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MidSemester Progress Report

report_cardAs someone who has a little piece of sheepskin paper hanging on his wall that clearly certifies himself an “educator”, it’s about time to drop some knowledge and do some educatin’. Ask any student what they dread the most and you’ll likely get “herpes” as the answer. Ask what the 2nd most dreaded thing is and you’ll likely receive “mid-semester progress reports”. It’s really the worst day of the year if you’re like us in college, who sort of paced ourselves at the beginning and finished strong. Sort of the Usain Bolt academic finisher after we started like Artie Lange.

It’s time though to take a look at this Ball State team and give them their midsemester grades to date. In an effort to be balanced and fair, I’ve asked for a visiting professor, none other than our very own Edge to offer his grades as well. This should go well…

Offense
The good news for the Cardinals is the offense hasn’t looked terrible. That’s a plus. However, for any Cardinal fan who got used to the fun and gun offense that we saw with Nate Davis the last several years, this is clearly a double shot of reality with a smack in the face chaser. Is this a flashback to the Lynchian era of off-tackle, off-tackle, incomplete pass, punt? Of course not. And most any fan would tell you that the offense season was bound to struggle based not on who we had, but more so on who we didn’t have… namely QB Nate Davis, TE Darius Hill, and a host of space eaters on the offensive line who made Quale Lewis look like Clinton Portis. Even with those sort of diminished expectations, I would think it’s safe to say that the offense has underperformed to date.

Orsbon has been a bright spot for the BSU offense

Orsbon has been a bright spot for the BSU offense even if his number changed

Not all of that underperformance can be linked directly to playcalling, personnel or anything else. The injury losses on the offensive side of the ball have been simply devastating as WR Seth White and TE Madaris Grant have both been lost for the season. Picking up the slack through the air has been Briggs Orsbon and Tori Gibson who have each been sensational at different times. With Gibson’s recent emergence, it provides single coverage opportunities for both, as well as chances to strike with Dan Ifft or Zane Fakes. What’s the theme there? Only one of those players is above a sophomore (Ifft).

The shocking thing about the BSU offense so far this season has been the running game, and not in a good way. Quale Lewis, last year’s 1700+ yard back with 22 scores, has been held in check nearly all season long. After cracking 103 in the season opener, Lewis has been held to 54 yards or less every game, and has only scored three times all season. The reasons for the dimished success are mutiple, and certainly start up front. The offensive line is nowhere near as dominant as last season in either pass or run blocking, and Quale catches no one by surprise anymore. Add in the lack of a significant downfield passing threat and no real stretching of the field, and it doesn’t bode well for the rushing attack, regardless of how good the back was last season. The biggest puzzle has been the lack of commitment to the run, with Quale only getting a shade under 14 attempts per game on average.

While Quale has struggled this season, two runners who have excelled are Eric Williams and Cory Sykes. Though very different from Quale, who is a between the tackles runner who thrives on contact, they each have a better yard per carry than Lewis who is only averaging 3.33 per attempt. Williams’ 4.65 and Sykes’ 4.62 give hope for the future, as the theme continues to emerge with youth getting the chance to learn, shine, and perform.

Finally, the most important skill position on the field also exhibits this youthful optimism for success in the not so distant future. Freshman QB Kelly Page filled some of the biggest shoes in BSU history, replacing 5th round draft choice Nate Davis. Page has struggled at times, shown progress at others, and his position perhaps more than any other on the field is impacted by the lack of cohesion and experience on the offensive line. His stat line of 8 INTs to 7 TDs and only 980 yards through 6 games speaks louder about the players around him than his own potential or skills. It is hard for any quarterback to excel and dominate with no time to throw. Thankfully, Page has been able to use his feet and escape the pressure, leading to only 18 sacks. That 18? Far too high. But contemplate what it could be if Page was not quick to get rid of it or scramble.

Overall Evaluation:
Alan: Dominant? Far from it. But each week shows something new or the emergence of a new young player ready to make something happen.
Edge: With the Cards being near the bottom 5-10% in blocking statistics, it’s been hard to give Page enough time to identify the best route and complete passes and Lewis to get more than 3 yards per carry.

Offensive Grade:
Alan: D+
Edge: D

Defense
This defense has been the most frustrating thing in the 2009 season, and the one piece of the Ball State puzzle that most fans felt would be the saving grace as the offense grew. Suffice to say that hasn’t been the case. As a unit, the defense is giving up over 4.02 yards per carry on the ground and have allowed 234 yards per game through the air along with 14 TDs. Simply put, this is a defense that seems incapable of truly shutting down an opponent for an entire game, or even pivotal moments, like the closing seconds of the Toledo game.

As bad as this defense appears to be, and though they will be blamed the most, the numbers are not all that different from last season, with one notable exception… the passing touchdowns. Last season saw 30 yards less per game, but only 17 TDs for the entire season through the air. The bend but don’t break defense worked to a T. This season, the rushing defense is actually improved, down from last season’s 4.6 per carry.

It has, unfortunately, been a season characterized by the big play, the broken coverage, the burned secondary. This is not a defense that is beaten in the trenches or run roughshod over. The biggest areas of immediate concern is the lack of pressure up front, as the defense has only racked up 3 sacks this season, as well as their inability to create turnovers with only 3 INTs and 6 fumbles forced.

