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Final Word: Akron

The Final Word 200On Saturday at the Scheu, it was an absolutely picture-perfect day for college football. Bright sun, blue skies, and not a cloud to be found anywhere in sight as the Cardinals looked for win #3 and their second in a row for the 2014 campaign. Leading up to the game, both myself and Jason had emphasized what a massive game it was. With a win, the Cards were still alive for post-season play, albeit on somewhat thin ice, they were still in contention for the MAC West, albeit needing help from others, but most of all, there would be signs of fight and positivity to move forward on.

A loss would have been disaster, and I don’t use that term in some sort of hyperbolic sky-is-falling overreaction. No, it would have been for all intents and purposes a complete disaster that in some respects would have been devastating to the first three years of the Lembo regime in Muncie. The packed houses, loud and boisterous crowds, and appearances on “hot lists” of Coach Pete Lembo would cease and BSU would fall, yet again, into the pile of nonfactors and irrelevants that populate the mass majority of mid-major college football.

The naysayers would tell you that was an almost foregone conclusion heading into Saturday’s game. Akron came in at 4-3, winners of three of their last four, and already with a road win at Pitt on their resume. Their passing game was strong, their defense stout, and even the wearers of the rosiest Cardinal glasses would tell you there were some significant questions about BSU. Passing defense first and foremost, ability to close out a game right up there, and a whole host of other things that weren’t even on the worry radar the last three seasons thanks to an experienced team led by Keith Wenning, Willie Snead, and a host of other vocal put-it-on-me kind of Cardinals. The naysayers were convinced that this was just going to be another loss.

But a funny thing happened on the Cardinals’ way to obscurity, and dare I say, these young Cardinals may very well have grown up in front of our very eyes with their 35-21 victory. In many ways, the first half was what we’ve seen most of this season: missed opportunities; missed chances; and a defense that was anything but a minor imposition to the wishes of the opposing offense. But in one of the most Jekyll & Hyde performances I can remember, the second half was a symphony of success. The offense ran roughshod over the Zips and the defense was a holy terror on turf. Is it possible that the evolution of this iteration of the Cardinals only took the halftime period to come to realization?

With youth comes inexperience and ignorance. Uncertainty on checks, packages, and audibles, but perhaps most importantly, these Cards had to learn how to win. How to get an opponent on the ropes and not let up. Being able to do that in come-from-behind fashion is just a nice little bonus.

The story of the game was the Cardinals defense and the five turnovers they created, which is by no means a sustainable strategy. However, the things that are both noteworthy and repeatable were the performances of Jahwan Edwards against an Akron rush defense ranked 33rd nationally before Quake’s 121 yards and a TD Saturday, and the performance of Jack Milas to put playmakers like Jordan Williams and the aforementioned Quake in a position to make plays. Milas continues to grow, continues to impress, continues to win and frankly, that’s really all that matters.

Saturday was something more than a football game. It felt like a rebirth. I distinctly remember the feeling I got in the Scheu media room after Indiana State. The tension was palpable and frankly, I was dreading having to hear CPL explain an unexplainable loss and see the pained looks on the players’ faces as they fielded questions from the media assembled. Saturday was 180 degrees different. Folks were smiling, jokes were made, CPL was all smiles, pleasantries, and pats on the back. It wasn’t an atmosphere befitting how the season started, and it was most definitely not the atmosphere expected at halftime, but it was most assuredly the atmosphere that this team deserved after Saturday’s performance and the struggles and growing pains they’ve had to endure through this season. Much like a bad break up, time heals all sorts of holes and growth issues, but time takes time. And so, your final word on Akron…

catharsis (n.)
a purification or purgation that brings about spiritual renewal or release from tension

Some other notes on the victory…

  • Though we noted above that generating five turnovers was not a sustainable strategy, this was the second consecutive game the Cardinals did just that. The ten turnovers in the last two games is the most in a two-game stretch since at least 2000.
  • After Akron’s first four possessions, the defense allowed zero points and only 111 yards.
  • Scott Secor’s 5 made field goals set a Scheumann Stadium record and matched a school record for most field goals in a game.
  • Should Secor make 4 more field goals on the year, he will tie John Diettrich and Steven Schott for season makes with 25. His 21 made field goals puts him #1 in the country for made field goals this year.
  • Quake Edwards has 828 yards on the season and sits just 172 yards short of his third 1000-yard season, a feat only accomplished by Marcus Merriweather, the person Quake took the career rushing record from last week.
  • Speaking of Quake, with his next TD he will pass Ian McGarvey as BSU’s leading scorer. Quake currently sits at 282 and McGarvey has 287.
  • Jack Milas’ rookie success continues as through three starts he has 749 yards, 6 total TDs, and most importantly, 0 INTs.
  • The 15-point comeback (from 21-6) was the 7th largest deficit overcome for a victory in school history.
  • The victory on Saturday was BSU’s 14th in their past 17 MAC games.
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Final Word: Western Michigan

