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Auburn Was Who We Thought They Were

Ball State's Kelly Page (5) during their game with Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009. (Montgomery Advertiser/Lloyd Gallman)

Ball State's Kelly Page (5) during their game with Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009. (Montgomery Advertiser/Lloyd Gallman)

To borrow a line from Dennis Green, Auburn is who we thought they were… and we thought they were a damn good football team. While part of me was hoping that Monday would bring the opportunity to talk about a shocking upset, the resurgence of Ball State football, and kicking off Stan’s campaign for governor, not having to write about a complete and thorough drubbing is a bit of a surprise as well.

For a lot of teams throughout the country, words like “positive” or “optimistic” are tough to use and not applicable following a 54-30 loss, but this team is a little different. The last two games we played at Auburn? 30-0, 63-3. Both losses. The crowd? 83,118. That’s basically 4 times the crowd at Scheumann Stadium. The opposition? Undefeated, SEC caliber, receiving votes in the Top 25. Suffice to say, this wasn’t nearly the sort of loss I had anticipated.

The Good

  • The running game for the Cardinals looked the best that it’s looked all year, and it wasn’t simply Quale. While Cory Sykes and Eric Williams were doing battle with more than a few Auburn subs, they looked good in their attempts.
  • The O-line didn’t look like the 08 Cardinals, but they looked better than the 09 Cardinals have. While Page was still sacked 3 times, I think it’s safe to say most expected the run game to be non-existent and Kelly to be pressured all night. Neither of those things happened. Said Page after the game, “The offensive line did a great job tonight. They showed people what they could be.”
  • The game plan was maybe the best I’ve seen all year. There were short passes, hooks, and passes that allowed Page to get comfortable, not make the offensive line block for too long, and the receivers to create separation.

The Not Good

  • Turnovers, again, killed this team. BSU was up 7, with the ball, in Auburn territory, and moving the ball well. A score, even a field goal, could have been the first domino that needed to fall for an upset. We ducked the first turnover monster on Fakes’ psuedo-fumble after a defensive stop. The next one, Kelly Page’s sack and fumble, we would not be so lucky. After Auburn’s score, the momentum was gone, the energy drained.
  • Tackling, or lack thereof, was just as big. I know the SEC has ridiculous speed, Auburn’s backs and receivers are shifty and quick, but the large plays given up were just as much the byproduct of craptastic tackling and over-pursuit as it was Auburn’s skill and speed.
  • Injuries, again. Brandon Carnegie is doubtful for this week’s Toledo game. He has an MRI scheduled for today, according to Parrish “Hopeful… but doubtful”. Fabulous. For a defense already stretched a bit thin, and a team decimated by injuries, this is not great news.

Overall, this is a loss, sure, but not all losses are created equal. There were 83,000 people there trying their best to make the place difficult, something that was noted by Kelly Page. “I’ve never seen 85,000 people at one time. Never heard 85,000 people yell at one time. I think we showed them what Ball State is about.” I agree, Kelly. The Auburn fans were shown that this team may not have been good enough on this night to beat Auburn, but they were not the sort of pushover that many expected.

After the game, I asked Coach Parrish about how this sort of game prepares his team going forward. I thought his answer summed up perfectly what fans needed to hear going forward about this team, this season, and what this game can do for the future: “This game was a real learning experience for them. It’s not unlike games we played before at Michigan, Nebraska, or Illinios. This is a young team. But we have a lot of good players. Lot of good young players. It took us a while to beat our first BCS school, but that day’ll come again. We gotta keep pressin’ on.”

Stan-O-Meter
(1-5 Stans, 1 being happy as a Matlock marathon
5 being like Marsh ran out of Metamucil)

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4 and 1/2 Stans

It’s rare that a 24-point loss reduces the Stan-O-Meter, but frankly, with the improvement in the gameplan, the improvement on the field, and the opening of MAC play, there is reason to believe in this team and this season. Finally.

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Cardinals Lose Game and White

Cardinals fans... step away from the ledge

Cardinals fans... step away from the ledge

Playing the Army Black Knights this weekend was a team in desperate need of a win. It would silence the critics, relax the heat on Stan Parrish, and perhaps… just maybe… walk some fans in from the ledge that they’ve found themselves on over the first 2 games of this season. Another Saturday, another loss, and now the number of fans on that ledge increases exponentially, assuming they all haven’t went and jumped off.

