The same applies to the Ball State football team and its two most recent losses. On the surface, losing by a couple of points (45-43) on the road at Kent State brings no shame. Likewise, getting beaten by Mid-American Conference perennial power Northern Illinois 35-23 – even in Muncie – is explainable.
“The good news is,” second-year Cardinal coach Pete Lembo said following the loss to the Huskies on Saturday, “we went toe-to-toe again with, what I think is one of the premier programs in the conference.”
That absolutely is a true statement by Lembo. His team was competitive. Again.
But looking closer at the past two games it is clear that there was not a valid excuse for either loss, and for that, the coaches and players need to be held accountable.
Following Saturday's loss, Lembo pleaded for patience from the media in regards to his program.
“I know some of you don't remember, or acknowledge, that we are a rebuilding program,” Lembo said. “We're a program that is trying to grow and get better at what we do. Miracles don't happen overnight.”
OK, that's enough.
No one is asking for “miracles,” nor are they needed. All that was needed the past two weeks were adequate, not spectacular, adequate would have sufficed, defense on a final drive at Kent State, and then smart, crisp play on both sides of the ball against Northern Illinois.
And in terms of this program being under construction, there is no question that Lembo has made dramatic improvements in its operation. In fact, if you tried, those facets of development would be too numerous to count. However, Ball State did win four games the year prior to his arrival, and when you look out on the field, there are veteran players like quarterback Keith Wenning, the offensive line, tight end Zane Fakes, and much of the linebacking corps, that were in Muncie prior to this coaching staff's arrival, so let's not make this out to be a total reclamation project.
In Saturday's game, the Cardinal offense opened the game by fumbling the ball away on its initial drive for the second week in a row, which was followed by the throwing of an interception later in the first half. When Ball State did successfully advance the ball (twice inside the Husky 10-yard line), somehow the 10th-ranked offense in the country stunningly morphed into Eastern Michigan.
Throw in another interception in the second half, a pair of missed field goals, some penalties, and what you have is a team that is looking undisciplined and sloppy of late.
You can't hang that stuff on Stan Parrish.
Defensively, Ball State again struggled late in the game (when it matters most). Northern Illinois scored 21 unanswered points in the second half, including 14 in the final five minutes to seal (I said “seal” not “steal”) the victory.
“What I'll say is that we are playing some really competitive football right now,” Lembo said. “We're not there yet. We're obviously not over the hump yet.”
No this program isn't “over the hump,” and what has been difficult to accept over the past two weeks is that it is its own fault.
Taking into account last season's six-win season, plus possessing the most prolific offense in the league, Lembo can't chastise anyone for having high expectations for this program.
“We're probably not that far off,” Lembo said.
Good. Now get there.