The Final Word 200I woke up on Saturday morning so excited for football. It was Homecoming Saturday in Muncie, there was a winnable game on the BSU schedule, things could get no better. That line of thought served me for roughly 38 seconds until I stood up, took about three steps toward the bathroom, and felt that weird feeling in your mouth that says something is about to happen, none of which you are going to enjoy. Twenty minutes later, after I had seemingly purged all that I could possibly have in my system and was ready to attack my Homecoming journey with renewed vigor and energy, it happened again. And it was in the next ten minutes as I laid on the cold tile floor in my family’s southern Indiana homestead that I thought perhaps a Homecoming journey wasn’t in the cards for me.

There was reason to be excited, you know. Western Michigan was far from a world beater and the Cardinals needed a win in the worst possible way. 1-4 starts aren’t in CPL’s make up and 1-5 starts damn sure aren’t. There was a new quarterback under center, Quake was still ready to chew up yards in the backfield, and perhaps most importantly, across the field stood perhaps Ball State’s biggest advantage: Western Michigan’s head coach PJ Fleck. Boat oars be damned, if it came down to coaching, I’ll take my shot with CPL.

The too long, didn’t read version of events: Ball State dropped their fifth consecutive game to fall to 1-5 on the season and now sit at 0-2 in MAC play. Were there positive things to take away from Saturday? Of course, and we’ll get to those below. But there was a sizable takeaway as well, and speaks to a much larger issue at play for this year’s dreadful start. Most notably: “This is not the BSU team that we are used to under Coach Pete Lembo in any way, shape, or form.” There is nothing to be giddy about when Ball State gives up a 28-7 lead with 3:36 to go in the 2nd quarter. There is nothing to be giddy about a defensive effort that allowed thee touchdown drives of four plays or less. There is reason to be excited about the offense not being so pedestrian and vanilla, but mired in a 5-game losing streak with some significant defensive woes sort of brings all facets back to Earth.

The Cards did play turnover-free football and actually had an advantage in time of possession, so that’s pretty awesome. Early lead aside, this was the definition of a 50-50 game, and it didn’t end up in the Cards’ favor. It stings more now because quite literally every 50-50 game and situation over the first three years of the CPL regime went to the good guys. So we sit with a 1-5 record with a road game against CMU looming and some discipline issues circulating the team. It’s always a great time to be a BSU fan, but to call this anything other than challenging would be ignoring the obvious. Your final word on Western Michigan…

bleak (adj.)
depressing

Some other thoughts on the loss…

  • It was great to see Jordan Williams get back to his old self with 11 catches, 179 yards, and 2 TDs. That is the kind of effort that we all thought was the norm for JW and I’m thrilled to see the little nagging injuries no longer hamper his ability to make a statement kind of stat line.
  • Scott Secor perfect again on his five extra points and one field goal.
  • Punter U may be back in action as Kyle Schmidt and Secor combined for a 50.3 yard average on their punts for the day.
  • When the defense gives up 161 yards and 3 scores to a single player as they did on Saturday in the case of Jarvion Franklin, that makes it quite difficult to get a W.

The Cards are on the road this Saturday against Central Michigan. The Chips come in at 4-3 overall and 2-1 in the MAC. Kickoff is at 3:30 and Vegas opened the line at CMU (-6.5), where it was quickly bet up to CMU (-9) at some books. We open the CMU festivities around these parts tomorrow in earnest, so fire up for that.

