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Kent State Downs Cards 45-43

Kent State football and head coach Darrell Hazell celebrates after a thrilling win. (Photo credit: Kristin Bauer, Record Courier)

Things were all sunshine and rainbows in Cardinal Nation over the last several weeks. Back to back wins against in-state rival Indiana and BCS AQ conference member South Florida had the fanbase riding high and dreaming big as whispers of a double-digit win season and a MAC Championship began to circulate. On Saturday in Kent, Ohio though, those rainbows faded away and the sunshine disappeared behind a cloud as the Cardinals (3-2 1-1 MAC) picked up their first conference loss of 2012 in a wild tennis match type of contest that showed Cardinal fans a first hand look at the heart breaking end of game heroics by an opposing team that Ball State handed to USF and IU with a 45-43 loss to Kent State.

After Freddy Cortez kicked his 25-yard game winner, the blame game began in earnest on the messageboards and blogs. Most were quite displeased with the Cardinal defense, and in some respects, had every right to be after giving up 45 points. However, the issues in this game were far-reaching and to pin all the blame on Defensive Coordinator Jay Bateman or his unit would be grasping at the obvious low hanging fruit while ignoring the plethora of other things that if any one of which had went the other way I’d say we’d be looking at a much different result this morning.

To get it out of the way, the defense’s performance on Saturday wasn’t ideal. But it wasn’t something that made a victory impossible. Most teams surrendering 45 points have little chance of winning. With this team, though, 45 points isn’t necessarily a deal-breaker. Take away the Kent kick return for a TD and it’s only 38 points surrendered. Again, not ideal. But nowhere close to the sole reason that BSU came away from Kent with a loss. The good to be gleaned is that many times, especially during the comeback, the defense was able to force turnovers and three and outs in critical situations to at least keep the Cards within shooting distance.

Speaking of the kick return, the special teams was perhaps the most disappointing facet of the game Saturday. Not because they were terrible (though they certainly weren’t perfect). It’s just that normally the special teams under Pete Lembo have been so pitch perfect that to see otherwise is almost shocking. Schott’s missed field goal at 51-yards isn’t something to harp on, though some folks are. 51-yard field goals shouldn’t be considered more make-able than not even if 12-Gauge has been automatic this season. The missed extra point? That’s a little bit of a different story. The kick return for a touchdown is also infinitely frustrating. Those two things created an  8 point differential that never should have happened. When the final margin is two, that’s significant.

Very little Sunday morning QBs will evaluate the offense negatively, considering they hung 43 on the scoreboard and Keith Wenning and Willie Snead had themselves another tremendous day through the air. But in reality, even the offense didn’t play to the level that we’ve come to expect. Kent’s defense is arguably one of the best in the MAC, so the lack of performance on the ground is somewhat excusable, but what isn’t easily written off is a fumble inside the red zone, specifically the one-yard line by Wenning on the opening drive. Conservatively three points, realistically seven points, left off the board and added to the 8 from special teams makes this a double-digit victory. Perhaps most disconcerting is the offense’s inability to sustain a drive in clock burn mode and keep the ball out of the hands of the opposition. It nearly cost them at Indiana. It did cost them at Kent. And unless corrected, will cost them again in 2012.

The optimist will suggest that unproductive rushing, turnovers, special teams miscues, and a defense that broke more than it bent until it mattered all came together for one of those Murphy’s Law type days where a perfect storm of errors and mistakes made for an outcome that was in no way indicative of the quality of teams on the field. They’ll suggest that the emotional games against Indiana and South Florida took a toll on this team and at minimum, in coin flip type games you can’t always land on heads. The optimist will suggest that many experts and pundits predicted BSU to be 3-2 after their first five games at best, and the majority worse than that. They’ll suggest that who the three is against is irrelevant. And based on the facts above, that argument doesn’t seem all that flawed.

