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Final Word on Toledo

The Final Word 200I waited to post this piece largely in hopes that my reaction wouldn’t be a knee-jerk reaction that oversells at its most basic point a victory over an inferior team. Because like it or not, that’s exactly what happened. Toledo wasn’t, isn’t, and won’t be as good as the Cards for a bit and that was brought to bear on Saturday. Make no mistake, the win was earned, deserved, and exciting. But at some point, and for the implementation of the mental attitude that Pete Lembo has been preaching to take hold, wins like this shouldn’t excite the fans more than any other win. Does Boise State get excited when they beat Idaho? Does Northern Illinois mess their britches over beating an FCS team? Both of those are met with an immediate happiness and then it’s on to the next one. That’s what’s needed here.

This, of course, will be met with a chorus of “Enjoy the ride!”s or “You suck. It was a huge win!”s and people are certainly entitled to their opinion. I like to think I don’t suck, but I am obviously biased. I am enjoying the ride, and I do think it was a big win, but not because it was an unexpected one. It was this one. It was the one we played this week, and that made it the most important game in the world. And a loss would have been damn near impossible to overcome for the MAC West’s berth in the MAC Championship.

At its most basic, this is what speaks the most to the Lembo regime in Muncie. To even have a leg to stand on to make this argument, to sound entitled, to be expectant of victory is quite the change of pace from two and a half years ago, when I, like many others, spent the prior two seasons just praying we wouldn’t get blown out. For the record, this is a much more enjoyable way to go through life. I’m not sure what the future holds for Pete Lembo and crew in Muncie (though with each win I get less and less confident that I don’t know what’s coming) but it has been a remarkable journey with him and his staff. It can’t be understated just how far this team has come in two and a half seasons. National eyes will remember BSU for 2008 and now, and they’ll think Lembo just built on what was here before he came without fully understanding what that means. Kudos and congrats to Coach Lembo, the staff, the players, and the fans. Everyone stepped up and did their job on Saturday. And that’s a great thing. The final word on Toledo is:

foretoken (n.)

  • a sign of something to come

Some other notes…

  • How about those fans?! The announced attendance was 18,329 and the photos I saw made it seem a bit fuller than that. Even if it was 1500 off or so, it was still the largest home crowd since the season finale in 2008. I was at that game and bar none it was the most exciting football game I’ve been to. I hope the crowds this season continue to grow and support this team. I’m optimistic.
  • Another 300+ yard day at the office for Keith Wenning who went for 335 on 27/38 passing. No TDs which is more surprising than his one INT but he did run one in. So there’s that. TDs on TDs on TDs.
  • Speaking of TDs on TDs on TDs, Quake Edwards proved yet again that he is indeed a grown ass man or a GAM as I like to abbreviate it. The yard total wasn’t eye popping at 89 yards, but he made the most of his chances with 3 scores.
  • While we’re on the subject of offense, let’s chat about the receiving corps. 9 yards away from three players over 100 a piece. I have come to the conclusion that between Willie Snead, Jamil Smith, and Jordan Williams, you will not find a more talented group of receivers. Not just in the MAC, anywhere in the country. Yeah. I said it.
  • I will freely admit that when I got through the first quarter I was exceptionally nervous. Between the turnovers, the tie score, and the MAC officials being MAC officials, there was upset blood in the water. I can’t remember the last time I had that feeling so early in a game. At least with North Texas, we were up big early.
  • Speaking of MAC officials, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many pass interference calls just get blatantly ignored. Hell, Williams got mugged by a Toledo DB with the official no more than five feet away. The ball was quite catchable, would have been a TD, and no call was made. Perhaps there was a desire to not have pass interference called on every play. If that’s a goal, then perhaps Toledo should stop doing it. Just a thought.
  • The defense was great at times yesterday. Good enough for Kenny Lee to win MAC West Defensive Player of the Week with his sack, INT, 8 tackles, and 1.5 TFL. For a linebacking crew that was one of the biggest question marks this season, it’s great to see Lee step up.
  • All told I thought each facet of the game performed well enough overall and all came up big during specific opportunities to do so. That, to me, is the mark of a great team. It isn’t a team that lays a whipping on people from minute one until the ball game is over. No team maintains that sort of intensity for a 60 minute football game. Look at the great teams though and you’ll see teams that know when to press, when to push, and when to step up. And this team has that.