Final Word: Army

The Final Word 200Some teams write off their out of conference schedule as simply the precursor to the meat and potatoes of their conference foes. Most will consider a majority of their non-conference schedule easy wins, save for maybe the payday game that some schools have to play or an arch-rival in-state opponent that tradition dictates you suit up against. This year’s out of conference slate hardly struck fear in the hearts of Cardinal nation, with most assuming at worst it would be a 2-2 out of conference season, most likely a 3-1 mark, and 4-0 wasn’t out of the question given Iowa’s seemingly annual inability to beat a good MAC squad. On Saturday, Ball State lost their 3rd and final out of conference game for 2014 33-24 to the Army Black Knights and the 2014 non-conference season comes to a disastrous close.

The ins and outs of Army are inconsequential, most notably because the far-reaching implications of that loss and the team response to it is so mind-bogglingly critical that I can’t adequately describe it. This program until week three of this season was a program on the rise, the next great MAC dynasty, and players and staff alike were heralded as the conquering heroes that the last three seasons exhibited. The loss to Iowa was easily written off as a bigger, tougher, stronger opponent. The loss to Indiana State? Harder to just write off but there were some significant fluke luck and freak plays. The loss to Army? Now we are reaching when we point to the weather. Even Pete Lembo said the rain made the ball too heavy to have a significant downfield threat.

So there’s been lots of reasons people could point to as to why this Cardinal team now sits at 1-4 and needing a miracle over the next 7 weeks to be competitive for a postseason appearance. None of them especially matter in they eyes of a fanbase that has been apathetic more than it has been supportive and at times seems like they are looking for a reason to not come out to Scheumann Stadium. A demoralizing loss to WMU on Saturday for Homecoming would conveniently fit the narrative of “Same old Ball State.”

So our Final Word this week is less about Army, but more about where we are at, or the status of the program so to speak. Your Final Word…

precipice (n.)
a situation of great peril

Some other things I takeaway from the start of this season…

  • Some seem to have given up on this team and believe that this is a throwaway year a la 2009. I don’t see that being the case at all and am certainly not in that camp. Number one, last season didn’t see the kind of success that 2008 did and the drop off isn’t as severe. So there’s that.
  • Having said that, I think the amount of people who buy in to this team could dramatically fall off with a loss on Saturday. It’s Homecoming week and I remember a Western Michigan Homecoming game in 2010 that I actually left at halftime because it was just awful to sit through. For the sake of the attendance the rest of the season, I hope Saturday is a convincing win.
  • Your Homecoming weather forecast is partly sunny with a high of 59* as of this writing. That’s better than the rain originally forecast, but as most of us know, if you don’t like the East Central Indiana weather, just give it an hour or so and it will change.

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 least 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 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…

confounding (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

Final Word: Iowa

The Final Word 200I’m pressed for time this morning, but it’s time to close the book on Iowa and hit you with the first “Final Word” for 2014.

In some respects, the game on Saturday was the best and worst of Ball State football. The best, in that the program’s rise in recent years has given a glimmer of hope that road upsets against “name” teams from power conferences are possible if not expected and that disappointment isn’t reserved solely for MAC losses. It was the worst in that there is still a small minority of the fanbase where the prior shift hasn’t and probably won’t ever occur. Reading the message boards, Facebook, and Twitter after the final gun was a significantly frustrating experience.

The cries of “same old Ball State” or something to that effect are still out there. It’s disappointing. It’s completely offbase. But the saving grace through all of it is that the volume of those cries gets less and less as each successful season happens. So with so much good and so much bad, the final word for Iowa is…

dichotomy (n)

  1. separation of different or contradictory things: a separation into two divisions that differ widely from or contradict each other

Some other thoughts on the loss…

  • Went back and rewatched the game and come away with the same feeling I had on Saturday night: The defense played well enough to win that game. Stellar effort across the board from the defensive unit.
  • If I had asked you before the game started if we could fast forward to the beginning of the 4th quarter with a 10-point lead, I would almost guarantee all of us would have taken it and not thought twice about it. Normally, with Lembo-led teams, 4th quarter leads are fairly safe, but as we saw, when the running game isn’t moving the chains or given the chance to, that expectation might be misplaced.
  • I’ve never seen a non-premier-program QB get so crushed by the fanbase after only two games at the helm. I can only hope Ozzie Mann’s friends don’t let him read social media or the web at all, because to say he’s a popular figure in the fanbase now is not accurate. I’m not sure if that’s a combination of lust after Jack Milas or something else, but he did not gain a lot of fans on Saturday.
  • Probably the only person who gained less was Joey Lynch and it’s directly related to the same issues. The offense did struggle, but I think evaluating the proficiency of either Lynch or Mann after playing one of the best defenses in the Big Ten is a foolish endeavor.
  • If just one of Ball State’s field goal drives had ended up in a touchdown we are looking at a completely different last few minutes and in my opinion a likely different outcome. One drive was killed by penalties, the other an inability to convert, and that was probably the most important exchanges of the game. They are disappointing, sure, but how many times in the Lembo era has that not been the case? I would say almost all of them. Every team reverts back to the median eventually.

