Rams Looking For First October Road Win Since 2008

The baseball Cardinals are the epitome of October excellence. Seldom are they not winning when the leaves turn. As far as football is concerned, the Rams go into hibernation, having only three wins in October over the past three years.

The local nine come up clutch on the road in October. The Rams haven’t won a road game this month since 2008 when they squeaked past Washington, 19-17.

To put things in perspective, Marc Bulger was under center.

The Rams (2-3) will look to mirror their brethren Sunday afternoon against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium.

Season highs in both rushing yards (143) and turnovers forced (3) headed the Rams to their second victory of the season last week against dreadful Jacksonville. The 34-20 triumph featured Sam Bradford throwing three touchdowns, the second time the fourth-year quarterback has accomplished that feat this season.

Can the Rams turn in an encore performance against a stingy Texans defense? Head coach Jeff Fisher certainly hopes so. But it wont be easy, considering the Texans boast the best passing defense in the league, allowing just over 134 yards per game.

“We’ve got to run the football to score points,” Fisher said, following Wednesday’s practice. “We’ve got to be smart and stay balanced and win the one-on-one matchups.”

Bradford, who was 19-of-34 for 222 yards and three touchdowns last week, said the Texans present a big challenge for the Rams offense.

“They’re very good as a whole,” Bradford said. “They don’t really have a weakness. Obviously, handling (defensive end) J.J. Watt and the guys that they have up front … they do a great job getting after the quarterback. They play tight coverage on the outside too, so it’s going to be a group effort this week.”

Watt, who led the league with 20.5 sacks last season, has 3.5 thus far in 2013. Linebacker Whitney Mercilus leads the team with 4.5.

More importantly, however, will be the Rams ability to halt the Texans’ running attack led by Arian Foster and Ben Tate, who average over 133 yards per game. In last week’s 34-3 loss at San Francisco, Foster rushed for 98 yards on 21 carries, while Tate gained 28 yards on seven carries.

But that was against a 49ers club that allows 3.7 yards per carry. The Rams – the league’s worst rushing defense – allow nearly five yards touch.

“It’s their scheme,” Fisher said. “It’s different than most. Got to keep everybody honest and everybody on their feet. They’re hard to get down in one-on-one situations.”

Despite Foster’s longest run of the season being 17 yards, he’s still a vital threat to the Rams, along with Tate, whose longest run of 60 yards came against Tennessee in which the Texans clung to a 30-24 overtime win.

The key for the Rams will be how effective Bradford is in the pocket. If he gets time and protection, the Rams will be able to move the football. If not, it could be a long day in Texas.

“I’ve got to be decisive and get the ball out of my hand quickly,” Bradford said.

Will the Rams finally break through on the road in October, or will we continue to see a winless autumn on the road?

 

 

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Blues ink Shattenkirk to long-term deal

St. Louis Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk was set to become a restricted free agent on July 5. That won’t be happening as the Blues signed the 24-year-old blueliner to a four-year, $17 million contract extension Wednesday, the club announced. 

The announcement came on the heels of forward Patrik Berglund’s one-year, $3.25 million deal on Tuesday.

“So excited to be a part of this Blues’ team for the next (four) years,” Shattenkirk tweeted. “Grateful for the opportunity and happy to be back with the boys.”

Shattenkirk began his career in Colorado before being traded to St. Louis in 2011 in exchange for Erik Johnson. Since then, Shattenkirk has been a consistent force on the backend for the Blues. He played in 26 games after arriving in St. Louis in 2010-11, and notched 17 points, including a pair of goals and 15 helpers to boot. In 2011-12, Shattenkirk recorded nine goals, 34 assists and was a plus-20 in 81 games. Moreover, he averaged 21:36 of ice time per game. During the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Shattenkirk tallied five goals and added 18 assists and was a plus-2, tying him for the 24th most points in the league among defensemen. He also averaged over 21-minutes of ice time for the second straight season.

“He’s been an interesting three-year study because his numbers have almost stayed flat across the board for three years,” Blues general manager Doug Armstrong said recently, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “There hasn’t been a spike in his second year, or a decrease in his second or third year. He’s been almost the same player from his first year pro to his third year pro. I look at that as a real positive, that he’s defining himself relatively quickly.”

Armstrong nailed it right on the head. This was a signature move by Armstrong and the rest of the front office, one that shows confidence in the future of this organization. With Shattenkirk and Berglund signed, the Blues must now turn their attention to negotiating long-term commitments with forward Chris Stewart, who netted 18 goals last season and cornerstone defenseman Alex Pietrangelo.