Saturday, the Cards take to the road for their biggest road game of the season so far to one of the prettiest campuses in America. I’ve been fortunate enough to spend some time on UVA’s campus throughout my career and if you have the opportunity to go, I would strongly encourage you to. It’s definitely a different feel than the Auburns, the Michigans, or the Nebraskas, but it’s awesome for different reasons. Kickoff is at noon, and UVA week begins now.

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Final Word on North Texas

logo200It’s now been roughly 48 hours since the first road trip of the 2013 season went the exact opposite of how we wanted it to go and it still sucks. Quite a bit, actually. Normally in the days after a game, I’ll go back, rewatch, find some things that I missed initially, or tweak my evaluation of the game. The first half of that statement has happened. The second half? Not so much. The things that were frustrating on Saturday evening are frustrating now on Monday afternoon, some even more so.

I am actually having a considerably tougher time than usual finding positives. For each unit or player who would normally receive some sort of kudos or praise, there’s an equal (and usually more) amount of blame for something foolish and ridiculous that sort of negates the good. In some respects, as frustrating as it is to deal with an outcome like this, it is somewhat refreshing that it’s the first time I can remember one of these turds getting laid since Pete Lembo arrived in Muncie.

Maybe the hype of this team and this program had its way with this group, maybe there was distractions on the first road trip, maybe it was just a perfect storm of a lot of little things that added up to one big thing: a loss. At this point it sort of doesn’t matter and it’s onward and upward for the Cardinals. Their MAC opener is on the road this weekend against EMU, and I’d say my ability to just of shake off a loss then as I am now is not possible. That one would be big. That one would be crushing. This one? Sometimes things just don’t work out. The final word for North Texas is…

misadventure
(n.)

  • an unfortunate incident; a mishap

Some other week 3 thoughts…

  • Nice to see a game at least somewhat live up to the hype of Bama/A&M. For all the slobbering of Sportscenter and major media outlets, there was no way it was ever going to live up to the hype completely, barring a 58-57 quadruple overtime thriller with Pink Floyd at the half. But this was close, and damn it, that’s enough.
  • Nebraska coach Bo Pelini had himself a not so great weekend, as his Cornhuskers got gassed by UCLA and then audio leaked of him lambasting the Nebraska fans several years ago for being what he called “fair weather”. If those fans are fair-weather, never take a job in the MAC. Seriously, Bo, don’t do it. You’re going to do it after you get fired aren’t you? Sigh.
  • The NCAA says they’re standing firm about not paying athletes. I’m sure the SEC is both amused and totally not interested in what the NCAA even remotely thinks at this point.
  • The one article you should read this week is Gregg Doyel’s on Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill and how seizures impact his future career choices. (Kill had another seizure this weekend on the Minnesota sidelines)

Final Word on Army

Jordan Williams may very well be the surprise of 2013  (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Jordan Williams may very well be the surprise of 2013 (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

At least once a season there will be some Saturday that rolls around where my usual weekend festivities of watching football on Saturday until my eyes bleed and the final TDs have been scored gets interrupted for various personal goings on. This weekend was one of those weeks, and I was forced to take advantage of the wonders of the internet while living life. Surprisingly enough, the ability to keep with the Cards on an iPad thanks to high speed internet paled in comparison to the surprising nature with which the Fighting Football Cardinals dispatched the Black Knights of Army.

A victory, we expected. A thrashing we did not. And the questions this performance raised has little to do with the Cardinals’ talent and more to do with the Cardinals’ ceiling. Is it possible that we are witnessing a repeat of 2008? Dare I begin to visualize a MAC Championship? A major Bowl? A darkhorse shot at the BCS? Let’s pump the brakes a bit. But it is a fun thing to debate whether or not to think about.

