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September 29, 2012

Miles worries after lackluster Thursday practice

Sycamores trying to win at SIU for first time since 2002

TERRE HAUTE — Thursday is the last day of regular practice for Indiana State’s football team in the run-up to its Saturday games. Given the importance and the game preparation that’s supposed to get done on Thursdays, ISU coach Trent Miles and his coaching staff have labeled the day “Perfect Thursday” as a goal for the Sycamores.

The most recent Thursday practice — the last before ISU hits the road to play Southern Illinois at 7 tonight — was not the perfect standard Miles has sought.

It wasn’t close.

Miles was dissatisfied at the end of the practice session. Some of the individual breakdowns that cost ISU victory in a 24-10 loss to South Dakota State last Saturday haven’t been ironed out to his

satisfaction.

“We’re way off right now. I’m concerned that we’ve got some guys not going in the right direction. It’s everything. Execution and effort. I haven’t seen that from this group, and I’m a little appalled by today,” Miles said Thursday.

Though units on both sides of the ball drew the wrath of position coaches, it was the first-team offense that worked overtime to cure what ailed it. Play chart in-hand, running back Shakir Bell led the team in an occasionally testy extra session after the regularly scheduled practice had ended.

Bell expressed his dissatisfaction with the Sycamores’ execution, not just in the loss to SDSU, but throughout the 2-2 season.

“These last couple games we haven’t played to our best simply because we haven’t executed right,” Bell said. “This is a Thursday practice. We take it very seriously. It’s supposed to be perfect Thursday. We come out with pads on and we’re supposed to go through plays we’re going to run. With guys not executing and not doing things right? It’s highly unacceptable,” Bell said.

“We still have a lot to improve on. We shouldn’t be where we’re at. We’re behind the 8-ball. There’s nothing we can do but get better,” Bell added.

Quarterback Mike Perish is also concerned, but expressed confidence the Sycamores would emerge from Thursday’s angst in time to play the Salukis.

“We need to keep working hard. We had some good leaders step up after practice,” said Perish, who was asked if it was disappointing that the offense had to work together after practice in the first place.

“A little bit. I understand that people have off-days, and it seemed like we had a lot of off-days. You can’t have guys not doing their assignments. We lined up a couple of people in a row who messed up and it looks bad, but we’ll have it fixed by [Friday], so we’ll be fine,” Perish added.

Execution is the root cause of ISU’s struggles. The coaches and players such as Bell feel that the Sycamores haven’t been as sharp as they should be and believe it has cost them dearly. Lapses on the defensive side led to long runs for SDSU running back Zach Zenner last week, and similar lapses on the offensive side cost Bell similar big plays against the Jackrabbits.

“We have to execute every play the coaches give us,” Bell said. “It always seems that when we look at the film, even when we win, there’s four or five plays where 10 guys are doing their assignment right and one is missing. Whenever we do have 11 guys working the same, we make the plays. It’s all about us being one as an offense. We’re not there yet.”

ISU has lost nine in a row to SIU — the last ISU win occurred in 2002. The Salukis dealt ISU’s playoff hopes a mortal blow last November when SIU defeated ISU 35-28 in the final game of the season. A win would almost certainly have put ISU in the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs.

The Salukis (2-2, 1-0) won a strange 14-6 game at Missouri State last Saturday. The Bears outgained the Salukis 362-198, but SIU scored first via an interception and then on a short field as a result of an interception to earn the victory.

SIU’s defense is ranked 28th in the nation against the run, but is 91st in pass efficiency. Quarterback Kory Faulkner has been prolific at times and erratic at others. Running back Mika’il McCall averages 72.8 yards per game and shares the Missouri Valley Football Conference lead in touchdowns with seven.

With ISU at 0-1 in the MVFC, and with little margin for error in its remaining schedule if it harbors playoff hopes, it’s no time for the Sycamores to have drama.

“We have to step up to the plate. It’s a must-win. We lost at home last weekend. Losing at home is never acceptable. We feel like our backs are against the wall. This is the perfect time to show what we can do. We need to show that we’re not a team that gets talked about early in the season and then fades away,” Bell said.

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