In what has become a sort of ready-made refrain for games this fall, despite losing, this is a game Ball State very easily could have won. With minutes to go in the fourth quarter, the Cards found themselves tied, with the ball, though pinned deep. After an errant Kelly Page pass was returned for an Army TD, the momentum and the chance at a victory, along with hope, went right out the window.

There were some good things though… the defense played well considering the triple option attack they were defending. It’s a challenging opponent for sure, and after the first drive, it appeared to me that the defense held their own. Offensively, the wide receivers, most notably Torieal Gibson

As for the bad… the offensive line was far from dominating. Again. Which largely was the reason for Kelly Page even needing to scramble in the first place. Penalties were killers. Not so much the amount of them, just simply when they happened. Like on a Kelly Page 46-yard scramble in a tie game. Instead, it became 2nd and long, which led to an INT on 3rd down. Quale was largely ineffective, largely because of the O-line failing to open any holes. He finished with 17 yards on 12 carries.

Perhaps the largest loss was not on the scoreboard, as receiver Seth White broke his collarbone and is out for the remainder of the season. After already losing Madaris Grant, this was a team that could not afford any other injuries. White’s loss will be felt.

In terms of the game itself, this is the sort of game I expected from these Cardinals all year long. In all truthfulness, we weren’t defeated because of out of this world play from the opponents, we weren’t defeated because of a lack of preparation or gameplan, and we weren’t defeated by a coaching mistake. We were simply defeated because freshman, which is what the offense is largely composed of, played like freshman. The freshmen on the offensive line didn’t protect, block, or open holes, and the freshman taking those snaps threw three picks. Hard to defeat anyone when that happens.

Up next for this team is another road contest, this time against the Auburn Tigers. Will it be a curb stomping? Potentially. Could lightning in a bottle strike and Ball State upset the Tigers? Perhaps. For now, though, that ledge gets more and more crowded as the losses pile up.

Stan-O-Meter
(1-5 Stans, 1 being happy as a Matlock marathon
5 being like Marsh ran out of Metamucil)

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Despite the improvement, a loss is still a loss, and at 0-3 with a trip to Auburn looming, the Stan-O-Meter shows no signs of dwindling.

Line in the Sand Time

AD Tom Collins and head coach Stan Parrish may be each other's only friend right now

AD Tom Collins and head coach Stan Parrish may be each other's only friend right now

Not going to lie, did not expect to be writing this post this morning. I had a nice Sunday post ready to rock. It was a great concept for a column and a post about how all the Ball State fans that overreacted after the North Texas game were out of their minds. It was to be a column that was basically a “See… I told you so” post that was made possible by a victory. A victory over an FCS school, sure, but a victory all the same. It was the sort of post that was  needed, as was the win, considering the amount of rumblings, grumblings, and chaos that reigned over the last week. Unfortunately, with a 23-16 loss to New Hampshire Saturday night, that column gets put on hold. With the way this team looks, the way this fan base is shattering, and the attitude and atmosphere around the program, perhaps this “hold” may last a while.

From North Texas last week to New Hampshire yesterday, improvement was expected. Improvement never came. The offense sputtered, turned the ball over, and Kelly Page was pressured all game long. The offensive line didn’t open holes for Quale Lewis and they couldn’t protect Page. Anytime an offense only rings up 127 total yards to an FCS school, regardless of how good the FCS school is, that’s problematic. Throw in three turnovers and a safety, and that is pretty much the definition of inept. Complimenting the offensive ineptitude, the defense looked lost, blew coverage, and made mistakes which led directly to points. There were flashes of brilliance, like Robert Eddins, but overall, not a strong defensive showing. Certainly nowhere near the improvement that was wanted or expected after the North Texas debacle.

Perspective-wise, UNH is a very high quality FCS school. According to the FCS rankings, they’re #7, but sure to move up now after their fifth consecutive win over an FBS school. They have talented players, were well coached, etc. Regardless of all those “good” things about New Hampshire, this is a game that BSU needs to win. Period. And the fact that that didn’t happen raises significant questions, significant issues, and is going to make life ridiculously difficult for this team, this program, and this fanbase.

After the season-opening loss to North Texas some questioned whether or not Stan Parrish was capable of winning. There was a much larger contingent of people who defended Coach Parrish, and pointed instead to the losses on offense, the change in scheme defensively, coaching turnover, and youth across the board as reasons why a loss wasn’t so surprising. After last night’s loss, more people are jumping to the side of doubt and disbelief about the ability of this team to succeed, the ability of Stan Parrish to succeed, and the ability of this team to even win a game. What started as a low rumble is growing in volume and certainly drawing a line in the sand for this fanbase to pick which side they’re on.