How far this program has come in 3 years under Pete Lembo is nothing short of staggering. Names like Saban, Sumlin, and Stoops get the headlines and the top billing. But I believe in my heart of hearts that Pete Lembo is at worst their equal and more realistically, their better. What Lembo has done in Muncie, without the benefit of the bells and whistles of a top tier football factory, leads one to wonder what would happen if those things were in place for him. That’s a conversation for another day, but I can say with absolute certainty that there is no one in the coaching field I would rather have leading BSU than Pete Lembo.

On the field, the Cardinals were dominant and aggressive and against a team like Army that’s saying something. As we referenced last week, the opportunities would be there for the offense to strike. The key was taking advantage of those opportunities when they were presented, and Wenning and the offense did just that. The defense played disciplined and exactly how they should have to prevent the Black Knights from thrashing and gashing a much maligned defensive unit for the better part of the first game. After the first Army drive resulted in a 71-yard TD run I was worried. But in a repeat from the season opener, that worry was wasted as the Cards rattled off 37 unanswered. A 40-14 win against Army isn’t an easy thing to accomplish and to me, gives even more evidence of this team’s effectiveness and potential. The final word for Army…

Commanding
(adj)

  • superior, authoratative

Some other thoughts from Week 2 of the 2013 season…

  • Each week that passes is another in a long line of great performances by Keith Wenning. This coming week’s contest against North Texas may be the best defense he’s faced this season.
  • How about Willie Snead? Is there anything that he cannot catch? Single coverage and the scoreboard operator can go ahead and put it on the board.
  • Western Michigan lost at home to FCS Nicholls State on Saturday. Which may be a good thing since attention will be diverted from the ignorant “Row Row Row Row” student tradition video that made the rounds last week.
  • It was nice to see former Ball State player and coach Brady Hoke be fawned over by the national pundits on Saturday after beating Notre Dame. Once a Cardinal, always a Cardinal.
  • Said it before, will say it again. Jordan Williams is going to be a star. Mark it down.

Final Word on Illinois State

Willie Snead put himself in the conversation of Best in the MAC on Thursday

Willie Snead put himself in the conversation of Best in the MAC on Thursday

On Thursday night, if Twitter was any indication, the Cards’ home opener was going to be big. The build up, the marketing, the social media explosion of BSU football over the last couple weeks seemed to point everyone in the direction of a massive turnout and multiple sets of eyes looking toward the Cardinals to live up to a lofty set of expectations that had begun to build. Thankfully, the opponent on the other end of this visual inspection was FCS Illinois State, a team that by classification alone directed some fans to expect a cakewalk. How wrong we were.

Sometimes in athletics, much like life, the expectations you have for something go unmet, but what you find instead is almost more rewarding. In hindsight, the game that unfolded on Thursday night is extremely more satisfying than a pillar to post beating would have been. Those types of contests, you learn nothing other than your team is capable of beating up on a weaker opponent and your subs are capable of playing mop up minutes at best. At worst, a star gets injured. Those games are true no-win situations despite the statistics rung up.

On Thursday, fans and supporters were capable of tangibly walking away feeling something other than sorry for an overmatched opponent. They saw a Cardinals team take a punch in the mouth to open the game and continue to fight. They saw a defense that got shredded bow up and play strong. They saw a coaching staff able to make schematic adjustments and edits at half to maximize effectiveness. They saw the Cardinals offense that had streaks of pedestrian play burst to life when it needed it the most, perhaps the biggest indicator of a “great” team.

Those sorts of lessons were unexpected, but so exciting now that the game has had a day to sink in. The pessimists amongst us will point to the fact that the Cardinals trailed at halftime and didn’t dominate from start to finish as some sort of indictment on Ball State’s talent, Pete Lembo’s plan, or the coaching staff’s ability. To those folks, I say life cannot be much fun for you if focusing solely on the negative in a game with so much positive is how you spend your days. Instead, I will count myself among the optimists for the reasons listed above.

The old adage in football is that the most improvement a team will make is between games one and two of a season. For the Cardinals, building on a 20+ point win over an FCS top 10 school is a heck of a lot better than some 1-to-2 weeks we’ve had in the past. If game one is the indication that I believe it to be, then the 2013 edition of the Fighting Football Cardinals is going to be one to remember.

