Defensive Back Marc Walton tries to tackle Toledo wide reciever Corey Jones on Oct. 3 at Scheumann Stadium. Ball State University lost to the University of Toldeo with a score of 24-10. DN PHOTO JASON CONERLY
Ball State football looks toward youth in secondary
Heading into Ball State's season finale on Nov. 24, head coach Pete Lembo is adjusting some things in the secondary, which has struggled all season.
In his fifth season at the helm for Ball State, he's coaching one of his youngest teams ever.
The 2015 roster for the Cardinals includes 56 players with freshman or sophomore eligibility. That means over half of the team has two or more years left playing under the Lembo regime.
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"Well, I wish we were progressing [as a unit] more steadily there than we are," Lembo said. "It's been a challenge, but they're good kids and they're working hard. And yes, we are trying to work some younger guys in there."
One of the youngest elements of the team is the youthful secondary. Marc Walton and Armani McNulty are both true freshmen defensive backs who can play cornerback, or safety if needed, both of whom have seen significant action the past few weeks. Meanwhile, safety LaMont McPhatter has been in the back-end rotation for most of the season.
All three of those players have one thing in common, they're all underclassmen.
With struggles in the secondary containing opposing quarterbacks from throwing with high success, Lembo decided to make a change before the Ohio game.
Junior cornerback Darius Conaway was hampered by a hamstring injury, so he did not make the trip to Athens, Ohio to play on Nov. 17. That opened the door for Walton to make an impact in his spot which lead to McNulty seeing the most playing time he's received all year.
"[Walton] played the majority of the game the other night, and [McNulty] played some in the fourth quarter," Lembo said. "As I've said going back to preseason, I think both of those guys have great potential — and hopefully they're benefitting from some of this experience that they're getting."
Lembo has high hopes for Walton and McNulty, two of the coaching staff's biggest recruits from this past signing period. Looking toward next season, both of these players could be starting in the secondary as sophomores next season.
In Ball State's past two games, it's clear they have struggled stopping the pass. At Western Michigan the team allowed 711 yards and against Ohio they allowed 607.
This will not get any easier for the young secondary, as they go against one of the most prolific passing offenses in the country, the Bowling Green Falcons, who are led by senior quarterback, Matt Johnson.
Johnson was mentioned a few weeks ago as a Heisman Trophy candidate, but his past two performances cooled off on that notion. Still, on the season, Johnson has 4,229 yards and 39 passing touchdowns.
Lembo talked in his weekly press conference about his strategy to stop such a prolific pass offense.
"You've gotta be multiple, and you've got to try to disguise some things as well as you can," Lembo said. "You've gotta generate a pass-rush, and you've gotta create some interceptions and get them off schedule a little bit."
Lembo has not shied away from speaking positives on the Walton and McNulty duo. It's obvious that the coaching staff is looking forward to these freshmen getting significant playing time once the 2016 season opens, and maybe making an impact against Bowling Green before this season closes.
"[Walton] had a couple of tough situations the other night, but hopefully he can build on those things. He's a very conscientious guy, and he certainly competed but he looked like a freshman at times," Lembo said. "I like both of those kids and need to keep bringing both of those guys along."