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Ball State
at North Texas
When: 4 p.m.
Saturday
TV: Fox Sports Net

Ball State flying out for first test on the road

– Ball State coach Pete Lembo wants to be clear: There’s no place like home.

“Two excellent crowds at our home games,” he said this week, looking back at two wins, 91 points and a pile of homebody fun in Scheumann Stadium to start the season. “Great atmospheres. People are excited about football in this community right now. That’s all good.”

But?

“You play half your games on the road,” he said. “You better embrace going on the road, you better enjoy going on the road, you better look forward to those challenges. That’s a big part of the culture in our program.”

Thus do you cut the homebody and he bleeds a little Charles Kuralt, who made the phrase “On The Road” famous during all those “CBS Sunday Morning” dispatches from America. Lembo and his Cardinals get to play out that fantasy this weekend, when they board a plane for Denton, Texas, and their first road game of 2013 against North Texas of Conference USA.

“We’re excited,” Lembo says. “You can tell they’re looking forward to playing this first road game.”

It’s something the Cardinals have done pretty well in Lembo’s first two seasons in Muncie. They went 5-2 away from home last year on the way to a 9-4 season, and, in Lembo’s inaugural season, they were 3-4 – beating Indiana in Lucas Oil Stadium in Lembo’s debut and later shocking high-riding Ohio in Athens.

Now comes North Texas, which won seven games in coach Dan McCarney’s first two seasons – the most since Rod Rust won eight in 1967 and ’68 – and is 1-1 after pounding Idaho 40-6 in its opener and losing 27-21 at Ohio last week.

“This is going to be a great barometer for us to see where we’re at against a Conference USA opponent,” Lembo said. “They’re committed to playing football on a big stage.”

That’s not terribly different than the approach Lembo has taken. The emphasis has been on steady improvement and never getting ahead of themselves. The Cardinals head south this weekend 2-0 for the first time since 2008, and their 91 points in those two wins – 51-28 over Illinois State and 40-14 over Army – are the most in the first two games of a season in school history.

In those two games, they turned the football over one time in 143 offensive snaps – another characteristic of the Lembo regime, and one that’s paramount on the road.

“I think we’re going to have to play a really, really clean football game to win it,” Lembo said. “If we go down there and turn the ball over three or four times, it’s going to be a long plane ride home.”

And if it’s a shorter, more agreeable plane ride home – well, consider it just one more growth opportunity. Lembo certainly does.

“You talk about last week (Army) being a lifestyle game, I look at going on the road very much the same way,” he said. “If you’re really a competitor, and you want to be challenged and want to broaden your horizons, you look forward to going into these different places.”

bensmith@jg.net

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