 

 

 

Former Patriots Tight End Aaron Hernandez Charged With Murder; Could He Walk Free?

Police have charged former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez with murder and five counts of gun-related charges in the death of former semi-pro football player, Odin Lloyd, whose body was discovered in an industrial park about a mile from Hernandez’s home, according to ESPN.com.

The facts are blunt; there is enough evidence present to convict Hernandez twice. That said, I wouldn’t find it overly shocking if Hernandez walks scotch free after his yet-to-be-determined trial. Don’t get my wrong, I’m not saying Hernandez should get off with a slap on the wrist. Justice deserves to take its course. But this kind of thing isn’t new to the world of professional sports, nor society.

In 1994, O.J. Simpson walked after being charged with the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Lyle Goldman. In 1998, former St. Louis Rams defensive end Leonard Little killed a woman after an alcohol-related accident. Six years later, Little was arrested again for drunk driving. Little walked free. Two-time Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis was proven innocent of murder and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and testified against two co-defendants in 2000.

In a more popular and widespread case, Casey Anthony got off the hook after being charged with killing her own child in June 2011.

Rehashing the past, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hernandez walk free, especially in today’s day and age. However, for now, it appears Hernandez, who has pleaded not guilty, is in a world of hurt.

Hernandez, who signed a long-term deal worth nearly $40 million last summer, was released by the Patriots early Wednesday morning.

2013 NFL Draft: Rams, Vikings Pull Away with Stellar Picks in First Round

The first round of the 2013 NFL Draft was as unpredictable as the weather in the Midwest. If you like the unexpected, look no further than Radio City Music Hall, where the events of Day One were as erratic as ever.

Day One featured the St. Louis Rams and Minnesota Vikings separating themselves from the rest of the pack.

Rams Trade Up, Land West Virginia’s Austin

Entering the draft boasting two first-round picks (No. 16 and No. 22), the Rams traded their No. 16 pick to the Buffalo Bills in exchange for their second-round pick (No. 46), and their seventh-round pick (No. 222). The Rams also swapped third-round picks with the Bills, moving up seven spots to No. 71. The trade allowed the Rams to leapfrog into the No. 8 spot in the first round (ahead of the New York Jets), where they snagged West Virginia speedster Tavon Austin.

Rams head coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead were under the impression Austin’s draft stock was rising as the clock continued to tick, essentially meaning the Rams would have to go up and get him.

“We had a feeling interest was increasing,” Fisher said, courtesy of Yahoo!Sports. “We felt a few days ago that we were probably going to have to go up and get him.”

The Rams were familiar with Austin. A week before the draft, the Rams held a private workout with Austin in Morgantown W.Va., where they caught a glimpse of what the speedster can do with the ball in his hands.

 

“Me and the coaches just clicked,” Austin said, courtesy of Yahoo!Sports. “I had a good feeling just off the vibe they were giving. It was all smiles and everything when I was there.”

This was a stellar move by GM Les Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher. Austin is an all-around baller. He can line up in the slot, or in the backfield. He can return kickoffs, punts. You name it, Austin can do it. His lightning-like 4.34 speed in the 40-yard dash is dazzling. Moreover, Austin is just 5’8”, 174 pounds.

Though undersized, Austin’s game speaks for itself. Last season, Austin caught 114 balls for 1,289 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. He ran the ball for 643 yards and three touchdowns on 72 attempts. Not to mention, Austin returned both a kickoff and punt for a touchdown. When it was all said and done, Austin finished last season with the most receptions in the Big 12 (114) and the most yards from scrimmage (1,932).

It was the first time the Rams took a receiver in the first round since selecting Torry Holt sixth overall in 1999.

“I would have to say we’re very excited, to say the least,” Fisher said, according to Yahoo!Sports. “It was a scenario we had been discussing for several days. We got two very explosive, talented young players that are going to help us right away.”

The second player Fisher referred to is Alec Ogletree, the Georgia linebacker taken No. 30 overall after the Rams made their second trade of the first round, getting two picks from Atlanta for the rights to Ogletree.

The Rams were in desperate need of an outside linebacker–one responsible for wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks and offensive linemen. Now, they have their man in Ogletree.

Ogletree was, perhaps, still on the board after a four-game in-season suspension and DUI arrest one week before the combine. But Ogletree has put his prior complications behind him.

“I was just happy to hear my name called,” Ogletree said, according to Yahoo!Sports. “I was dumb. I made a mistake and i just want to move forward.”

