TERRE HAUTE —
When Indiana State lines up against Indiana today in the 2013 football season opener for both teams at Bloomington’s Memorial Stadium, the team that plays to its strengths better will likely have the upper hand.
That’s elementary, of course, but in the case of the Sycamores and Hoosiers, their strengths are a bit more drastic than the typical matchup.
The Sycamores boast one of the top runners at the Football Championship Subdivision level in senior Shakir Bell. IU fans have Bell burned into the memory banks. Not only did the Hoosiers pass up on Bell after a standout career at Warren Central, he then burned them for 192 yards in ISU’s 24-17 loss in 2012.
Bell is unquestionably ISU’s biggest asset and his game-changing ability is contrasted by an IU run defense that was sieve-like in 2012. The Hoosiers ranked 116th in FBS run defense last season. There are only 120 FBS programs.
Bell relishes the spotlight. But he knows that for ISU to be successful it can’t be a one-man show.
“I love being the center point of any defense’s gameplan. I feel like I’m an explosive player and anything I can do to draw more guys in the box is an exciting challenge for me,” Bell said.
IU will be ready for Bell. IU coach Kevin Wilson said the Hoosiers will be rotating as many as 10 players in the defensive line. ISU will try to test ISU’s front four, especially if it can probe for weakness, but ISU must have diversity in its play-calling to keep the Hoosiers’ defense on its toes. Bell is confident that will happen.
“We have wide receivers who are going to make plays. We have talented wide receivers. George Cheeseborough will get more into the offense. It’ll be IU’s first look at him. Taje High and Buck Logan are a change of pace,” Bell said.
On the other side of the ball, ISU will be tested by IU’s greatest strength and one of the biggest advantages FBS teams typically enjoy against FCS schools — IU’s passing game and its size advantage on the flanks.
Wilson has not decided on a starting quarterback. Tre Roberson, who played against ISU last season, was hurt three games into the season. Cameron Coffman and Nate Sudfeld both played for the Hoosiers in subsequent games. Wilson said any combination of the trio could play tonight.
Despite having turnover at quarterback, IU was ranked 17th in the nation in passing last season. IU’s three leading receivers from 2012 — Shane Wynn (68 receptions 660 yards, 6 TD), Cody Latimer (51-805-6 TD) and Kofi Hughes (43-639-3 TD) — all return to the Hoosiers’ fold, as well as tight end Ted Bolser (41-445, 3 TD).
That alone is cause for concern in the Sycamore camp. But apart from the proven production is the size advantage the Hoosiers’ receivers enjoy.
ISU’s pass defense was outstanding in 2012. The Sycamores were ranked 5th in FCS in the category. ISU lost All-American cornerback Johnny Towalid from that unit, but Calvin Burnett is back at the other corner. Safeties Donovan Layne and Mark Sewall each earned significant playing time in 2012.
“We respect IU, they were No. 1 in the Big Ten. We were top five in the nation last year. We have the same mindset, just different personnel,” Burnett said.
While the experience is there, the size isn’t. Burnett is 5-foot-9. Alex Stowers, who won the second starting cornerback position, is also 5-9. Layne is 5-11 and Sewall is 5-10.
Kamerin Mitchell is ISU’s tallest healthy defensive back at 6-2. Larry King, who will miss this season after he injured his knee in the first preseason practice of the season, will be missed, no more so than for his 6-3 frame.
Wynn is just 5-7, but Latimer is 6-3 and Hughes is 6-2. Bolser is 6-6. It’s a tall order for the Sycamores … literally.
“They bring a huge challenge. They’re athletic, they’re fast. We have to find a way to slow them down,” Sanford said. “Bigger receivers are always a challenge. They’re bigger targets. We have to do a great job of defending them and get a pass rush to put pressure on the quarterback.”
ISU has the added wrinkle of implementing a pass defense that will call for more man-to-man coverage.
“I love man-to-man. If it’s me versus you? Hey, let’s get it,” Burnett said. “I embrace the competition as a corner. After I accomplish something, it gives me more confidence in myself. We’re up for all challenges at ISU.”
Like IU, ISU intends to use more than one quarterback. Mike Perish and Robert Tonyan should both see action. Perish played well against the Hoosiers in 2012 as he completed 20 of 31 passes for 211 yards and a touchdown.
ISU had few surprises on its first depth chart. In the position battles, Clyde Ignont won the starting job at left guard and Stowers won the second cornerback position. Isaac Beverstock will start at a linebacker spot as T.J. Tuuu is questionable.
ISU came tantalizingly close to beating the Hoosiers a year ago. Many at ISU thought pass interference should have been called on a fourth down attempt with 2:02 left in the game in IU territory, and possibly, on a last-second Hail Mary pass.
But if the Sycamores are using their 2012 near miss as motivation, they aren’t wearing it on their sleeve.
“That last play was neither here nor there. We can’t put the game in the hands of the referees. We’re ready to go out there and show another type of football. We want to play fast and physical,” Bell said.
“This game is about us. We have to do our job. We have to play hard and hungry. We have to play together. It’s us against the world down there,” Sanford said.
ISU will receive a $450,000 guarantee from IU for playing the game. ISU will get $400,000 for its Sept. 7 game at Purdue.
n ISU receives commitment from Buckley — The Indianapolis Star reported on Wednesday that former Cincinnati running back Deionte Buckley will transfer to ISU.
Buckley was a sought-after running back at Warren Central, also the alma mater of Bell. Buckley rushed for 1,610 yards and 27 touchdowns for Warren Central in 2011 and was a Class 5A All-State running back.
Buckley plans to enroll at ISU for the second semester in December and would be able to play in 2014. Buckley has not signed a Letter Of Intent.
Buckley rushed for 32 yards in limited action with the Bearcats in 2012.