Ball State coach has history with USF, Holtz
As USF hopes to rebound from its Rutgers loss with a trip to Ball State, Cardinals coach Pete Lembo has personal ties to the Bulls and Skip Holtz that go back much farther than last year's 37-7 USF win in Tampa against his team.
Should Lembo need an example of a lesser team staying close with a talented USF team, he may refer back to 2007, when the Bulls started their 6-0 start with a tougher-than-expected 28-13 win against I-AA Elon, where Lembo coached five years before coming to Ball State last year.
Elon trailed the Bulls 7-3 in the third quarter before the Bulls pulled away to a 28-6 lead, ultimately finishing with a closer score than teams like North Carolina, Central Florida, Syracuse and Louisville would against USF that season.
"If there were ever such a thing as a good loss, when we were trying to build that Elon program, the fact that we walked off that field that night and felt like we hung in there with a USF team that ended up being ranked second in the country a couple of weeks later, that was a good building block for us, even though you never like to accept losing," Lembo said Tuesday night by phone.
Lembo's teams have pulled off big upsets before, like in 2002 when he led I-AA Lehigh to a 37-26 win at Buffalo. He and Holtz are familiar with each other from four season when both were coaching in North Carolina, with Holtz at East Carolina and Lembo at Elon. Lembo said his coaching staff would help out at ECU's summer football camps, so he has long followed Holtz's career path.
"There were many parallels to how we ran our programs," Lembo said. "Both of us were very committed to recruiting the state of North Carolina, to trying to keep those North Carolina kids home and digging deep to find kids in that state and outlying areas that might have been overlooked by the ACC schools. We definitely had that in common."
Lembo had a closer small-world brush with Holtz's family last year when he took his son A.J. to a Colts game in December. He met Holtz's sister, Liz Messaglia, and her family. He said he expects the Messaglia family to be at Saturday's game as well.
One more Holtz-Lembo tie -- Ball State's assistant athletic director of football operations, Corey Bass, was a walk-on long-snapper at ECU under Holtz, and Bass' father, Jimmy, was an associate athletic director with Holtz at ECU and is now athletic director at UNC-Wilmington.