News From Terre Haute, Indiana

From the Press Box

April 17, 2011

FROM THE PRESS BOX: Winning spring more important than winning the spring game

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State football coach Trent Miles has been involved in collegiate coaching since 1987. He knows better than anyone that there’s no one-size-fits-all way to approach the annual spring football game.

“I’ve been places where they do it all different ways. Offense vs. defense. Ones versus twos. I’ve been where it’s been all ones and all twos. I’ve been where you mix them up and have a draft,” Miles said.

For Saturday’s Blue and White Game, Miles chose to play the No. 1 units against the No. 2 units. The No. 1s wore the White jerseys and dominated ISU’s blue-clad reserves.

Though the Blue team was spotted a 14-point lead before the game began, it mattered little, as the White team sliced through them at will on its way to a 44-14 victory that could have been much worse.

In the wake of such a comprehensive win for the starters and such a total loss it was for the reserves, Miles seemed to regret his approach to the Blue and White Game as he admitted that if he had to do it all over, he’d have played starters against starters.

“I didn’t think the twos competed as hard as I wanted them to,” Miles said. “It was a mindset thing. We’re trying to develop a program where there is no dropoff between that first guy and that second guy. With some of them, there’s not, but some of them went out there and didn’t think they could beat the guy across from them … and they didn’t.”

The inability of the Blue team reserves to stop the White team starters — or the inability to prevent being stopped when the starting defense was on the field — created concern for Miles. This was despite the fact the starters would probably have executed well regardless of which unit was on the field.

“Someone’s got to step up and compete for a job. We can’t have the fall-off, we need those guys in the fall and in the future,” Miles said.

All true. But Miles has also learned something else in his 24 years of coaching — winning the spring game isn’t as important as winning the spring itself.

The spring game is the public part of the offseason practice schedule. Fans come. Recruits visit (there was nearly 80 of them at Memorial Stadium on Saturday). Interest is higher.

But the spring game is just a period at the end of a sentence. Spring success is determined by the overall body of spring work, not what’s done on one day in a much- more-structured-than-usual setting.

In that respect, while the Blue and White game itself wasn’t competitive, the sum total of the entire spring was. ISU suffered no significant dropoff from its 2010 performance and suffered no serious injuries.

“I was happy with the spring, I was concerned with the first 14 practices more than just this one game. This one game is more the accumulation of all the hard work. All spring long its been ones versus ones and its been intense. ,” Miles said.

And that intensity is one reason why Miles didn’t want the starters facing one another. The last thing ISU needed was for two amped up units to beat one another up and put the regular season in jeopardy.

“There’s been fights, there’s been big hits and we wanted those two groups pulling for each other today,” Miles said.

ISU also didn’t reveal anything close to its entire hand during the game. Miles said that 90 percent of the playbook went untouched on both sides of the ball.

“We watered our playbook down quite a bit. It was to get the execution part down. Our goal was to execute,” ISU tight end Alex Jones said.

That … and there’s always those prying eyes from the opposition that football coaches keep themselves up at night worrying about who might sneak a peak at a formation or play.

For the starters, in addition to showing they could execute at their optimum — and boy did they do that — there were other individual things the players wanted to work on.

Even quarterback Ronnie Fouch — he of the 11 of 14 passing performance for 272 yards — was working on his mechanics. Seems its working out pretty well.

“I’m throwing the ball more efficient. I’m getting my elbow down. I thought I was holding the ball a little high and bringing it down. I’m more compact and I’m using my legs on my throw. I’ve been critical about my own footwork and I’ve been working on that. If you’re feet aren’t right, you can’t make a good throw,” Fouch said.

Miles certainly took notice. It was hard not to.

“You can see the way Ronnie throw on a bad day …” said Miles with a big grin on his face.

These are the types of things that make spring important. ISU didn’t suffer any hiccups while trying to build on its 6-5 season and the players it will be counting on this fall got better.

Winning spring is a lot more important than winning the spring game. While Saturday was a bit of an anticlimax, ISU accomplished its spring mission.

Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or todd.golden@tribstar.com. Please check out Golden’s Down In The Valley blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.

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