FOOTBALL: Coach bringing new style of offense to Ball State

Lembo says his offense is focused on variety of passing schemes

A question on every Ball State football fan's mind is what kind of play style the Cardinals will show in their season opener in September.

Everyone is familiar with who will be on the field. Ball State will be bringing back quarterbacks Keith Wenning and Kelly Page and three-fourths of its 2010 rushing corps — Cory Sykes, Eric Williams and David Brown.

On the defensive side of the ball, Sean Baker and Jason Pinkston will look to pull down more interceptions while a revamped defensive line will try to hold its ground in the trenches.

How they will be doing it is another matter. Ball State is now under the supervision of coach Pete Lembo and his brand of football.

Lembo-coached teams are thought of as pass-first. Last season, Elon threw the ball 129 times more than it ran and gained 74 percent of its yards through the pass.

He acknowledged that the Phoenix and his system were more aerially focused, but that his philosophy doesn't follow the conventional wisdom of a passing offense.

"When people talk about our offensive system, we're known for throwing the football, but it's not a spread offense," Lembo said. "We are definitely a no-huddle offense, but we are not necessarily a spread offense."

The Cardinals will incorporate more diversity in its passing game as well, Lembo said.

"A big part of our passing game is also our screening game," he said. "A lot of teams think about run and pass. We sort of break it down into three categories: pass, screen and run. The screens are that big a part of what we do."

With an emphasis on using the screen game so high, Lembo finds ways to use a diverse personnel. He said his offense prides itself on incorporating the fullback into the game plan. Ball State will also be using multiple tight ends and running backs on some plays.

Tempo is the other key to a Lembo offense. Ball State will look to control the flow of the game as it wants, he said.

"What we do feature and take a lot of pride in is the ability to move fast when we want to move fast or slow down when we want to slow down," he said.

On the defensive side of the ball, Lembo preaches fundamentals — tackling, pursuit to the ball and causing turnovers.

The new coach will also bring an aggressive attitude to the defense.

"We're not afraid to blitz in any situation," he said.

Learning a new offense takes time. Lembo said the low number of Cardinals that have redshirted surprised him.

"I believe strongly in redshirting. The team that win championships, the teams that go to bowl games, the teams that make the playoffs in the [Football Championship Subdivision] — if you look at their depth chart, they're playing with redshirt seniors and redshirt juniors."

Approximately 50 percent of the current roster has been redshirted.

Lembo said the players benefit from the redshirt by getting more time to prepare before being put in a game situation.

"It's going to be a lot more fun lining up as a fifth-year senior than an 18-year-old freshman," he said.

However, Lembo is not averse to putting a talented newcomer out there.

"You always play the best people," he said. "There are going to be some true freshmen that play for you every year."

The ultimate goal is to develop on both sides of the ball and create the depth needed to compete and succeed in the Mid-American Conference.

"You have to hopefully redshirt a lot of those guys, so that in time you're playing with a more mature team," Lembo said. "When you're playing with a more mature team, that's when you're building a program."