FORT WAYNE – Quarterback Keith Wenning has gone to the sideline, his bum ankle in a boot and his 2,878 passing yards and 22 touchdowns on the shelf.
Offensive linemen Jordan Hansel and Austin Holtz are out. Safety Brian Jones is out, and big-play receiver/kick returner Jamill Smith is likely out.
Suddenly it’s a MASH unit Ball State football coach Pete Lembo is taking to Miami of Ohio today for the last game of the regular season, if perhaps the most tricked-out MASH unit ever to roll down the pike.
The Cardinals are 8-3 and 5-2 in the MAC, and if they weren’t in the bowl conversation before they surely are now after taking down 8-3 Toledo and 8-3 Ohio the last two weeks. Every day, it seems, Lembo picks up a paper or flips on the TV and hears his team pop up in yet another possible venue.
CBS I saw for the first time on Sunday had us going to the Liberty Bowl, and that is one I had not heard before, he said this week.
So, a-bowling the Cardinals will go, somewhere. But first comes an old foe and a little triage for a team that’s largely escaped wholesale injuries until recently.
Amazingly enough, Lembo can’t wait.
I’m excited about it, he said. I don’t like to see guys get hurt, but I’m excited about the challenge of seeing other guys step up. I think about our team, and this game becomes an even bigger challenge than just what Miami presents because of our situation.
So let’s find out what we’re all about here. Let’s raise the bar; let’s make this a great test for our program. Where are we really at from a depth standpoint? How well can guys raise their level of play to fill in the gaps so we go over and get a win Friday?
Pretty well, if last week is any measure. When Wenning went off with the ankle, Kelly Page stepped in, and the Cardinals’ glitzy offense didn’t drop an rpm. Page completed 5 of 7 passes for 41 yards and two scores, Jahwan Edwards (169 yards) and Horactio Banks (135) helped the Cardinals pile up 357 rushing yards and Ball State routed Ohio 52-27 for its fifth straight win.
Now it’s on to Miami, whose 4-7 record is deceptive because its nonconference schedule included Boise State, Cincinnati and Ohio State.
Moreso than anything else, my biggest concern this week is just our guys being in the right frame of mind that every single guy in our program needs to step up his level of play to fill in the gaps for the guys that won’t be in the lineup, Lembo says. That has been already and will continue to be our focus this week.
And the eagerly sought challenge.
We’re going to do what we do, Lembo said this week. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel, we’re not going to start to get outlandish with things. We believe in the guys we have and we’re going to do our best to put them in a position to be successful. And I’m really looking forward to it.