FORT WAYNE – You can find the thought exactly nowhere around Muncie these days, as the Ball State Cardinals continue to find handholds to pull themselves ever higher this ever-more-fruitful autumn..
Why, we’ll take that.
Why, no, they won’t.
I don’t have any concerns about us settling for anything, Ball State football coach Pete Lembo said this week, as his Cardinals prepared for Senior Day against Ohio and one more handhold. This is a group that is having fun playing, that looks forward to being around the coaches every day, that looks forward to trying to get a little bit better at what we do.
We’re not perfect. But I do think we are slowly maturing and slowly getting a little more confident, and slowly starting to understand who we are and being a little more realistic about who we are and what our strengths and weaknesses are.
And, not so slowly, you can put them solidly in the bowl conversation, not to say the conversation about which teams should occupy the top shelf of the Mid-American Conference.
The Cardinals established their bonafides last week, beating No. 23 Toledo on the road, 34-27, and proving once more that for a young team they’re cooler than Disney On Ice. For the fourth time this season, they won in the last two minutes; for the third time, they won on their last possession.
And now they’re, yes, 7-3, with 8-2 Ohio coming in tonight, having won four in a row for the first time since going unbeaten in the regular season in 2008. And they have grown comfortable with who they are – which is to say, potent offense, peerless special teams and kicking game, incrementally improving defense.
I think what you’re seeing, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure it out at this point in the season, is that our team has come up with a formula for success, Lembo says. And that formula is, we need to score 30-plus, we need to get 28, 29 first downs, we need to get off to a good start, and we need to finish strong.
Done, done and done. Ball State went up 14-0 on Toledo early and outscored the Rockets 10-0 in the last 10 minutes. Quarterback Keith Wenning was 29-of-42 passing for 280 yards and three touchdowns and 15 of 19 on first down. The Cardinals had 29 first downs, converting every time on third-and-6 or less. They were also penalized just three times and forced Toledo to begin four possessions inside its 20.
And now, Ohio – which opened the season with a win at Penn State and brings what Lembo calls a model program in our conference.
With several of us all jockeying for positions, he said, this is another big game from a MAC standpoint.