It's Wednesday morning and the Earth is in fact still orbiting the sun just like it was yesterday and eerily similar to how it was when the football Cardinals were 12-0. If Copernicus can coach against a spread offense the way he can explain planetary movements, then I think we may have just found our defensive coordinator.
In looking at the numbers from last night, my feelings about the game haven't changed much, and they only confirm what I already thought, that we were dominated offensively and defensively. Let's take them individually, shall we?
On offense, it was just plain horrendous. When it became evident that Nate had little protection from his offensive line, Tulsa sent anywhere from 4 to 8 into the backfield. Most times the pressure worked, occasionally it didn't, and when he got a throw off at all, it often sailed high. The numbers on Nate? 9-29 for 145 and an INT. It was a season low in both completions and yards, and Nate didn't complete a pass in the second half. Throw in his 4 fumbles, two of which were lost, and I'd say it was arguably Nate Davis' worst outing of his career.
The ground attack for Ball State, truly their best offensive weapon this season for the balance it creates was horrendous as well. 78 yards on 28 carries for an average of 2.8 was the final tally. Quale Lewis looked just a step slow against this Tulsa defense, and with Davis struggling to open up the box he was only able to gain 35 yards on 16 carries, his lowest rushing total of the season. His longest run of the night? A nine-yard scamper. For a team that prides itself on balance, at least both rushing and passing were equally terrible. The good news for the offense? Nate was only sacked twice, which tied, and didn't set, a new record for this season.
Defensively, the Cardinals were gashed early and ran out of gas late. Having the offense go three-and-out all six times in the second half will wear you down a bit. That still is no excuse for the 439 yards given up by the Cardinals to the the Tulsa rush. Tarrion Adams alone had 207 yards and 3 TD. Not good. Alex Knipp checked in with a decent stat line after the game, recording 13 tackles, 1 sack, and 2 TFL.
The "team" statistics were dominated by Tulsa as well, including a 50% conversion rate for their 18 3rd downs, compared to just 2-15 by the Cardinals and a 632-223 advantage in total yards. By the way, that's a record for Tulsa. In a fitting bit of irony, the lone bright spot for the Cardinals was punter Chris Miller, who averaged 48.1 yards on 8 kicks, including a 62-yard monster.
So what did we learn last night? Truthfully, nothing. It was a poor game, plain and simple, and many will lose sight of this team and these athletes because of the clunkers they exhibited in their final two outings. Of course, with the passing of time comes perspective. And this team for all of its late season crappery had one unbelievable year. To lose focus of that, to forget the steps made, would be foolish.
"Failure" is a strong word and one that gets tossed about in the sports world a little too often for my taste, especially considering these are a bunch of 18-22 year old kids playing a game. When the proverbial rubber hits the road, this is a team that finished 2008 12-2. They won a MAC West title. They played in a MAC Championship Game. They played in their second consecutive Bowl Game for the first time in school history. They were ranked in the AP Top 25, a first for the school. They were ranked in the Top 12 of the BCS, another first for the school. All tremendously fantastic things that none of us imagined plausible just a few short months ago. When considering the circumstances that changed with this team after the IU game and the injury to Dante Love, it is success of the highest order, no matter how you slice it.
Over the next weeks here at OTP we'll get you ready for National Signing Day on February 4th, we'll send off the seniors, and we'll chat a bit about what we'll be expecting from the Cardinals in 2009. Regardless, it's great to be a Ball State Cardinal. Now more than ever before.
(Images from The Star Press)