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Initial Army Thoughts

army logoWelp, I guess the days of Ball State fans being able to chalk up a service academy as a for sure W are in our rearview mirror. With Saturday’s 24-33 loss in West Point, the Cardinals fall to 1-4 and I’d say we have reached the point where even the owners of the rosiest colored glasses are going to ask some questions about the goings on in the Fisher Football Complex. Whether your emotions range from confusion, questioning, anger, rage, frustration, or abject apathy it’s safe to say that this coming week is going to be bumpy, which is a shame considering it’s Homecoming Week in Muncie.

As for today’s freshly piled bullshit, there were times when things seemed to be clicking. I could point to the myriad runs that Quake Edwards was able to rip off (usually with multiple Army cadets hanging on him) as evidence that offensive bursts and big plays are possible. I could point to the penultimate offensive possession for the Cardinals that resulted in a Dylan Curry touchdown as proof that Ozzie Mann is capable of moving this offense down the field in an effective manner and good decision-making. Hell, I could point to the drive before that one as the definition of steady and effective playcalling and performance.

But there’s a flip side to those arguments as well. Like the 6 of 8 drives before those that resulted in either a turnover, a turnover on downs, or a punt, none of which was over 23 yards or 6 plays. There was the piss poor defensive effort across the board, allowing 425 rushing yards, gargantuan even with Army’s slanted run-first option attack. Yet again, Ball State was shadowed in time of possession (38 minutes to 22 minutes), committed more penalties (4 to 1), and had more turnovers (2 to 1). Those sorts of things have not happened under the direction of CPL and when they did, they certainly didn’t all happen together to combine into a cacophony of suck. If you made the argument that it wasn’t as close as 33-24, and BSU shouldn’t have been within 9 points of Army given their performance I couldn’t really counter that. Going 1-8 on third downs and allowing 9 of 15 third down conversions isn’t going to win you many football games.

Weren’t we all messing our britches over Kevin Kelly’s first few games in Muncie? Perhaps he was jealous the offense was getting all the attention (albeit negative) and wanted to share in the spotlight. Well, welcome aboard the suckwagon, Coach Kelly. You’re new here but it’s your turn in the barrel. I am aware the option requires defensive precision and assignment football. That didn’t seem to be happening on Saturday. The defense seemed ill-prepared and underdeveloped and that is squarely on the coaching staff. How did we spend the idle week? Playing Super Smash Brothers and refreshing the Fappening page on Reddit?!

Supporters of CPL will say he has coordinators responsible for those sorts of things, and they would be correct. But the CEO has the responsibility to ensure his cabinet is doing things the correct way. Ultimately, there’s a heaping pile of blame for piss poor playcalling and a general lack of preparedness that goes to all three of the guys at the top. At some point, you can’t blame it on being a new coordinator. You can’t blame it on a first-time starter. You can’t blame it on the rain (Milli Vanilli reference… drink!). In fact, at this point, I take the entirety of my frustration off the players and put it entirely on Mssrs Lembo, Lynch, and Kelly.

Ultimately, where I shake out is perhaps simplistic, but I’m a simple kind of guy. It would appear to me that the playcalling is conservative at best, completely incorrect at times. That is 100% a coaching issue. It would appear to me that the units are at times unfocused, ill-prepared, and not ready to compete at a championship level. Allowing them to get to that point is 100% a coaching decision. Allowing them to remain in the lineup is 100% a coaching issue. Allowing them to remain in the lineup because the remainder of the roster (for the first time in the Lembo era comprised entirely of his recruits) is not any better is 100% a coaching issue.

I sat in the media room after the Indiana State debacle and heard Coach Lembo espouse the usual platitudes of “This is where we’re at”, “No one’s happy”, and “”Trust the process.” After today, I would respond with “Let’s maybe try to be someplace else”, “Good. Welcome to the party”, and “Eh….”. Final Word tomorrow.

Bonus Fun Fact!: Early forecast for kickoff against Western Michigan next Saturday is a high of 55 and rain. I’d put the over/under at announced crowd at 9k and probably bet the under.

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Ball State vs. Army: By the Numbers

By the Numbers200On Saturday, the Cardinals attempt to right the 2014 season on the road in upstate New York when they take on the United States Military Academy. Ball State holds a 3-2 advantage over the Black Knights and have won three straight, but overall they are just 1-2 in historic Michie Stadium. For Army, it’s a bounceback game as well, as they have dropped three straight games, all on the road and stand at 1-3 overall. Yes, they lost Yale, but they also beat Buffalo. This season makes no sense and frankly, these two teams could have any possible outcome Saturday and it wouldn’t shock me at all.

For Ball State, this is a litmus test for the defense under coordinator Kevin Kelly. Army’s triple option attack is no secret and it’s not tricky. It’s easy to gameplan for but a real pain in the ass to execute because it requires attention to detail and precision; two things, by the way, that the Cardinals haven’t had a ton of this season.

