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Ball State Spring Game Recap and Thoughts

logo200Spring Games the nation over are a mixed bag of results. You have the small-market teams that struggle for eyeballs and attention that do more for the fans than progression of the installed offensive and defensive gameplans. You have your large blue bloods that generate upwards of 50,000 for a glorified scrimmage with playcalling close to the chest and a cat that never gets let out of the bag. For Ball State on Saturday, it was certainly more of the former than the latter, but there was critical pieces of information that I was able to obtain that make me feel alright or dare I say positive about where the Cardinals are at for their 2015 campaign.

The position groups…

  • Quarterbacks: The biggest thing I take away from Spring Game 2015 is that this offense is Jack Milas’ to do with what he wants. There’s an “-OR-” in the spring depth chart indicating the starting job was still an up for grabs TBD thing, but Milas’ grasp on the QB1 spot is as tight as its ever been. As it should be. Jack looked good from the get go and the offense was humming, marching down the field on its two opening drives with ease. Ozzie Mann saw time as well, and he showed a gorgeous deep ball on a 65-yard completion with near perfect accuracy, but the starting spot is firmly in the grasp of Jack Milas. Honestly, I’m pretty pleased with what I saw from both, as I don’t think there is going to be a steep drop off should something occur or a contingency plan is needed. I don’t think either are to the level of being able to positively determine the outcome of a game based solely on their skill or will a la Keith Wenning or Nate Davis, but I have moved the QB position from “concern” to “satisfied”, and that’s a good thing.
  • Running Backs: The biggest offensive concern going in was how would Quake Edwards be replaced. Life after Quake won’t be the same, but it won’t be nearly as bumpy as expected, thanks largely to youth. The standout unexpected performance of the spring game was freshman James Gilbert who looked speedy, elusive, and explosive. He will give MAC defenses fits and was almost reminiscent of Corey Sykes. Sophomore Darian Green was somewhat limited in his opportunities but made the most of them, also demonstrating explosion and quickness. Teddy Williamson was Teddy Williamson, whose “average” is still pretty darn good. All in all, it was an exhale moment as the lack of Quake is going to take some getting used to but the depth at running back was of critical importance to see and feel given the injury to Horactio Banks.
  • Wide Receivers: If you wanted a position group that you could watch that would give you an almost giddy excitement and optimism about the 2015 campaign, then this is the group to watch. The depth is outstanding, the skill is top-flight, and the ability for a big play is there on every snap. Jordan Williams? Star. Still. KeVonn Mabon? Star. Still. I hesitate to say this in terms of expectations, but I think Corey Lacanaria has the opportunity to be one of the best in the MAC from the slot. The thing that gave me the greatest enjoyment was knowing the others in the group like Chris Shillings, Aaron Hepp, Efe Scott-Emuakpor, or Jordan Hogue can spot relieve or step up themselves. It’s not hyperbole to say this is the deepest receiver corps in my time covering the team, by far the best group in the MAC, and I would argue top-to-bottom is probably in the level of most Power 5 conference schools.
  • Offensive Line: As we talked about with former Card Ben Jacobi on the OTPcast a few weeks ago, there’s probably no harder group to judge than the offensive line. Either fans don’t know what to look for or it’s hard to see what’s going right given the only time a play is deemed successful for the group is when something bad (sack, penetration, etc) doesn’t happen. It’s easy to overlook the good. On Saturday, the offensive line had exactly the type of day I wanted to see, given that this is an experienced and deep unit. Let’s not forget that every starter from last year is returning. I seem to remember a few years ago when that happened that BSU rattled off 12 straight wins. I’m not saying, I’m just saying. Jacob Richard, Jalen Schlacter, Jeremiah Harvey, Steve Bell, and Drake Miller may very well hold the difference between celebrating the holidays at home or coming back to work in middle January with a nice tan.
  • Defensive Line: What was a concern before the game has quickly become a significantly less worrisome thing though still an area to watch. New to BSU transfer Josh Posley looked explosive and dangerous as an end rusher and showed signs of a Brandon Crawford type of ability with three sacks against a very good offensive line. That’s going to make life easier for the rest of the defensive front, as Michael Ayers, Osa Igbinosun, Darnell Smith, and Anthony Winbush along with others attempt to replace the likes of Bruce Heggie, Blake Dueitt, and Nick Miles. The line had issues for sure, as did the whole defense, but I think it’s safe to say this unit is more advanced than many thought it would be and Posley’s performance and ability to disrupt the backfield of an opposing team might mask some of the other problems.
  • Linebackers/Secondary: I lump these two together simply because they are both suffering from injuries that make evaluating their performance difficult if not completely impossible. The secondary was missing two of their top three safeties in Dae’Shaun Hurley and Dedrick Cromartie and the linebackers were down Damon Singleton and Aaron Taylor. These two units didn’t look especially strong Saturday, and that does raise some legitimate concerns about depth and inexperience. The corners weren’t shutdown in any sense of the word, but I have a feeling that may be because of the immense amount of talent and depth at the receiver position on the offensive side of the ball. The missed tackles and poor form I’ll chalk up to the limited contact of spring ball and not a greater problem but time will tell.
  • Coaching: There were significant worries about coaching related things like playcalling, aggression, and such that were clearly a bleed over from last season. The Spring Game is a controlled environment and a limited sample size, but the offense I saw on Saturday and the playcalling was night and day from last fall. Whether that’s a result of having a clear-cut starter and knowing exactly how to prepare and gameplan for his skills and abilities, or just a comfort in the position from Joey Lynch, it was a 180-degree difference from 2014. I’d say that’s a great thing given the lack of sure results from the defensive unit. If the offensive gameplan isn’t higher octane than we saw in 2014 it is going to be a very long season. Saturday, the Ball State offense was fun to watch, hard to stop, and running all cylinders.
  • Depth: The receiver position group speaks to the overall feel of this program finally having the depth to overcome fluke injuries or fatigue issues. It’s a given at larger programs but harder to find in MAC-level schools, but the Cards’ possession of such a trait is a remarkable thing and a direct result of the Lembo regime and his redshirting philosophy. I’d say now is when consistent results are possible and the “Win for a year/drop off for a couple” way of doing things in the MAC may be in our rear view mirror. It is possible if not likely that you are looking at the beginning of a stretch of high performance. I hope you’re ready.

