FORT WAYNE – Pete Lembo doesnt need a slide rule to tell you the exact dimensions of his football teams margin for error these days. Its the width of a razor.
He knows this because its left his Ball State Cardinals bleeding two weeks in a row now.
A 45-43 loss at Kent State was followed by a 35-23 loss at home last week to Northern Illinois, and the common denominator in both was a spurning of opportunity from a team that had hardly spurned any previously. And thats not a trend Lembos eager to see continue.
Three turnovers for us is just going to be too much to overcome where were at right now, he said this week. And we cant afford to get down in the red zone and come away with field goals or no points at all.
Which is exactly what happened against Northern Illinois. With the Huskies stacked against the run, quarterback Keith Wenning threw 71 times, completing 42 plus two more to the wrong jerseys. Throw in Jahwan Edwards lost fumble and two missed field goals, and there was your ballgame.
In the last two games, the Cardinals have four turnovers and were 10 of 14 inside the 20. In the previous four games, they committed just one turnover and were 19 of 21 in the red zone.
Thus does 3-1 become 3-3. Again, no slide rules needed.
(Turnovers) are the No. 1 thing we talk about offensively, Lembo says. We talk a lot about turnovers, we talk about productivity in the red zone, talk about being good on first down, being good on third down. Those are the primary things we address.
Thats because its far more critical for Ball State than it would be for a program not still rebuilding.
If you are extremely talented and far more talented than your opponent, its easier to overcome turnovers, Lembo points out. Where were at right now, where were going to be in a lot of close games, one or two turnovers can make a huge, huge difference. And our chances to win if we turn it over three times are very, very difficult.
This is likely to be true again this week, with Western Michigan (3-3) coming in. The Broncos lost starting quarterback Alex Carter to injury a couple of weeks ago, but backup Tyler Van Tuberggen has been more than serviceable, completing 58 of 89 passes for 595 yards and six touchdowns in Westerns last two games.
I think theyre a really good team, Lembo said this week. They have played a very similar schedule to us so far this year with three BCS opponents.
Where this team is most improved, in my opinion, is on the defensive side of the ball. Their coordinator last year went to Rutgers in the offseason as linebackers coach, and they have really changed their philosophy in the offseason. Theyre really a 4-2-5 team with five defensive backs on the field.
All of which means nothing if the Cardinals can get back to the form they exhibited in their first four games.
This years another very clear sign that the better job we do taking care of the football, the better off were going to be, Lembo says. Weve got to do a better job taking care of the ball.
And put points up when the get close enough.
Thats more just execution, Lembo says. Im not overly concerned that we need to go back and reinvent the wheel in terms of what were doing (in the red zone). I dont think its horrible by any means, but no question thats greatly affected the last two games.