The final word for Illinois State…

  • Augury
    (n)

    • A sign of what will happen in the future; an omen.

Other random opening night thoughts…

  • Dri Archer was dinged up in Kent’s opening night win over Liberty. Hate to see a talented player suffer any kind of injury and I hope it’s more minor ding than major issue. Until he’s back, though, I’d say Willie Snead just moved in to “Top Receiver in the MAC” position.
  • In surprising fashion, BG laid the wood to Tulsa in their home opener. After that, the Falcons will surely become the trendy pick for the MAC East and I can’t say I’d blame anyone who fell into that camp.
  • The Indiana reaction to their 73-35 route of Indiana State was both comical and sad. Comical in that watching a fanbase so starved for success and football victories overreact in epic fashion and sad that a Big 10 school celebrates a victory over an in-state FCS school with such fervor. I’m not sure beating a bottom-feeding FCS program that’s 16-43 over the last 5 years is a reason to really mess your britches, but I guess everyone has to celebrate something. In all fairness, that record is actually a better winning percentage than Kevin Wilson’s in Bloomington, so there’s that. The game also featured two ejections, one for a targeting play by ISU and one for a Hoosier throwing a punch. You stay classy, Bloomington.
  • Towson adds to the list of FCS programs that have beaten an FCS team by knocking off UConn. Is there a team that has fallen farther faster than UConn?
  • The Ole Miss/Vandy game was exactly what I needed from opening night. As score after score tumbled in for the last couple minutes of action, it reminded me why college football is so awesome and dominates so much of my time. Welcome back, old friend.

Enjoy your opening weekend, folks!

The Final Word on Kent State

Sometimes an angry mob isn’t a bad thing.

On Saturday, the Cards laid an egg. No better way to put it, no easier way to say it, no more softening of the blow possible. Excuse makers will point to the strength of the Kent State defense, but that wasn’t the issue. As we, and countless others, have pointed out, it wasn’t a game characterized by offensive ineptitude. It was a game characterized by bad luck and a move towards karmic equilibrium that the Cards have been flirting with since their late game heroics against Indiana and South Florida.

At some point, the law of averages has to come into play, and let’s all hope that Saturday was an example of that and not a symptom of a greater problem. I’m not in the camp of some that believe this team is flawless and without equal in the MAC. Those are folks who believe every Saturday from here on out the Cards are the better team on paper. Those are folks who believe BSU should be favored in every contest remaining and are the presumptive favorites for a MAC West championship and a berth to Detroit. I’m also not in the camp of the vocal minority that are using the performance on Saturday as an indictment of the Lembo era. Emails I’ve received and messageboard posts I’ve read have some very visceral reactions that seem to think that Pete Lembo is incompetent, the defense is the worst in the world, and the Cardinals may be lucky to win another game. I think Edge’s response to me after receiving a particularly flame-tastic message was perfectly succinct: “Lol… what? Nice meltdown, bro.”

In many respects, I’m a little happy that some in the fanbase have reacted the way they have. The old adage says, “A dog never chases parked cars” and by generating a reaction like that, it means this program is on the move. The fan behavior of years past centered in apathy and couched with detachment seems to be leaving the program. And that’s a decidedly good thing. Go to fan sites that cover traditional football powers like Alabama, Notre Dame, or Texas and watch the collective anarchy that ensues after a loss. Creating a winning program and raising expectations means that occasionally when losses like this happen, a nerdfight ensues. In some respects, by creating a bloodthirsty mob that screams how bad he sucks at his job that never existed before after one game, I would argue that Pete Lembo is doing his job quite well. Remember the other day when you wondered to yourself what the definition of irony is? I’d say you found it.

Rather than overreact to a game that despite countless miscues and issues was extremely winnable, I will instead chalk it up the universe righting itself after favoring the Cards the last few weeks. I will also await Saturday’s Northern Illinois contest as a sort of measuring stick for where this program stands right now and what to expect for the rest of 2012. Another loss with some frustrating mistakes and (in my opinion) lack of a killer instinct through a sustained drive when their boot is on the opposition’s throat will make me concerned. For now, it’s just a bump in the road. Onward and upward to NIU.

