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Final Word on NIU

The Final Word 200At the beginning of the season, most Cardinals fans had last night penciled in as a loss. It was sure to be a ranked opponent, on the road, with a Heisman hopeful, in a place where recently bad juju has ruled the day for the Cardinals. As the season wore on, that pessimism turned to optimism and Cards fans began to find reasons to believe in the improbable. Folks said NIU’s pass defense was suspect, Jordan Lynch has to have a bad game eventually, streaks are meant to be broken, BSU’s offense is too high powered to control, etc. etc. on and on. What happened last night in Dekalb was a tale of two halves and like the last few times BSU and NIU have faced off, for three quarters of the game, BSU was the better squad.

If football games were only three quarters, the media and football pundits today would be fawning over Keith Wenning and not Jordan Lynch. Pete Lembo would be the toast of the MAC and not Rod Carey. Heisman hopes and BCS dreams would be shattered in one fell swoop for NIU. Alas, football games are four quarters and the final stanza last night at NIU was a dreadful one. When the clock read 15:00 in the 4th, it was a tie game, BSU had the ball, and despite only putting three points on the board in the 3rd quarter, most fans (myself included) had seen this movie before. Lembo ball has shown time and time again that close games go BSU’s way. It was just a matter of time until the pendulum swung in BSU’s direction and Keith Wenning would capitalize on it. The football Gods were due to smile on the Cardinals.

And NIU’s first drive in the 4th quarter showed that may very well was going to be the case. Jordan Lynch launched a beautiful 53 yard strike to Da’Ron Brown that seemed to be the backbreaker. That is, until Eric Patterson forced a fumble that was recovered by Brian Jones. That’s the kind of play that didn’t seem to go the Cards’ way in Dekalb in prior years. Could this be the year? Could this be the team to make it to Detroit, win a conference title, and exorcise some of the pain from 2008? I’d be lying if I said that sequence didn’t make it seem to me like this team was truly a team of destiny.

The ensuing drive for the Cardinals was humming along until it reached the NIU 44 after  a five yard first down rush from Quake Edwards. Stalled would not be the correct word to describe the momentum. Crushed would be a better one, and in strange and confounding ways. Teddy Williamson, filling in for the injured Horactio Banks, carried for no gain. Wenning throws incomplete to Fakes while a defender was draped all over him. I’m not one to blame officials and I’m not blaming them for the outcome of this game, but to say that wasn’t a blatant, obvious, meaningful missed call would be overlooking the obvious. For a D1 official, even a MAC one, to miss that flag and extend that drive is inexcusable. From there, things only got worse. The pendulum swung, for sure, but it was all in NIU’s favor.

The following Huskie drive saw Jordan Lynch do Jordan Lynch things, converting a critical third down after breaking two backfield tackles and finding Matt Williams for 25 yards. The go ahead score was a 36 yard pass to a wide open Da’Ron Scott, and in what became a theme for the night when BSU was on defense, I simply scratched me head and mumbled a “Yeeesh” for the lack of stoppage against the Huskies. BSU’s next drive ended when Edwards on 4th and 1 couldn’t come up with the needed yardage against eight men in the box. Armchair quarterbacks wonder why a timeout wasn’t called. They wonder why Rich Skrosky, Lembo, or Wenning didn’t check out of a run and into a playaction pass against no safety and single coverage on the outsides. It’s easy to make that call from the comfort of a living room.

That 4th down run was perhaps the biggest headscratcher, but far from the only one. The onside kick with ten minutes to go in the second quarter deserves at least a mention. As does the rugby style punting. All those things, combined with a great team in NIU, a few missed calls by officials (or all of them since NIU had zero penalties), and a relative stall in the second half by the BSU offense led to the Cards dropping a heartbreaker. The true shame in all of it is that with Lynch’s last TD and the pick 6 in the last minute, that 21-point margin makes this one seem a hell of a lot more distant than it really was. BSU was about ten minutes away from beating the darling of the MAC and in all seriousness, is about 17 minutes away from being 11-0 right now. But that’s not reality.

Reality is the Cardinals are 9-2, still with an outside shot at a MAC West title and berth to Detroit, and are virtual locks for a bowl game. Those are all good things and shouldn’t be lost in the sadness and hurt feelings over this one. Your final word for NIU…

dispiriting (adj)

  • Causing someone to lose enthusiasm and hope; disheartening.

Some other thoughts on the loss…

  • Statistically, the Cards had a good evening and certainly not a performance worthy of a 21-point loss. Wenning was over 300 yards passing, Edwards over 150 yards rushing, and Snead over 120 yards receiving. If you had told me before the game all those things would happen, I’d like our chances.
  • The Cardinals also had more first downs, seven minutes more time of possession, were 50% on third downs, and didn’t lose the turnover battle. Again, all those things on paper are more than likely going to lead to a victory more often than not.
  • NIU led in rushing yards, which was sort of expected, but also passing yards, which was most definitely not. I’m kind of at a loss as to why this team consistently arm tackles and cannot bring down someone on first contact. This wasn’t a one-game anomaly, as for the longest time I can remember this has been the case. I don’t know whether it’s the speed on defense working against BSU in terms of over-pursuing or trying to create turnovers, but if I had a dollar for every missed tackle by the BSU defense over the last several years I would be a very wealthy man. Look at NIU’s tackling. That’s how it’s done.
  • Twitter and the messageboards were raking Jonathan Newsome over the coals last night for two missed opportunities on Jordan Lynch but it wasn’t just him. There was plenty of blame and moments to go around, and those two plays in question just happened to be the most flashy. Newsome has done more good than bad in his time here, and fans would do well to remember that.
  • With a victory last night, BSU would have punched a ticket to Detroit and the MAC Championship but even with a loss the Cardinals are still alive. They need help, and a considerable amount of it, but there is a chance.
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4 Responses

  1. Great read. I, too scratched my head several times during last night’s game wondering when the Cardinals would break out and run away with it. And I’m a Huskie fan.
    Ball State fielded a damn fine team last night and not one of your players has a reason to hang their head.
    As in most things in life there are winners and there are those that didn’t win on that particular occasion.
    And we also know that the final score doesn’t necessarily reflect the closeness of the game – (a la FSU / Orange Bowl)
    Good luck to you Cardinals, you are among the very best the MAC has to offer.

  2. I thought about comparing it to the Orange Bowl but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I’d feel dirty somehow.

  3. I was there, it was a great game. Lots of Ball State fans there too. NIU faced a similar QB earlier this year from EIU and I believe that really helped prepare for BSU’s QB. Garropolo threw 6 TD passes and had some really good receivers that burned NIU on medium and deep routes. I believe that is why the NIU DB’s were giving you guys a “cushion” to prevent the home run balls.

    When BSU recovered the fumble after the long pass from Lynch, I thought the Cards had the momentum and the game right there. Some times it is better to be lucky than good…however Lynch is more than “just good”.

    The Fresno Board and other boards around the country dismissed both teams..I believe several posters called BSU the worst 9-1 in the country. I think BSU would blow out Fresno. I’m just happy NIU won at home, it might have been a different result in Muncie.

  4. Not to be nitpicky about other fans’ messageboards, but the only other 9-1 teams at the time that game was played were Missouri and Auburn, both ranked in the Top 10. So I guess we were the worst 9-1 team. It happens.

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