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Ball State Cardinals Preview

Alec Smith

Georgia vs. Ball State

Saturday, September 9th, 2023, 12:00 PM EST



Ball State




2023 Record



Head Coach

Kirby Smart (8th season)

Mike Neu (7th season)

Record at School




Unfortunately for the Ball State Cardinals, they open the 2023 season with back-to-back games on the road against SEC opponents. Fortunately for us, Ball State lost to Kentucky 14-44 last week, meaning that we have some indicators as to how Saturday will go for the Dawgs. For a team that was overmatched and lost by 30, Ball State effectively controlled the clock the entire game vs. UK. The Cardinals ran 71 total plays to Kentucky’s 51. They also dominated time of possession with 38:16 to KU’s 21:44. A few other stats of note:



Ball State

3rd Down Efficiency



Passing Yards



Rushing Yards










Ball State utilized three different signal callers last Saturday, with Grad Transfer Layne Hatcher getting the start against the Wildcats. Hatcher must enjoy Johnny Cash’s “I’ve Been Everywhere” because he is now on his 4th FBS school since 2018. Hatcher was all world in high school, becoming the all-time leader for passing yards in Arkansas state history. He redshirted his freshman year at Alabama, transferred to Arkansas State where he played for three seasons, moved on to Texas State for one year, and has now landed at Ball State. From 2019-2022, Layne played in 44 games, and he has thrown for 10,116 yards with a TD/INT ratio of 84-35. He is a career 61.8% passer who ranks second in Sunbelt history in passing TD’s and ninth in Sunbelt history for career passing yards. All of this suffices to say that UGA will be facing a seasoned QB on Saturday who has experience at/against SEC programs.

Ball State lacked a distinct offensive identity against Kentucky. They showed a lot of different sets, primarily out of the shotgun and pistol. While Hatcher did start the game, true freshman Kadin Semonza saw the most pass attempts, going 15/21 for 165 and 1-0. Redshirt sophomore Kiael Kelly came in for certain sets at QB, acting as a wildcat runner/ specialty player. I expect this trend to continue if the Cardinals get shut down on the ground by the Junkyard Dawgs. Just going off tape against Kentucky, I would bet that Ball St. will throw the book at Georgia in the first half offensively. A lot of RPO’s, trick plays, misdirection, funky formations, the works. While there is talent in the QB room, they lack push on the offensive line and speed on the outside to consistently move the ball against P5 programs.

Defensively, they showed a 4-3 multiple look against Kentucky, and it appeared as if they were very committed to stopping the run. Keeping in mind that Kentucky only ran 51 plays, the split was 31 passing and 20 rushing. Kentucky was also breaking in a new QB with NC State transfer Devin Leary. Devin went 18/31 for 241yards and 1-1 TD/INT. Ball State managed to keep the top on pretty well, allowing only four plays to go 25 yards or more. A lot of Kentucky’s points came on defense and special teams, with the offense only scoring 3 TD’s.

While some were disappointed with the play calling/ run blocking/ QB play from Saturday’s win over UT Martin, I would expect a similar game plan from Mike Bobo against the Cardinals. If Ball State continues their use of the 4-3 or drops to a 46 defense, look for the Bulldogs to attack the perimeter a little more in week two. As Graham stated, UGA fielded 68 different players last week. Ball State is a better opponent than UT Martin, but the Cardinals do not have the firepower to hang with a team like Georgia. I see this game going eerily similar to last week, and that SHOULD NOT CONCERN ANYONE. Kirby’s squad is still down a lot of players right now, and I am saving a lot of judgements for when the Dawgs open SEC play with South Carolina.

Ball State Impact Players to Watch:

Layne Hatcher (QB) – 2020 HM All-Sunbelt Conference, 2019 Sunbelt Freshman of the Year, 44 career games, over 10,000 yards and almost 90 total TD’s. Kadin Semonza looks to be the QB of the future, but Hatcher will likely get the start vs. the Dawgs. Layne is not a run oriented QB, but Semonza can move around.

Ethan Crowe (C) – 2022 All-MAC 2nd Team, 2023 Outland Award Watchlist. The Oline is one of the strengths of this Ball State squad. One of the biggest things I am watching this year is for Georgia to get home on the QB. Pressure came a plenty last week, but the Dawgs only got the QB to the ground one time. Watch how Georgia’s IDL works against this experienced IOL group.

Brady Hunt (TE) – 2022 All MAC 1st Team, 2023 John Mackey Award Watchlist, 46 receptions, 498 yards, and 5 TD’s in 2022.

Sidney Houston Jr. (LB) – 2023 Preseason All-MAC, 67 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 4 sacks in 2022, 3 tackles and 1 sack vs. Kentucky last week. Apart of an experienced LB core, started 10 games in 2022.

Betting Trends

The Bulldogs open as a 43.5-point favorite over the Ball State Cardinals with a game total of 53.5. Ball State is 0-1 SU and ATS so far in 2023 after failing to cover 25.5 against Kentucky. It should be a great day for football on Saturday in Athens with the weather in the low 80’s and no chance of rain. The Ball State/Kentucky O49 hit on Saturday, while Georgia/UT Martin went U56.5 by a hair.

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