MUNCIE – If the old football adage of “Defense wins championships” is accurate, the success that Ball State is enjoying this season makes little sense.
A scroll down the Mid-American Conference defensive statistics would lead one to believe that the Cardinals would be perhaps 1-3 and reeling, when in fact, they are 3-1 (1-0 MAC) and rolling.
“I like to look at the good statistics and not the bad ones,” Ball State coach Pete Lembo said. “When you see bad statistics you just blame it on the schedule. When you see good statistics you say 'Hey, maybe we're not too bad.'”
In the case of Lembo's team, there are plenty of both. But it is striking as to which numbers are ranked among the best in the Mid-American Conference (a lot of offensive categories) and the worst (pick any of the defensive measurements). But as Lembo alluded to, the Cardinals' schedule (road games at Clemson and Indiana and home games with South Florida and Eastern Michigan) probably does have a lot to do with those defensive deficiencies.
“We are making progress defensively,” Lembo said. “We are making less mental errors. We are getting a better feel for who needs to be playing more.”
There isn't one facet of the Cardinal defense that is the most glaring when it comes to needing improvement. Ball State ranks 10th out of 13 teams in scoring defense (36 points allowed each game), 11th in sacks (just one all season), 12th in total defense (492 yards per game allowed), pass defense (323 yards per game), tackles for a loss (3.75 this season), and opponents' success on third down, and dead last in pass efficiency defense (156.32), opponents' success in converting third downs, and red zone defense.
There is enough blame to go around through all 11 positions.
The Cardinals travel to Kent State (2-1, 1-0) on Saturday at noon (ESPN3) and the positive for Cardinal Nation is that the Golden Flashes are not shocking anyone with their offensive production. Kent State ranks mostly in the middle of the pack in most offensive categories, and even lower when it comes to its passing attack.
“Guys are gaining experience every week,” Lembo said. “There are a number of guys that are out there that weren't on the field at all last year. We're staying relatively healthy, and we're trying to be careful about how much we ask them to do so that they aren't thinking too much.”
Lembo has had to utilize his eraser quite a bit while filling out the weekly depth chart. Some names that were penciled in as starters in training camp have been relegated to back-up spots, as Lembo and Cardinal defensive coordinator Jay Bateman figure out who is performing and who hasn't.
“We're getting a better feel for who needs to be playing more,” Lembo said. “We're playing a fair amount of guys, we're rotating more guys in the game than we have certainly compared to last year. I think that we are still learning about ourselves. We certainly need to continue to get better. But the kids are responding pretty well and it's a work in progress. I certainly haven't given up hope.”