As we talked about in our Pregame Show on Periscope, one of the things I had almost written off as a certainty for the 2015 season was a throwback to a more traditional MAC approach. In other words, I was under the assumption that most of our conference games were going to be a “Whomever has the ball last is going to win a 50-45 affair”. I’m less in that camp now than I was then given the strides of the defensive front, but at the same point, as the offense goes this year so will go the season. A pedestrian simplified offensive attack that isn’t significantly more productive and more aggressive than last season and it could be a stretch to get to five wins. If the offense can hit its stride early and maintain, along with a 2008-esque “bend but don’t break and step up in big moments” approach from the defense then a post season opportunity is definitely within reach. That statement alone and my ability to make it says a ton about the overall performance from the spring game.

There’s still a ton of coverage from the Spring Game upcoming from the Pylon over the next several days. We’ll have more today on observations from Saturday, several behind the scenes video packages about some cool goings on at Scheumann Stadium, an awesome new premium seating opportunity, and even some aerial drone footage from The Scheu and some other campus landmarks. Stay tuned and Go Cards!

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How to Connect with the Pylon for Your Ball State Spring Game Needs

OTP Logo 200In case you were unaware, this Saturday is the Ball State University 2015 Spring Game for the fighting football Cardinals. That’s a decidedly good thing, given that we’ve lived a virtual football-free existence since the Super Bowl and a Cardinal-free existence since before that. That is too much time between touchdowns, big tackles, and Pete Lembo platitudes that could range anywhere from ancient Greek philosophy, to Churchill, to some classic rock line. The weather looks stellar (mid-70s and sunny) and there’s a bevy of things to check out at The Scheu.

But let’s say you can’t make it up to Muncie for some reason. Maybe you have family in town (there are 51 other weekends they could have come). Maybe you’re painting the living room a beautiful cerulean blue (nice choice!). Perhaps you are running some form of mini-marathon (no thank you). The point is sometimes life gets in the way of our absorption of Ball State football. However, should you find yourself in the weeds this weekend but still needing some access or some info about the goings on in Funcie, then brothers and sisters of Cardinal Nation, you have found yourself a home. Jason and myself will be making the trip to Muncie so you don’t have to, and it wouldn’t be an OTP roadshow without some slick things to keep you informed. Drone footage? Live video? Behind the scenes tomfoolery? Yes, yes, and yes.

