MUNCIE – It’s just as physically taxing as two-a-days in the stifling heat of August, both from a physical, as well as an emotional standpoint. It’s called “November,” and for football players, it can be draining and difficult to endure.
In the case of Ball State’s football team, the Cardinal players and coaches have really tested their limits by playing nine consecutive weeks since August without a bye week inserted in their schedule to allow them to recuperate, if only for a moment.
Ball State (6-3, 3-2 Mid-American Conference) will add to its challenges by travelling to league-power Toledo (8-1, 5-0) today at 8 p.m. (ESPN2).
“It’s been a real grind with this schedule,” Cardinal coach Pete Lembo said. “We haven’t made any excuses about the schedule, we haven’t backed down at all, but I think it’s quite obvious, if you look at where we are right now, we’ve earned it.”
The Cardinals won’t have a bye this season, but what they do have are some “extended game weeks,” as Lembo referred to the schedule this month to close the regular season.
Teams typically have six days of rest between Saturday games, and that is the schedule that Ball State has followed since its season opener on Aug. 30. However, currently, the Cardinals have had nine days of rest since their 30-22 victory at Army on Oct. 27.
“It’s great to be in an extended game week,” Lembo said. “It’s where we have a chance to catch our breath.”
The pattern will continue for Lembo’s group, as following tonight’s game, Ball State will enjoy breaks of seven days (before hosting Ohio) and eight days (before travelling to Miami (Ohio).
Refreshingly, Lembo said that his team is “relatively healthy” compared to the 2011 season at this juncture, so this time will allow the Cardinals to be not necessarily rehabilitated, but simply rested to face three of the better teams in the conference (the remaining three opponents have a combined 19-5 record).
“Last year, we were holding on by our finger nails,” Lembo said. “I do feel like the two years in the strength and conditioning program with (strength coach) Dave Feeley continue to pay great dividends for us.”
Lembo said that it is imperative that his players are rested and healthy – particularly today – due to the magnitude of the challenge that lies in front of his program.
“(Toledo) is a tremendous, tremendous team,” Lembo said. “It’s going to be interesting. This is going to be a game where it’s going to require really good execution, a really clean, well-played game on our end. If you play really well, don’t have turnovers, you don’t have penalties, you get points in the red zone, those are the things that we’ll need to do.”