Ball State game a trap waiting to happen

By Nathan Lindquist

Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

The NIU football team probably understands this phrase a lot better after Saturday’s debacle against Ball State.

Looking back, it was a trap game waiting to happen. All the predictions and conventional wisdom said NIU was going to trounce Ball State.

NIU was averaging 232 rushing yards per game and over 500 yards of total offense per game, good for ninth in the NCAA in total offense. The team had won its last three games, all in dominating fashion. The defense that was much-maligned defense at the beginning of the season was playing with confidence and keeping teams out of the end zone.

And then there was Ball State, the whipping boy of the MAC in terms of its schedule. Facing Iowa, Auburn, Boston College, Toledo and Bowling Green to start a season would make any team cry for mercy. Especially a program that had 13 players suspended at the beginning of the year. The Cardinals weren’t scaring anyone with the 117th-ranked defense in the nation. Or the 46 points and 256 rush yards they give up every game.

NIU coach Joe Novak remembered last year. His Huskies carried a 6-2 overall record and undefeated conference ledger into Muncie against a 1-7 Ball State squad that was underachieving, much like this year. But Ball State hung around and took NIU to overtime, finally falling 38-31.

Throughout the week, Novak insisted Ball State was better than its record indicated. But it was a hard thing to believe. Coaches are supposed to say the other team can give them a challenge. Coaches are supposed to be cautious – it’s part of the nature of their job.

But the way the Huskies played on Saturday revealed several things. First, they were looking past Ball State, figuring it was a gimme win in their own backyard. Second, they weren’t prepared to play a team that was playing for pride.

BSU was coming off a humiliating 38-21 loss to fellow bottom-feeder Ohio. Linebacker Brad Seiss said head coach Brady Hoke had called out the defense’s manhood during the week. Their practices during the week were the most physical the defensive players could remember.

By the end of the first half, it became painfully apparent who was going to win. The normally rock solid NIU offensive line was reduced to complete chaos by the never-ending BSU blitz attack. The running game couldn’t find any gaps and quarterback Phil Horvath was consistently running for his life after every snap.

The biggest blame probably rests on the defense. Every tackle that could be missed was missed and the secondary was confused in coverage all game, allowing BSU to convert 12-of-21 third downs.

But as bad as NIU played, it still could have won. Down by only three points in the second quarter, NIU faced a fourth down and two yards to go.

With a friendly wind, kicker Chris Nendick had a makeable field goal of about 40 yards. But instead, the Huskies went for a run up the middle into the nine Cardinal defenders sitting in the box. Instead of a tie and a shift in momentum, NIU never recovered and suffered one of its worst defeats since the 23-game losing streak of the late 1990s.

There are two paths the Huskies can take after this demoralizing loss. They can roll over, lose their final three games and reminisce on a wasted season. Or they can regroup, regain their lacking intensity and run the table to a MAC championship birth