TERRE HAUTE —
Last week, Indiana State running back Shakir Bell was upset with himself after he felt he was “trying to hit too many home runs” in a 69-yard rushing performance against Quincy on Sept. 8, so he re-dedicated himself to the basics in the run-up to the Sept. 15 game against Drake.
The result? The best rushing performance in ISU history by a 93-yard margin and the eighth-best in Football Championship Subdivision’s annals.
So given that Bell exorcised his Quincy demons in a 349-yard chunk last Saturday … what has Bell motivated as ISU welcomes South Dakota State for both teams’ Missouri Valley Football Conference opener today?
This time, it’s the opponent. The Jackrabbits (2-1) have quietly been one of the better teams in FCS since late last season. SDSU has won five games in a row inside the division, including a 12-8 victory over UC Davis last Saturday.
More to Bell’s point, South Dakota State ranks 16th in FCS in total defense, 15 spots ahead of the Sycamores’ defense.
That doesn’t sit well with him.
“We’re going against a great defense. Their defense is ranked higher than our defense is, so I want to go out there and make a statement for my defense. And for our guys to perform as we need to and put up numbers we expect to put up,” Bell said.
SDSU uses a 4-3 defense and it has been particularly stout against the run. Kansas rushed for 263 yards in the opening week, but since then, the Jacks have allowed minus-11 yards and 54 yards on the ground.
SDSU is no less intimidating to quarterbacks. The Jacks have 12 sacks, including four by standout linebacker Ross Shafrath, who has 34 tackles, 13 more than any of his teammates.
“They execute their scheme as well as anybody. They don’t have to make-up a lot of stuff. It’s not a defense of the week. This is their defense. This is what they do. They execute it extremely well and they tell you to beat it,” ISU coach Trent Miles said. “When you’re honed in your execution, you don’t make mistakes and you have talent, as they do, it’s very difficult. We have to work that out.”
ISU (2-1) also has to work out a way to stop SDSU running back Zach Zenner, the only FCS rusher who has a better per-game average than Bell. Zenner has been good for 219.33 yards per game this year, with his lowest output being a 183-yard performance against Kansas on Sept. 1.
“He reminds me a lot of Kyle Minnett [SDSU running back from 2007-10, a bruiser who rushed for 4,277 yards]. He runs zone and power really well. He’s about 6-foot, 215-pound with good speed, good feet and tough. That’s means his line is good if he’s getting those kind of yards,” Miles said.
The obvious talk going into the game is No. 1-leading rusher Zenner vs. No. 2-leading rusher Bell, who weighs in at 203.33 yards per game. It’s a delectable morsel for the fans, but Bell won’t cop to getting caught up in it.
“I don’t pay attention to that whole hype. It’s our defense against him and their defense against me. I can’t control what he does, he can’t control what I do. I’ve watched him and heard about how he plays. He’s a great talent,” said Bell, who does the lead the nation in all-purpose yards at 234 per game.
The attention Bell has received for his performances is starting to resonate beyond the usual cadre of fans who show up at Memorial Stadium. The Twitter hashtag #FearShakir has become popular among ISU students and a big crowd is expected today, the last of a three-game homestand before ISU plays three of four on the road.
With the No. 1 and No. 2 rushers in the nation facing off, Miles isn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“We’re hoping we get a great crowd. We’ve had a good atmosphere with the tailgating. It’s turned into a real college atmosphere, which is great,” Miles said.
“I’m expecting a big crowd. It’s going to be a really good football game. It’s right here. You don’t have to drive to Bloomington or South Bend or West Lafayette or Muncie or Champaign. You can see the top two guys at their positions in the nation on the field and two good football teams,” he added.
ISU has won two in a row in the series against the Jackrabbits.
South Dakota State at ISU
Kickoff — 2 p.m. today
Site — Memorial Stadium
Broadcasts — Radio: WIBQ-FM 98.5. Twitter: @TribStarTodd
Last time out — ISU defeated Drake 27-10 and SDSU defeated UC Davis 12-8 last Saturday.
Series — Tied 2-2. ISU has won the last two games in the series, including a 38-28 win in Brookings, S.D. in 2011.