Here’s just a few of the ways you can connect with us this weekend and beyond:

Periscope OTP

Periscope: The newest addition to the OTP social media arsenal, Periscope is your live video app where Jason and I will be broadcasting random things on our Spring Game journey. Live podcast on the way to Muncie? Likely. Thoughts on Spring Game goings on? Very likely. Footage from the field? Also likely. And the best thing is the ability for viewers to interact with us as we broadcast. Have a question? Share it in the app. Love Jason’s beard? Share it in the app. The virtual world is your virtual oyster. Download the app to your smartphone or tablet and then find us at “OverThePylon”.

Snapchat OTP logo

Snapchat: Everyone (or just about everyone) knows Snapchat and its benefits. Photos and videos are quick hit pieces that don’t last forever. Instead of sending inappropriate selfies (follow J’s personal account for that) we’ll be putting up stories of people we come across on Spring Game Saturday, short messages from people we think you’d like to hear from, and other fun goodies that will make your Spring Game experience that much better. Follow along, enjoy the ride, and don’t screencap. Poor etiquette, bro. Username to find is “OverThePylon”.

The Twitter Machines: If you’re not a member of the OTP Twitter army you are definitely missing out. You can follow along with all things Cardinal related and some things that aren’t, all while interacting with your fearless OTP editorial staff. Toss a follow to @OverThePylon.

Instagram: More of a photo person than a live video awesomeness person? Then you should be following the Pylon on Insta. Admittedly our Insta game has been lacking to this point, but it’s time to get in on the ground floor for the rebirth. Toss a follow to OverThePylon.

Facebook: I remember back when Facebook was only for college people or alums and you could Poke people in peace without having to worry about someone’s Farmville crops or Candy Crush levels. Those were the good old days and we didn’t even know it. So to clean up your Facebook existence from all the insignificant garbage, connect with the Pylon and consider it a good day.

YouTube: The home of stellar OTP videos from last spring game and the home of videos in the coming days of our Spring Game experience with a more professional polish and shine than the Snapchats or the Periscope. But still well worth your time and attention. You can check that out here.

Most of you are already following on some but not all, and a couple of the things above like Periscope and Snapchat are new things for the Pylon to try out in this kind of setting. It’s going to be a hoot and a half for the Spring Game so join us whether you’re there or not. We’ll make it well worth your while.

Spring Has Sprung for Ball State Football

Lembo Bouquet

 

The old adage says April showers bring May flowers, and if those are the flowers that pop up in your garden come Derby Day then I’d imagine the Muncie police would like to have a chat with you. But one thing that has popped up in recent days is Spring Practice for the football Cards. Here’s what you need to know…

  • There’s a new motto selected by the leadership council: “Earn it today” which they have said deals with the urgency of performance and daily excellence. I like it. It’s not a retread and it doesn’t suck nearly as bad as IU’s Kevin Wilson brainchild of Win Today Tomorrow Eventually Sometime Maybe
  • The Spring Prospectus is out along with the first depth chart for the spring. You can check that little jewel out at Ball State Spring Prospectus.
  • The Cards have added a home game with Eastern Kentucky and a home and home with Florida Atlantic. That might have gotten lost in your shuffle of @ Notre Dame in 2018 and a Bloomington-Indy-Bloomington in ’18, ’19, and ’20. EKU shouldn’t be a surprise given that the Cards just stole their AD in Mark Sandy. Thank you card payday helps ease the pain I would imagine.
  • In sad and sucky news, running back Horactio Banks’ career with the Cards is over thanks to a stress fracture in his leg. Last season saw an ACL tear and now this, and I can’t say the running back position is going to be one that is anything close to cemented. Teddy Williamson is probably your odds on favorite but there is room for someone to step up.
  • Also no longer with the team is Kyle Kamman, walk on junior QB. After last season’s bumpy ride to find a starter and with Jack Milas lightly penciled in as QB1 for spring ball with Ozzie Mann and redshirt freshman David Morrison fighting for a chance. This also doesn’t include Riley Neal who will be there in the summer, so it’s safe to say that the opportunities for QB snaps is waning by the day. Good luck to Kyle wherever his path takes him.