A win and it’s a bright spot heading into conference play and a respite from the negativity that has surrounded the program in the last few games. Losses to FCS Indiana State, Toledo, and Iowa with just a lone win against FCS Colgate have left the fanbase in shambles and armchair coaching everything from offensive playcalling to starting personnel, some of which more warranted than the others. Suffice to say, it’s a massively important game to gain some momentum heading into the remainder of conference play. Let’s see what the numbers say…

BSU @ Army:
National Stat Rankings & Statistics
NCAA Stat BSU Army
Scoring Offense 105th (21.5)
77th (27.8)
Rushing Offense 68th (167.8) 9th (316.5)
Passing Offense 101st (193.5) 125th (90.8)
Total Offense 99th (361.3) 74th (407.3)
Scoring Defense 48th (22.0) 111th (36.8)
Rushing Defense 58th (141.3) 98th (196.8)
Passing Defense 69th (237.0) 111th (286.3)
Total Defense 57th (378.3) 115th (483.0)
Sacks 120th (3.0) 116h (4.0)
Sacks Allowed 34th (6.0) 21st (4.0)
Turnover Margin 53rd (+1) 53rd (+1)
3rd Down Conv. % 72nd (40.6%) 100th (35.3%)
Opp. 3rd Down Conv. % 57th (37.1%) 117th (48.9%)
Red Zone Conv. % 88th (78.6%) 119th (64.3%)
Opp. Red Zone Conv. % 18th (68.8%) 85th (86.4%)
Punting 103rd (39.7) 73rd (41.4)
Fewest Penalty Yards Per Game 48th (50.8) 86th (63.0)

Some things stand out to me even more so than the 10-6 edge Ball State enjoys, namely the 48th rank in penalty yards. I can’t remember a Lembo-led squad in Muncie ever being outside the top 30, and usually closer to the top 5. It speaks to the lack of precision we talked about above. I would also like to thank Army’s unused passing game for letting BSU get a stat advantage despite being ranked 101st nationally in passing offense. Given how much more important the pass is to Ball State than Army, I’d say that’s a win for the Black Knights.

Kickoff on Sunday is at noon, and you can check it out nationally on CBS Sports Network.

Know a ’14 Opponent: Army

In an effort to educate, inform, preview and most importantly, poke fun of those who dare add the Ball State Cardinals to their football schedule, OTP is proud to bring back a tradition here at the Pylon, Know an Opponent, in this case, the Know a ’14 Opponent series. Some things to note… this isn’t heavy lifting with broken down statistics, game film replays, or random things like that. It’s still preseason after all, and that kind of analysis and evaluation is best saved for game week. So buckle up kiddies… time to Know a ’14 Opponent!

army football logoArmy Black Knights

Throughout my time working for colleges, writing this website, and just being a football fan I have had the opportunity to attend some pretty amazing games, some pretty beautiful campuses, and be a part of some pretty amazing things. Notre Dame marching band taking the field? Check. Watching the eagle fly around the stadium at Auburn? Check. Night game at South Carolina watching Cocky go crazy while 2001 plays over the stadium speakers? Check. Sweating my ass off on a hot September Saturday in Gainesville and wondering if those around me can actually smell the bourbon coming out of my pores? Check. But there’s one thing I haven’t been able to do, and that’s make it to a game at Michie Stadium in historic West Point, NY.

I’ve had my chance, mind you, as I was credentialed for the 2009 game but let the girlfriend at the time guilt me in to staying home. Cue up the Indiana Jones, because I chose… poorly. On October 4th you can scratch something off your football bucket list that should definitely be there and say you’ve done something I haven’t. The sheer beauty of this locale is almost impossible to describe, so check out the search engine of your choosing for some great scenes. Fall leaves, the Hudson Valley, and some old school triple option football at the United States Military Academy against THE Ball State University? Sounds perfect to me.

What Have You Done For Me Lately?
With everything the stadium and location have going for them, the football played inside it hasn’t been very good recently. In fact, in the last 25 years, Army has made exactly two bowl games. That happens when you have a losing record in 16 of the last 17 seasons. As for the history against the mighty Cardinals, Ball State has won three straight, holds a 3-2 series advantage, and beat the Black Knights 40-14 last season in the friendly confines of Scheumann Stadium. Army did beat Eastern Michigan last year by 25 points, but hell, who didn’t?!

The Man Who Wears the Headset
Jeff Monken ArmyArmy has a new head man in charge, Jeff Monken, replacing Rich Ellerson who had led Army since 2009. Ellerson had the difficult task of bringing the triple option back to Army, and you can bet that Monken will continue that trend as he has been around the triple option for the majority of his coaching career, coaching under notorious option guru Paul Johnson at Georgia Southern, Navy, and Georgia Tech. Most recently, he was the head coach at Georgia Southern, where his worst record was still a very respectable 7-4 over four seasons at the command. His last season was his worst, as it was also the only time he didn’t lead the Eagles to the FCS Playoffs. Supporters will tell you it’s a blip on an otherwise stellar radar. Cynics will tell you as more of his players took over, the decline begain. Time till tell, I suppose.