No. 22 Indiana State Sycamores (2-1, 0-0)
Offense — QB Mike Perish (6-3, 210, So.); TB Shakir Bell (5-7, 170, Fr.); FB Austen Wozniak (6-2, 240, So.); WR Donald Spencer (6-2, 205, So.); WR Demory Lawshe (6-1, 190, Jr.); TE Michael Mardis (6-3, 235, Sr.); LT Paul Patrick (6-7, 300, So.); LG Justin Wood (6-4, 290, Sr.); C Evan Borchers (6-2, 295, Sr.); RG Adam Masters (6-5, 300, So.); RT Casey Paswater (6-4, 290, Sr.).
Leaders — Passing: Perish 37-60-2, 4 TD, 470 yards. Rushing: Bell 76-610, 4 TD. Receiving: Spencer 11-102, 0 TD.
Defense — DE Ben Obaseki (6-3, 235, Sr.); DT Jordan Bright (6-7, 295, Sr.); DT Tyler Boyd (6-2, 265, Jr.); DE Zakee Bashir (6-1, 240, Jr.); SLB Dillon Painter (6-2, 220, Sr.); MLB Aaron Archie (6-0, 235, Sr.); WLB Jacolby Washington (6-1, 235, Sr.); CB Johnny Towalid (5-11, 165, Sr.); CB Calvin Burnett (5-9, 160, Jr.); FS Mark Sewall (5-10, 185, Fr.); SS Larry King (6-2, 205, Jr.).
Leaders — Tackles: Archie 37; Sacks: Connor Underwood, Bashir 1; Interceptions: three tied with 1.
Special teams — K Tanner Fritschle (6-1, 195, So.); P Lucas Hileman (6-1, 195, Sr.); KR-PR Tanner Riley (5-10, 175, Sr.); KR Taje High (5-8, 165, Jr.).
Coach — Trent Miles (5th year at ISU, 15-33).
Injuries — C FN Lutz (knee) is out. S Donovan Layne (leg) is questionable. G Justin Wood (knee) is probable.
South Dakota State (2-1, 0-0)
Offense — QB Austin Sumner (6-5, 220, So.); RB Zach Zenner (6-0, 215, So.); WR Brandon Hubert (5-11, 185, Jr.); WR Brandon Hubert (5-11, 185, Jr.); WR Aaron Rollin (6-1, 210, Sr.); TE Seth Daughters (6-5, 250, Sr.); LT Bryan Witzmann (6-7, 300, Jr.); LG Taylor Suess (6-3, 295, Jr.); C Will Castle (6-2, 310, Sr.); RG Josh Kage (6-4, 290, Jr.); RT Trevor Greger (6-5, 310, So.)
Leaders — Passing: Sumner 42-83-6, 3 TD. Rushing: Zenner 78-658, 4 TD Receiving: Kool 11-110, 1 TD.
Defense — DE Doug Peete (6-3, 255, Jr.); DT Andy Mink (6-2, 270, Sr.); NT David Hettiger (6-3, 260, Sr.); DE Marshall Peugh (6-3, 240, Jr.); LB Ross Shafrath (6-1, 225, Sr.); MLB T.J. Lally (6-0, 225, Fr.); LB Chris Tracy (6-1, 230, Sr.); CB Winston Wright (5-10, 190, Jr.); CB Je Ryan Butler (5-11, 185, Fr.); SS Skyler Luxa (5-11, 210, Sr.); FS Bo Helm (5-10, 195, Sr.).
Leaders — Tackles: Shafrath 34; Sacks: Lally 4; Interceptions: Luxa 1.
Special teams — K Justin Syrovatka (5-9, 195, So.); P Ethan Sawyer (6-2, 200, So.); KR Trevor Tiefenthaler (5-10, 190, Jr.); KR Jimmie Forsythe (5-10, 190, Fr.); PR Jason Schneider (6-5, 210, So.).
Coach — John Stiegelmeier (16th year at SDSU, 95-73).
Next — ISU will plays at Southern Illinois and SDSU plays host to Missouri State next Saturday.