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Better Know: Toledo

ToledoRocketsLogoLarge

The adage of “Put up or shut up” certainly seems applicable to the Fighting Football Cardinals this weekend, as they go on the road to the Glass Bowl to face the Toledo Rockets with a pretty high likelihood that the rest of the season hangs in the balance. With a demoralizing loss to Indiana State following a heartbreaker at Iowa, this team is on the precipice of one of two roads. Either the losses are fuel for the team going forward in a band-them-together-to-come-out-stronger kind of deal or they become an excuse to let the season unravel and with it, the program building of the last three seasons is swiftly detonated. So yes, this game, and more importantly than the outcome, the performance within it, is kind of large.

Before we get into the whys and the hows of the game itself, it’s important to know the whos, namely the Toledo Rockets and their season to date, their young up and coming coach, and their replacement skill players that seem to be just as talented if not more so than the player they are replacing. If you thought when starting QB Phillip Ely went down with an injury against Missouri that Toledo became irrelevant, then you have another think coming. Replacement Logan Woodside torched Cincinnati and I am sure is licking his chops looking at the completions to the seam in the middle of the field that Indiana State found so successful over and over and over. Kickoff on Saturday is 7:00PM and it’s nut cutting time in the Glass Bowl for the Cardinals. The coaches are working on gameplanning, the players focused on practicing, but it’s time for you to better know Toledo!

Team: Toledo
Record: 1-2 (0-0 MAC)
Ranking: Unranked
Head Coach: Matt Campbell
Series: Tied! 19-19-1
Last Meeting: BSU won 31-24 in 2013 in Muncie

Toledo Head Coach Matt Campbell…
… is in his 3rd full season as the head coach at Toledo
… owns a career head coaching record of 18-11 (11-5 MAC)
… has spent all but two years in his 12-year coaching career in the MAC (4 of them at BG, 6 of them at Toledo)
… describes himself as “relentless”. That’s cute.
… is the second-youngest head coach in the FBS at age 34.

When it comes to Toledo versus Ball State…
… the Cardinals are riding a two-game winning streak, each coming by exactly 7 points.
… in games played in Toledo, the Rockets have an 11-7-1 all-time series lead.
… Toledo head coach Matt Campbell is yet to notch a W against the Cardinals as a head coach.
… this year’s game will be streamed on ESPN3.com or the WatchESPN app.

The Toledo Rockets…
… were picked in the preseason poll at media day to win the MAC West.
… lost starting junior QB Phillip Ely against Missouri on Sept. 6.
… replaced Ely with sophomore Logan Woodside who went 27-40 for 322 yards, 3TDs, and 0 INTs against Cincinnati.
… trailed at one point to Cincy 34-0, and mounted a furious comeback to make it 41-34. The final was 58-34.
… have a stout running game as well, as sophomore Kareem Hunt gained 101 yards on 12 carries against Cincy. He’s rushed for 100 yards or more every game this season and eight different times over his young career.
… also lost to SEC foe Missouri at home 49-24 in a game much closer than the score would indicate.
… defeated New Hampshire 54-20 to open their 2014 campaign.

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Final Word: Indiana State

The Final Word 200I took Sunday completely off from football. Mostly because the one day round trip from my home outside Lexington, KY to Muncie is a doozy but also to hopefully find some sort of perspective or insight into why Saturday happened, how to be at lease somewhat positive going forward, and where to go from here. What I found was quite honestly the same feeling I had on Saturday walking out of Scheumann Stadium, insomuch as Indiana State was considerably better than I thought they were and for the time being, this version of Ball State is not as skillful in their execution as I expected and the fanbase as a whole has grown accustomed to.

People were quick to howl a Chicken Little-esque “The sky is falling!” sort of refrain after the game, pointing to the woes of 2009 as some sort of charted course that this team is following after another remarkable season with a roster cherry-picked by the NFL. To adopt that mantra would be overlooking some pretty critical things though, like how the starters on the offensive line for 2014 may be similar in talent and experience to 2009, but the level of depth in 2014 blows ’09 away. Logically, depth would usually mean a more competitive practice environment, more options for the coaching staff should skill not translate to the game, and so on.