Of major note is the gains in the weight room the Cards has made. Let the Voice of the Cardinals Joel Godett explain what we mean…

[VIDEO] OTP Takes You Inside the Ball State Spring Game

Join Jason and Alan as they take you inside the Ball State Spring Game from Saturday. Game action, crowd shots, Coach Lembo post game, and even some tailgating hotness. It’s like you were there. You’re welcome.

Spring Game Thoughts

Ball State Spring Game

Jack Milas showing off the arm in the BSU Spring Game

MUNCIE – It’s not every Saturday that you can venture out to Scheumann Stadium and have gorgeous spring weather, pads popping, and fans celebrating touchdowns, QB pressure, and deep bombs. You could have enjoyed all that and more this weekend in Muncie as Ball State wrapped up its spring football practice season with the annual rite of passage known as the Spring Game. A modified scoring system, meant to measure all facets of the game, saw the defense defeat the offense by a score of 44-22, surprising no one, confusing most of us in the press box, and perhaps leaving more questions than answers which wasn’t unexpected.

1,356 fans ventured out for the spring game, giving the Cardinals the highest-attended spring game at the time in the MAC. It feels nice to be wrong about attendance for once on the good side of the spectrum, as Jason got the answer of “around 500” when he asked me on the drive up what I thought the number would be. Kudos to the athletics marketing staff, the team, and the students that stuck around for the chance to watch it. A good portion of the fans were families and local-ites, and that’s always  been sort of the missing subgroups at BSU games. Let’s hope the great weather and good atmosphere drew them in for good.

If you didn’t make it, here’s what my takeaways were for the outing…

  • The biggest strength of the team given today’s performance save for one 71-yard Jack Milas pass was the defensive unit. I can’t say that was a surprise, given the new faces all over the offensive side of the ball, but it was surprising to see such a difference in performance. The offense was held without a touchdown, both passing and rushing were a bit stagnant, and all in all it was a major win and presumable confidence boost for a defensive unit that needs to be the statement unit come fall.
  • As for QB play, my question of the day was whether Jack Milas or Ozzie Mann would get more snaps or passing attempts as who will be QB1 is arguably the biggest battle of the spring. Milas got more passing opportunity, going 10-26 for 144 yards while Mann went 7-12 for 43 yards. In fairness, the aforementioned 71-yarder by Milas meant the numbers are a little skewed. Kyle Kamman and David Morrison also took reps, and all of the four had goods and bads to point to.
  • The running back stable is stocked as well, with Quake Edwards and Teddy Williamson each putting up similar numbers (13 att and 26 yards for Edwards; 10 attempts and 20 yards for Williamson). Fans should keep in mind that Horactio Banks will be back in the fall as well after tearing his ACL last year and not participating in spring practice.
  • The most impressive player on the defensive side of the ball for me was redshirt freshman rush end Anthony Winbush. He was able to make the most of a reshuffled defensive front thanks to the absences of Carlu Zaramo, Blake Dueitt, and Mike Ayers.The defensive line unknowns along with a late hire of defensive coordinator Kevin Kelly and line coach Nick Siatras had me concerned, but that unit appears to be reloading rather than rebuilding.
  • Interestingly enough, I didn’t see 5th year senior and incumbent starting place kicker Scott Secor attempt a field goal, but new face Cody Dickson went 3-3, hitting from 18, 28, and 37. Dickson is a senior from Carmel who sat out last season as a redshirt after transferring from Iowa Western Community College. I don’t know whether that will make a decision hard for the coaching staff given Secor’s prolific career at BSU, but having depth at a critical position is a good. Flashbacks to Ian McGarvey and Jake Hogue, if you will.
  • I had a chance to chat a bit with Joey Lynch after the game, and I can see why he does such a good job in recruiting and getting those letters of intent signatures. Very personable, extremely engaging, and just a good guy.
  • The highlight of the afternoon for me wasn’t a football related thing at all. At halftime, there was an Easter egg hunt on the north end zone lawn. I have never seen such a mixture of mass anarchy, chaos, enthusiasm, and sheer joy that I witnessed on the faces of the kids. Bottle that and you have a winner.