Fisher doesn’t mind dealing with Ogletree’s extensive college transcript. He’s dealt with similar situations before. (See Janoris Jenkins).

“We had Alec way up there,” Fisher said, courtesy of Yahoo!Sports. “People are going to make mistakes. This was a maturity issue.”

Vikings Land 3 Players in First Round

Minnesota began Day One of the draft with the No. 23 and No. 25 overall picks. However, when word spread that New England was shopping their first-round selection, Vikings GM Rick Spielman was bewildered at such an opportunity. The result had Spielman working the phones. After a few minutes, a deal was in place. The Vikings shipped a second-, third-, fourth-, and a seventh-round pick in exchange for the Patriots’ first-round spot. Stockpiled with picks, the Vikings took Florida defensive tackle Sherrif Floyd at No. 23, Florida State cornerback Xavier Rhodes at No. 25, and Tennessee receiver Cordarrelle Patterson with the 29th overall pick.

“I don’t know if it could have worked out any better,” Spielman said, courtesy of the Pioneer Press. “with the caliber of players we got with all three of those kids coming into our program.”

It was the first time the Vikings boasted three first-round picks since 1967. Ironically, the Vikings made their first Super Bowl appearance two years later.

 

Bleacher Report: Articles and Columns

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1599590-st-louis-cardinals-odds-that-each-25-man-roster-player-will-stay-for-2014

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1592982-one-bold-prediction-for-every-player-on-the-cardinals-25-man-roster

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1590048-adam-wainwright-contract-extension-cardinals-continue-to-benefit-without-pujols

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1585381-tim-tebow-teams-that-should-give-maligned-qb-a-fresh-start

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1585305-fantasy-baseball-2013-power-ranking-top-5-starting-pitchers

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1585231-nhl-trade-rumors-deciphering-latest-buzz-from-around-the-league

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1585133-duke-basketball-what-blue-devils-must-do-to-advance-to-elite-8

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1585011-doug-mcdermott-future-nba-outlook-on-creighton-star

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1583091-st-louis-cardinals-teams-biggest-spring-training-busts-of-2013

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1573871-nhl-trade-deadline-teams-needing-to-add-players-for-playoff-push

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1573795-march-madness-2013-sleepers-teams-that-will-wreak-havoc-in-everyones-bracket

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1573658-tim-tebow-must-change-positions-to-stay-in-nfl

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1565524-reasons-st-louis-cardinals-season-hinges-on-jaime-garcia-rebound

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1564444-reasons-why-st-louis-cardinals-need-to-capp-up-oscar-taveras-asap

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1555942-why-joe-flacco-will-live-up-to-massive-new-contract

http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1554323-reasons-nhl-realignment-is-a-bad-idea

 

 

Cardinals Take on Wildcats in Sweet 16

Good day to you …

Take five for Thursday …

Many believed first-year coach Brady Sallee would struggle during his first go-round. And rightfully so. Sallee inherited an underrated group of players while taking over the reigns after incumbent coach Kelly Packard resigned last year. But Sallee and the Cardinals have shocked everyone this season by going 17-15 overall and 12-4 in the Mid-American Conference, third in the West. Sallee headed the Cardinals to their first winning season since 2008-09. Moreover, the Cardinals have advanced to the Sweet 16 of the WNIT, and will travel to Kansas State for a date with the Wildcats of the Big 12 tonight.

1) This is a good matchup for Ball State … The Wildcats finished 17-17, but just 5-13 in the Big 12. Ball State won four of its final five prior to reaching the semi final game of the MAC Tournament, while Kansas State dropped six of its final eight before the WNIT. The Wildcats are allowing over 64 points per contest while scoring just over 62.

2) The Cardinals will have their hands full … Kansas State is a program full of history. The Wildcats won the Big 12 in 2004 and 2008; they are the 13th D-1 women’s program with 800 all-time wins; they have appeared in 13 NCAA Tournaments; they boast 11 All-Americans and six WNBA draft picks. On the flip side, Ball State is a program looking to reach unchartered territory–a program looking to resurrect itself as a consistent winner. Sallee has this program on the right track. The Wildcats led the Big 12 in 3-pt field goals, averaging nearly nine per game.

