MUNCIE – One of the more impactful Ball State football players for the Cardinals' season opener just might prove to be a guy that won't even play against Eastern Michigan (Thursday, 7 p.m.).
While it is true that suspended defensive end Jonathan Newsome would have helped in slowing the Eagle offense down a bit, the most significant absence could be that of back-up quarterback Kelly Page.
“Kelly is nursing a twisted ankle,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. “I would say his status is 50-50 at this point.”
Why would it matter if the back-up quarterback is available or not? Because if the senior Page isn't capable of playing, then backing up Cardinals starter Keith Wenning are a pair of kids that have never been on the field for a college game in their lives.
Lembo called the Eastern Michigan defense “physical and intense.”
“We even talked about Eastern Michigan's defense last year in weeks that we weren't playing them,” Lembo said.
Heaven forbid for the Cardinal Nation if Wenning gets hit by that “physical and intense” Eagle defense. But if he does, Ball State has a pair of freshmen quarterbacks that have been getting work in Page's absence.
Ozzie Mann is a scholarship freshman, while Kyle Kamman is a first-year walk-on. Neither ever dreamt that they'd get an opportunity to see game action this season, let alone on opening night.
“We've been having both freshmen take some of the No. 2 reps in practice,” Lembo explained. “We'll have to make a decision if we get to that point, who we would play.”
Perhaps it will never come to that point; after all, Wenning has started the last 22 games for the Cardinals. But the dilemma facing Lembo and offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky would be if Wenning even has to miss a series, would they burn a redshirt season of Mann? Or go with a true freshman walk-on in a critical Mid-American Conference game?
“Kyle is a great kid,” Lembo said. “He has a real presence about him. He's very savvy, very confident, and very smart. He's been doing a nice job. He's an awesome walk-on. So we'll have to make the decision between those two guys. Do you play Kyle? Or do you take the redshirt off of Ozzie? We'll burn that bridge when we get there.”
Following his freshman season in which he was more of a drop-back passer than a mobile threat, Wenning dropped a lot of weight and showed signs of at least being a threat to run last season. In 12 games he ran the ball 57 times for nearly 200 yards.
But with no experienced back-up, does Lembo have any plans to alter the Cardinal attack offensively to protect his quarterback? The answer would be a definite no.
“Well, Keith is always in harm's way,” Lembo said. “You are always one hit away (from being injured). After being a head coach for 12 years, I've seen guys get injured walking out of their dorm room. So you go out there and you play. You always have your contingency plans ready if something were to happen. But we have to do what we do and I don't want to change the offense dramatically because Kelly may or may not be ready.”