TERRE HAUTE —
Indiana State running back Shakir Bell was the National Offensive Player of the Week in the Football Championship Subdivision and his 349-yard rushing performance against Drake last Saturday was the eighth-best in FCS history.
Bell leads the nation in all-purpose yards at 234 and the junior has averaged 203.33 yards per game so far — good for second in the nation.
The only man Bell trails will also be inside Memorial Stadium this Saturday when South Dakota State visits for ISU’s Missouri Valley Football Conference opener.
South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner leads the nation with 219.33 yards per game. Zenner, a sophomore, has rushed for no fewer than 183 yards in any of the Jackrabbits’ contests. He hit Kansas for 183 yards, Southeastern Louisiana for 278 yards and UC Davis for 197 yards.
No. 1 vs. No. 2 — ring the bell, right?
Perhaps, but coaches of both teams downplayed the running back showdown during the MVFC weekly teleconference.
“It’s not just going to just be about the backs. They can’t run it every down and we can’t run it every down. Although we’d like to try that,” ISU coach Trent Miles said. “It’s going to be one of those games where someone is going to have to step up and make plays.”
SDSU coach John Stiegelmeier expressed respect for ISU’s attack beyond just the bounds of Bell’s running.
“I’m kind of excited. I hope they lock in on Zack Zenner because we’re not just going to lock in on Shakir. He’s a great football player, but they have a great team. Coach Miles has done a remarkable job in a short period of time,” Stiegelmeier said.
On the chance that the Sycamores and Jackrabbits do have to turn to players other than Zenner (who had only three rushes for 15 yards last season against the Sycamores) and Bell to succeed, who do they turn to?
In SDSU’s case, it could be quarterback Austin Sumner. The sophomore is getting back to normal after having been plagued by a hand injury early in the season. Sumner completed 20 of 34 passes for 191 yards in SDSU’s 12-8 win over UC Davis last Saturday.
Sumner proved difficult to reign in last year in ISU’s 38-28 victory in Brookings, S.D. He completed 26 of 48 passes for 305 yards and a touchdown. It was one of Sumner’s most productive days of 2011.
For ISU’s part, it needs a consistent passing attack. Though ISU didn’t intend to throw much against Drake last Saturday, when it did throw, ISU was erratic. Mike Perish completed just 7 of 13 passes for 94 yards.
“He’s accurate and running the offense,” said Miles when asked about Perish. “We don’t ask him to win games, we ask him to manage games, to be the general.”
Miles said that Bell’s incorporation into the passing game will help the Sycamores achieve balance.
“He wasn’t involved in the passing game much in the past because our quarterback threw it down the field. Now he’s getting more involved and it can only help us,” Miles said.
For all of the talk about offense, it will be the defenses that dictate how far the offenses go and both coaches are happy with their units.
ISU (2-1) is ranked 31st in overall defense, but is fifth in the nation in scoring defense. The Sycamores are 23rd in pass efficiency defense.
SDSU (2-1) bests ISU in overall defense, ranked 16th as it has allowed 282.67 yards per game. SDSU is 19th in pass efficiency defense and 26th in run defense as it has allowed just 102 yards per game.
“That’s still how you win football games. When you look at scores and they’re basketball scores, that’s not good football,” Stiegelmeier said.
“I’m happy with our defense, I’m happy with what I think is the simplicity of our defense. Our coaching staff has done a great job of saying, ‘This is our defense, practice the heck out of it, and execute it.’ We’ve done it. Hopefully we can maintain that. You win a bunch of football games with a great defense,” he added.
• Borchers honored — Indiana State center Evan Borchers was named the MVFC’s Offensive Lineman of the Week.
He helped Bell rush for 349 yards and threw the key block on Bell’s 60-yard touchdown in the third quarter.