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Finally Ready to Revisit NIU

Despite this fumble, Chandler Harnish torched the BSU defense on Tuesday (Mike DiNovo-US PRESSWIRE, US PRESSWIRE)

I understand that today is in fact Thursday. I also am well aware that the last game played by the Cardinals was Tuesday evening in DeKalb. Unlike some times in the past where things like work and life delayed the schedule a bit here at OTP, I needed some time to pass before I was able to sit down and look at Tuesday’s 41-38 loss to Northern Illinois without an overpowering sense of bitterness or allowing myself to come unglued about a questionable penalty that in the eyes of some cost Ball State a victory. Neither of those things are good for a somewhat objective look at the last game (or at least as objective as one can be when running a fan site) and both usually result in an article that I read a week after the fact and regret posting. As much as some claim otherwise, we do try to be somewhat classy here and I’m of the opinion that harping on officials, unless the blunder is exceptionally egregious, is just about the worst thing you can do, paints you as a poor sport, and in some ways, ignores the myriad opportunities that the team you follow had to make the game not in reach on one particular play. Having said all that, some time has passed and for the first time since the final whistle on Tuesday, I think I can get through this without seeming like a petulant spoiled child angry at a classmate for screwing up the curve on a math test.

Was the roughing the passer call a bad penalty? In all honesty, I don’t think so. Was it an extremely damaging penalty? Without a doubt. It’s understandable that fans would judge the validity of a questionable call based on what was impacted by the decision, but in all honesty, it was a personal foul under the rules. If it was a simple incomplete pass I doubt that people would be ready to question the MAC about the competence of the officials but because it took what would presumably be a point difference awfully difficult to come back from off the board Cardinal fans are collectively losing their marbles. Believe me, I was too while watching the game, much to the chagrin of the other BSU alums around me and the random Northern Virginia residents at the Buffalo Wild Wings in Arlington. But after watching the game replay several times, it’s a penalty. A backbreaking awful-timed penalty, but a penalty all the same. Even if it was a complete missed call, which I don’t believe it was, officials are human and these sorts of things are simply part of the game that each and every team has to deal with at least a few times through the season. The fact that BSU had to deal with it on a touchdown scoring turnover I would say balances the ledger a bit for the good luck we’ve had this season. The one thing I do know is that penalty isn’t the reason the Cardinals lost.

Most successful teams look at the game as a three-pronged attack in offense, defense, and special teams. In my opinion, special teams was outstanding, the offense was mediocre at best, and the defense was atrocious. Let’s start with the good. Steven Schott and Scott Kovanda again prove to be immeasurable positives for this team. Schott was perfect on field goals and extra points, and Kovanda was stellar punting the ball. Of his 6 kicks, he averaged 46.8, putting 4 inside the 20. He also had the longest rush of the season on an outstanding fake punt. It’s a shame he wasn’t able to put one in the end zone, but to have the longest rush of the season has got to feel good. Quite simply, the special teams was the standout unit on Tuesday and it’s a shame they have to go home with an L after their effort.

I certainly don’t want to harp too long on either the offense or the defense, but there were things about both that were exceptionally frustrating. Offensively, the rush was nowhere to be found which certainly doesn’t bode well for the Cardinals’ attack. If you look back at the wins this season, there was at least the threat of being able to rush the ball that not only opened up the passing game, it seemed to diversify the playbook a bit. Speaking of the playbook and more specifically, the play calling, I can’t say I was thrilled with what I saw Tuesday night. The QB sneak on a 4th and 2 comes to mind first, but it seemed like most of the night, the Cardinals operated a tremendously vanilla gameplan. Short passes have been the norm most of the season, and I’m beginning to wonder if that’s the approach of the coaching staff or more a limitation of the skillset of the personnel on the field. It didn’t seem like there were many shots taken down field most of the night, and as NIU began to notice that the short passing game became a bit bottlenecked.

Defensively, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more frustrated with a unit that forced two turnovers (one of which was a 92 yard fumble return for a TD). I can overlook the 710 yards given up if I didn’t feel like the majority of those yards were gained either after first contact or because of a gigantic cushion given to the NIU receivers. Flashbacks of Dan LeFevour went through my head as Chandler Harnish ran the zone option read over and over and over usually for a sizable gain that involved half a dozen or so broken tackles. The arm tackling and failure to bring down seemingly anyone from the BSU defense was infuriating and I’ll even give a little quarter to NIU’s talent on the offensive side of the ball, but that forgiveness doesn’t cover all of it. It was not a good performance defensively for the Cardinals and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the two areas that Pete Lembo seems to be directly involved in (offense and special teams) are consistently the best performing units on the field. Quite simply, it was an inexcusable performance for the defense, no matter the talent on the offensive side of the ball. I’m not sure what defensive coordinator Jay Bateman told that team before the game, but I suggest he burn that speech.

With the loss, the Cardinals are now out of contention for the MAC West and the chances at a bowl berth are on life support. With one remaining game against Toledo on Black Friday where the Cards will be presumably a 20-25 point underdog, the best record possible is 7-5, and I’m not sure that’s enough to warrant a bowl invite. While I’m unsure of that, one thing I’m positive about is a loss to Toledo and a 6-6 final record means with certainty that the Cards will be staying home for the Holidays.  Suffice to say, even with the time that’s passed, I’m still immensely disappointed in the result on Tuesday. I’m sure once the season is over and I look back on this particular game, I’ll feel good about the performance and how it was significantly better than expected or predicted. I’ll sit back and look at the record and remember how I said .500 was something that should be celebrated. And celebrate we will, but that’s later. Right now, I’m just disappointed for this team to not have the opportunity to compete for the conference after the last two seasons. I feel bad for the fans, I feel worse for the players. And that’s the sort of perspective I didn’t have Tuesday night.


4 Responses

  1. 7 wins will get a bowl game, there are so many games that even 6 wins gets most teams a bowl, only 3 r so 6+ win teams will not get a bowl.

  2. On the roughing penalty, what is the actual rule? My understanding when a similar rule was first put in at the NFL level was that you couldn’t body slam the QB-which I don’t think happened on this play. But I do think the NCAA needs to look at the rule because in this case I’m not sure what the defender is supposed to do-how can he tell if the QB has released the ball? Harnish had gashed the D for over 100 rushing yards…so I imagine the defender felt like he had to make sure to finish the tackle.

  3. It was a tough loss, but even if the Cardinals loose to Toledo, there is a still way they make a bowl, albeit the possibility is slim to none, being a BSU fan I did some math and predictions, read about it here http://smithysports.blogspot.com/2011/11/special-college-posting-how-chirp-does.html

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