So now, it’s on to Indiana State, and there’s nothing better to take the stench off a pissed off fanbase than an FCS team. CPL built up the Sycamores in this week’s Coach’s Newsletter, but even I could tell it was half-assed at best.

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.

Final Word on CMU

The Final Word 200Last night at Scheumann Stadium was just about perfect. Admittedly, I (and truthfully most everyone else) expected a dominant performance from the Cardinals. This was a CMU team that wasn’t exceptionally talented, they aren’t extremely well-coached, and they had a slew of injuries that put them at a marked disadvantage. But then the hands of fate began to intercede, or so it seemed. First came the rain, football’s great equalizer. The slippery stuff that makes the passing game tricky and footing even more so. Then came the news of a possible return for one of CMU’s biggest weapons.

Pre-game there was a buzz on Twitter that running back Zurlon Tipton would be dressed and ready to play for the Chips last night. Tipton at his best, is one of the conference’s best, and his injury in week 1 (a broken ankle) set the tone for a disappointing 2013 for CMU. There was hopes that his triumphant return would make the difference between a W and an L. It certainly didn’t. (More on his return below)

Ball State did what every fan has been hoping for all season, and that’s start hot. The Cards certainly did that, seemingly unaffected by the weather woes in East Central Indiana, jumping out to a 21-0 lead as the second quarter started. Everything about their performance was stellar. Perhaps most stellar of all though was the dominance exerted by the offensive line. The offense was humming along in large part thanks to the fact that the hogmollies were straight BLOWING people off the line of scrimmage. It was the most dominant line of scrimmage performance I can remember since Indiana in Lucas Oil Stadium.

In the end, Keith Wenning did what Keith Wenning does, Willie Snead did what Willie Snead does, and Horactio Banks and Jahwan Edwards went for over two hundred on the ground. Even the defense was at least decent when it had to be. All that adds up to another 2013 day after gameday where we sit smiling about a 44-24 victory and wondering what’s in store for this version of the Cardinals. Like Pete Lembo said in the post-game, “Another day at the office…” So the final word for CMU is…

indefectible (adj.)

  • not liable to fault or imperfection; faultless

Some other thoughts on the win…

  • Horactio Banks might be one of my favorite players on this team, largely because you had best not blink when he touches the ball. He reminds me a little of Corey Sykes and the combination of Edwards and Banks is eerily similar to Quale and Sykes. Banks went for 143 and a score last night and probably could have went for 200 had they pushed it, or you know, Quake hadn’t rushed for 90 of his own yards.
  • Keith Wenning had his second straight game under 300 yards, but since he threw for 299 and 4 scores in a 20-point win that wasn’t even that close, I guess I can let it slide. I’m obviously a homer, but I’d take Wenning over every other QB in this conference right now. Yes, even the one up the road in Dekalb.
  • Jamill Smith got back in gear Wednesday night and was one broken tackle away from making our pregame prediction of a return TD come true. He also caught 6 balls for 91 yards and a TD. Part of the success of the Lembo/Skrosky offense is having multiple weapons all capable of scoring and demanding attention from the defense. Snead, Smith, Williams, Fakes, etc. all need to be cranking to really make this offense motor.
  • If you haven’t watched Coach Pete Lembo’s post-game press conference, I suggest you do it. I have never seen CPL so prickly. I think the personal fouls and the defensive breakdowns put him in a bit of a sour mood, and then when someone asked about NIU rather than CMU, it was on like donkey kong. CPL even pulled a Les Miles, put the hand up, and stopped a reporter mid-sentence. God, I hope it was someone from The Star Press. They’re the worst.
  • Also in that presser linked above are three things CPL doesn’t believe in: 1.) That it’s difficult to play on the road 2.) That there’s such a thing as a let down game. 3.) Acknowledging anything down the road. It’s around the 12:30 mark of the presser. Check it out. I think you’ll like it.
  • Wenning and Snead were asked about whether practicing without an indoor practice facility made them a better team on tricky weather nights. Jo Ann Gora snuck that reporter in. Guaranteed.
  • The weather definitely had an effect on the attendance. The announced crowd was 9,494 and in truth, it was probably less than that. I hate it for the players, the athletic department, and the Dance Marathon people who worked their rears off to try to make Project 10,000 a success. Sometimes mother nature has different plans and that sucks.
  • Why CMU decided to burn an almost guaranteed medical redshirt for Zurlon Tipton for 8 yards on 5 carries on a poor weather night is beyond me. Clearly, either CMU isn’t a players first program or Tipton is leaving at the end of this year come hell or high water. Either way, I think it’s a crummy decision. If the same situation was present for BSU and Lembo burns a redshirt for Banks or Quake to finish out a crummy season, I would be livid. I hope the CMU fans are.