The pessimist will say that Indiana and South Florida weren’t all that good, and by the way, Eastern Michigan has yet to win a game. They will suggest that the measuring stick of two consecutive BCS conference wins and a season-opening conference win is fundamentally flawed when those teams’ combined record is 4-9 with wins over Indiana State, UMass, and Chattanooga making up 75% of the four. They’ll suggest that this team is a mediocre MAC team that will struggle against the upper echelon of the conference without a solid defense and the offense cannot continue to simply outscore people. And based on the facts above, that argument doesn’t seem all that flawed either.

Whether this particular outing and the nuts and bolts of the performance are the reality or the ghost in the machine remains to be seen. Next week when Northern Illinois comes into the Scheu, Cards fans will learn everything they need to about this particular team. A win means that BSU not only is still very much alive in the MAC West title hunt, but perhaps more importantly, can compete against one of the preseason frontrunners for the conference. NIU is an impressive team with an even more impressive resume thus far in 2012 and a win gives more power to the Optimist Perspective while a loss means the Pessimist Perspective gets another talking point.

We’ll shift to NIU coverage tomorrow, but for now, Cards fans may do well to take a deep breath and realize that the better team often times loses. What separates those better teams from those that aren’t is their ability to put bumps in the road in their rearview mirror quickly. For the sake of everyone involved, let’s hope the Cardinal bus is already leaving this one in the dust.

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6 Responses

  1. Hello Alan,
    After reading your article I that I would defend Ball State’s kicker. It was a great write-up and I agree with 95%.
    As crappy a day as it appeared that Ball State’s Kicker (Steven Schott) had on Saturday against Kent State. He still ended up with 13 points which actually moved him up in the national rankings. He is now (#2 in the nation at field goals made with 11) and (#8 in the nation in overall scoring with 53 points). I love watching this kid play. I thought I would just pass this on because I know how kickers and punters get over looked. Plus I don’t think the average fan realizes what a great kicker and punter the Cardinals are blessed to have. Schott could be the best kicker in the entire country. I guess time will tell.

    There’s no kicker in the country that could have made that 51 yarder yesterday with a 20 mph head wind and his coach should have know that. The odds were much greater to go for it (and make it) on 4th down (with 1.5 yds to go) than to attempt a 50+ Field Goal into that wind. Now the PAT miss is a whole different story, I think he just blew that. Thanks, Just a big Cardinal and Schotty fan, Bill

  2. Totally agreed Bill. I’ve read several write ups that indicated that field goal should have been made. Wanted to set the record straight but I think you did it better than me.

    Schotty is one of my favorites and his consistency and accuracy make him a dangerous weapon for this team. I’m also in your camp of thinking we have one of the best in the country. I certainly wouldn’t trade him for anyone.

    Thanks for the comment and Go Cards!

  3. I agree with you guys. This was not a makeable kick (w/ that wind)!
    I think Lembo should have went for it (or punted). I think the coach is throughing Schotty under the bus. HOLY SHIT he’s the number 2 kicker in the country! If I’m not mistaken the NFL kickers only make about 55% of there kicks beyond 50 yards. And only about 80% of there overall fieldgoal tries. The average try is only about 35 yards. Schotty average is better/longer in all three categories… Bud

  4. “SCHOTTY BOOM BOTTY”

    is the bomb!

  5. You make a lot of good points and I would agree that it all adds up to the final result. In the end though, I still lay most of the blame on the defense. During Kent St. final drive, we nearly had TWO interceptions and couldn’t stop them off on 4th and 10. That game just is such a heart breaker though. I will say though, Archer for Kent St. is a freaking beast! I feel better about losing to arguably the second best team in the East than to say UMass as Ohio nearly did. And who knows, there is still a chance for a rematch game if we both ended up in the championship. 🙂

  6. One point I’ve seen elsewhere that I would like to rebut — Garrett did not “drop” the INT when Kent was backed up near their end zone at the starting drive. Watch the replay — the Kent WR alertly reached in between Garrett’s arms and batted the ball away. Could the play have been made? Possibly (and it’s clear that Coach Lembo expects his guys to make them, which is a good thing). But it was far from a “drop.” It was, at the very least, a 50/50 ball on a short pass thrown with heat.

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