I consider myself one of the most grounded and centered Ball State fans around. Perhaps that was because I was around for the 21 losses in a row as well as the 12 straight victories last season. But despite being grounded in rational thought and perspective that colored my feelings about this season and the massive amount of rebuilding needed, I am beginning to worry. Rebuilding is one thing. Losses while learning and gelling are one thing. Improvement that just isn’t enough is one thing. Lack of execution, no semblance of improvement, and outright failure is quite another.

I did not expect this team to go 12-0 this year. Losses were possible. Including the two we’ve suffered already. That isn’t the problem. The problem is that this team does not seem prepared, does not seem to be improving at all, and is raising significant doubts, in my mind at least, about avoiding the rest of the season just tanking. It’s not that we’re 0-2. It is how the team looked in the 2.

Next week the Cardinals have their first road game at Army, and I’m hoping that getting this team and this staff away from home, away from the fellow students, and away from the pressure will do well to help them refocus and re-energize. If not, if more negatives occur, and if another loss happens, the volume of the dissent will reach record levels. And that column I had planned will once again be put on hold. Perhaps forever.

Stan-O-Meter
(1-5 Stans, 1 being happy as a Matlock marathon
5 being like Marsh ran out of Metamucil)

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Losing to FCS New Hampshire certainly doesn’t decrease week 1’s record level Stan-O-Meter. Losing next week to Army may make us reevaluate the ceiling for this puppy for the rest of the season since 5 may not be high enough.

Cards Struggle In the Face of Meanness and Greenness

Photo Credit The Star Press

Hello? Hello?! Headset?!

We said a few days ago that Friday we would have answers. They may not be answers we like, they may not be answers we wanted to hear, but they were answers all the same. Suffice to say that most of the answers this morning are far from positive, but most everyone knew there was going to be some growing pains this season. I just don’t think anyone expected those pains to be so painful so early.

The biggest concern for the offense this year was the offensive line. And while the space eaters up front certainly weren’t dominating or impressive, there is plenty of blame to go around. Let’s get that out of the way… the offensive line wasn’t dominant in any aspect, gave Kelly Page no time to throw, and opened no consistent lanes for Quale Lewis. Kelly Page had happy feet in the pocket, rolled out almost immediately, and overthrew several wide open receivers. The receivers weren’t sure handed and explosive, either, creating no separation. The defense was largely responsible for the lackluster effort as the North Texas option read left many confused and in over-pursuit. The secondary gave huge cushions to the receivers, looked lost occasionally, and aside from Sean Baker’s pick in the end zone, provided no big plays. The D line and linebackers didn’t consistently pressure Riley Dodge in the pocket, nor did they shut down the run, shed blocks, or not get pushed around. McGarvey missed a wide open field goal that would have made it a 1 possession game in the 4th, and freshman Eric Williams fumbled in the fourth, which led to a UNT field goal. Hell, even the student section left a little to be desired as the boobirds showed up at halftime.

Now… on to the good. Quale was Quale. 103 and a TD on only 15 carries. Here’s hoping that in future games, Stan realizes he has a running back capable of dominating games and will rely on him rather than a first year QB in his first start. 15 carries for Lewis was simply inexcusable.

Adding injury to insult, quite literally, TE Madaris Grant left the game in the first quarter with an ACL issue with his knee. It’s unknown whether that’s a season ender or not, but it is the turd cherry on our giant shit sundae. Also, statistically, nothing was positive for the Cards. They were dominated in conversion attempts, time of possession, total yards, you name it.

The thing to remember for these Cards is there is no way to go but up. After playing arguably their worst game that I’ve seen in several years, they only lost by 10. That isn’t the end of the world. The freshmen will grow up, Page will get better, and hopefully the entire team will use this as motivation to succeed. If they sit back and look at it as a fluke, if Stan doesn’t change his game plan, if the fans give up, then it’s going to be a long long year for this team, these fans, and these players. Let’s not let that happen. In 9 days they get New Hampshire, an FCS opponent, which should be good for confidence and swagger. God help us if we lose that one.

Stan-O-Meter
(1-5 Stans, 1 being happy as a Matlock marathon
5 being like Marsh ran out of Metamucil)

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The opening Stan-O-Meter starts off with a record level. The good news for Coach P is that next week the Cardinals get UNH, and the almost virtual certainty that the Stan-O-Meter will drop at least a little.