TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State fans — along with fans and alumni of other Indiana schools — absolutely, positively hate to admit it, but it’s an undeniable truth that the most popular college program in the state is Indiana University.
The interlocking “IU” logo is a ubiquitous fact of life — seen on barns, flags, cars and displayed in every conceivable fashion statement from Lake Michigan to the Ohio River.
Love of the Hoosiers unites steelworkers in the Region, auto workers in Fort Wayne, barge workers in Evansville, politicians of both parties in Indianapolis and all points and ways of life in-between.
Many of Indiana State’s players saw cream-and-crimson in their youthful football dreams too. Though IU is, and likely forever will be, renowned for basketball, the gravitational pull of wanting to play football for the state’s most popular school is hard to resist.
“I remember walking on [at IU’s Memorial Stadium] before they did all of the remodeling. I remember thinking, ‘I’m going to score a touchdown here,’” said Indiana State running back Shakir Bell, who was recruited by IU out of Warren Central High School in Indianapolis. “I thought I was going to be an Indiana guy.”
But Bell is an Indiana State guy … and so are so many other Sycamores who aspired to be Hoosiers. ISU’s season-opening trip to Bloomington tonight isn’t just a chance to get one over on a Big Ten school — one that rarely views backyard ISU as anything but a bump in the road en route to a victory.
It’s the culmination of a quest. And a chance to show IU what it could have had.
“When I didn’t get the opportunity to go there back in ’07 and ’08, it hurt me a lot,” Bell said. “To have the opportunity to show what they missed out on is big for me. I’m taking it to heart, I’m putting everything I got into this game. I don’t want anyone to miss it. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity for a long time.”
ISU coach Trent Miles fights the good fight that coaches fight … trying not to let his players get too amped up about one opponent over another.
“Every win’s important. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Indiana, a Missouri Valley or NAIA team. A win is a win. We want to play to the best of our capability … and collect our money,” said Miles with a laugh, referring to the $400,000 ISU is being paid to play IU.
But the truth is heard in the voices of the Sycamores’ players. Voices that speak with a reckoning tone. Based on their performance tonight, many Sycamores will know whether the IU desires they once harbored were unfairly dashed or were out of their reach all along.
“There’s no denying this one’s a little bit more special to me and the guys on this team,” ISU senior defensive end Ben Obaseki said. “Being from southern Indiana [Washington], IU was my top school that I wanted to go to and play for. Not having a chance to do that, but having a chance to play them later on? That’s huge. It’s something I’ve been waiting for these last three years. It’s a dream come true.”
ISU is coming off back-to-back 6-5 campaigns and the Hoosiers are trying to rebuild under second-year coach Kevin Wilson after a ghastly 1-11 season in 2011.
Bell and Obaseki — All-Americans both — embody how far ISU has come under Miles. The wealth of talent the Sycamores possess is light years removed from the hulk of a program Miles inherited in 2008 — which was around the time the three-year series with the Hoosiers was agreed to.
But will it be enough for ISU to get its first win over a Big Ten program? The Hoosiers will have a say about it.
IU will start quarterback Tre Roberson. Though the Hoosiers want Roberson to grow into a quarterback capable of throwing out of the pocket, his calling card to date has been as a running threat of out the backfield. Roberson rushed for 426 yards in 2011. ISU has had mixed success stopping similar quarterbacks in the Missouri Valley Football Conference.
The Hoosiers’ leading rusher is Stephen Houston, who gained 802 yards in 2011, but freshman Tevin Coleman could start. ISU was ranked 82nd in FCS against the run in 2011. The Sycamores feel they’ve improved their run-stopping abilities, especially in the defensive line, but it hasn’t been proven yet.
“They’re fast and have an uptempo offense that has a good athlete at quarterback. They’re bigger than us [on the line] too,” Miles said.
IU’s defense returns eight starters from 2011, but it was a defense that struggled mightily in 2011, ranking near the bottom of FBS in nearly every category. However, IU is a year wiser, and Miles isn’t taking them lightly.
“Defensively, they’re very sound. They’ll blitz us and load up the box to stop the run. We’ll have our hands full. They’ll want to make a statement,” Miles said.
A bigger concern for both teams could be the weather. Tropical Storm Isaac is forecast to lumber into the region on Saturday and the 8 p.m. game could be played in a gusty downpour.
If so, it could negate both teams’ passing games and make avoidance of turnovers difficult. The last time ISU played in similar conditions was in 2010 and it didn’t end well for the Sycamores. ISU was beaten 40-7 at Western Illinois as a non-existent passing game augured a nightmarish day in just 10 first downs were gained.
ISU prepared for the predicted monsoon conditions during Thursday’s practice.
“We don’t worry about it, but we worked on it. We put the footballs in buckets of water [on Thursday] and threw and caught wet balls all day. But we’re going to go in and try to execute what we do. We don’t want to get distracted by the weather or the crowd,” Miles said.
Aside from starting center FN Lutz, who will miss the game with a knee injury and whose season status will be determined in September, no other ISU starters have any injuries that will cause them to miss the game.
That means a lot of dreams could come true for Sycamores who once dreamt of being Hoosiers.
“I dreamed of scoring a touchdown there. I’m glad to see there’s still an opportunity for me to get that goal,” Bell said.
ISU at Indiana
Indiana State Sycamores (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.).
Defense (4-3) — 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 Donovan Layne (5-11, 195, So.); SS Larry King (6-2, 205, Jr.).
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, 13-32).
Injuries — C FN Lutz (knee) is out. G Justin Wood (knee) is probable.
Indiana Hoosiers (0-0)
Offense — QB Tre Roberson (6-0, 190, So.); RB Tevin Coleman (6-1, 200, Fr.); WR Shane Wynn (5-7, 157, So.); WR Kofi Hughes (6-2, 210, Jr.); WR Cody Latimer (6-3, 208, So.); TE Ted Bolser (6-6, 250, Jr.); LT Jason Spriggs (6-7, 258, Fr.); LG Bernard Taylor (6-2, 292, So.); C Will Matte (6-2, 292, Sr.); RG Collin Rahrig (6-2, 278, So.); RT Peyton Eckert (6-6, 293, So.).
Defense (4-3) — LE Ryan Phillis (6-3, 261, So.); DT Larry Black Jr. (6-2, 294, Sr.); DT Adam Replogle (6-3, 294, Sr.); RE John Laihinen (6-4, 250, So.); SLB Jacarri Alexander (6-1, 232, Jr.); MLB David Cooper (6-1, 225, So.); WLB Chase Hoobler (6-2, 242, So.); LCB Kenny Mullen (5-10, 180, So.); RCB Lawrence Barrett (5-10, 187, Sr.); S Mark Murphy (6-2, 206, So.); S Drew Hardin (6-0, 208, So.).
Special teams — K Mitch Ewald (5-10, 173, Jr.); P Mitchell Voss (5-11, 177, Jr.); KR Shane Wynn (5-7, 157, So.), KR Ricky Jones (5-10, 182, Fr.); PR Nick Stoner (6-1, 173, So.)
Coach — Kevin Wilson (2nd year at IU, 1-11).
Next — ISU will play host to Quincy and Indiana will play at Massachusetts on Sept. 8.