3) Brandy Woody is the key … If the Cardinals live to see another day, Woody must maintain the level of play she’s showcased over the final half of the season. The Wildcats score … a lot. They’ll be looking to shoot as many long-range jumpers as possible. Senior guard Brittany Chambers averages leads the Wildcats in scoring with an average of 21.1 pointer per game. She’s second in scoring in the Big 12 behind Brittney Griner of Baylor, and second in 3-pt field goal percentage, 37.2 percent. Chambers is 12 for her last 22 attempts from beyond the arc thus far in the tournament. It’s vital for Woody to contain Chambers, and give the Cardinals offense a chance to put points on the board.

4) Ball State will enter a hostile environment … Ball State has proven it can win on the road this season, but it’s just 7-9 on the year. Tonight’s matchup inside Bramlage Coliseum will prove both tough and challenging. The Cardinals will enter a hostile environment–one where the home team is 10-6 on the year, averaging over 68 points per game in wins while allowing opponents to score 54.9 per game. Expect a large crowd this evening.

5) Team chemistry is vital for Ball State … The Cardinals are led by the “Super Seven.” It’s crucial for them to stick together. If the Wildcats get off to a quick start, the Cardinals cannot afford to panic, or lose their composure. Sallee has done an incredible job of rallying his team at the most opportune time of every game this season, and this one is no different.

Expect a close one tonight … Cards win by four.

Thanks for reading…

-Poz

Taking a look at how the MAC fared in 2012

With No. 2 Alabama dismantling No. 1 Notre Dame in the BCS National Championship game in Miami Gardens, Fla. Monday night, let’s take a look at how the Mid-American Conference faired in 2012 and in bowl games.

First off, the MAC had one of the best seasons in conference history.

  • Eight teams (Northern Illinois, Ball State, Kent State, Ohio, Toledo, Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Akron) averaged over 26 points per game. In 2011, just six teams (Toledo, Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Temple, Ohio and Bowling Green) that averaged over 26 points per game. In 2010, four teams (Northern Illinois, Western Michigan, Toledo and Ohio) averaged over 26 points per game.
  • According to cfbstats.com, all 13 teams in the MAC combined to score 569 touchdowns — the most combined touchdowns scored in the last five years years — and 195 field goals. In 2011, the MAC combined for 555 TDs and 180 FGs; in 2010, the MAC combined for 502 TDs and 140 FGs; in 2009, the MAC combined for 495 TDs and 174 FGs; in 2008, the MAC combined for 589 TDs and 175 FGs; and in 2007, the MAC combined for 515 TDs and 186 FGs. The MAC’s 569 total TDs ranks fifth among all conferences in Division I. Only the SEC (685), the PAC-12 (623), the BigXII (581) and CUSA (573) recorded more combined touchdowns than the MAC. That’s pretty impressive considering the recruiting and coaching advantages of the three aforementioned BCS conferences.
  • Speaking of offense in terms of production, it was quite the year for the MAC. In terms of national rankings, five MAC teams ranked in the top 50 in scoring offense: NIU finished 13th in the nation with 38.6 points/game; Ball State finished tied with Georgia Tech for 33rd in the nation with 33.6 points/game; Kent State finished 35th in the nation with 33.6 points per game; Ohio finished tied with Northwestern for 42nd in the nation with 31.7 points per game; and Toledo finished tied with South Carolina, Duke and East Carolina for 44th in the nation with 31.5 points/game. In 2011, only four MAC teams that finished in the top 50 in scoring offense: Toledo (42.3 pts/game, 8th), NIU (38.3 pts/game, 12th), Western Michigan (35.3 pts/game, 18th) and Ohio (30.5 pts/game, 41st). And only two teams finished in the top 50 in scoring offense in 2010: NIU (38 pts/game, 12th) WMU (32.3 pts/game, tied for 27th with Arizona State).
  • In terms of rushing offense, six MAC teams rounded out 2012 in the top 50 — which comes as no surprise. NIU finished 12th in the nation, averaging 238.21 yards/game; Kent State finished 18th in the nation, averaging 225.79 yards/game; Ohio finished 27th, averaging 203.31 yards/game; BSU finished 28th in the nation, averaging 203.23 yards/game; Toledo finished 35th in the nation, averaging 193.23 yards/game; and Buffalo finished 47th in the country, averaging 176.67 yards/game. The MAC boasted only four teams that ranked in the top 50 at the conclusion of the 2011 season in rushing offense: NIU (234.14 yards/game, 12th), Eastern Michigan (218.33 yards/game, 14th), Toledo (213.62 yards/game, 17th) and Ohio (196.36 yards per game, 24th).
  • In terms of passing offense, five MAC teams ranked in the top 50: Akron finished 16th in the country with 312.8 yards/game; Miami (OH) finished 22nd in the nation with 298.7 yards/game; WMU finished 28th in the nation with 289.8 yards/game; BSU finished 47th in the nation with 254 yards/game; and Toledo finished 48th in the country with 252 yards/game. There were six teams that finished in the top 50 in passing offense in 2011. Despite the slight drop off in 2012, that’s still a pretty remarkable statistic nonetheless.
  • Finally, as far as total offense, the MAC saw six teams finish in the top 50: NIU finished 20th in the nation with 469.6 yards/game; BSU finished 27th with 457.2 yards/game — Both NIU and BSU averaged more yards per game than back-to-back National Champion Alabama (445.2 yards/game, 31st) in 2012; Toledo finished 32nd in the country with 445.2 yards/game; Ohio finished 33rd in the nation with 444.8 yards/game; WMU finished 38th with 439.3 yards/game; and Akron finished 45th in the country with 427.2 yards/game.

