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Instant Analysis: Western Michigan-Ball State
Though bearing a perfect record through its first 11 games, Ball State had won absolutely no hardware entering Tuesday night's contest. In game number twelve, however, coach Brady Hoke's boys finally nailed down a MAC West loaded with quality opponents. Just six days after surviving an inspired effort from two-time defending conference champion Central Michigan, Ball State had to win yet one more game against a formidable Western Michigan outfit to, at long last, clinch the division and punch a ticket to Detroit for the MAC Championship Game on Dec. 5 against Buffalo.
Despite playing with the burden of needing to be perfect just to win an incredibly tough division, the Cardinals never faltered on the road to the Motor City. And while BSU's defense has consistently contained its opponents in 2008, the main reason for this team's sensational success could only be found in the form of one man, quarterback Nate Davis. Number 13 showed up against the 9-2 Broncos on Tuesday in Muncie, Ind. As a result, Western Michigan left Ball State Stadium with a 9-3 mark. The Cardinals strolled to a 12-0 record, and a piece of pigskin perfection, because they had the best player on the field, and the Broncos didn't.
Some games require a complex analytical approach. This MAC matchup wasn't one of them. Davis, a BCS-level quarterback playing in a competitive non-BCS conference, towered above the entirety of the proceedings. This mountain of a man mastered the moment in Muncie, showing the complete toolbox of a supremely skilled signal caller. Like any dominant athlete at the top of his game, Davis bashed the Broncos in all aspects of quarterback play.
Davis threw with zip, rocketing balls into tight windows. He threw with touch when he hit his tight end, Darius Hill, for a 38-yard gain that set up one of Ball State's five offensive touchdowns. He threw the short ball and the long ball comfortably and confidently. As a thrower, Davis completed 68 percent of his passes without a single interception, all while being aggressive in his approach.
With his legs, however, Davis proved to be no less impressive. On some plays, he turned on the afterburners to gain the corner and outrun the Broncos' front seven. On other occasions—such as his crucial touchdown run just before halftime, which gave Ball State a 10-point lead the Cardinals only added to after the break—Davis used a combination of muscle and shiftiness to shrug off WMU pass rushers and then slash through traffic to get the job done. All in all, there was nothing Davis couldn't do. While Western Michigan quarterback Tim Hiller showed a reasonably good throwing arm at times, the Broncos' field general lacked the footspeed and the ball security of Davis, and that, in short, made the difference in BSU's comfortable and crowning conquest.
Nate Davis might not be able to play USC's defense in a BCS bowl, or a highly-touted team like Boise State or TCU in an attractive second-tier bowl, as the BCS and its attendant bowl system continually fail to give most of the little guys a chance for premium postseason showcases in college football. But even if this quality quarterback won't be able to stare down a big-time defense in a bowl game, the Cardinal leader of a 12-0 team will at least get the chance to win a conference championship, a championship that was very much in doubt until the final game of Ball State's regularly-scheduled slate.