Players and Stats of Note
The thing about the triple option is the more familiar you are with it, the better you tend to do, and Monken and the Black Knights certainly have that going for them with nine returning starters on the offensive depth chart. Angel Santiago, the most-used starting QB in 2013 is back, but he did struggle at times last season. It’s possible BSU could see AJ Schurr or Kelvin White if Santiago cannot lead the offense effectively. Running backs, as expected, are a strength of Army. Their depth came to the forefront last season when Raymond Maples (going for his third 1000-yard season in a row) was injured and yielded to Terry Baggett, who promptly rattled off his own 1100 yards and 8 TDs. Fullback Larry Dixon also had 700+ yards and six scores. So there’s that.

Defense is the giant question mark for Army, especially given this season and their new coordinator… Jay Bateman. That name should sound familiar to Cards fans, since Bateman had the same position in Muncie the last three seasons. Onward and lateral? The biggest weakness for Army is the linebacking unit, with only 13 starts amongst the returners. The defensive line and secondary should not only be improved from last season, they are basically the anchor of the defense. If Quake Edwards can get to the second level or Ozzie Mann can abuse curl and in routes, it could be a very long day for the Army defense.

If Army Football Was a Musician…
Edge again chimed in with his selection for this section, him being the musical genius that he is and all. His thoughts: “Army is not ever going to be the best in the band or the best in the FBS, but goddamnit, show some respect. Congrats, Army. You are Ringo Starr.”

How Worried Are We?
By its nature, the triple option is difficult to defend and easy for plays to break loose at any moment. It’s just as likely that you’re going to see a two yard loss as you are to see a 92 yard gain. It is really the definition of “contain”, considering the premise of defending it is strictly assignment football. That’s worry #1. Worry #2 is the familiarity that the Army defense is going to have with Ball State personnel and the basic offensive scheme, given Jay Bateman.

ThreatLevelArmyA nice cool Code Blue for the Black Knights. Without Jay Bateman and the hard to defend triple option attack, I’d say this is the greenest of code greens that another FBS team could be. Those two wrinkles, though, bump the OTP Threat Level up just slightly.

Enemy Recon
If you need to catch up on your Army reading, then feel free to check out the official Army site here. You can also check out some local news coverage here and visit their fansite here.

Kickoff on October 4 is noon and the television provider is CBS Sports Network. Seriously, though, go if you can. You will thank me later.

Some Thoughts on Army

army football logoOn Saturday, Ball State returns to the field for a showdown with Army as the Black Knights get to visit the booming metropolis of Muncie, Indiana and attempt to invade Scheumann Stadium. Each time BSU plays a service academy, and it has been frequent since I’ve covered the team, it puts OTP in sort of a weird situation. As anyone who regularly reads this site knows, from time to time, we like to veer our pregame festivities into the absurd and ridiculous with things like “Separated at Birth” or other tomfoolery at our opponents’ expense. When the Cards play a service academy though, that gets put on pause.

As someone with a considerable amount of family who have served, I would just feel a little queezy poking fun at the individuals who protect my ability and freedom to come on this blog and do just that. I am fairly certain that’s the exact definition of biting the hand that feeds you. With some opponents, I don’t feel bad at all. In fact, some opponents I almost feel like it’s my duty and responsibility to have a chuckle or two at their expense. The same sort of “Come back and bite you” karma may apply when we take our shots at Buffalo, but having my french fries overcooked or my change given incorrectly out of the drive thru is a chance I’m willing to take.

