TERRE HAUTE — With 41- and 46-point losses in consecutive weeks, there hasn’t been much for Indiana State’s football team to get excited about of late.
An exception is in the Sycamores’ backfield.
Junior Buck Logan and freshman LeMonte Booker are doing their best to hold the Sycamores together offensively. Once Shakir Bell exited the Illinois State game Oct. 19 and then the team Oct. 22, Logan and Booker have had ISU’s running duties to themselves.
Despite the fact that ISU has struggled mightily to throw the ball in recent weeks — the Sycamores haven’t compiled more than 82 passing yards in their last three games — Booker and Logan are gaining yards against stacked defenses.
Logan had 76 rushing yards against North Dakota State last weekend. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry against the best defense in FCS. Logan had 38 yards against Illinois State a week earlier before he sustained a back injury that knocked him out of that game prematurely.
“We’re taking advantage of every opportunity we get. We’ve been prepared just in case something happened. We worked hard for it. Now that it’s come, we’re ready,” Logan said. Booker took over for Logan against the Redbirds and rushed for 54 yards on nine carries. Booker rushed for 21 last week, but added a 97-yard kick return for a touchdown.
“I think the coaches are giving us more trust. I feel like it’s about making progress and taking advantage of opportunities,” Booker said.
Logan and Booker arrived at ISU under different circumstances — Logan is a junior college transfer from Sacramento City College and Booker is a true freshman from Orland Park, Ill. — they quickly bonded out of a similar Sycamore experience. Both were behind Bell, George Cheeseborough and Taje High in the preseason depth chart. Injuries to those three backs opened the door for them.
“We have a pretty strong relationship. We room with each other when we travel. He teaches me a lot. When I need help, he’s always there with advice,” Booker said.
ISU coach Mike Sanford was so impressed with Booker that he lifted his redshirt two games into the season.
“We started off the year thinking we’d redshirt. When we lost Taje and George Cheeseborough, all of the sudden, we had a decision to make. It’s turned out to be a good thing,” Sanford said.
Missouri State — ISU’s opponent at 2 p.m. today in Springfield, Mo. — will give ISU’s running game a different look with a 3-4 scheme. But that doesn’t really matter to the pair of ISU backs, who want to continue to prove themselves.
“They have a 3-4 look and we need to be physical for the whole game,” Logan said. “We have to execute at the point of attack in one-on-one battles.”
I I I
n Missouri State on tap — The Bears have had a strange season. Missouri State’s overall record is 3-6, but a 3-2 Missouri Valley Football Conference mark is evidence that the Bears can’t be overlooked.
Missouri State is confident too. The Bears have won two in a row with victories over South Dakota State and Western Illinois. ISU has won three in a row against Missouri State in the series, including a 31-17 triumph at Memorial Stadium in 2012.
The Bears boast some veteran talent on both sides of the ball. Safety Caleb Schaffitzel is one of the MVFC’s most versatile defensive backs. Wide receivers Julian Barton and Eric Christophel will test ISU’s depleted cornerback group.
The Bears also have run the ball effectively in recent weeks, averaging 251.5 yards in their last two games as they’ve used Mikael Cooper-Falls and Ryan Heaston as a tandem threat in a double-tight-end set.
The area where ISU must improve upon most from last week is special teams coverage. North Dakota State returned three kicks for touchdowns — two punts and one kick return.
Sanford decided to bolster the coverage units with starters. “We’re putting Connor Underwood on punt [coverage]. We’re putting Mark Sewall on both. We’re putting quite a few starters in starting roles on those teams. We have to improve our coverage,” said Sanford, who also said tackling in general needs to improve. Injuries continue to dog the Sycamores. Defensive lineman Conlan Cassidy is the only player that’s definitely slated to return.
Sanford said quarterback Mike Perish will be a game-time decision, but has practiced and could play.
The mood around the Sycamores seemed to be lightened after the Bell situation a week earlier cast a pall over the team.
“It’s been a lot easier to focus this week. We had better practices this week. I’m here to say you’ll see a totally different team this week,” Logan said.