Quick thought on the Zips. The Zips averaged nearly 430 yards of offense in 2012, yet they finished with a porous 1-11 mark. With that kind of offensive production, it’s amazing how the Zips averaged just over 26 points per game, while yielding over 35 per game.

Moving On …

The MAC featured seven players who rushed for 1,000 yards or more in 2012. All seven rank in the top 50. NIU junior quarterback Jordan Lynch amassed 1,815 yards and 19 TDs, fourth in the country; Ohio junior running back Beau Blankenship tallied 1,604 yards and 15 TDs on the season, ninth in the nation; Toledo junior running back David Fluellen totaled 1,498 yards and 13 TDs, 12th in the nation; CMU junior running back Zurlon Tipton notched 1,492 yards and 19 TDs, 13th  in the country; Kent State running backs junior Dri Archer scampered for 1,429 yards and 16 TDs, 18th in the nation and Traylon Durham rushed for 1,316 yards and 14 TDs, 26th in the country; and BSU sophomore running back Jahwan Edwards ran for 1,410 yards and 14 TDs, 20th in the country.

That’s extremely impressive for the MAC and next year should only get better for this conference.

Moving On …

After witnessing a remarkable regular season for the MAC, bowl season proved to be a tough road for the vast majority of teams that saw post-season action. Toledo hung with No. 22 Utah State of the Western Athletic Conference for three quarters, trailing 13-6 before the Aggies exploded for 28 fourth-quarter points, and cruised to a 41-15 rout over the Rockets in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl. We all know what went down in St. Pete in the Beef ‘O Brady’s Bowl. Ball State was smothered by Central Florida of Conference USA, 38-17. CMU clung to a 24-21 victory over Western Kentucky of the Sun Belt Conference in the Little Caesars Bowl. No. 24 San Jose State of the WAC outlasted Bowling Green 29-20 in the Military Bowl. Ohio took care of Louisiana-Monroe of the Sun Belt 45-14 in the Independence Bowl. No. 15 NIU hung with No. 12 Florida State of the Atlantic Coastal Conference for three quarters, before the Seminoles offense took over, routing the Huskies 31-10 in the Discover Orange Bowl. Finally, No. 25 Kent State laid an egg to Arkansas State of the Sun Belt 17-10 in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

If you kept count at home, the MAC finished the bowl season with a 2-5 mark — a disappointing finish to such a fantastic and noteworthy 2012 season. I understand the disappointment. The majority of the MAC teams that saw post-season play were outmatched by their opponents. There were three bowl games that saw MAC opponents triumph by 21 or more points.

I wouldn’t look too much into how the MAC finished. It’s college football. It’s the nature of the sport. Losses are part of the game. It’s important to look ahead to the future, because it’s certainly bright for the MAC — the conference that proved it can compete with anyone in the country.

Ball State’s loss to UCF in Beef O’Brady’s Bowl; the good and bad

Good day to you. Hope you enjoyed the holidays with family and friends. This is rather late, because of a prolonged back surgery I had earlier this week. So, bear with me.

After witnessing the worst performance by Ball State since the Stan Parrish era, there’s much (both good and bad) to discuss and analyze about this young football team, what went down inside Tropicana Field Dec. 21 and what the future holds.

First, the bad… 

Ball State was embarrassed in all three phases against Central Florida at the most inopportune time. There was so much hype for this contest — the biggest challenge of the season — for coach Pete Lembo and his program.