Some initial thoughts on the Black Knights…

  • I’m a big proponent of trying to glean as much as possible from a team’s performance so far in the season. Granted, there is only one game to point to for Army, but the Black Knights were less than impressive against Morgan State. Only beating the FCS Bears 28-12 in their season-opener, I expected at least statistical dominance from Army which never really came. They were breaking in a new QB in Angel Santiago (who did account for 3 TDs on the ground) but it was far from the overwhelming rush total you’d expect when Army and their triple option take on an FCS school.
  • Speaking of the triple option, for whatever reason, BSU seems to handle the funky throwback offensive scheme exceptionally well. Whether it be Navy or Army, BSU always pleasantly surprises me with how they don’t get thrashed and gashed. You’d expect a tricky offense to pregame for to create some headaches, but the Cards have been far better against the option than the spreads of CMU or NIU.
  • The best way to create havoc for an option attack is to get penetration from the defensive line, which BSU showed against Illinois State it is very capable of. Army’s hamstrings of military physical fitness means you aren’t going to find a behemoth offensive line to have to navigate. What you are going to have to navigate is a pulling guard or tackle that is significantly quicker than said behemoths the D line will usually go up against. Army’s offensive line averages around 6’1″ and 250 pounds. Compare that with BSU’s defensive line (Newsome, Ollie, Cox, and Miles) and BSU has a size advantage at every position. That size advantage will ideally allow for penetration and chaos for the linebackers to play assignment football, critical for the option.
  • The slow grind it out option also creates some issues for Army though, namely being an inability to come back from a significant deficit quickly and having a considerably higher risk of turnovers. In their first game, the Black Knights jumped out early to a 14-0 lead and showed how an early lead with an option team can be infuriating for opposing teams. Quite simply, your touches as an opposing offense are significantly limited to try to overcome that deficit. If they get down however, the reverse is true. The option attack (barring significant breakdowns from the defense) doesn’t usually result in quick scores or short drives. It’s a war of attrition. But that attrition comes with a high risk/reward. Anytime you have a first-year starter at the reigns of an offense predicated on reading defenses and making decisions and/or pitches, it can create issues for Army. They had one of the best in the business last year with Trent Steelman, and Angel Santiago certainly had a nice opener. But comparing the Morgan State defense to Ball State is like comparing baseball bats to watermelons.
  • And speaking of that completely odd comparison, the same is true when comparing the grind it out option attack from Army and the Lembo spread from BSU. And with that difference in offensive attacks, Army’s defense leaves itself vulnerable to various issues. At its most basic core, the Army defense (known as a Flex package) allows for various players to shift around to best meet the needs of the defense. For example, a rover can drop down into the box to provide a bolstered run attack, or a defensive lineman can drop back into a linebacker type role to allow for better pass coverage from the secondary. For the BSU rushing game to be efficient, the offensive line needs to occupy the defensive tackles as best they can, which then means instead of a linebacker plugging a rushing lane, it’s essentially a defensive back that may not like what Jahwan Edwards will do to him. Same is also true for the underneath routes which may be covered by a defensive lineman rather than a linebacker in the slant routes or unders. On the backend of the defense is usually a single safety in a de facto cover 1 when multi-receiver sets are used, thus freeing up go routes in often times single coverage which makes Willie Snead even more dangerous than he already is. What kind of offenses benefit from this package? Teams that have a QB capable of solid decision making and an offensive coaching staff capable of schematic adjustments to exploit weaknesses and mismatches, which BSU does indeed have.
  • The most important goal for BSU, outside of a victory, needs to be to escape the game relatively unscathed with the injury bug. Option attacks and their pulling offensive lineman, low blocks, etc. usually result in considerable dings, sprains, and tweaks and occasionally something far more drastic. Obviously a W is the most important goal week in and week out, but an exceptionally close second is not being the walking wounded before the first road trip of the season to North Texas next week.
  • I am a huge supporter of BSU playing the service academies whenever possible, and think it’s one of the coolest road trips our student athletes will ever get to be a part of. When I was living outside Washington, DC I was fortunate to attend a few games at the Naval Academy and it never failed to leave me a little goosebump-y when the Midshipmen came marching in and took their place in the stands. People can talk all they want about “gameday experiences” at major programs like Clemson, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech, etc. and those are all amazing to be a part of, I’m sure. But watching the likes of Army come in is just on a whole different level. This year is a home game, but next year is on the road. If you get the chance to go, do it. You won’t regret it. ‘Merica.

Aside from the action on the field, I’ll also have my eyes on the stands on Saturday, as the fan turnout to me is one of the most interesting side stories of the game. After 16,000+ on opening night (but with a decent amount of ISU people) I’m curios if BSU can crack the 18k mark. To me, that’s a watershed type of number and should definitely be the goal. It’s not a special holiday weekend, a majority of the students went home last weekend for Labor Day, and the weather in Muncie appears to be good. 18k for Army and with a good chance of returning to Muncie on the 28th at 4-0 could yield crowds in excess of 20,000. And that’s a quite good thing. But it starts with the Black Knights on Saturday. Respectfully of course, as they are the future protectors of our freedoms, but I hope we smack that ass.

Ball State 48 Army 21

You know, when we chatted about Army, both Edge and I were worried. That worry was for naught as BSU dominated from pillar to post. Offensively, the Cards were sharp and opportunistic taking advantage of the chances given. Defensively? Forget about it! As the Cards got up early and dominated often. And now, we find ourselves 3-1 on the season and 2-1 nonconference. More tomorrow, but for now all we do is win…

Countdown to Army

Photo credit: Kurt Hostetler, The Star Press

Keith Wenning's stat line Saturday will tell you everything you need to know about BSU-Army