With this, the spring season comes to a close and all we have now is four months or so of nothing. No practices, no scrimmages, no recruiting, nothing really BSU focused at all. Most eyes should turn to the NFL Draft as we’re a little under three weeks away from that and determining the future of several notable Cards. Stay tuned to OTP for quite a bit of NFL coverage going forward and some more spring game reaction including some great video.

Saturday Spring Game Details

easter egg

Get your Easter Egg on with Charlie Cardinal at halftime.

In case you were unaware (not possible if you read this site or listen to the OTPcast) the Spring Game for the Fighting Football Cardinals is Saturday. Here’s what you need to know:

Who: You and up to 22,500 of your closest friends

What: The conclusion of the spring practice season with the Spring Game!

When: Saturday April 19, 2pm (doors at 1:30

Where: Scheumann Stadium in the booming metropolis of Muncie, IN just off the campus of The Ball State University

The Format: The format for this year’s Spring Game is an offense vs. defense scrimmage with special teams drills in between quarters.  On all fourth downs, the offense will either punt or kick a field goal.  There will be five series per quarter, and a unique scoring system will be used.

DEFENSE:
Drive Stop = 1 point
Three and Out = 3 points
Takeaway = 5 points
Touchdown = 6 points
PAT = 1 point

OFFENSE:
First Down = 1 point
Field Goal = 3 points
Touchdown = 6 points
PAT = 1 point
2-point Conversion = 2 points

There is a ton of stuff to do outside of meticulously poring over the Ball State offense and some critical things to look out for. Yes, we’ll have you covered in that regard as the week goes on with your storylines to watch out for and what to look for in the play on Saturday. In addition to that, there will be 500 free hot dogs distributed to fans, courtesy of Fishers Meats, and an Easter egg hunt will take place with Charlie Cardinal at the north end of the stadium at halftime. At the conclusion of the game, fans are welcome to enter the game field for photos and autographs with Ball State players and coaches. Choose wisely for your Christmas cards, boys and girls.

Though there is no age limit listed for the egg hunt, so if that’s truly the case, then Steve Bell has to be the odds on favorite to get as many eggs as he wants, right? If there is some sort of BIG EGG oversight and an age limit is employed, all bets are off.

Read the Spring Prospectus to Get Yourself Ready for Spring Ball

BSULogoThough I am not in the 765 today, I have to believe folks are bouncing around the Fisher Football Complex with a little extra pep in their step. The sun probably looks a little brighter (the windows have been cleaned), the field turf may look a little greener (fresh coat of paint perhaps?), and the optimism is probably bubbling over. Why? Because we are 24 hours from the start of spring practice in Muncie.

Tuesday marks Practice One and Press Conference One of the 2014 season. Coach Pete Lembo will take the microphone in the opening press conference at noon. You can catch a stream of it from the Ball State Sports mothership here. If you feel like you didn’t waste enough of your employer’s time on Thursday and Friday of last week, you might as well take some time today to check out the Spring Prospectus (pdf).

It’s the first chance you have to check out the way-too-early depth chart and roster as well as an interesting Q+A with CPL. The athletics staff that conducted the interview point to the first thing I noticed in the prospectus: the youth on the coaching staff. It cannot be understated what a benefit (I presume) that is on the recruiting trail. The ability to have a high energy staff that can connect with prospective students is worth its weight in gold.

As we told you in the OTPcast, Spring Game is April 19th at 2pm. I’d go ahead and plan ahead to be there for that one.

Spring Game Set for Ball State Football

logo200Just when you thought you would get no news about the Fighting Football Cardinals given that it’s only March and the NCAA basketball tournament is right around the corner, Pete Lembo lets a nugget trickle out about spring ball at the Scheu and the 2014 Ball State football agenda. Mark your calendars boys and girls, because April 19 you’re going to want to be in Muncie to see the first version of the Cardinals AW (After Wenning).

