-caller in second team All-MAC selection Drew Plitt, who is in his sixth year with the Cardinals. Plitt is coming off a rough outing against Penn State, during which he completed 25 of 39 passes for 176 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Still, he ranks No. 3 and No. 4, respectively, on Ball State’s career passing touchdowns and yardage lists, and is one of the most experienced quarterbacks the Cowboys will face this season.
UW senior running back Xazavian Valladay helped the Cowboys’ running game overcome a slow start to the season last week, racking up 101 rushing yards and a touchdown against Northern Illinois, while also adding 50 yards receiving. Titus Swen provides the Pokes with a more than serviceable second option in the backfield, with the junior rushing for 54 yards and a touchdown on nine carries last week. The Cardinals are averaging a respectable 4.3 yards per carry, with 285 rushing yards through two games. Will Jones has a team-high 109 rushing yards for Ball State, while Carson Steele is one of two true freshmen in the country with rushing touchdowns in each of his first two career games.
Wide receiver/tight end
Isaiah Neyor delivered the most productive performance of his UW career last week, compiling 100 yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, with his 30-yard snag at the NIU 4-yard line setting up the Cowboys’ game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Ayden Eberhardt has been another key target for Chambers, with a team-best 120 yards, while Treyton Welch has continued to provide a receiving threat at tight end following his game-winning touchdown catch in Week 1. The Cardinals have no shortage of firepower at receiver themselves, with nobody standing out more than fifth-year senior Justin Hall. The four-time All-MAC selection leads all active college football players in career receptions with 265, and needs just 87 yards to break Ball State’s career receiving record.
Advantage: Ball State
As confirmed by UW coach Craig Bohl, the traditional tailback running game was the greatest disappointment for the Cowboys in Week 1, with running backs compiling only 98 yards on 27 carries, and just one run of 10-plus yards from outside the quarterback position. Any worries in this area were put to rest last week, as Valladay and Swen combined for 155 yards and two touchdowns on the ground in a win over NIU. Perhaps most promising for the Pokes is the dominance their offensive line displayed, overpowering the Huskies’ defensive front for the better part of the day and the entire first half. The Cardinals’ O-line has been productive itself, with 216 rushing yards in Week 1 before being held in check against Penn State last Saturday. Second team All-MAC tackle Curtis Blackwell is the most seasoned member of this group, with sixth-year senior Kaleb Slaven providing experience on the other side of the line.
The Cowboys’ defensive line has displayed flashes of immense promise in each of the first two games, with UW’s big guys up front controlling the line of scrimmage for the bulk of wins over NIU and Montana State. However, Harrison Waylee’s 182 rushing yards in the second half last week is certainly an area for concern. The Pokes also need to get more pressure on the quarterback, with only three sacks from the D-line in two games. Tavion Woodard has been a disruptive force for Ball State up front, with three sacks on the year already. He’s joined on the line by a pair of proven defensive ends, Jack Sape and Chris Agyemang, who have a combined eight years of experience at the college level.
Advantage: Ball State
UW's Chad Muma has wasted no time showing why he was selected to the Butkus Award watch list earlier this year, racking up 21 tackles, including three for a loss, a sack, a fumble recovery, a blocked punt and an interception returned for a touchdown in two games this season. Easton Gibbs has also provided reason for optimism in his first year as a full-time starter, with a tipped pass that resulted in an interception last week. Tackling has been a concern for the entire UW defense, though, and the linebacker position is no different. Ball State boasts one of the top linebacker corps in the MAC, with three returning all-conference selections. Co-MAC defensive player of the year Brandon Martin missed last week following a procedure, however, and his status for the immediate future isn't clear.
With Azizi Hearn and C.J. Coldon returning, the cornerback position was always presumed to be an area of strength for the Pokes. So far, they’ve lived up to their reputation as one of the top tandems in the Mountain West, with UW having yet to let an individual receiver go for more than 72 yards in a game. Safety has been arguably an equally strong point for the Cowboys, with Esias Gandy and Braden Smith combining for 24 tackles through two games, and Miles Williams and Rome Weber each pulling down interceptions last week. Secondary play has been worrisome at times for Ball State, which allowed 367 yards on 70% passing to an FCS opponent in Western Illinois in its season opener. Nic Jones recorded an interception during that game for the Cardinals’ only forced turnover of the year so far.
There hasn’t been much to complain about in the special teams department for either team, with both kickers having yet to miss an extra point or field goal attempt in 2021. Both punters rank in the top 50 in the country in yards per punt, and neither team has had many opportunities for scores in the return game.