TERRE HAUTE —
A win is a win, they say. And for Indiana State, none of the Sycamores are going to take back or put an asterisk next to their 48-34 victory over Butler on Saturday.
That said, ISU coach Trent Miles had to do a little bit of convincing to make his defensive players believe that a win is a win in the post-game locker room.
You won the game. No really. You did.
“They were not happy. They were not smiling. I had to convince to them that we won the game. They weren’t very happy about it. They were down about their performance,” Miles said.
That’s a good sign. ISU’s defense could’ve hung its hat on its 180-degree turnaround in the third quarter when it forced four consecutive three-and-out Butler drives. It could’ve called the first half an aberration, forgotten about it and been fat and happy with its second half revival.
But ISU’s defensive players weren’t happy. They knew they were shaky in the first half. They know they need to improve next week and beyond. Butler’s 429 yards of total offense speaks volumes.
“I think it’s very disappointing. We’re capable of being an awesome defense. We have 10 starters back. There’s a lot to learn from this game,” said ISU linebacker Jacolby Washington, who co-led the Sycamores with 13 tackles.
“I was upset about the first half. A win is a win, I won’t be upset about this game, but we know we have a lot to learn and a lot to improve on when we start playing schools in our own conference,” said ISU defensive end Ben Obaseki, who had eight tackles and a sack.
Butler might be a non-scholarship Division I program, but the Bulldogs deserve plenty of credit for keeping ISU off-balance. Butler averaged 6.5 yards per play on first down, ensuring plenty of short yardage downs. An array of short passes, screens and curls had ISU’s defense confused.
In the first half, Butler out-gained ISU 251-159 in total yards, possessed the ball for seven more minutes and impressive senior quarterback Andrew Huck completed 16 of 21 passes.
Worse, Butler’s offensive line seemed to have hegemony over ISU’s defensive line at times as the Bulldogs also rushed for 96 yards. It’s the stuff of nightmares to think what a good Missouri Valley Football Conference offensive line would do against ISU’s defensive line if they play as they did in the first half.
“We just weren’t right on defense. They took it for granted that these guys can move the ball on them and move the ball up field,” Miles said.
Miles admitted that he didn’t hold back the halftime fire when he confronted the defense.
“We had a little spirited halftime with the defensive side. I thought they responded. I told them to be play the way we were supposed to play. But where you’re supposed to be, do what you’re supposed to do. We didn’t have the same intensity level. I don’t know if we thought we’d walk on the field and beat them or what,” Miles said.
Butler’s offense in the first half was all about timing. ISU made adjustments and successfully disrupted it. On Butler’s first play of the second half, running back Trae Heeter was knocked back for a five-yard loss on a screen pass. On Butler’s second drive, Obaseki sacked Huck on 2nd-and-7 and forced a long yardage situation on third down. Both plays set the second half tone.
“Credit to Butler, they had a good scheme. I felt that the defense came into its rhythm. We caught on to what they were doing. We made a couple of moves to disrupt their timing. They were throwing a lot of quick passes. We worked it better in the second half,” Washington said.
Butler coach Jeff Voris saw the handwriting on the wall when ISU finally forced the Bulldogs backwards.
“For us, we were OK when we were on schedule, but when they got negative plays … they hit us in the back on a screen on the first play of the half. We had another and got behind the sticks on our second drive. They’re so good and they cover so much ground, it was hard to move the ball at that point,” he said.
So ISU’s defense recovered and all was well for the 7,128 fans who attended the game. But ISU’s defense can ill afford similar lapses as the schedule goes forward. The mulligan ISU’s defense got today won’t be as easy to come by as the schedule goes on.
“Western Kentucky is a physical team. We won’t be able to come out like we did today in the first half and expect a victory,” Obaseki said.
Nor will ISU in any of the rest of its games. After FBS Western Kentucky, Youngstown State (77 points scored against Valparaiso on Saturday) looms in two weeks.
ISU’s defense is better than what it showed during the first half on Saturday. We’ll soon know if Saturday was a wake-up call or a distress signal.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.