The details of the spring game and whether it will be a full out scrimmage, a series of drills, or sort of a situational game with modified scoring have yet to be announced, but this is one that no matter the format will have a ton of information that you’re going to want to keep an eye on:

  • Who do the Cards turn to under center? Milas, Mann, Kamman, and Morrison all have a viable ability to step up for the cardinal and white, but who will do so will remain a mystery likely until the opening offensive series against Colgate in the fall. The spring game should, however, give you a glimpse into how stacked the stable really is.
  • Who becomes WR1 for the Cardinals? With Willie Snead attempting to make a go of it in the NFL Draft and the departure of Jamill Smith and Connor Ryan mean that the wide receiving crew is in dire need of a playmaker. Early money goes on Jordan Williams, but KeVonn Mabon shouldn’t be forgotten either.
  • How does the defensive line look? In what may be considered the biggest question after QB, three of four defensive linemen have moved on (Cox, Newsome, Ollie) and only Nick Miles remains. When coupled with the fact that Chad Wilt departed and Nick Siatras was a late arrival, the defensive line has me concerned. Unlike previous years, there isn’t a sure-fire offense waiting to bail them out if things get dicey.

We’ll have more on the spring game, what to expect, what to look for, and how to be a part of some OTP shenanigans as we get closer. For now, just be glad we have a date. April 19… see you there!

What We Learned From the Spring Game

Keith Wenning came back to where he left off. No. 10 played great as he threw two touchdown passes on 59 and 60-yards to Willie Snead and Jamill Smith respectfully. Add in a 44-yard throw to Connor Ryan and that is 163 yards on three plays. Say hello to the Arena Football League Ball State.

His receivers stepped up as Snead and Smith emerged as primary options. Something Ball State missed last year.

Smith even worked a trick play playing quarterback as he threw a nice pass to Snead for a first down. Nice to see some gadget plays in the spring game as Eastern Michigan will have another headache to game plan for on August 30.

Four months till the regular season would cause anyone to hit their head. Save it for EMU fellas.

Wenning did throw a pick but that was more on the receiver. There a few drops on the day showing the receiving corps still needs some work.

Kelly Page started off good moving the ball in the first half showing off his scrambling ability when he could. I was really happy for him when he threw a touchdown to Antonio Heard (yeah, I never heard of him either). No one needs a confidence boost more than Kelly Page.

Page did have some bad luck directing the second unit throwing two picks. The first one was more on the receiver really while the latter appeared to be a direct throw to the middle linebacker evoking bad memories of the 2009 season.

The defense only gave up 4 big plays that I mentioned earlier. I was most impressed with some of the pressure they were able to place on the quarterbacks. Then again, maybe the offensive line needs help. Never know with the spring game.

The defense was able to get stops on both the first and second units. Three touchdowns and two field goals were scored which is not bad when quarterbacks have little to fear in their blue jerseys. Wenning directed the first string offense to 20 points and Page, the second string, to 7. Yes, I did not care about the Red vs. White scoring system.

We also have a running back battle. Jahwan Edwards had the most snaps but several backs saw action. Hard to tell how it will shake out before the opener.

There is plenty for Ball State fans to be excited about if Wenning keeps this up. Especially if the receivers grow into threats defenses have to prepare for.

Over an hour after the game former quarterback Joey Lynch and current recruiting coordinator could be seen in the recreation center showing high school recruits the basketball courts. Since me and my buddies were the only ones playing I doubt they were impressed by the athleticism of Ball State students.

I hope I did not scare recruits off by dribbling the ball off my foot.

Three Things to Watch in Today’s Spring Game

The Spring Game. Where Ball State tries to beat the heck out of Ball State.

1. The Alpha Wide Receiver

We all know Keith Wenning can throw and the offensive line returns most of their guys. So the only question about the passing game is at wide receiver.

Ball State had a team effort at the position last year as no go-to-guy emerged. That needs to change. Who is Wenning’s No. 1 target? Imagine what Wenning can do with star receivers. The Cardinals can keep up with Arena Football teams if stars present themselves.

2. Running Game Battle

After last season I thought Jahwan Edwards was lock to be the starting running back in 2012. Ball State is deeper at the position this season with Tennessee transfer Toney Williams ready to play.

Maybe the running backs will be harder to predict than first anticipated?

3. Anything From the Defense

Hard to judge a defense in a spring game where quarterbacks are untouchable. Nevertheless, the defense has to be the biggest question mark on the team after losing plenty of starters to graduation.

As fun as it is to watch Wenning launch bombs down the sideline seeing some deflections and good tackles will the best sign fans can hope for going in the fall.