On Saturday, Ball State will compete in its third non-conference game of the season with the opportunity for their 2nd nonconference win. It will be tough sledding to be sure as Army’s option attack often times befuddles, confuses, and otherwise wears out opposing defenses. On offense, the Cardinals will face a defensive scheme that they haven’t faced yet, but the upperclassmen on both sides of the ball were present for the Army victory in West Point over the Cardinals two years ago, hopefully providing a burning desire for retribution. With a victory, the Cards notch their third win of the season and are assured of at least a .500 record in their nonconference games, a feat that many thought difficult to achieve when the schedule was finalized for the 2011 season. In my mind, this game is the jump ball of the season. A win and the Cardinals may very well be in a great position to go bowling at the close of the season. Kickoff is at 2pm at Scheumann Stadium and we count you down to kickoff…

5 Things You Should Know

  1. Army beat itself the first two games
    It’s easy to look at the schedule for Army and feel confident considering they’re 1-2, with their two losses coming at the hands of Northern Illinois and San Diego State. Of course, you’d be forced to overlook the fact that they also defeated Northwestern. Statistically, the Black Knights dominated the offensive attack against SDSU and NIU, racking up 700 yards of rushing, but negating that advantage was three turnovers in each game. Turnovers kill any offense, but it’s especially disruptive when you run the triple option. Aside from just moving the ball, the option attack and the blocking schemes with it simply wear out a defense. Turnovers mean they’re off the field and the defense gets a breather. Those games end up with fewer turnovers and it’s highly likely the Black Knights are 2-1 at worst, with a good chance at 3-0.
  2. QB Trent Steelman is an experienced talented leader
    Remember the advantage the Cardinals had with one Nate Davis under center? Experienced leadership manning the reigns of your offense is a benefit that is almost immeasurable. Steelman comes into Saturday’s contest with 28 starts under his belt and the person responsible for scoring Army’s last six touchdowns. As he’s shown this season, though, ball security and hanging on to the football can be an issue. However, when he’s on, he’s solid and Army is a considerable threat. See: Northwestern.
  3. Army dominates the ground and the time of possession
    As mentioned above, Army isn’t a flashy team or someone who will catch anyone by surprise. Their trickeration is really what side is the option going to go to. Army is second in the nation in rushing yards, at a smidge over 360 per game, and they lead the country in time of possession even with their six turnovers through their two opening games. When they do pass (averaging around 10 attempts per game) it’s usually lethal as we saw two years ago. Because of the commitment to the run often receivers are played soft and the help isn’t as quick as it usually is. Complicating the passing game is the mobility of Steelman, who is entirely comfortable tucking and running if there isn’t a wide open receiver downfield.
  4. Keith Wenning has the chance of a lifetime to strike the Army defense, if the offensive line holds
    Army’s defensive strategy isn’t some sort of blanket coverage that is difficult to find the open man. Often times, there is single coverage on the outside and a single safety playing high. Seems simple, right? Hardly. They rely on pressure and various pushes up front to create not only a mismatch for the offense attempting to run, but disruption for the QB attempting to throw. If Wenning has the time in the pocket to let the play develop and exploit the single coverage opportunities, it could very well be his best passing day as a Cardinal.
  5. Beware of Malcolm Brown
    Trent Steelman gets the publicity in the Army attack, as most QBs who run the option do, but running back Malcolm Brown is impressive in his own right. The junior averages 82 yards per game and a staggering 9+ yards per carry. Of course, it stands to reason that he only gets the pitch when the defense has committed to Steelman, that’s still impressive. Suffice to say the Cardinal defense may have played more high-powered offenses this season (South Florida) but I would say this Army attack will certainly be the most difficult one to contain.

4 Players You Should Know

  1. Trent Steelman, QB: Multi-dimensional and experienced and the one with the responsibility of ensuring the option works.
  2. Malcolm Brown, RB: Playing the option requires assignment football, and whoever is assigned to Brown has their work cut out for them.
  3. Steven Erzinger, LB: Army’s team leader in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks. Containing him when the Cards have the ball is critical.
  4. Jared McFarlin, WR: While the Black Knights may not pass much, McFarlin is a 6’5″ target for Steelman when they do and the team’s leading receiver.

3 Ways We Win

  1. Bend but don’t break against the option
    As we saw in the Hoke years when Navy was a frequent opponent, stopping the option outright is almost impossible to do. What isn’t impossible is stopping it in critical situations to create favorable down and distance opportunities for the Cardinal defense. Army averages just under 6 yards per carry and it’s safe to say that number will need to be lower on Saturday. Perhaps most importantly, when Army doesn’t run the option the defense can’t be beat for a big play. That was the downfall in 2009 and simply cannot happen again.
  2. Take advantage of the chances that we have
    When a possession heavy team that has the ball for so much of the game, it is absolutely imperative to take advantage of whatever opportunities the offense gets, however infrequent they may be. BSU has shown extreme spurtability this season, as well as dry spells of ineffectiveness. On Saturday the Cardinal offense has to maximize their possessions and make each drive effective, efficient, and time for the defense to catch their breath. A multitude of three-and-outs, turnovers, or possessions that don’t come away with any points plays right into Army’s hands and would make a victory difficult.
  3. Force the Black Knights to cough up the football
    The best way to keep the defense fresh as well as give the offense short fields to work with would be to force Army into similar kinds of mistakes that they made in their first two losses this season. If BSU can hold onto the football as well as force some takeaways, then it could be a very enjoyable night in Muncie.

