We are hitting conference play with avengeance this weekend, so what better time for your local Hustle Belt writers of Ball State (Phil) and Temple (myself) to discuss this Saturday's key matchup between the Cardinals and the Owls? Phil and I took a few minutes to rattle off those ideas that have been passing through our minds since last weekend, and after the jump you will find an incredibly riveting and educated discussion about football, strategy, and man-love.
Phil - I say this with 100 percent honesty and truth (and I even wrote this after the win over Buffalo) - the Oklahoma game means absolutely nothing in the grand scheme of things. There was a lot to gain, but it was a long shot to begin with. Ball State has no national aspirations, merely to win a MAC title, so I don't think this game has too many implications long-term. Ball State got thumped by one of the three best teams in the nation. There's no shame in that. Move on and try to take the MAC West.
Geeves - I'm not sure what to take from Toledo. As Matt pointed out, we had a lot of expectations for that game, and giving your best player four touches in the second half of a three-touchdown loss was nowhere on the list...it definitely shows just how reliant they are on pierce, though i don't think that me saying "Gerardi and Stewart are not top level QBs even by MAC standards" is exactly a revelation - and that's the sticking point. Pierce and the run game are good enough that "insert QB here" just needs to not be terrible, but I have never seen such night-and-day disparity with an o-line's ability to pass block versus run block, which is very disconcerting.
Phil - Ha. Well Ball State fans believe - and I agree - that the Cardinals do have a top-shelf quarterback in Keith Wenning. With still enough question marks surrounding the running back position, the team will go as he does.
Geeves - Is that a lack of faith in (Jawaun) Edwards? Or just a lack of track record?
Phil - The latter. I don't think there's a lack of faith in him at all, it's just a matter of not having enough carries or experience. But, if you look at his stats, he's not exactly tearing it up. He hasn't shown much big-play potential, but he has been a steady force, rushing for 112 against Buffalo and 84 against Indiana. I think the biggest concern for Ball State is it defensive stars. Jason Pinkston, an All-MAC player, is probable for Saturday's game, while all-everything safety Sean Baker appears to be lost for the season with a shoulder injury.
Geeves - I sense that's [Edwards'] job, though, right? Keep the defense in so Wenning can embarrass them over the top?
Phil - Edwards isn't a breakout guy like, say, Pierce; and Wenning's not even an over-the-top guy. He's more like a game manager, but against MAC-level opponents, a really, really, really good game manager - and I think that's what giving Cardinal fans hope. Before the Oklahoma game he was completing 70 percent of his passes and hadn't thrown an interception.
Geeves - I think you're actually in luck though. Baker being down for the season is a bitch, but this week I'm fairly certain you're facing a QB that doesn't even grasp how to take advantage of that, let alone have the ability (or surrounding talent) - though it does bode well for Pierce.
Phil - Ball State's defense has been up to the task so far - Oklahoma notwithstanding - and I'd like to think that if Temple is as one-dimensional as you're making them out to be that should bode well. However, I've been following Ball State football since 1998. Being one-dimensional doesn't stop you from beating Ball State. Let me ask you this: Is Toledo better than Penn State AND Maryland?
Geeves - Toledo...they're probably right around the same level. Their record is worse than PSU and similar to Maryland, their talent is better than Maryland and similar to PSU. Temple just got lucky that Maryland's run defense was garbage and they could race out early, and lucky that PSU's offense wasn't able to capitalize on Stewart/Gerardi's failures as readily as Temple did. I guess my big question regarding Temple's O versus Ball's D is which part of the defense Baker's absence affects more?
Phil - Baker is Ball State's all-time interception leader, so one would be inclined to say pass defense. I'd like to think that the speed BSU saw Saturday would help prepare it for Temple. But I'd also like to think that Kate Upton is my girlfriend. I think we're going to get a pretty clear indication of where Ball State stacks in the Mid-American Conference against Temple. A win puts the Cards up another notch in that race, considering some people are still discarding them in the MAC West race.
Geeves - On the flip side, I think Temple's D is probably one of the better one's Ball has faces (sans OU, clearly). So you're saying you have low standards? I think a loss here completely wipes away any preseason favorite status Temple had - they need this win to legitimize this coaching change and Addazio's offensive "genius."
Phil - Is there a correlation between his inability to run the right offense for John Brantley at Florida to what he's doing with the QBs at Temple? Brantley is a talented QB who made the mistake of not being like Tim Tebow, and Addazio refused to change.
Geeves - Hmm. That's really hard to say, because neither Stewart nor Gerardi is even on Brantley's level, let alone Tebow's. Though Addazio does seem to know what he has in Pierce (last week's second half misuse aside), which is a start. Most importantly, do you see enough going BSU's way for them to win this?
Phil - Yes, Ball State can certainly win. There isn't a DOMINANT dominant Mid-American Conference team, and the Cardinals have enough playmakers on both sides of the ball to win any league game. And I don't think Temple is an exception. I think it'll be fairly close throughout. Yourself?
Geeves - I've spent this conversation trying to tell myself that Temple can win this, and I'm not sure if I can trust whoever starts at QB (Stewart, I assume) enough as a passer or even as a game manager to definitively declare a win. So I may have to agree with you on Ball State winning, for no reason other than Wenning has proven he has got the "it" that Stewart (and Pierce) don't.
Phil - If your QBs are bad as you say, you may be in trouble. Army ran for 402 yards against us and lost 48-21. Take with that what you will. Then again, Army threw for 0 passing yards. I wouldn't expect the Owls to do that.
Geeves - yes, but they also aren't going to run for 402 yards because they run the ball like normal teams do. I'm going to go with 35-31 Ball State. Pierce will be good, but Wenning will be better. What can I say, even though it has sometimes been "just enough", I've seen Wenning do more and can thusly support him more easily. Besides, I hate Philly deep down anyway.
Phil - I love your enthusiasm for the boys in Muncie, and I'll pick the same point differential, but different score: 28-24 Ball State.