Now the Cardinals have to get ready for Northern Illinois and Heisman hopeful Jordan Lynch in what is being dubbed the Game of the Year in the MAC, and in some respects, may be as watched as the BSU/CMU game in 2008. It’s everything you could possibly want in a mid-week MAC game and frankly, anything you could even think of happening I wouldn’t discount. 55-52 shoot out? Wouldn’t shock me. 20 point blow out for either team? Wouldn’t surprise me in the least. Defensive struggle that ends in single digit scores? Ok… that would shock me. Bring on NIU and Go Cards!

Final Word on WMU

The Final Word 200Ah, the dreaded “trap game”. Where one team, the supremely talented and clearly better one has an unexplainable collapse against a team that in no way shape or form should be competitive. For the two MAC front-runners in BSU and NIU, it’s a cavalcade of trap games until the two square off on November 13. NIU has had their share of trap halves, with Jordan Lynch pulling their fat from the fire via his rushing game in the second half (see: Saturday vs. Central Michigan). For BSU, Kent State certainly was an ugly win and whether that was a hangover from Virginia or the Cards not taking someone seriously on Homecoming or something else entirely, that was clearly not an outstanding performance. A win? Yes. A sigh of relief afterwards? Another yes.

I think most of us on Saturday were looking for a statement and a statement is exactly what we got. The Cardinals’ opponent was clearly over-matched, unprepared, and unable to stop the BSU juggernaut, and the Cardinals took advantage of that from minute one. The 38-17 decision, which move the Cards to 7-1 and 4-0 in the MAC while dropping WMU to 0-8 overall and 0-4 in the conference was exactly what the Cardinals needed to get the hype train back on the tracks, the fans back dreaming of Detroit, and the showdown on the 13th of November that much more elevated.

Bottom line, the Cards did what needed to be done against an opponent that they needed to do it against. For all the tomfoolery and ballyhoo about PJ Fleck and his boats, this WMU team could have submarined the remainder of the season for the Cards by handing them an unexpected loss. It’s the MAC. That kind of thing is known to happen. But Saturday saw the universe unfold exactly as it was supposed to. A superior BSU team gathering momentum as a team of destiny, really, went on the road and exerted their will and dominance over an unworthy opponent. So, the Final Word for WMU is…

foreseeable (adj.)

  • able to be foreseen or predicted

Some other thoughts on the victory:

  • Keith Wenning became the school’s all-time leading TD passer in the victory on his way to 324 yards and 3 scores. It’s amazing to me that a BSU QB can put up 325 and 3 TDs and everyone’s just like, “Oh well, another day at the office for Keith Wenning”. When I was in school going through the Lynch/Talmadge era, if someone threw for 325 and 3 TDs we’d maybe throw a party on McGalliard. We probably would regardless, but at least this time it would be reasonable. Wenning’s 14 300-yard games is a school record total.
  • Willie Snead added another TD to his haul and that makes 8 for the season and 19 for his career. He’s in 4th place for in school history for career receptions and career yards, and 5th in receiving scores.
  • Getting Zane Fakes back involved on the offense was my biggest takeaway from Saturday. 6 catches, 54 yards, and a score is a great line for a tight end, and the more Fakes is a credible threat, the easier it’s going to be for Snead and Jamill Smith to get open looks on the outside.
  • Aaron Hepp? Extra pudding cups for you, this week. Redshirt freshman comes in and makes two grabs for 29 yards out of nowhere and had hopefully people other than me scrambling for a media guide to see just who he was.
  • How about the defense? For the majority of the game, WMU was held to only three points, and though plays went for positive gains and a time or two a big one at that, on the whole, the defense played remarkably well. Holding WMU to 3 of 14 on 3rd down conversions is a great sign that this defense can hold when need be. One of the most remarkable things about 2008 was their inability to do that at critical times.
  • I was a little surprised that BSU only accumulated 159 yards on the ground. WMU’s pass defense was a virtually untested unit, highly ranked but never tested. Their run defense was porous to say the least, but the gamble paid off in the form of a 3 TD win. Though, for pure record’s sake, I wouldn’t have minded Jahwan Edwards putting some distance between him and the other national backs in TDs scored on the ground. With his 92 yards and 1 TD, Edwards finds himself slipping to 3rd nationally in TDs scored. I’m not saying “Quake for 6” should be a thing, I’m not saying it shouldn’t.
  • Speaking of 6, 6 penalties for the Cards on Saturday was very uncharacteristic. There were no significant penalties but it still sort of stood out post-game in the box score as one of those stat oddities that you don’t see coming.

