And he has a point.
It is a much more accurate assessment if the media and fans actually base their opinion on the conference-only statistics, rather than those that take all games into account. His rationale is based on the fact that Ball State's out-of-league games were against BCS teams Indiana, Clemson and South Florida, while other MAC squads have padded their schedules outside of the conference against programs that include Rhode Island, Coastal Carolina, Norfolk State, Morgan State, Eastern Illinois, and Tennessee – not the Volunteers – but the team from Martin.
If you look at just the current conference-only statistics (and admittedly, it is a small sample), the Cardinals rank third in total defense, not 10th.
“It certainly helps if you have a great defense,” Lembo said. “It's something that you have to build over time. I don't know if you are ever going to walk into a situation like we did here, taking over a program that had won six games in two years, and inherit a great defense. Because if you did, (a new coaching staff) wouldn't be here, the last guy would still be here.”
There weren't a lot of positives to take away defensively from last Saturday's 45-43 Cardinals loss at Kent State, but Lembo did single out the play of defensive tackle Nate Ollie.
“Nate is having a solid year for us,” Lembo said.
Ball State defensive line coach Chad Wilt isn't surprised by the play of Ollie, because he sees a desire from the junior daily to be as good as he can be.
“Every day Nate walks off of the field better than he was when he walked on to it,” Wilt said. “That's because of his intensity in how he goes through drills. It's not just a wild man's intensity, it's focused on the details on the job that he needs to do.”
Ollie has been joined in the middle of the defensive line by both Donovan Jarrett and Brandon Newman, while Jonathan Newsome and Nick Miles rush the quarterback from the ends.
The Ball State fans have been quick to scrutinize the young secondary for allowing big passing plays this season, but Newman will be the first to tell you that if a pass play goes for a lot of yards, his group is as responsible as the secondary.
“It would help out a lot if we can get more pressure on the quarterback,” Newman said. “The less time that a quarterback has time to think, the easier it is on those (secondary) guys back there.”
Newman is a transfer from Notre Dame wrapping up his collegiate career this season, while Newsome transferred from Ohio State and has two seasons of eligibility. The duo comprises the “New Crew,” according to Newman, and Wilt sees progress from the two each game. In the case of Newman, he played sparingly with the Fighting Irish, while Newsome hasn't played since the 2010 season.
Newsome has made an immediate impact with 15 tackles, five for a loss and four sacks in just three games.
Newman made the most exciting play against the Golden Flashes with an interception, while he has also totaled 10 tackles, including two for a loss this season.
“You get better, the more times that you see something,” Wilt said. “People talk about for older players the game slows down, well why is that? It's because they've seen things more often. They can begin playing faster because of accumulated repetitions. I think that is the case for both Brandon and Jonathan as we continue to move forward.”