Ball State Cardinals Preview
August 27, 2012Eastern Indiana Sports
2011 SEASON IN REVIEW:Ball State's strong start to its 2011 schedule helped it finish with a 6-6 overall record and tie for fourth place in the Mid-American Conference's West Division.
Pete Lembo got his team off to a strong start in his first season at the helm of the program with a win over Indiana (27-20). After a loss in Tampa to South Florida (37-7), the Cardinals defeated Buffalo (28-25) and Army (48-21) at home. Ball State then had two straight miserable performances and lost convincingly to Oklahoma (62-6) and Temple (42-0). The team bounced back by defeating Ohio University (23-20) on the road and Central Michigan (31-27) at Scheumann Stadium. BSU's 1-3 finish to the regular season may have cost itself a trip to a bowl.
The Cardinals were one of just two bowl eligible teams not to be invited last season.
|A 30 vs. Eastern Michigan
S 8 at Clemson
S 15 at Indiana
S 22 vs. South Florida
S 29 at Kent State
O 6 vs. Northern Illinois
O 13 vs. Western Michigan
O 20 at Central Michigan
O 27 at Army
N 6 at Toledo
N 14 vs. Ohio University
N 23 at Miami-Ohio
QB Keith Wenning
RB Jahwan Edwards
TE Zane Fakes
OT Austin Holtz
OG Jordan Hansel
OG Kitt O'Brien
C Dan Manick
DT Nathan Ollie
LB Tony Martin
LB Travis Freeman
CB Jeffery Garrett
CB Jason Pinkston
PK Steven Schott
P Scott Kovanda
OFFENSE:The offense averaged 25.3 points and 379.4 yards per game last season. Although some important skill players graduated, QB Keith Wenning showed steady improvement as a sophomore in 2011 (2,786 yards, 19 TDs, 11 INTs) and is ready to take the next step this year. The junior will be starting for the third straight year and has a big, experienced offensive line to pass behind.
Junior Jack Tomlinson caught 43 passes for 394 yards last season and is the top returning wide receiver. Jamill Smith and Willie Snead are also back in the mix. Connor Ryan and Jacolby Owens will see time as well to provide Wenning with a couple of bigger targets.
Running back Jahwan Edwards led Ball State with 786 yards and 11 touchdowns as a true freshman. The Cardinals' tailback is one of the toughest to bring down in the conference. Barrington Scott and Dwayne Donigan provide plenty of depth behind Edwards.
DEFENSE:Ball State's defense was ranked at or near the bottom in every significant category. Poor fundamentals and injuries helped opposing offenses average 34.7 points per game versus the Cardinals. The Cardinals need to limit plays and improve tackling as a team to avoid another season of being embarrassed by opponents. Linebacker Travis Freeman ranked 9th in the nation in tackles (134) and has potential to be a dominant player thanks to his ability to cover sideline to sideline. Tony Martin also returns to start at linebacker with Freeman.
Tackle Nathan Ollie is the only returning starter to the defensive line. Ollie is a very strong interior pass rusher. Both Jeffery Garrett and Jason Pinkston return to their man their starting cornerback positions, but both safety positions will be occupied by underclassmen. Freshman SS Chris Pauling has made a strong impression on the coaching staff in his brief time with the program.
"It is way too early to make any kind of detailed assessment (of the defense), but we do have a bit more depth over there compared to this time last year," said coach Lembo. "More depth translates to more competition for playing time at more positions. Of course, that is the key to getting better - players being pushed by each other. All four of our full-time coaches return from last year's staff."
SPECIAL TEAMS:BSU had one of the top special teams units in the league last year due to the power of returning punter Scott Kovanda and the consistent accuracy of kicker Steven Schott. Also, Jamill Smith ranked among the national leaders in kick returns.
OUTLOOK:Ball State returns a veteran squad and should be a better team overall, but its record might not be a good indicator of that growth due to a difficult schedule.
"As a coach, you always see some things you don't like and some things you do like," Ball State defensive coordinator Jay Bateman says. "The one thing I will say is I think we are pretty fast. I think we are more athletic than we have been."
The Cardinals begin their season with an in-conference bout at home with Eastern Michigan. BSU will then play consecutive road games against Clemson and Indiana. The Cardinals have a chance to avenge last season's 30-point loss to USF when they host the Bulls on September 22. Lembo's team has its work cut out for it in the late months as well when it will have to play four of its final five games on the road. The graduating class will face Ohio University on its Senior Day before closing out the regular season with a trip to Oxford to play the RedHawks.
BSU certainly has the tools on the offensive side of the ball to compete for the MAC Championship, but its defense is still a bit suspect. The team will need to win close games and find success on the road to compete for the lead in the West Division.
By Lucas Gulotta, Associate College Football Editor
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