The final word for Kent State..

  • Anomalous
    adj.

    1. Deviating from what is standard, normal, or expected

The Final Word on South Florida

Willie Snead earned the game ball Saturday with 11 catches for 135 yds and one very big TD. (Photo credit: Jordan Kartholl, The Star Press)

On Saturday afternoon, the eyes of the nation shifted to the MAC. That small little conference from the rust belt with perhaps the strangest geographic footprint this side of next year’s Big East, often relegated to paycheck driven cannon fodder for the BCS conferences, mattered. Could it be? Was it really possible that the MAC was trending on Twitter on a national level? Was it possible that the Big East (twice), the Big Ten, and the Big 12 all suffered defeat at the hands of MAC schools? Yes, indeedy, and the Ball State Cardinals pitched in by knocking off the South Florida Bulls, a Big East member, and only the second BCS automatic qualifying conference member to ever be beaten by Ball State.

How big was the win? That depends on what measuring stick you look at. From a season perspective, it’s big because it was this week’s opponent, keeps the Cardinals above .500, builds momentum for the heart of the MAC schedule, and guarantees no worse than a .500 out of conference record. Even the crowd made for a positive bullet point, as the attendance looked quite full on television, and was announced at 16,000+, sure to increase after this victory. Of course, the scope of this win is much greater than this season or rear ends in seats at the Scheu, and that’s where its magnitude begins to really set in.

At its most basic level, it alerts the doubters in the MAC and beyond that this is a team significantly improved in a significantly short amount of time. Are we to the level of 2008 dominance or results yet? Probably not. But I’d say we’re closer to the 2008 version of the Cardinals than the 2009 or 2010 versions. This victory cements that notion. This victory gives a senior class that has been through literally everything imaginable from a football perspective a capstone moment to their careers. This victory gives the Pete Lembo experiment in Muncie a passing grade written in permanent marker.

Was this the biggest win in program history as some have claimed? That’s hard to say. Off the top of my head and dealing only with the modern era, I’d say 07 Navy, 08 Indiana, and 10 Indiana are wins that are near the top of the list with this one in terms of out of conference. There are a host of in conference games, most from 2008 that also are vying for the top spot. Where you rank it is inconsequential. That we are even able to have the conversation speaks volumes about where this program has come in just a year and a half.

In some respects, the win will not be as noticed as it should because of the rest of the MAC and the victories they were able to pull out against teams like Iowa, Kansas, and Connecticut. But at the end of the day, this will be a game that folks will look back on for years to come as the defining moment of the 2012 season. Each season has those moments that people recall as the definitive game or moment for a given time. For me, 2007 will always be a blocked field goal against Navy. 2008 will always be fireworks over the Scheu against Western Michigan. 2012 just might be a corner fade route caught one-handed by Willie Snead. Well done, Cards.

The final word for USF…

  • Eternal

    n.

    1. Something timeless, uninterrupted, or endless.

The Final Word on Buffalo

Briggs Orsbon and the Cards exorcised their share of demons Friday night (James McCoy/Buffalo News)

It’s two days after Buffalo, and I am almost a little embarrassed to admit that I’m still giddy over the victory. I understand and comprehend that beating a 2-7 team normally shouldn’t conjure up exuberance and elation, but this particular victory is different than others for so many reasons. First and foremost, it was Ball State’s 4th win of the season, and sets up the opportunity to reach 5-7 with a win over Northern Illinois this weekend. After watching the ever-burning dumpster fire of vocal pissed off fans after some of the losses this season, finishing one game under .500 is nothing to sneeze at. The bottom line is this team is still an extremely young team. Lost on most is that they’ve battled injuries most of the year on the offensive line, and the running back stable has had its share of dings as well. To have all of that go wrong and still be one-game under .500 when the final whistle blows on 2010 isn’t something that I will grumble about at all.