2 Cardinal Questions

  1. Can Keith Wenning exploit the opportunities afforded to him by the Army defense?
    For the most part this season, Keith Wenning has simply taken what the defense has given him and played mistake free football. This Saturday may afford him the opportunity to take chances downfield and stretch the defense, opening up the possibilities for the Cardinal rushing attack. If the play by play reads like a passing clinic, it’s a good day for the Cardinals and a great day for Wenning.
  2. Will the fans actually show up to Scheumann Stadium on Saturday?
    The home opener only generated a crowd of slightly under 9,000 to the Scheu. Will this week be any different? This team and this program has done yeoman’s work in the offseason and preseason to generate interest in this program and this team. If the local area won’t support them now, then I will begin to wonder if they ever will. Here’s to hoping that a large student contingent is generated by an exciting outcome last week.

1 Bold Prediction
For the Lembo-led Cardinals, this season has been a case study in how to win ball games. The Indiana game was a domination at the line of scrimmage in a contest that wasn’t as close as the seven-point margin would indicate. Against Buffalo last weekend, the Cardinals had a gritty come from behind win that showed exactly what kind of strides have been made in the mental toughness and resiliency of this team. On Saturday, I look for a much better crowd to energize the Cards, the defense to adequately contain the option attack, and capitalize on Army mistakes. I expect a quick start from the Cardinals and a 31-21 Ball State victory.

Know an ’11 Opponent: Army

In an effort to educate, inform, preview and most importantly, poke fun of those who dare add the Ball State Cardinals to their football schedule, OTP is proud to present the Know an ’11 Opponent series. Some things to note… this isn’t heavy lifting here with broken down statistics, game film replays, or random things like that. It’s still preseason after all, and that kind of analysis and evaluation is best saved for game week. So buckle up kiddies… time to Know an ’11 Opponent!

Army Black Knights

For the BSU Cardinals, playing a service academy is certainly nothing new since I’ve been a BSU fan. The Navy Midshipmen have battled the Cards three times (1991, 2007, 2008) and this year’s opponent, the Army Black Knights, have dotted the schedule twice before (1999, 2009). Playing the service academies in and of itself is pretty respectable in my opinion since these are the future defenders of the freedom that allows me to sit on my lazy ass on Saturday and drink copious amounts of alcohol while screaming at a bevy of 18-22 year olds as if my impassioned pleas can be heard through my television screen, up through the satellite, and somehow into their helmets. To be fair, it’s a pretty big ass television, so if there was ever a way, I feel like this would be the most plausible way for that to happen. Aside from just scheduling them and allowing them the honor of checking out the great metropolis of Muncie in the event the game is at home for the Cardinals, it’s actually been a successful endeavor on the field for the Cards as well. 3-2 against the service academies and undefeated against the Mids at 3-0. For you non-math folks out there, that means we’re 0-2 against the Black Knights, but much like a heater at the craps table, streaks are made to be broken.

What Have You Done for Me Lately?
The short answer is not much. The Black Knights were indeed a bowl team last season but that had more to do with a vast quantity of bowls and a schedule that was far from loaded with juggernauts. They did play three MAC teams (EMU, Temple, and Kent) beating two, so I guess I can’t say too much when looking back at how BSU fared in the MAC. Their seven wins last season and their winning record was the first in a while, as they had gone 30-108 since 1997 and the Black Knights haven’t beaten a top 20 team since 1972. Recent fans or younger ones won’t remember the Army football of decades ago, but there was a time when they were THE team. Three straight national titles from 1944-1946 and 14 Top 25 finishes in their history means they were damn good at one point, it’s just that “one point” wasn’t any time recently.

The Man Who Wears the Headset
Rich Ellerson is the football General for the Black Knights, and if his triple option looks familiar, it should. His offensive teeth were cut under Paul Johnson at Hawaii. Johnson’s triple option has run roughshod over the ACC at Georgia Tech for the last three years, and at Navy before that and Ellerson has brought the same sort of attack to West Point. Ellerson’s tactics and strategery have clearly been a welcome change of pace, as Army posted their best record since 97 and their first bowl berth since 96 in just Ellerson’s second year at the helm. At Army, he’s rang up a 12-13 record which is actually quite impressive when you look at the years of futility before he got there. Before that, he was at Cal Poly, where he won three Great West Conference titles in eight seasons. So winning is certainly in his background and experience. Whether or not that sort of success can sustain at Army is a tough challenge, though, but he’s on the right track.

