This week’s Three-and-Out comes courtesy of Ben Breiner of The Star Press in Muncie, Ind.:
First down: Ball State had turned up its passing game this season in a big way. Despite the sense the Cardinals were an up-and-down spread team, last year they were fairly balanced between run and pass, averaging more than 200 yards on the ground. This year with a less experienced offensive line, they've unleashed Keith Wenning full force, and he is on track for a number of records, throwing to WRs Willie Snead, Jordan Williams and Jamill Smith. RB Jahwan Edwards has been productive in spots, but not to the level he reached a season ago.
Second down: The defense is a tad better than the stats make it look. But there's no getting around the fact the Cardinals' defense isn't where the staff wants it, and the raw numbers bear that out. Particularly, the run defense has been a problem, giving up 4.9 yards per carry, 5.3 against FBS competition. But the secondary, led by senior cornerback Jeffery Garrett, ranks a respectable 24th nationally in yards per attempt allowed. Then there's the turnover total of 20, second-most in the country.
Third down: Ball State tends to be a pretty strong road team, partially because it seems to avoid penalties and sticks to its pared-down game plan. Coach Pete Lembo is fond of saying "We do what we do," and there's a grain of truth to that. His team is 8-3 in true road games the past two seasons and hasn't lost many games that it wasn't expected to. The discipline factor showed most clearly against Virginia, where the Cavaliers simply piled up the turnovers and penalties as Ball State took advantage.
Fourth and goal: This is a program that has just sort of been chugging along the past two seasons, compiling a 17-5 record somewhat in the shadows of the Northern Illinois freight train. Part of that lower profile might be a byproduct of the persona the team projects. Lembo likes referencing Seinfeld to call his squad “A show about nothing,” and they often fall back on an approach of being ultra-focused on the preparation at hand, not getting too high or too low. Now that profile might rise as they chug toward a collision course with a Nov. 13 showdown with the Huskies, likely for the Mid-American Conference West Division title.