Speaking of practice, the underlying message from Coach Pete Lembo after the Indiana State game seemed to be that this version of the team isn’t using practice time as effectively as possible, and more importantly, expecting the games to go the way they have for the last three seasons. And who can blame them, really? Ask yourself if for the prior years in the Pete Lembo Experience if given a one score game, two minutes to go, and the ball you’d even be the least bit worried?

I understand that fans and student athletes are markedly different. The sheer make up of both is what makes them what they are. Student athletes beat on tires in Coach Feeley’s dungeon. Fans grill brats in the parking lot and do 12 ounce curls over and over on gameday. But neither group is immune to the pratfalls of the other. Student athletes had an upclose view as this program turned itself around over the last few years. Why wouldn’t they believe? Why wouldn’t the “The Process” yield the same sort of results? I can’t blame them for thinking it. I do think Saturday served as a painful reminder to both that this team and last year’s team is vastly different. Even CPL said as much post-game. “We’re at where we’re at, folks. Nobody’s happy.”

So, your final word for Saturday’s Indiana State loss…

counfounding (v., present participle)
cause surprise or confusion in (someone), especially by acting against their expectations

Some other thoughts and notes on the loss…

  • In the last 21 games, this was only Ball State’s 4th loss. Whatever you may be feeling about Saturday, that sort of perspective is important
  • The loss snapped a nine-game home winning streak at The Scheu
  • Ozzie Mann set career records in completions (24), attempts (46), and yards (266). Whether or not you believe a redshirt sophomore quarterback who has had some accuracy issues this season should have been throwing it 46 times is another story
  • In the three-game stretch of Colgate, Iowa, and Indiana State, BSU has allowed just 247 total rushing yards. That’s the lowest three-game total since October 2009 (Toledo, Temple, BG: 242)
  • Speaking of defense, the 54 points the unit has allowed to start this season is the lowest through three games since the 1995 season.
  • Quake Edwards currently sits 432 yards away from being Ball State’s career rushing leader

Football Announces Student Fan Bus to Toledo

BSULogoLet it not be said that the powers that be at Ball State are not trying new things to increase student buy-in for the football program. Just when you were on the fence about whether or not to show up to this weekend’s pending MAC opener against Toledo, the athletics mothership has made it remarkably easy for your decision. From BSU…

Our football season is off to an exciting start and we have an opportunity for YOU! Help us take our Cardinal spirit on the road!

This Saturday (Sept. 20) we will be traveling to Toledo, Ohio to cheer on our Cardinals as we take on the Toledo Rockets in our Mid-American Conference opener.

We are looking to take 100 of our most spirited Ball State students. The cost is $30 and this includes transportation to and from the game on a charter bus and your game ticket. Food is not included, but you are welcome to bring a snack on the bus or purchase food at the game. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. The buses will depart from Gate 1 of Worthen Arena at 3 p.m. and return immediately after the conclusion of the game.

To reserve your spot, please e-mail thenest@bsu.edu or stop by our table in the Atrium from September 15-18 from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Hurry, spots are limited!

Payment must be made by Thursday, Sept. 18. Cash or check is accepted. Please make all checks payable to Ball State University. If you have any questions, please contact Kevin Thurman at kathurman@bsu.edu or 765-285-8392

So there you go, students. Show up, go crazy, be sure to bathe when you get home. That Toledo funk has a tendency to be quite clingy.

Postgame: Indiana State 27 Ball State 20

BSULogoMUNCIE, IN – In case you were unaware, this Ball State team is a very different beast all together than the greatest show on field turf that we were all witness to the past several seasons. With inexperience comes mistakes, with mistakes come losses, and today saw the Cards live up to their end of that equation with a 27-20 loss at the hands of in-state rival and FCS member Indiana State.

The Sycamores played like equals if not some times betters, and BSU again found creative ways to wrestle defeat from the jaws of victory. If you had told me before the day started that my day would end with watching the Indiana State coaching staff make their way out of the pressbox dancing and screaming like teenagers at a Taylor Swift concert, I’d say you were crazy. But “crazy” got redefined today.