While the long-term excitement may be for the overall season record and the fact that it was a faceless opponent for a W, the short-term elation is clearly because of the face of that “faceless opponent”. This particular game was two seasons in the making, and I would be lying if I said that I didn’t harbor some significant ill will toward Buffalo. It isn’t that they beat us in the 08 MAC Championship game… a loss I can take. It’s been the fall out afterward. A good majority of their fans actually believe that their defense, not the inability of our offense, won that game. They believe that MAC officials didn’t incorrectly rule Quale Lewis didn’t reach the end zone. They actually believe that they were the better team and the undefeated BSU team was a paper tiger who was proven by a better opponent. I’ll admit that they were the better team that particular day but even the most basic of football fans should be able to look at that objectively and conclude that BSU should have rolled the Bulls. What’s past is prologue, but that story has continued to unfold especially this season.

As Ball State has struggled in the last two seasons, BSU fans have had to endure some barbs from UB faithful, perhaps rightfully so. Everyone loves to kick a winner when they’re down, which further proves that UB knows exactly where it ranks in the MAC hierarchy. We’ve had to endure snickers and guffaws after 2-10 in 2009. We’ve had snide remarks made because we lost to two FCS teams in the last two seasons. We’ve been told that BSU sucks, the football program is a joke, Coach Parrish couldn’t coach a two car funeral, etc. etc. ad nauseum. Well, Buffalo fans, if BSU’s suckitude is to the level of your evaluation, then what does that say about a team who got their candyasses whooped from pillar to post on Friday night? Offensive domination? Check. Defensive domination? Check. Sure, your special teams were actually not bad. A long field goal gave you an early lead and you blocked a punt. Bully for all of you. Of course, those three points were the only points you’d score for the rest of the night, and the blocked punt was quickly pissed away after an interception, but at least you got a few table scraps before we put you out for the night. Be thankful.

The bottom line is that at least for the very foreseeable future, we have silenced the cynicism and snarkiness of our MAC brethren of the northeast. Sure, the barbs may come and the comments may be present, but the fact remains that on the field the Cardinals handled their business for 60 minutes. It was a complete and thorough domination that leaves little doubt, little room for interpretation, and little ability for any true football fan to be able to question who the better team was. It feels good. Damn good.

And so, the final word on Buffalo is:

  • Retribution: n.
    1. Something justly deserved; recompense.
    2. Something given or demanded in repayment, especially punishment.

The Final Word on CMU

OTP Offensive MVP for Central Michigan, Eric Williams

What a nice way to start a new game week, by celebrating an unexpected though much needed victory from Saturday past. That, ladies and gents, is quite the way to start the week, and hopefully a harbinger of tremendously good things to come for this Cardinal team.

The animated drive chart of the Saturday festivities can be found here.

In our preview post, we identified three things that would mean a victory for the Cardinals come Saturday. Limiting the passing attack of CMU, scoring when in the red zone, and winning the turnover battle. Check, check, and check for these Cardinals. Defensively, the Cards certainly shut down CMU’s attack early and often. Holding Ryan Radcliff to his lowest QB rating of the season, along with six sacks made it difficult for Radcliff to ever find a rhythm. The Cardinals went 100% in the red zone (1 TD & 1 FG) though it wasn’t the red zone plays that made the difference. The “big plays” like Eric Williams’ touchdown catch or David Brown’s sprint to the end zone were certainly the tide that rose to lift the Cardinals boat. The turnover battle BSU won 4-1, and that may have been the most important statistic of the day. The much maligned defense stepped it up when needed, and certainly rose to the occasion.

OTP’s Defensive MVP goes to Robert Eddins who probably will follow Radcliff to class today and sack him again. That will go nicely with the 4.5 sacks Eddins compiled this weekend. Offensively, the OTP MVP goes to Eric Williams, who racked uo 183 yards and 3 TDs.

So, Cardinal fans, the final word on this year’s CMU victory is:

  • Resurrection (n.)
    • The act of rising from the dead or returning to life
    • The state of one who has returned to life
    • The act of bringing back to practice, notice, or use; revival