The defensive line has been virtually non-existent, though the run support has been surprisingly good. Far from dominant, but better than the 08 Cardinals. The linebacking unit has been essentially more of the same, and the secondary has been a thorn in the side for the entire season. Whether that lack of dominance is because of a schematic shift from a 3-4 to a 4-3, a wacky attitude about coverage and blitzing, or just the missing HokeManBeast on the sidelines remains to be seen. What is blatantly obvious though is that whenever win #1 comes along, it will be because the defense elevates their play. They will unfortunately need to make the tackles they’ve been missing, cover the receivers they’ve been letting run unchecked, and stop letting the opposition score over 30 points per game.

Overall Evaluation
Alan: Despite the performance to date, the players are only going to get more comfortable in the system they now play in. Jason Pinkston starting at the corner position gives some much needed help to a secondary that needs a spark.
Edge: Not much better than the offense, the defense tends to be fairly low in most major categories in the FBS.  Switching defenses did little to no favors.

Defensive Grade:
Alan: D
Edge: D+

Special Teams
The Special Teams for the Cardinals had been decent each week leading to the Temple game… and then the wheels fell off. What it’s resulted in is personnel potentially shifting responsibilities in the kicking game, a sudden lack of confidence in extra points, the and fans wondering just what the hell is going on with Ian McGarvey and Jake Hogue.

Coming into and to start this season McGarvey was beyond reliable, nailing 81 straight extra points and connecting on 8 of 10 field goals before the Toledo game. That game saw his extra point streak snapped, and he would do the same a week later against Temple. In similar fashion, Jake Hogue wasn’t nearly as solid as expected against Temple or Toledo either, with poor kickoffs and poor hangtime on them leading to long returns. Confidence problem? Hard to say, but Stan Parrish has made no secret that the kicking game and the special teams is an area of concern that used to be a sure bet.

The bright spot for special teams has been punter Scott Kovanda, a freshman, who has excelled in his first season and looks like the next great BSU punter.

Overall Evaluation:
Alan: If we’re basing grades on the first four games, this is significantly higher. If we’re basing it on the last two, it’s significantly lower. Let’s split the difference, shall we?
Edge: Solid punting statistics, but then again, we do punt quite a bit.  McGarvey has been Finklesque this season, but hasn’t really cost us any games.

Special Teams Grade:
Alan: C+
Edge: B-

Coaching

Incomplete? Better than an F.

Incomplete? Better than an F.

Probably the hardest thing to evaluate, simply because I have no earthly idea how to judge this team after only 6 games. On record alone, Stan Parrish is abysmal. However, almost everyone rational thought this was going to be a “down” year. The defense has switched schemes, the offense has lost critical players to injury, and the sort of bad luck flukes that continue to happen this team make me wonder if Stan didn’t walk under three or four dozen ladders in the offseason.

To Stan’s credit, he seems to be adjusting the game plan according to the players he now has. After calling for far more short throws to build confidence and timing, Page and the receiving unit have looked exponentially better.

Is Parrish the best man for the job? Who knows. Can we really afford to go in a different direction now, financially or otherwise? Probably not. For a program stretched so thin to begin with, that’s asking a lot. Part of me is holding out hope that at the end of the season there will be reasons to be optimistic about Parrish, the progress this team has made, and the potential successes on the horizon.

As for the assistants, there’s plenty of reasons to be critical of nearly each and every one.

Overall Evaluation
Alan: This is like one of those classes where it’s pass-fail. And you have no idea how you’re going to do until you can look at the complete semester as a whole.
Edge: I can’t give this a fair grade because 6 games isn’t enough to measure the success (or lack) of the coaching direction.  I do question the amount of pass plays forced on Page when he spends a lot of his time making friends with the turf.  I also have to question our defensive secondary scheme.

Coaching Grade
Alan: I (as in Incomplete)
Edge: I (as in Incomplete)

The final tally from Edge? An incomplete and a 1.67 GPA. From Alan? That same incomplete and a 1.53 GPA. What say you? Leave your gradecard below in the comments if you care to voice your opinion. BSU is a teachers’ college… so I know we have more than a few people capable of busting out the red pen and sliding scale.

But see… this is the greatest thing about these midsemester grades. Ask anyone in an ECON 221 class… it isn’t how you start it is all about how you finish. I for one think our end of semester grades are going to look a lot different. Class dismissed.


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2 Responses

  1. I think that you guys nailed this one. The offense had too many losses and is just starting to gel. The defense has been really banged up. I mean, there is a DB trying to play with a cast on his arm. How is he supposed to catch? And Parrish needs more time. He really needs more wins just for his own sanity, but they’ll come with time.

  2. Sanity for one thing. I think he’s also panicking/pressing because he realizes this is a young team that could have their confidence broken if the losing stretches on much longer. Page has a great attitude and is going to be a star, but Stan wants a win to make sure people get off his back.

    Hoke’s ’05 team went through this to an extent, but they had the luxury of zero expectations from the fan base and the fall-back excuse of the textbook scandal suspensions.

    Rational fans and insiders were cautioning folks well before the season that it would resemble ’06 more than ’08, with a potential ceiling of ’07. Those playing the “yeah, we were better in ’06” card should remember that we very well could have started that year 0-6 had the Michigan game been front-loaded into Sept. and if a game against EMU had not.

    You get the sense that one win is all this group needs to get it rolling again…

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