Players and Stats of Note
Let’s focus on the defense first. If for no other reason than I like to be positive. The Black Knights return only five starters on that side of the ball, and have lost plenty from their 2010 edition. Gone are last season’s sack leader, tackles leader, tackles for loss leader, interceptions leader, and QB hurries leader. That’s good. Statistically, the defensive players returning of note are junior DE Jarrett Mackey (47tkls, 4 sacks) and senior CB Richard King (4 INTs). Offensively it is a bit of a different story. They return six starters and almost everyone who accumulated any sort of yardage passing, rushing, or receiving. Eight of their top ten rushers are back, led by junior Jared Hassain who went for 1013 yards and 9TDs. More irksome is junior QB Trent Steelman who while passing for a shade under 1000 yards and 7 TDs ran for 841 yards and 11 TDs. It’s not like BSU has had any trouble with mobile quarterbacks recently. Wait a minute…

Army’s success in the triple option is impressive to say the least and usually the more years an offense like the triple option is in place for the skill players the more effective it becomes. That’s the bad news. The good news on the offense is the offensive line is made up of four new starters. All have game experience, just not the starting experience like those who graduated, and the triple option and its success is almost entirely contingent on the ability of the offensive line to function within it.

If Army Football was a Musician
So Army was great decades ago, pretty not so great now, but because of their service academy classification, Army gets our respect no matter their recent lack of success on the field. Good a while ago and deserving respect? Army… you’re Meatloaf

How Worried Are We?
A nice calm cooling Code Yellow for the Black Knights. Some are pointing to this game as a challenge, and while it may be, I still have to believe this will be the most winnable nonconference game for the Cardinals. It’s at home and after several tune ups, so while far from a certain win, it’s a definite lean toward the victory side of the fence. For some of the Army roster, they’ll only look at the lack of success the last couple of seasons for the Cards and add in the fact that some players on the Army roster were around for the 24-17 Army win against the Cards in 09 and an incorrect aura of confidence may creep into West Point. For Ball State to have a season considered successful, this is one of the games that needs to definitely be chalked up in the W category.

Enemy Recon
Surprisingly enough, despite our internet sleuthing skills, we couldn’t find an Army fan blog. If anyone knows of one, drop us a comment or a line and let us know. Their official site is here.

Edge’s Week 1 Ruminations

Les Miles was far from impressive for Edge in Week 1

Les Miles likes walking on the tightrope. LSU’s second half attitude nearly cost them a loss and might have sealed his fate of unemployment for 2011.

Florida looked so ugly, I fought off the urge to watch a local high school game. On public access. Commentated by high school kids.

Notre Dame came out with a win in Brian Kelly’s first game. But 23-12 over Purdue leaves a bit to be desired when some very difficult opponents are lurking on that schedule.

DickRod avoided the hot seat with an impressive win over Connecticut. Tate Forcier in on the bench wasn’t surprising given his replacement made some huge waves for the future of Michigan.

Mississippi. Good Ole Miss. Moving on…

Brady Hoke is absolutely satisfied with a win over Nicholls State. 47-0 means all the homeless in San Diego can feel safe for a week.

Oregon State was one drive from handling a BCS-buster, but one bad snap sealed them to a loss against TCU. Too bad. I was hoping to see that bowl-buster drama end early.

East Carolina’s hail mary will probably be one of the top ten highlights this year. What an amazing game against Tulsa. Kudos to both sides for a great game.

Will Western Kentucky win a game this year? My sources say no.

Ok, seriously, Ole Miss. LOL. I mean, what the fuck?

Hello, Kansas. You’ve just been Turner Gill’d. You’re not alone, he did it to us in 2008. Too bad he did it for his own team this time though.

Navy’s case of fumblitis better get resolved quickly. There’s no excuse for three red zone attempts and two end in turnovers.

That Oklahoma game was a bit odd. Makes me rethink my pick of OU being a national contender this year.

Game of the week: Boise St. vs. Virginia Tech. It was everything it was hyped to be, and the Broncos prove they deserve that hype.

MAC stat of the week: 6-0 against FCS opponents. 0-7 against FBS opponents. Boo.

Finally, once again, congrats to Ball State for the week one win. Let’s keep it going against Liberty on Saturday.

Notre Dame Says No to Bowl Game

It must be nice to be in a position both financially and in program magnitude where you can say, “Thanks but no thanks” to any Bowl that would wind up with you at 6-6.

That’s right, MAC fans… Notre Dame would rather stay home and not even bother with piddly podunk games like the GMAC or the Little Ceasar’s Pizza Bowl, which feature potential MAC matchups. Instead, they would rather their seniors not have another chance on the football field, their fans not get to see them play one more time this season, their student athletes not enjoy some form of postseason. The culprit for this decision? Apparently the players themselves.

Rumors have abounded over the last several days that the team meeting held on Monday was basically a vote on whether or not the Irish players would want to go Bowling. And really… no one can blame them for wanting this season to be over as quickly as humanly possible. Losing your coach, losing some recruits, and losing 4 straight to close the season including head scratchers to UConn and Navy certainly doesn’t breed what I would classify as “excitment”, “optimism”, or “enthusiasm”.

