FORT WAYNE – Oh, the sacrifices a man makes when the leaves change colors and the nights turn cool and you’re a football coach whose TV viewing options have narrowed to Law & Order: The Jet Sweep Years.
Yeah, I’m a few weeks behind on Homeland’ episodes, Ball State coach Pete Lembo says.
Which brings us to 2 p.m. today at Waldo Stadium in Kalamazoo, Mich., where a Ball State team that’s 6-1 for only the fourth time since 1977 takes on a Western Michigan team that’s 0-7 and has lost three Mid-American Conference games by an average margin of 24.3 points.
Lembo may not have seen Homeland lately, but he’s seen enough of the Broncos to warn there’s more intrigue to this matchup than those numbers suggest.
They are very, very similar to us, and they are very, very similar to a lot of others in this league in terms of where they’re at from a talent standpoint, he says.
The trick will be convincing his team of that. Or at least the part of his team that doesn’t remember the bad days of 2009 and 2010, when the Cardinals won six games and had more in common with 0-7 Western Michigan than with the current version of themselves.
The Zane Fakeses of the world, the Keith Wennings of the world, the Connor Ryans, the Nathan Ollies; I don’t have any concerns about those guys because those guys remember what it was like to be 2-10 and 4-8, and they know how hard it is to win a football game, Lembo said. The guys I am concerned about are some of the younger guys, who all they know is things have been pretty good around here.
They don’t know what they don’t know. And so a big part of my job and a big part of the job of the leaders in our program is to educate them that no matter what somebody says externally, that doesn’t matter. What matters is how hard it is to win a football game, how well you have to play win a football game, how little the margin for error is.
If nothing else, last week might have a primer for all that. The Cardinals got all they could handle from a 2-4 Kent State team that didn’t play like 2-4, and a lot of that was because of the Cardinals themselves. After a virtually mistake-free game at Virginia, the Cardinals turned the ball over three times, missed an extra point and needed a Wenning-to-Willie Snead touchdown pass with 1:29 to play to pull out a 27-24 win.
Now comes a trip to Kalamazoo, where a Western Michigan team awaits that lost 33-0 to Buffalo last week and will either have senior Tyler Van Tuberggen or Homestead graduate Zach Terrell, a redshirt freshman, at quarterback.
Nonetheless, Lembo remains wary of a team whose offensive and defensive coordinators (Kirk Ciarrocca and Ed Pinkham) he knows from his Lehigh days, and which has a first-year head coach in P.J. Fleck.
This Western team inherited an incredibly tough schedule, playing three Big Ten teams on the road, Lembo said. They’re obviously learning new systems, but I think they’ve played really well in several games particularly on the defensive side of the ball.
Ball State, meanwhile, got a 305-yard, four-touchdown passing day out of Wenning and a 10-catch, 152-yard, two-touchdown performance from Snead against Kent, pretty much par for the course.
Not that Lembo considers anything par these days.
We do the same thing every week, he said. I certainly don’t take anything for granted.