Prior to the shellacking dished out by Central Florida, I’ve never worried about the pressures surrounding this Ball State team. The Cardinals played numerous games this season that were surrounded by much hype and publicity. And they prevailed in the majority of those contests. After getting thrashed at Clemson Sept. 8, Ball State entered a hostile environment at Indiana the following week and prevailed in the waning seconds. After dropping two straight to Kent State and Northern Illinois, Ball State rallied in overtime on Homecoming against Western Michigan, triumphing 30-24. On Election Night, Ball State arrived in Toledo and defeated the top 25-ranked Rockets in thrilling fashion to complete a perfect 3-0 road swing late in the season.

But in the most important contest of the season, Ball State stumbled and tumbled into the dark abyss that we witnessed during the two dreadful years with Parish at the helm.

For those of you who are die-hard Ball State fans, you can rip me all you want. I’m only saying it how it is. Nothing more, nothing less. And Ball State got whooped, embarrassed on national television. With about a month to prepare for this game, Ball State squandered an opportunity to make history by winning its first-ever bowl game.

From the opening kickoff, you could sense Ball State wasn’t prepared for this game. And it certainly showed.

I’m sure people will say that their beloved Cardinals were more than prepared, and just had an off-day, or were beaten by a superior opponent. I laugh at those who are so gullible to believe that nonsense. That’s rubbish. After watching this team light up foes both in the Mid-American Conference and non-conference all season long, you’re telling me that this team was defeated by a greater team? I don’t buy that one bit. Central Florida had a good season, don’t get me wrong. But they certainly weren’t unbeatable.

The Ball State offense that averaged 35 points per game — the one we’ve all been accustomed to — was nowhere to be seen. The same offense that averaged over 28 first downs per game was held to just 23. The same running game that averaged over 214 yards per game was kept hidden in the dark, amassing a porous 71 yards on 24 attempts, or 3 yards per carry.

Perhaps the offense left its game in Muncie, Ind.

How can an offense that boasts one of the more dominant rushing attacks in the country be so timid? Running backs Jahwan Edwards and Horactio Banks combined for 99 yards on 19 carries and zero touchdowns. When Central Florida jumped out to 13-0 lead with under four minutes to go in the first quarter, Ball State was running the ball effectively. On the first drive of the game, Edwards had a 3-yard run; on the second drive, Edwards had runs of 4 and 8 yards. In the second quarter, Banks had a pair of 4-yard runs and a 2-yard run. This set up the ultimate fate of Ball State in this game. Down 21-7 and the game still within reach, Ball State had the ball at its own 14-yard line. The Cardinals were moving the ball against the Knights defense. Edwards’ 27-yard scamper on 3rd-and-5 from the Central Florida 40-yard line set up a 1st-and-10 from the UCF 13. Thanks to a pass interference penalty on UCF, Ball State had a 1st-and-goal from the UCF 10. Instead of pounding the ball like it had done successfully earlier in the drive, offensive coordinator Rich Skrosky called four consecutive pass plays. The result: three attempts, zero completions and a sack for a loss of 11 yards. Oh, and placekicker Steven Schott botched a chip shot from 35 yards.

This drive summed up the game for Ball State, and was ultimately the deciding factor.

It was clear that junior quarterback Keith Wenning wasn’t fully healthy just five weeks after having surgery on his ankle. Wenning wasn’t his usual self from the get-go. Everyone in the stadium knew it, but Lembo and Skrosky remained oblivious, failing to lean on their dominant running game. It still puzzles me why Wenning managed to fire off 35 pass attempts on a bum ankle.

It’s justifiable to say that Ball State was forced to become one dimensional early and often, playing from behind the entire game. This was due to the horrendous defense. This unit was quite hideous to say the least. Ball State made Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles look like an All-American. Instead of staying honest and maintaining their gap integrity, the Ball State defensive line was pushed around like a dummy sled, allowing Bortles and and running backs Latavius Murray and Storm Johnson to run wild. Bortles, Murray and Johnson combined for 201 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns.

I guess I really shouldn’t be surprised. Ball State boasted the 108th-ranked rushing defense in the nation. Yes, 108th out of 124 teams. That’s offensive and downright abysmal.

The pass defense wasn’t much better. I’ve been questioning defensive coordinator Jay Bateman’s scheme all season. And he was exploited against UCF Friday night. It’s hard to fathom having your defensive backs line up 15-plus yards off receivers each and every play. Bortles recognized the soft coverage and exploited the Ball State defense, passing for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Unbelievable.

