TERRE HAUTE —
During the last two games Indiana State’s football team has played, there’s been a familiar site on the Memorial Stadium sideline as the contest neared its end.
ISU running back Shakir Bell has walked to the bench gingerly.
It stood to reason that Bell might be weary after he carried the ball 33 times and had two receptions for a total of 376 yards in ISU’s 27-10 win over Drake on Sept. 15. Bell was treated on the bench by ISU’s training staff on the sideline toward the end of that contest.
Against South Dakota State in last Saturday’s 24-10 loss, Bell had fewer touches — 21 for 53 total yards — but took a pounding from the Jackrabbits’ punishing defense.
Given his talent, Bell is going to handle much of ISU’s load when it comes to the offense. It’s a fact of life for most running backs.
But how much of the Sycamores’ load does Bell carry? One way to determine Bell’s load is to take the percentage of his carries and receptions against ISU’s team total of carries and receptions.
When that percentage is applied to Bell, he accounts for 104 out of ISU’s 228 total — 45.6 percent.
That percentage doesn’t top the MVFC — South Dakota State running back Zach Zenner accounts for 52.5 percent of the Jacks’ total — but Bell slots in at second place.
Only one other MVFC running back — Illinois State’s Darrelynn Dunn — tops the 40-percent threshold. The leaders on four MVFC teams have percentages in the 20s. Defending champion North Dakota State’s leader is running back Sam Ojuri, who has had just 20.8 percent of the Bison’s runs and successful pass attempts, the lowest percentage in the league.
What does it all mean? On one hand, it would be folly for ISU not to depend heavily on Bell, who is one of the most talented running backs in the nation.
Several teams’ percentages are also skewed (lower) by how much they pass and how much a featured back is part of their offensive attack.
On the other hand, it does illustrate just how important Bell is to ISU’s offensive success … and what kind of attention he gets from opposing tacklers on a week-to-week basis. The percentage doesn’t account for blocking assignments.
“We’re trying to involve him in the pass game. That’s where his load is picking up. He had 18 carries on Saturday. The idea is to give him 20-25 carries per game and five throws. You’re crazy if you don’t utilize him 25 times a game,” ISU coach Trent Miles said.
Bell limped a bit as he exited the field last Saturday, but Bell shook off the idea that any dings he has received on the field are hurting him or that he’s injured.
“I’m all right. You’re always going to get games like this that are a boxing match. You take blows and you’re going to give blows,” Bell said.
Bell did not play at all on ISU’s last series of the game. Bell said this was by design. Down 14, ISU was in passing downs and fullback Austen Wozniak was inserted to better protect quarterback Mike Perish. ISU gave up eight sacks to SDSU on Saturday.
“They took me out because they wanted a bigger body in there to protect Michael a little bit more. Everything’s fine. One guy goes out, another guy comes in. Woz did a great job when he went in,” Bell said.
Bell’s percentage also gives statistical weight to the obvious — Bell is a vital part of ISU’s offensive success. As was proven by SDSU last Saturday, when he is stopped, the Sycamores can grind to a halt.
Bell’s big-play ability is a huge weapon for ISU that can show itself at any time. What ISU wants to avoid is to get too dependent on Bell’s “home run hitting” ability at the expense of other offensive options
“I’m just really disappointed in my performance. I didn’t make enough spectacular plays for my team. We’re going to do better, I guarantee it,” Bell said.
• Upon further review — When Miles watched the film of ISU’s loss to SDSU on Sunday, he had a better handle on why ISU’s defense was stout at times, but leaky at others.
Breakdowns — Miles declined to name the players — led to the Jacks’ big plays, including both of SDSU running back Zach Zenner’s big runs. On the other side of the ball, ISU had breakdowns that prevented the Sycamores from answering SDSU home runs with ones of their own.
“We had three critical errors on defense. On offense, we could have had the same thing [SDSU did with big plays], but we didn’t do it. Our kids fought, but [SDSU] made their five or six plays they to make and we didn’t,” Miles said.
• Sacks coming for ISU — The Sycamores had no sacks in the first two games, but after breaking their maiden against Drake with a pair of sacks on Sept. 15, they got to South Dakota State quarterback Austin Sumner three times last Saturday.
Ben Obaseki had his first sack of the season and Tyler Stafford had his first career sack, but the most noticeable Sycamore in enemy pockets has been linebacker Connor Underwood.
Underwood had a sack against Drake, too. The redshirt freshman isn’t starting, but is filling a valuable pass rush role out of ISU’s hybrid linebacker-defensive end spot.
Zakee Bashir, the starter in that spot, had ISU’s other sack against Drake.