CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Pete Lembo identified his next long-range project as Ball State coach — preparing his players to handle college football's biggest venues.
The Cardinals gave up touchdowns on five of No. 12 Clemson's first six possessions and trailed by 35 at the half on the way to a 52-27 loss at jam-packed Memorial Stadium. Ball State also lost 62-6 at Oklahoma in Lembo's debut season last fall.
The 42-year-old Lembo knows those results have to change for Ball State to become more competitive in the Mid-American Conference and on the national scene.
"I think we're capable of playing better than we did," Lembo said. "I've got to do a better job of getting us ready to come into these kinds of environments."
The Cardinals were coming off a 37-26 season-opening victory against Eastern Michigan that included 596 yards and a school-record 36 first downs. They were hoping their fast-paced offense would be able to keep up with the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions.
But Ball State (1-1) trailed 13-0 less than nine minutes into the game. Horactio Banks' 54-yard TD run closed the gap to 13-7 near the end of the opening quarter, and Clemson responded with a 32-point second quarter that included three touchdown passes from Tajh Boyd to DeAndre Hopkins.
Banks ran for 120 yards. But Keith Wenning threw two first-half interceptions, both of which led to Clemson scores.
Lembo hopes his team learns from this experience and will be better prepared when it faces Virginia next fall, or plays at Big Ten opponents Iowa in 2014 and Northwestern in 2015.
"We had some guys that are capable of playing a lot better than they did," Lembo said. "So, it's my job and the staff's job to make sure that we get every single guy to play at a high level, to play their 'A' game to have a chance against a really good opponent. We're not there yet."
Andre Ellington rushed for two scores and punter Spencer Benton kicked a 61-yard field goal to break an Atlantic Coast Conference record in Clemson's victory.