How about the Ball State tackling? … Ughh .. Sigh…

Ball State is now 0-7-1 all-time in bowl games. In 1965 in the Grantland Rice Bowl, Ball State and Tennessee State tied 14-14; two years later in the same bowl, Ball State fell 27-13 to Eastern Kentucky; in the 1989 California Raisin Bowl, Fresno State pounded Ball State 27-6; in the 1993 Las Vegas Bowl, Utah State held on 42-33 for the win; in the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl, Nevada squeaked by with an 18-15 win; in the 2007 International Bowl, Rutgers won 52-30; in the 2008 GMAC Bowl, Tulsa cruised to a 45-13 victory; and Central Florida coasted to a 38-17 victory in the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl Dec. 21.

The good… 

Yes, the loss to Central Florida is both disheartening and frustrating in every aspect. Ball State deserved a better fate than what it got. Some of you will question whether I believe this. That’s fine. But this team deserved a better finish to such a remarkable season.

In just his second year at the helm, Lembo has accomplished a rare feat. In 2011, there were 24 programs that began the season under new direction. Of those 24 coaches hired in 2011, 17 are/were with their current team. In terms of the overall record from their first two years, Lembo ranks 9th out of 17, with a record of 15-10. In terms of the overall records from their first year on the job, Lembo boasted the 7th-best record out of 24 coaches during their first full season (2012) with their new team.

We mustn’t forget the history Ball State made this season. It won nine games, defeated a pair of BCS opponents (Indiana, South Florida) and knocked off a top 25 team (Toledo).

Perhaps the most important aspect to take away from the loss to UCF is that Ball State will be returning a lot of playmakers in 2013, including Wenning, Edwards, Banks, tight end Zane Fakes, receivers Willie Snead and KeVonn Mabon, defensive tackle Nathan Ollie and defensive end Jonathan Newsome.

While the loss to UCF last Friday is still fresh in your mind, take a second and consider where this team came from. Lembo inherited a program that was coming off an abysmal two years under the direction of Parrish, who amassed a dismal record of 6-18.

BSU fans wanting free tickets to bowl game is ludicrous

With their beloved football team set to venture south for the Beef ‘O Brady’s bowl against Central Florida next week in St. Petersburg, Fla., Ball State students had the opportunity to purchase tickets for $20 as of Friday.

It’s a bargain for any college student seeking to spend a couple of days in one of the warmer climates of the country this time of year. And the atmosphere should be electric.

But the cries for free tickets have filled the air, and it’s making me sick to my stomach, honestly.

When news spread of Northern Illinois dishing out free tickets to students who are able to make the trip to Miami for the Discover Orange Bowl against ACC Champion Florida State on New Year’s Day, I could just imagine the immature, childish temper tantrums and grumbles coming from the Ball State fans.

Honestly, Ball State fans should be thankful they have a chance to purchase discounted tickets to the bowl game. I’m certain people will think there’s good reason to question Northern Illinois handing out free tickets to its bowl game, and how Ball State should do the same.

But Northern Illinois is playing in a BCS game. Ball State isn’t. And for good reason.

Unless you’ve been completely delusional this season, then you have no right to make such a drastic and downright foolish complaint about getting free tickets to a bowl game. First of all, students had their chance to get discounted tickets. Tickets don’t come much cheaper than $20, folks.

Here’s the generous deal Ball State athletics presented to its student body:  https://apps.bsu.edu/CommunicationsCenter/Story.aspx?MessageGuid=a220977d-d2cb-4205-9fbd-ef0e44e1386f

Take a look at the final note in italics: “Please Note: In the event that the minimum number of participants (36) has not been met by Friday, December 14, 2012 at 10 a.m., Ball State Athletics reserves the right to cancel the tour. Guests who reserved the bus trip will receive a full refund and will be notified via email.”

What a shame that would be for Ball State Athletics to cancel a bus tour they planned themselves because they failed to lure 36 students hope on board.

If you’re a Ball State football fan, then ask yourself this. Did I really give my best efforts to support my team this season? Did I rally behind my team when they lost to Clemson Sept. 8, Kent State, Sept. 29, or Northern Illinois Oct. 6? Did I make it a priority to show up at Scheumann Stadium for every one of Ball State’s five home games this season?

If you answer “yes” to these questions, then you are one of a small pool of true and loyal Ball State fans. I can imagine Ball State fans scowling at me for writing this post. But, hey, it’s the honest truth.

In 2012, Ball State had a combined 64,649 fans come through Scheumann Stadium, an average of 12,929 fans per game. That ranks 10th in the Mid-American Conference — ahead of first-year member UMASS (10,901/game), Akron (9,275/game) and Eastern Michigan (4,634/game).

