STL: Ball State seems to be a fairly typical MAC program. A good year is a few wins over .500, a bad year is three or four wins, a great year is one like y'all had in 2008 with Nate Davis and Brady Hoke: 12 wins, a berth in the conference title game and being part of the national conversation. How do Cardinals fans feel about the state of the program?
KS: It's an exciting time to be a Cardinal fan. Last year we won a nationally televised game against a ranked Toledo team. This year's team showcases one of the premier offenses in the nation. Going forward, Ball State has games scheduled against Iowa, Northwestern, Indiana, and Michigan, 2014-2016. Attendance is up. A year ago MAC power Northern Illinois got a crack at Florida State in the Orange Bowl, an opportunity that paid dividends for all schools in the MAC. In the state of Indiana Ball State athletics was for many years forgotten. Purdue, Indiana, and Notre Dame dominated the conversation. Purdue is awful in 2013, we've got a pair of wins against Indiana the last couple of years under our belt, and Notre Dame fans are growing more exasperated every year with blowout losses in bowl games. Ball State football is entertainment value at its finest. For fans tired of watching Big Ten matchups that finish 13-7, check out Cardinal football. We could score fifty in any given game. We could give up 50 just as easily. We never know what to expect, but damn is it fun to watch.
STL: Coach Lembo seems to have things going in a good direction, 15-10 over his first two years. This year, Football Outsiders predicted Ball State to finish in the top half of its MAC division. After five games, you're 4-1 with one of the nation's most prolific QB/WR combos and a potent air attack. How do you feel about the 2013 Ball State Cardinals?
KS: All Cardinals fans knew entering the 2013 season that this is the year we need to make things happen. Obviously we don't know what the future will hold for Ball State, but what we do know is that next season we will be without senior quarterback Keith Wenning. Before the season is over Wenning will be the leading passer in Cardinal history. Next year will belong to Ozzie Mann, and while he is certainly near the top on the list in coolest names in college football, he's thrown all of 8 passes this season. Additonally, in all likelihood we will have a new head coach at the helm in 2014. It's a fact fans of all MAC schools have come to accept, success on this level means job opportunities will come in from all around the country. Pete Lembo was named as a candidate for a number of jobs after last season, and if we are as successful in 2013 as we were a season ago, he's gone. Cardinal fans will tell you that our loss against North Texas, a game we played without our leading rusher and lead at halftime, should've been a W. Presently, it looks like we are on a collision course with Northern Illinois to determine the best team in the MAC.
STL: Last week, we previewed UVA-Pitt as strength vs strength: the Panthers offense against our Cavalier defense. The same seems to be true this week. Obviously y'all want to get things going with Wenning and Snead. But there doesn't seem to be much of a threat out of the backfield, either rushing or receiving. Who is flying under the radar that could give the Hoos trouble?
KS: Our backfield numbers can be deceiving. Leading rusher Jahwan Edwards missed games against Army and North Texas with concussion like symptoms. Edwards is one of the top 3 running backs in our conference. For a defense as well coached and well prepared as Virginia's, he's not flying under the radar. The heir apparent to Edwards, Horactio Banks, showcased some explosiveness in those games Edwards missed. Eventually Banks will be the feature back, and while Edwards will certainly get the majority of touches on Saturday, Horactio's speed can be deadly. In the North Texas game he carried the ball 11 times for 141 yards. He is an excellent complimentary back to Edwards.
STL: As potent as the offense is, the defense seems fairly middling. The unit gives up more than 420 yards but only 24 points per game. It's near the bottom of FBS in 3rd down conversion defense. What are the things this defense is going to try to do? Stuff the run or stop the pass? Cause turnovers? Who are the guys who are going to be leading the charge?
KS: Middling is generous so thank you. Much of our defensive issues come from the fact that the defense is on the field so much. We possess a big play, quick strike offense. Great for points, bad for time of possession, and we are second to last in the conference at about 26 minutes a game. Our red zone defense is above average, and this year it's very much been "bend but don't break." With the changes the Cavaliers have made to the offensive line, potentially starting a pair of freshman, and the struggles with the running game, I'd say getting into the UVA backfield is a top priority. Obviously winning the turnover battle is critical, and with an offense as potent as ours, increasing possessions for Wenning significantly increases our chances. Through five weeks, to Cardinals have been named MAC West Division Defensive Player of the Week. Look out for defensive tackle Nathan Ollie and linebacker Kenneth Lee. Look out for sophomore linebacker Ben Ingle as well. He's always around the ball.
STL: Virginia's average recruiting class ranking over the past five years—according to Scout.com—is fifty-five points better than Ball State's. Obviously this is only a very rough approximation of the talent difference on the field this Saturday. And that kind of gap has never been an absolute bar on mid-majors springing an upset; after all, it's not just about how good your players are, it's about knowing what to do with them and getting them to do it. Bottom line: what are you expecting, and who ya got?
KS: Obviously with a couple of exceptions, the expectation is typically that schools from AQ conferences knock off the mid-majors. I know schedules are developed years in advance, but Ball State is not the mid major the Cavaliers want on their slate this year. Certainly, UVA would blow out the bottom half of our conference. I think this sets up well for the Cardinals to add to the MAC's list of upsets in 2013. UVA's defense is the best we will see this season. The Cardinals will need to secure as many possessions as possible to give Wenning and company plenty of opportunities. It's going to require a balanced offense and continued success converting on 3rd down. I'll take the Cards in the upset. We can still be cool though.