Pete Lembo began his week preparing for Ball State’s next opponent and his head began to feel like it was being squished between a couple of 300-pound offensive linemen.
"I’m starting to count all the run plays they have," said the Cardinals head coach, already exhausted by University of Toledo’s offense several days before a key matchup in Muncie. "The inside zone, the outside man scheme, the counter, the draw, the trap, the tackle wrap, the wham play."
Lembo, speaking in parlance understood only by a football junkie, simplified his message.
"That’s a lot of runs," he said.
Today’s Mid-American Conference West division showdown features a contrast in offensive philosophies. Toledo, which has unveiled new twists of late, is an edgy new dish. Ball State and its tried and true formula is ham and cheese. On white bread.
The coaching staffs have an opposite set of trepidations entering a contest that will begin to set the hierarchy in the top-heavy West.
Lembo’s team must deal with Toledo’s vast weaponry, from a wildcat package that shredded Central Michigan last week to the constant threat of a two-point conversion. Lembo’s counterpart, Matt Campbell has a handle on the Cardinals’ simplistic attack, but if the Rockets can stop it they’ll be BSU’s first opponent to rightfully make that claim. The 169 points scored through four games is the most in BSU history, surpassing the 166 put up by the 2008 team that finished the regular season undefeated.
"It’s not a lot of smoke and mirrors," Campbell said. "There’s a lot of simplicity to what they do but extreme efficiency in how they execute."
Campbell added Cardinals senior quarterback Keith Wenning — one of two FBS quarterbacks this season to throw for 300 yards in four games — "is like the offensive coordinator out there."
Vegas favors Ball State’s predictability in this clash, albeit by only 2.5 points. The winner will move to 2-0 in the conference and announce itself the primary challenger to three-time defending division winner Northern Illinois.
Campbell reached deep into his playbook the past two weeks. Five players took snaps from center in last week’s 38-17 win at Central Michigan — and only two were a quarterback. Running backs David Fluellen and Damion Jones-Moore ran for touchdowns from the wildcat package, a wrinkle offensive coordinator Jason Candle employed with more frequency Saturday than a normal game day. Receiver Bernard Reedy even took a snap, losing one yard on a day the Rockets gained 252.
Campbell said the wildcat and other gimmicks give non-starters a chance to contribute. Reserves such as offensive lineman Storm Norton and fullback Zac Rosenbauer line up on the line as part of the team’s "heavy" blocking scheme that CMU coach Dan Enos acknowledged the Chippewas didn’t handle well.
"I want to give as many kids on our football team that have earned the right to have a role on our football program a role," Campbell said.
By doing that, Campbell is giving opposing coaches much to digest in their weekly preparations.
"Our defense has an awful lot of cards to draw this week," Lembo said.
He added: "I’m sure they look at us like we’re not quite that diverse."
Maybe so, but the Cardinals have a few tricks in that condensed playbook of theirs. With under a minute before halftime last Saturday, running back Horactio Banks took the handoff from Wenning and pitched to receiver Jamill Smith on a reverse. Smith, behind a block from Wenning, scored on a 27-yard run and the Cardinals rolled to a 51-20 win at Eastern Michigan. It marked their second 50-point outburst and bumped their league-leading scoring total to 42.2 points.
Simple but effective.