Saturday sees the Cards travel to Akron for their final Saturday game of the 2013 season. It would be easy to take their record and write the Zips off as not a credible threat, but that would be very wrong. More on them upcoming. For now, it feels damn good to be 7-1. Go Cards!

Final Word on Kent State

The Final Word 200There’s an old saying that any win is a good win, but after watching the Cardinals struggle and damn near give a game away on Saturday, I am not so sure that I agree with that statement. Yes, the Cardinals added another “W” to the ledger and that’s a definite good thing. But I would be remiss if I at least didn’t mention that there a three-point victory over a 2-4 double-digit underdog left me feeling a little bit underwhelmed. The thing that people, myself included, fail to realize many times, though, is that every team will have games where for whatever reason, things don’t go their way. The “average” teams lose those games. The good ones win them anyway, and after Saturday, I’d say that this team is definitely a good team, perhaps even better. And it’s nice to finally have tangible proof of that.

In a way, it’s strange that I learned more about this team from Saturday’s contest then I have at any other game this season. The UVA game was a great game to watch, but all it taught me was when BSU is on, they are nearly unstoppable. I was curious what would happen when BSU turned in the majority of a game with less than spectacular results. We’ve seen glimpses of it for short periods, but never for the length of time it was present on Saturday. Between the tipped passes, the interceptions, the failure to establish a dominant running game, etc. it was a frustrating afternoon. The fact that despite all that, BSU walks out of the Scheu with a win is exactly what I needed to see to have faith this team can respond when its back is against the wall. The great ones do. So, the final word for Kent State is…

affirming (v.)

  • to state as a fact, to assert strongly and publicly

Some other thoughts on the victory…

  • The attendance at the Scheu was dreadful on Saturday. Operation 20k was a resounding failure and the announced crowd was 16k and change. Standing on the sidelines chatting to a few people, we all thought we were well under 20k and estimates ranged from 15k to 18k. That is absolutely ridiculous. The damn tailgate lot was at capacity an hour before kickoff. Which tells me a couple things… people either came to tailgate and didn’t go to the game, or a family of four took four different cars, neither of which is particularly good. I will never understand the failure of this fanbase to come out and support this team. It was Homecoming. It was gorgeous. The team had just beaten UVA. They were 5-1. Tickets were cheap. THIS MAKES NO SENSE.
  • Even on a less than spectacular day, Keith Wenning still goes for 300+. 305 yards was his final tally with 4TDs to go along with his 2 INTs and he may have thrown for 400 if he didn’t have so many tipped passes. I’m not sure what the deal is with that, but you can bet that tape will make its way to Kalamazoo for this weekend’s game.
  • Kudos to the student section. When I was in undergrad at BSU, it was a rarity to see even one of the sections on the student side full. On Saturday, all but one was basically at capacity and the one that wasn’t was probably 70% full. The best programs in the country have student support and that kind of thing makes the position of head coach attractive should it become open.
  • Speaking of, it’s time to start thinking about what this offseason could potentially be like. After talking with a few folks on Saturday, it’s entirely likely we’re replacing one of the all-time great MAC QBs and an entire coaching staff. That’ll be fun.
  • The Pride of Mid America is still quite good.

