TERRE HAUTE —
For fans on both sides in the run-up to today’s high noon visit by Indiana State to Purdue, it boils down to a simple question. Will he or won’t he?
Will standout Indiana State running back Shakir Bell play against the Boilermakers after he suffered a right shoulder injury at Indiana on Aug. 29?
It’s an important question that hasn’t yet been answered by ISU coach Mike Sanford. He has said both Bell and injured safety Donovan Layne are game-time decisions to play.
Bell practiced Thursday with the Sycamores though he was limited. None of the tests Bell had done on his shoulder indicated any long-term damage.
Bell has not worn a sling and there were no visual signs Thursday that Bell had lingering effects from his injury.
“The doctor’s said there’s something wrong with my shoulder, but it’s nothing too major,” said Bell, who didn’t provide the specific diagnosis, but indicated relief it wasn’t a long-term injury. “Anytime anyone goes down it’s going to be scary. Whenever I have any type of pain, I stay as still as possible. It kind of looked worse than what it was. I’m happy I’ll be able to help my team.”
Layne — one of two upperclassmen starters in the secondary — has not practiced and his left foot his been in a boot all week.
“It’s one extreme or another. I don’t want to declare [Bell and Layne] out because they’re both tough guys and they could be ready to go. I don’t want to declare them in because I don’t know for sure,” Sanford said.
Whether Bell and Layne play or not, ISU has its own questions to answer and it comes in the form of will they or won’t they? Will ISU improve after it was humbled in a 73-35 loss at Indiana on Aug. 29?
Improvement was sought in every phase. For Sanford, one of the biggest leaps a team can make during a season is the jump from Week 1 — where a team is getting acclimated and re-establishing its game speed — to Week 2 where it game-principles drilled into the players should start to sink in.
“It’s huge. That’s a big thing for us to improve from game-to-game. It’s been our focus this week,” Sanford said.
Soul-searching was done by the Sycamores, but not to the point where it interfered with game prep for Purdue. The Boilermakers struggled in their opening 42-7 loss at Cincinnati too and they present different challenges for the Sycamores, starting with Purdue’s defense.
“They run a lot of blitzes. We have to pick up their blitzes and look out for them,” Bell said.
Purdue’s blitzes — Sanford said Purdue’s blitz rate was 33 percent in its first 40 plays last week — will test quarterback Mike Perish, ISU’s offensive line and ISU’s receivers, who were inconsistent gaining separation against Indiana’s defensive backs.
Perish is criticized at times for his willingness to stand in the pocket — ISU quarterbacks were sacked four times against the Hoosiers — but Sanford doesn’t put the onus solely on the junior quarterback.
“We have to get the ball out of our hands, but we have to get open. Sometimes people don’t understand when they say, ‘that quarterback is just standing back there.’ Sometimes it’s not his fault. No one is getting open and we have to block. Yes, we need that internal calibrated clock needs to be on the money,” Sanford said.
ISU senior FN Lutz said the line took it to heart to give the Sycamores’ run and pass games the protection they need.
“[The loss to Indiana] was definitely a learning tool. All of us had a bad taste in our mouth and we’re going to use that Saturday,” Lutz said. “We have to be the most improved team in the nation. We have to finish our blocks and stay on them longer. Our combinations have to be better and we have to get up there and finish things.”
Offensively, Purdue has a West Coast look, led by starting quarterback Rob Henry, who beat out Terre Haute native Danny Etling for the starting job. Usually, a West Coast passing scheme won’t probe opposing teams deep as a matter of course, but given that ISU’s secondary struggled against Indiana — and with Layne potentially out — Sanford expects Purdue to go long.
“They’re going to test us deep. If your a wishbone, West Coast, spread or whatever, you’re going to get tested deep, especially after last week. We expect that,” Sanford said.
Due to the NCAA’s new targeting rule, ISU will lose defensive back Carlos Aviles for the first half due to suspension. Aviles was ejected for a defenseless hit on Indiana’s Shane Wynn during a second half punt return. Aviles was one of the first players in the nation to be punished under the rule.
Purdue will pay ISU a $400,000 guarantee to play the game. ISU’s grand total for its two-week, two-game venture into the Big Ten will bring $850,000 into the athletic department coffers.