That’s ridiculous, and embarrassing. So let me get this straight. Ball State fans don’t show up for home games, but want free tickets to the bowl game? Good heavens.

According an article by BleacherReport, Scheumann Stadium is the second-most least-feared college football stadium in the country. Hmm … I wonder why. Attendance wouldn’t have anything to do with it, right?

It’s sad, really. Ball State coach Pete Lembo turned in the best season (9-3) since the magical undefeated 2008 campaign and gets virtually zero support from the fan base. Yes, I realize Ball State is in the MAC and is considered a Mid-Major program. But that doesn’t mean fans shouldn’t show up, especially when their team is winning.

It’s a shame that Ball State has a chance to make history by winning its first-ever bowl game, and it appears the fans don’t want any part of it.

Oh well. Party on, Ball State.

Backup quarterback lifted Ball State over Ohio on Senior Day

*Editor’s note: This is was a story I wrote earlier in the semester. Thought I’d share it with you. Enjoy.

Prior to Ball State’s 52-27 rout over Ohio Nov. 14, Kelly Page saw the field one time.

He was a member of the hands team for an onside kick in what resulted in a 41-30 victory at Central Michigan, Oct. 20.

Page envisioned getting a few reps near the end of the game against the Bobcats, but never thought he’d be at the center of attention, much less bring Ball State (8-3, 5-2) back twice in a pivotal Mid-American Conference game.

“It went through my head, but nothing like this,” Page said.

After junior starting quarterback Keith Wenning caught a 17-yard pass on a trick play from wide receiver Jamill Smith, Wenning was tackled by a Bobcats’ defender and landed awkwardly on his right ankle. The injury sidelined him for the rest of the game.

In stepped Page – the senior backup quarterback – with less than five minutes remaining in what proved to be the biggest game of his life. On his first play from scrimmage, with Ohio clinging to a 17-14 lead, Page darted seven yards into the end zone, putting Ball State ahead 21-17 at halftime.

The play was one of many leading to the Cardinals’ noteworthy performance against one of the best defenses in the conference, and left Ball State coach Pete Lembo in awe.

“I’m just taken back by what an amazing story this is,” Lembo said. “What you just saw was pretty special.”

With Page set to direct the offense in the second half, Lembo said the offensive game plan wasn’t altered at halftime. Rather, Lembo felt like his team needed to run the ball more efficiently in the final two quarters.

“We needed to stay on the field, keep pounding (the running game) and try to maintain time of possession,” Lembo said. “Kelly ran the offense. He ran it well. (I’m) extremely proud of him.”

On Ohio’s opening drive of the second half, junior running back Beau Blankenship took the handoff from junior quarterback Tyler Tetleton and sprinted 58 yards into the end zone, giving the Bobcats a 24-21 advantage.

With his team trailing again, Page wasn’t rattled. Neither were the rest of the Cardinals – it took them just 40 seconds to respond.

Sophomore running back Jahwan Edward dashed 68 yards to the Ohio 3-yard line, setting up a three-yard touchdown pass from Page to junior tight end Zane Fakes, putting Ball State ahead 28-24. The scoring play was the first of two touchdown receptions for Fakes.

Ball State added a field goal from Steven Schott to widen the gap to 31-24 before Ohio converted a 34-yard field goal off the foot of pace kicker Matt Weller to narrow the deficit to 31-27. It was then when the Ball State defense put a stop to the Ohio running game.

After yielding 208 rushing yards through three quarters, Ball State senior linebacker Travis Freeman and the rest of the defense held Ohio to just 59 total yards and three points in the fourth quarter. Freeman said the ability to maintain Ohio’s explosive running game was all about having the right mindset to execute on defense.

“We put our foot in the ground and we (stopped) the run,” Freeman said. “Guys just wanted to get the job done and they did it.”

With the Ohio offense stuck in neutral, Ball State continued to dominate, scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns, including Page’s second touchdown pass to Fakes – this time for a 13-yard score, giving the Cardinals a 45-27 advantage. Another touchdown later and Ball State secured its fifth consecutive victory.

After the game, Page found his mother, Kim, in the stands and motioned her to come down to the field. The two hugged for a brief moment, bringing the Ball State quarterback to tears.

“My mother is my backbone,” Page said, fighting back the tears. “She’s had my back in everything that I’ve ever done. That moment was something that I’ll never forget.”

Neither will Ball State.