Thursday, November 06, 2008

Cardinals down NIU Huskies 45-14, Prove Corso Wrong

Muncie, IN - When asked for his weekly upset alerts on College Gameday on Saturday, Lee Corso picked the Ball State Cardinals as the team most likely to walk away with an unexpected loss. It was within reason, after all. The Cardinals were playing a Northern Illinois team that was tops across the board in defensive statistics for the Mid American conference. The Ball State offense had been remarkably stagnant in their recent outings. The Cardinals were making BCS waves, the game was nationally televised, and oh by the way, Ball State is still undefeated.

As Wednesday turned into Thursday, Lee Corso was proven wrong as Ball State moved to 9-0 on the arm of Nate Davis with a 45-14 defeat of Northern Illinois. Offensively, the Cardinals had one of, if not the, best performances of the 2008 campaign, exploding for 529 yards, and a performance from Davis worthy of the national stage he was appearing on. The junior QB threw for 300 yards and 4 TDs, ran for another, and was able to shred one of the statistically dominant defenses in the MAC. Head coach Brady Hoke was impressed with his team's performance, saying "I think everything is going to be close. But this was a real good team win. I love these kids."

In only their second game since October 11, the Cardinals very easily could have been rusty. However, Davis said the time off helped, rather than hurt. "We had some time off, and everyone got rested. I was able to watch more film than ever before." Also helping was the presence of Dante Love, who was an honorary captain and participated in the coin toss before the game. Said WR Louis Johnson, "Dante gave us confidence." Andre Ramsey echoed the sentiment, saying, "Dante was a major boost." Said Hoke, "Having Dante back was real special. That meant a lot". Hoke even appeared to be choked up a bit.

Without Dante Love, Ball State has had to be a balanced football team, and last night was more of the same, with MiQuale Lewis turning in another impressive performance on the ground with 123 yards and a score, and Cory Sykes getting 72 yards on only 5 carries. Louis Johnson was dominant in his ability to create space and catching anything thrown his way, as he finished with 165 yards and a score on 6 catches. Davis said he noticed in his record film sessions that NIU played predominantly man to man defense, allowing for space and separation. Johnson said after the game he was trying to "play like Dante Love, aggressive, fast, and perfect." Johnson also said the game on ESPN2 and a national audience was an opportunity to send a message to the Cardinal doubters, including one Lee Corso. Said Johnson, "Lee Corso gets a lot of things right. This time he made a mistake."

As well as Johnson and Davis performed, the unsung offensive hero for these Cardinals was the offensive line, paced by Andre Ramsey. Facing a vaunted NIU defense, the Cardinals O-line allowed only 1 sack, and was able to protect Nate Davis most of the evening. Star defensive end Larry English was neutralized most of the night, accumulating only 5 tackles and 1 TFL. Said Ramsey after the game, "I'm not at all surprised the offense played well. For me, it was personal after English's performance last year."

Defensively, the Cardinals were stalwarts as well, allowing only 275 total yards to the Huskies, and only 62 yards through the first half. NIU QB Chandler Harnish was the primary rushing threat, gaining 74 yards and a TD on 12 carries, most of those because of pressure in the pocket or coverage downfield. Sam Woodworth, filling in for Bryant Haines who was out because of a thigh bruise, performed exceptionally well, getting 11 total tackles. Sean Baker again performed admirably, with 6 tackles, one for loss, and a forced fumble. BJ Hill added an interception.

It was a tremendous effort on all fronts, and there were numerous good things to take away from this game. The offense started slowly, racking up only 96 total yards, but then the Cardinals took flight. The defense slowed down a mobile QB and kept everything in front of them. There were large efforts turned in by both the star players and those not accustomed to the spotlight. All in all, it was a performance that the Cardinals needed considering the stakes as this season winds to a close.

It's not a secret amongst the nation that Ball State is still in the running to gain an at-large spot in the Bowl Championship Series. It is possible that the Cardinals could end up in the Orange Bowl, who had representatives on the sideline last night. Said the rep, "Ball State is a damn good football team." To make their $17 million dream a reality, the Cards must continue to win, and though you'll hear no one make statements about it, Davis said it is something they talk about. "Everyone talks about going undefeated among ourselves." Davis quickly tempered his statement though, saying, "We just have to play every play we can. We need to keep our head straight and pay attention to detail."

For Hoke, it's too early to think about the BCS, saying "The BCS has never been important. Winning the MAC is." His next step? Next Tuesday's game against Miami. And it was all about the Red Hawks just an hour after the final gun at Scheumann Stadium last night. Said Hoke, "This one's over with and we move on to the next one. Miami starts already. We got 6 days."


RV said...

There needs to be more effort to work in the "Cardinals...the fiercest Robin-sized bird out there" comment from Rob Stone. Brilliance.

Anonymous said...

It was Letterman who started that phrase.

Anonymous said...

Actually it looks like Letterman has been saying it for years now that I've Googled it.

Papa Lou BSU said...

It almost pained me to see the O-line get charged with a sack last night, since the one sack was the textbook definition of a "coverage sack." Nate had five or six seconds to throw, and pumped like he was going to throw the ball away, but realized he was still in the pocket and ate the ball instead to avoid a grounding call.

That was, hands-down, the most complete game we've played all year.

BTW, I noticed Jerry Kill sort of glaring across the sideline at Brady after Nate threw the TD to go up 45-7. And I don't necessarily disagree with him. I'm not a big fan of throwing 25-yard passes downfield with a 31-point lead in the fourth quarter, especially against a divisional opponent.

I suppose you could justify it by noting that there were still more than 14 mins. left in the game, and I'm sure Stan Parrish justified the playcall as a retaliation for Nate having his helmet ripped off by an NIU defender at the bottom of the pile on his TD sneak earlier.

I'm still wasn't much of a fan of that, although I understand we're at the point of the season where style points start to matter.