It was a comedy (or tragedy) depending on your perspective) of errors and oddities all day. For example:

  • Against an FCS squad, BSU fails to hit the century mark for net yards rushing.
  • The total offensive yards for both squads? Dead even.
  • 16 total punts? 16 total punts.
  • BSU defense holds ISU to 3-16 on 3rd downs and 44 net yards rushing.

The storyline of this game (at least to me) was the Indiana State passing game. It was incredibly well-timed and well-executed and Mike Perish is an FBS talent to be sure. He ended up 25-43 for 317 yards and 3 TDs and it felt like significantly more than that. Kudos to ISU for winning the victory bell. They earned it.

We’ll have  more on this either later tonight or tomorrow, but for now I’m facing a 5 hour drive and am completely and without question a mixture of anger, disappointment, frustration, and a whole bunch of other things. This one hurts. This one is going to sting for a while. I can’t even imagine how the players and coaches feel.

Better Know: Indiana State

indiana state sycamores logoAdmittedly, I have taken the Indiana State Sycamores a bit for granted. There’s just been so many other things going on. Bill Scholl announced he was taking his talents to Milwaukee. We’ve been pounding the pavement on a couple of big forthcoming stories on The Star Press and the AD Search (unrelated). America’s Got Talent is down to the Final 6 (Team Mat Franco) and Big Brother is down to the Final 4 (#TeamBeastModeCowboy). Also, it’s Indiana State. Are they really worth getting our britches in a twist about?

However, I would be remiss and be doing you, dear friend of the Pylon, a disservice by not adequately preparing you for the Fighting Sycamores of ISU. Therefore, it’s time to Better Know: Indiana State!

Team: Indiana State Sycamores
Record: 1-1
Ranking: Unranked
Head Coach: Mike Sanford
Series: 38-23-1, in favor of BSU
Last Meeting: 2003, a 31-7 BSU win

Indiana State coach Mike Sanford
… is 18-55 overall as a head coach and 2-12 in his second season at Indiana State.
… has a career road record of 3-33.
… will be coaching against BSU for the first time in his career on Saturday.

When it comes to Indiana State versus BSU
… the Cardinals have a 20-7-1 in games played in the metropolis of Muncie.
… 6 games were played in the Hoosier Dome. BSU won 4.
… there’s a traveling trophy known as The Victory Bell that the winner gets to keep.
… the Cards have won 6 straight against the Trees, last losing in 1987…. the Trees last beat the Cards in Muncie in 1982.

The Indiana State Sycamores
… opened their season with a 28-7 loss at Indiana.
… had a much more successful Week 2, defeating Tennessee Tech 49-14.
… watched as senior QB Mike Perish went for 383 yards passing and three TDs while running for another in that week 2 win, good enough for the 4th best passing game in ISU history.
… are 38-73-1 all-time against the current membership of the MAC.
… last beat a MAC team in 2001, triumphing over EMU.
… have compiled 242 yards on the ground in total for their first two contests. For comparison’s sake, Quake Edwards alone has racked up 196 for the Cardinals.

 

Initial Iowa Thoughts

iowa_hawkeyes_logoWell, that certainly sucked.

I’m not going to go into significant detail tonight about this 13-17 loss at Iowa, because frankly, it wouldn’t be productive and I’d almost certainly regret it in the morning. So, we’re going to hit some high notes and then revisit tomorrow with our “Final Word” post, which is just going to be delightful to write, let me tell you.

First of all, the best of the day was the defense. They played a whale of a game and when you hold a Big Ten team to no offensive touchdowns until roughly 4 minutes to go in the game, you’ve done something. Those who point to the last two Iowa drives as some sort of indictment on the Ball State defense need to have their head examined or need to sit down and let someone explain football to them. Kudos to the defensive unit and it is remarkably unfortunate that the storyline of the game will be the Iowa rally against them and the win. That simply isn’t fair.

