Tom Allen watched Indiana's offense shine in the season opener.
He saw the Hoosiers' defense deliver late last week.
Now the second-year coach hopes his team can put both together Saturday when Ball State comes to town.
"We're still making mistakes on defense, but we played much better than we did in Week 1 in the area of execution," Allen said. "Still not where we want to be, but the effort was awesome and I make such a big deal about that because that's the one thing those guys control."
The Hoosiers (2-0) topped the 200-yard rushing mark in each of their first two games and are averaging 29 points. Not bad for a team that lost one of its top three quarterbacks before the season started followed by its top two running backs.
Defensively, Indiana has forced four turnovers — nearly half of last season's total — and limited Virginia to 294 total yards and 16 points in last week's rainstorm. Most important, they stopped the Cavaliers' final drive — despite having a defensive pass interference give Virginia a second chance.
But now they face the resurgent Cardinals (1-1), who played No. 8 Notre Dame tough last week.
Allen knows all about quarterback Riley Neal, running back James Gilbert and what coach Mike Neu, Ball State's former star quarterback, can do.
He also knows Indiana history is littered with missteps against Mid-American Conference foes — including three losses to Ball State in the last four meetings. And he intends to make sure Indiana doesn't let it happen again this weekend.
"I know a lot of their coaches and have a lot of respect for them and the job they do. Their kids are well coached, they play really hard," Allen said. "We know they're going to come here and they're going to play their tails off. So we have to match that and play our best."
Ball State and Indiana have played eight times since 1997, once in Muncie, once at Lucas Oil Stadium and the other six times in Bloomington. The Cardinals have won in all three locations including a 41-39 victory in Bloomington exactly six years ago Saturday. And with a three-year deal in place, these in-state foes need to get accustomed to this matchup. They'll play each of the next two seasons, including next year's game in Indy.
Despite their success in this series, the Cardinals have lost four straight to Big Ten opponents: Illinois last season, Indiana in 2016, Northwestern in 2015 and Iowa in 2014. Indiana, meanwhile, is in the midst of one of its best non-conference runs since 2000. The Hoosiers have won five consecutive regular-season games against non-Big Ten foes and 13 of 14 regular-season contests against non-conference teams.
The Cardinals surprised many by not allowing the Fighting Irish to pull away last week. One reason: Neal was a solid 23 of 50 with 180 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions. Gilbert also ran 19 times for 72 yards. But the biggest explanation might be an improved defense that picked off three passes, recorded one sack and allowed the Irish only 117 yards rushing. Ball State needs an equally strong defensive effort this week against 235-pound Stevie Scott . Last week, against Virginia, Scott carried 31 times for 204 yards — the second-highest single-game rushing total by a true freshman in Indiana history.
Under Neu's tutelage, the Cardinals have been one of the nation's least-penalized teams. In 2017, Ball State was flagged 4.0 times per game — ninth-fewest total in the Football Bowl Subdivision. They've been nearly as efficient this season, drawing only nine penalties in the first two games while cutting their Week 1 total (six) in half against Notre Dame.