Now, it’s on to Western Michigan and the joy and happiness that will be PJ Fleck for the next week. Batten down the hatches, boys and girls.

Final Word on Virginia

The Final Word 200Teams from the non-AQ conferences clamor for just one thing: an opportunity. On Saturday, the Cards had just that. An opportunity to turn heads, raise awareness, and announce to the nation that there is more than Northern Illinois to slobber over in the MAC. And boy, did they capitalize on that chance.

The storylines from this game are massive and the credit will go to Keith Wenning and Jahwan Edwards who rewrote BSU’s record book en route to a victory, setting the career passing yards and rushing TD records respectively. But it’s the unsung little things, in true Lembo fashion, that made this win over Virginia a reality. First and foremost, the offensive line was dominant and aggressive in both rush and pass schemes. I would compare it to the line of scrimmage dominance thrown on Indiana in Pete Lembo’s first game as the Cardinals head coach in Lucas Oil Stadium. Yet again, the Cards performed virtually without penalties, while the opponent continued to beat itself with turnovers, penalties, and mistakes. And after each and every one, BSU was there to capitalize. Perhaps the greatest staple of the BSU program under Lembo is taking advantage of opportunities when they present themselves. Whether that’s in-game like an opponent mistake or an opportunity to play for a lower seeded man on the depth chart, or a more macro view of opportunity like a nationally televised game against a “name brand” opponent, the Cards took advantage of all of them on Saturday. I seem to recall another BSU team that had that personality and they finished the season 12-0.

Virginia isn’t a national powerhouse and their home environment is anything but a snake pit. The national pundits and the hardcore football fans already know this. They are not who this win was big for. This win was big for the casual fan. The one who only pays attention when its convenient. Not the one who rearranges commitments to ensure he can see BSU play. Not the one who can tell you who the AP Top 25 is, the last six national champions, or what three coaches have already been fired this year. That hardcore fan already knew what was brewing in Muncie this season, and this win did nothing but cement what most already thought: This version of the Cardinals is awfully damn good.

It is the casual observer though that puts too much stock in a middling ACC team that this victory will reach most of all. The casual fan who was die hard cardinal and white from midway through 2008 until week 2 of 2009. The casual observer who needs a reason to break out the fandom. They frustrate me and confound me, but they exist and that’s the fan this game brings back into the fold. And what a supremely awesome time for that to happen! This week’s contest against Kent State is Homecoming for the Fighting Football Cardinals, and there is a push from athletics to pack Scheumann Stadium with die hard Card fans. More on Operation 20k below, but for now, the final word on Virginia is…

eye-opening (adj.)

  • causing a strong emotional reaction because of unexpectedness

Some other notes…

  • After the UVA game, Keith Wenning has moved into 7th nationally for passing yards per game and 37th nationally for QB rating, which overall is a worthless statistical algorithm. He’s 23rd nationally for TDs.
  • Jahwan Edwards is 32nd in the country in rushing yards per game and oh by the way, first nationally for TDs scored. He’s the first running back to hit paydirt 10 times.
  • As mentioned above, athletics has rolled out Operation 20k where the goal for Homecoming attendance is 20,000 or more. In my mind, that is an extremely reachable goal under one fairly important caveat: Whomever is counting the attendance needs to actually be precise. Granted, I haven’t been to a game this season but it seems like every time I do go back, there is a general “We think this is how many students just herded into the stadium in that large group”. Maybe I’m just really bad at crowd estimates, but given the last home game where there was allegedly 4,000 or so empty seats, I’m not sure where they would have fit. The place looked pretty darn full to me. So you know, go to the game and such. The weather is going to be beautiful and the beer will be as cold as you remember it.
  • The opponent for Homecoming is Kent State and don’t let the Golden Flashes’ 2-4 record fool you. Their wins were against Western Michigan (ROW ROW ROW ROW) and Liberty, and their losses against BG, LSU, Penn State, and Northern Illinois. Kent is a talented football team and one fans and the players should not take lightly.
  • A name to keep in mind for Kent is Dri Archer. Coming into 2013, he and Jordan Lynch were the back-and-forth picks for Conference Player of the Year, and the guy is talented. He’s missed most of this season with a dreaded high ankle sprain, but in true BSU fate, he came back last week against Western and should be 100% for the BSU game. Archer is important not only for his production but about the defensive attention he demands and the opportunities he opens up for his fellow running mates. The lower his production, the better.