Second, I thought the offense today was pedestrian at best, predictable at worst, and the common mantra among the fanbase is to sling arrows at Joey Lynch and Ozzie Mann as two people incapable of moving the ball or having offensive success. Was Ozzie Football great today? No. 15/30 for 129 yards isn’t a stellar stat line but going along with his zero TDs was also his zero turnovers until the ill-fated last drive fumble. Fans that expect a new offensive coordinator and a new redshirt sophomore QB to just pick up right where Rich Skrosky and Keith Wenning left off are fooling themselves. It’s going to take time and let’s try to remember that next week is an FCS opponent in Indiana State and no one in the MAC will be as defensively sound as Iowa. Just something to think about. Is this absolving them of a lion’s share of responsibility for the loss today, no. But it is far too early in their careers to completely write off their potential to succeed.

Third, and it’s a big one, is Iowa did literally everything possible to beat themselves today. It’s easy to point to the nine points they left on the field and the penalties they committed on critical BSU conversions, but that would be grasping the low hanging fruit. Add some turnovers and their own confounding coaching decisions and it’s almost like they didn’t even want to win.

Some will point to this game and say, “Ball State covered!” or had Iowa “on the ropes”, but to be sure, there are some significant concerns about this football team that today brought to light. Are they fixable? Of course. Are they going to be? Well, I guess that’s the answer that will be the difference between enough wins to go bowling over the holidays or not. Final word tomorrow, but for now, it’s a bourbon with a pissed offness chaser because this is one that just slipped away.

If you’ve got thoughts, leave ‘em below.

Win Over Colgate Something to Smile About

By the fourth quarter CPL and Ozzie were probably talking about the post-game tailgate (credit: BSU Photo Services)

By the fourth quarter CPL and Ozzie were probably talking about the post-game tailgate (credit: BSU Photo Services)

Saturday marked the beginning of the post-Wenning era in Ball State football, and though the flash and pizazz were different, like most games of the last three years, the Cardinals walked out with a W. It was more ground and pound than air it out offensively, and the opponent was far from marquee, but it wasn’t too long ago that a victory over an FCS team was something the Cardinals couldn’t grab (hello, Liberty and New Hampshire) so let’s not get too picky with where we get our Ws, mmmkay?

For the Cardinals, as expected, the offense was more the Jahwan Edwards/Horactio Banks show en route to 514 total yards and 311 on the ground. Darian Green and Teddy Williamson each had 7 carries as well, so it is plain to see that the Cardinals may be as loaded in the backfield as they were in 2008 with Quale Lewis and Corey Sykes. The premier of Ozzie Mann wasn’t jaw dropping but also wasn’t crippling or mistake-laden, and in all honesty, that’s exactly the kind of performance Mann needs to shoot for every week. His line of 20/32 for 203 yards, 2 TDs, and an INT won’t win many games by itself, but it does open up the run game, and doesn’t shoot the Cards in the foot. The receiving corps was the KeVonn Mabon show as the redshirt sophomore grabbed ten catches for 110 yards and a TD. Six Cardinals caught passes Saturday.

Defensively, the Cards were unbelievable and record-setting. Allowing only 227 total yards and 9 first downs, BSU made a statement that the defense may be the bus driver this season. That single digit first down mark? The lowest total in 14 years (CMU in 2000 had 8). Colgate’s 10 points was the lowest scored by any Cardinal opponent in the Pete Lembo era. There are built-in rationales that some will use to write off this performance like how Colgate is FCS, etc. and that may be true. But in my mind, you hold a team to the lowest number of first downs in 14 seasons, and that’s a damn fine way for the Kevin Kelly era to start in Muncie on the defensive side of the ball.

The day wasn’t without a few negative notes, most notably the injury of Jordan Williams who hurt his ankle, was on crutches, and no news has come out about. So there’s that. Additionally, a home opener that only draws 9600 fans is absolutely pitiful and if I was Pete Lembo I would be apoplectic about the lack of local support, student support, and alumni support. Yet again, proving that BSU fans want a champagne program on a beer budget with bathtub wine support. Absolutely pathetic.