The most likely thing that could happen for Notre Dame given their choices would be to go to some second-tier Bowl game, whomp the piss out of some overmatched team, and thus spark a slew of predictions for the 2010 version that range from “Undefeated, BCS Champions” to “OMG!!!! BEST TEAM EVER!!!!” as was the case after the Irish trumped an underwhelming Hawaii team last year in the Hawaii Bowl. Imagine if Notre Dame beat someone decent like Central Michigan?! Lou Holtz’ head would explode as he dreamed about next season and the inevitable echo waking, returning to glory hyperbole that Irish fans spew after each and ever win.

Weekend Carnage Report

Huge ManateeBetter late than never, certainly, and the lack of which is making me reconsider heading to a distant road game in the future. On one hand, we have the delayed posting, the inability to get stuff done while traveling, etc. On the other, it’s southern barbecue, southern beauties, and maybe some of the nicest people on Earth. More on the Auburn trip tomorrow, but for now, it’s time to run through the weekend.

The Good

  • Florida/Texas/Alabama: Points to the top 3 for taking care of business and not losing. The same cannot be said for more than a few Top 10 teams. Bonus points to the Gators for doing it on the road, against a decent team, after an injury to Tebow.
  • Iowa: In what has become an annual rite of passage, the Hawkeyes knock off Penn State and essentially ending any hope of Joe Pa and the Nittany Lions to compete for a national title. Whether Iowa continues this sort of success is anyone’s guess, but for now, they certainly look like favorites for the Big 10.
  • Auburn: Bias because of watching them in person? Perhaps. But the Tigers looked damn good on Saturday against Ball State. Give a team like Auburn the emotion of a game against Alabama and they are certainly a darkhorse SEC West contender.

The Bad

  • Ole Miss: For weeks now, anyone that has lauded the Rebels as potential BCS busters has had to deal with a host of folks who throw around terms like “overrated”, “has played no one”, and “Nutt can’t coach a two-car funeral”. Frankly, after the performance on Thursday night, I may have to agree with the latter and not the former.
  • Maryland: Another week, another home loss for the Terps. At least this team the opponent was an BCS conference school. With Rutgers’ victory, the grumblings about Ralph Friedgen are getting louder, more insistent, and more correct.
  • Cal: Just as we were beginning to drink the Cal Kool Aid, Oregon came along with their fancy uniforms and ran roughshod all over the Bears. Did Cal not show up? Oregon simply play the game of their lives? Who knows. What is known is that Cal only mustered 77 yards on the ground. Not good at all.

The Ugly

  • LSU: Whether it was simply the football Gods not trying hard enough to upset the Tigers, their win over Mississippi State was not something that inspires any sort of confidence in the Tigers. This week? Georgia. Next week? Florida. Play like this past weekend, and say hello to 0-2.
  • Notre Dame: Notre Dame needed a miscue from Purdue’s coaches to pull out a victory, one that should have been nowhere as close as it was. Clausen injury or not, ND needs to lay the wood to teams like Purdue. This game did nothing to ease the yells for Charlie Weis.
  • Georgia/Georgia Tech: The Jekyll and Hyde sort of teams from the Yellow Jackets and the Bulldogs makes anyone watching them want to tear their hair out. GT gets blown out on national televison, then defeats UNC. Georgia struggles against everyone, does it again, but pulls out the victory. This has to stop eventually. Right?

OTP Helmet Stickers
From Alan

  • BJ Daniels, QB, South Florida: Leading the Bulls for the first time after an injury to Matt Groethe, and Daniels rings up the Noles for 341 total yards and 2 passing TDs.
  • Mardy Gilyard, WR, Cincinnati: 9 catches and 177 yards with his 2 TDs as Cincy outlasts Fresno, moves to 4-0, and gains even more national attention.
  • Russell Wilson, QB, NC State: Lights up Pitt for 413 total yards and 4 TDs… you know… that Pitt team that was vaunted for its defensive presence.

From Edge

  • The Oregon Ducks: Outgained the Bears 524-207, withstood 3 lost fumbles, scored 42 unanswered. Dominating.
  • Case Keenum, QB, Houston: 435 yards passing and TDs passing and rushing as the Cougars rally past Texas Tech, move to 3-0, and are looking every bit the team capable of busting the BCS
  • God, Jesus, Vishnu, Buddha, whoever: Offering up a plate of hot Karma to Tim Tebow for his apparent taunting of Kentucky fans in the first quarter.
  • De-sticker goes to Purdue for calling a timeout at the end of the Purdue-ND game.  Just stupid football right there.

From RV

  • Quoted for posterity: “I didn’t get a chance to watch enough but I give all my helmet stickers to the dude who knocked tebow into the afterlife.” (Ed. Note: “The Dude” being Taylor Wyndham, DE for Kentucky)