So, all told, a pretty enjoyable Saturday for BSU fans. The Cards improve to 4-0 in Lembo-led season openers and that win marked the 17th win in their last 19 regular season games. To get to 18 out of 20, the Cards will need to knock off Iowa on the road next Saturday. The Hawkeyes opened their season this previous weekend by squeaking out a 31-23 win over Northern Iowa. That contest saw the Hawkeyes give up 203 yards receiving to UNI’s running back, so I hope Quake and Banks spend some time with Ozzie this week. Kickoff on Saturday is at 3:30, and you can catch the game on ESPN2. We’ll also be running a Liveblog for it so get yourself ready for that.

Ball State Football Coming to ESPNU All Access

BSULogoFinally there is a reason to own a Tivo other than being able to pause live television when wardrobe malfunctions occur. And that reason comes to fruition on September 2 at 6:00PM on ESPNU as the Ball State Fighting Football Cardinals get the All-Access treatment from the Worldwide Leader.

The Cards join the ranks of programs this season like Oklahoma State, Houston, and North Carolina getting the All Access shows around the same time. One thing I can promise is the UNC one won’t be heavy on the academics. You know, because… classes. Cheating. Etc.

There’s been no official release on the show and what all it will entail but All Access could encompass a whole host of things…

  • Who holds the mantle for “Greatest Hair in Muncie” now that Zane Fakes has left
  • How Dave Feeley feasts on the tears of those that try to lift his desired weights
  • Does CPL have a side business explaining quantum physics or doing your taxes?
  • Code Red. As much as possible.
  • Whether or not Quake Edwards is a cyborg killing machine destined to overthrow society

The possibilities are endless and I do hope things like the training program, the Sportslink crew, and the consistency from year to year under Lembo and the push for facility upgrades at least gets a shout out. It should be awesome to see the Cardinals get this kind of treatment and I hope you can catch it. Check your guide and set your DVR.

Ball State Football has a Media Guide

BSULogoLike a child on Christmas morning, I’ve been hitting refresh on the Ball State digital guide page in eager anticipation for the 2014 version of the digital media guide. And today, all those refreshes finally paid off as the Ball State digital guide for the 2014 season has been sent out to the ether of the internet for your viewing pleasure. You’re welcome for all the views, BSU. Charge Stoops extra for that banner ad.

Some other sites are complaining that there’s not a significant amount of biographical information on the players but guess what? You’re viewing a digital media guide and there is a virtual metric ton of information on the BSU mothership like player backstories, majors, accomplishments on the field, and all other varieties of fun stuff. There’s also their parent’s names you creepy stalker.

To check out the media guide, click on through here. And if you’re friends with Floyd Mayweather, read it to him. I’m sure he’d be interested in what’s going on with the Cardinals. You know, because he can’t read. HA!

Know a ’14 Opponent: Army

In an effort to educate, inform, preview and most importantly, poke fun of those who dare add the Ball State Cardinals to their football schedule, OTP is proud to bring back a tradition here at the Pylon, Know an Opponent, in this case, the Know a ’14 Opponent series. Some things to note… this isn’t heavy lifting with broken down statistics, game film replays, or random things like that. It’s still preseason after all, and that kind of analysis and evaluation is best saved for game week. So buckle up kiddies… time to Know a ’14 Opponent!

army football logoArmy Black Knights

Throughout my time working for colleges, writing this website, and just being a football fan I have had the opportunity to attend some pretty amazing games, some pretty beautiful campuses, and be a part of some pretty amazing things. Notre Dame marching band taking the field? Check. Watching the eagle fly around the stadium at Auburn? Check. Night game at South Carolina watching Cocky go crazy while 2001 plays over the stadium speakers? Check. Sweating my ass off on a hot September Saturday in Gainesville and wondering if those around me can actually smell the bourbon coming out of my pores? Check. But there’s one thing I haven’t been able to do, and that’s make it to a game at Michie Stadium in historic West Point, NY.

I’ve had my chance, mind you, as I was credentialed for the 2009 game but let the girlfriend at the time guilt me in to staying home. Cue up the Indiana Jones, because I chose… poorly. On October 4th you can scratch something off your football bucket list that should definitely be there and say you’ve done something I haven’t. The sheer beauty of this locale is almost impossible to describe, so check out the search engine of your choosing for some great scenes. Fall leaves, the Hudson Valley, and some old school triple option football at the United States Military Academy against THE Ball State University? Sounds perfect to me.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?
With everything the stadium and location have going for them, the football played inside it hasn’t been very good recently. In fact, in the last 25 years, Army has made exactly two bowl games. That happens when you have a losing record in 16 of the last 17 seasons. As for the history against the mighty Cardinals, Ball State has won three straight, holds a 3-2 series advantage, and beat the Black Knights 40-14 last season in the friendly confines of Scheumann Stadium. Army did beat Eastern Michigan last year by 25 points, but hell, who didn’t?!

The Man Who Wears the Headset
Jeff Monken ArmyArmy has a new head man in charge, Jeff Monken, replacing Rich Ellerson who had led Army since 2009. Ellerson had the difficult task of bringing the triple option back to Army, and you can bet that Monken will continue that trend as he has been around the triple option for the majority of his coaching career, coaching under notorious option guru Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. Most recently, he was the head coach at Georgia Southern, where his worst record was still a very respectable 7-4 over four seasons at the command. His last season was his worst, as it was also the only time he didn’t lead the Eagles to the FCS Playoffs. Supporters will tell you it’s a blip on an otherwise stellar radar. Cynics will tell you as more of his players took over, the decline begain. Time till tell, I suppose.

Players and Stats of Note
The thing about the triple option is the more familiar you are with it, the better you tend to do, and Monken and the Black Knights certainly have that going for them with nine returning starters on the offensive depth chart. Angel Santiago, the most-used starting QB in 2013 is back, but he did struggle at times last season. It’s possible BSU could see AJ Schurr or Kelvin White if Santiago cannot lead the offense effectively. Running backs, as expected, are a strength of Army. Their depth came to the forefront last season when Raymond Maples (going for his third 1000-yard season in a row) was injured and yielded to Terry Baggett, who promptly rattled off his own 1100 yards and 8 TDs. Fullback Larry Dixon also had 700+ yards and six scores. So there’s that.

Defense is the giant question mark for Army, especially given this season and their new coordinator… Jay Bateman. That name should sound familiar to Cards fans, since Bateman had the same position in Muncie the last three seasons. Onward and lateral? The biggest weakness for Army is the linebacking unit, with only 13 starts amongst the returners. The defensive line and secondary should not only be improved from last season, they are basically the anchor of the defense. If Quake Edwards can get to the second level or Ozzie Mann can abuse curl and in routes, it could be a very long day for the Army defense.

If Army Football Was a Musician…
Edge again chimed in with his selection for this section, him being the musical genius that he is and all. His thoughts: “Army is not ever going to be the best in the band or the best in the FBS, but goddamnit, show some respect. Congrats, Army. You are Ringo Starr.”

How Worried Are We?
By its nature, the triple option is difficult to defend and easy for plays to break loose at any moment. It’s just as likely that you’re going to see a two yard loss as you are to see a 92 yard gain. It is really the definition of “contain”, considering the premise of defending it is strictly assignment football. That’s worry #1. Worry #2 is the familiarity that the Army defense is going to have with Ball State personnel and the basic offensive scheme, given Jay Bateman.

ThreatLevelArmyA nice cool Code Blue for the Black Knights. Without Jay Bateman and the hard to defend triple option attack, I’d say this is the greenest of code greens that another FBS team could be. Those two wrinkles, though, bump the OTP Threat Level up just slightly.

Enemy Recon
If you need to catch up on your Army reading, then feel free to check out the official Army site here. You can also check out some local news coverage here and visit their fansite here.

Kickoff on October 4 is noon and the television provider is CBS Sports Network. Seriously, though, go if you can. You will thank me later.

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