TERRE HAUTE — Was Saturday afternoon’s weather an omen for Indiana State football as the Sycamores wrapped up spring practice with the annual Blue-White Game at Memorial Stadium? After several practices conducted in less-than-perfect conditions, they’d like to think so.
“I think the first thing was that we had a sunny day,” coach Mike Sanford said as he greeted media members with a smile after the scrimmage. “And we made it out of it healthy.”
“It was a good day today, and we got good work in,” added veteran center FN Lutz, no doubt happy about his coach’s latter statement after suffering a knee injury in the same workout a year ago that cost him the 2012 fall campaign.
Precautions were taken to prevent a similar problem on Saturday — All-America running back Shakir Bell got no contact, and wide receiver Donald Spencer wasn’t in pads, to name a couple of those precautions — and there were few surprises as the first-stringers beat the reserves 21-0 thanks to three Mike Perish touchdown passes.
“It’s always a good sign when your ones beat your twos,” Sanford said.
Perish completed 6 of 7 passes for 92 yards and even ran for a pair of first downs early in the scrimmage, but Sanford pointed out afterward that the quarterback position is still up for grabs.
Robert Tonyan Jr. split time with Perish on the first unit and Northview graduate Trent Lancaster had a few good moments against the first-string defense.
“I thought Trent Lancaster did a lot of really good things,” Sanford noted. “I liked all three quarterbacks. We had two turnovers, which is not good, but it was good that our defense forced two turnovers.”
Perish took the first offensive unit 65 yards for a score on the first drive of the game, the touchdown pass going to converted linebacker Jamar Brown.
Brown, who had four receptions for the day, caught a long pass from Tonyan on the first play of the second quarter to set up another score, Perish and Tanner Riley teaming up for a nifty back-shoulder completion at the corner of the end zone.
Brown might not be needed at linebacker, despite heavy graduation losses in that area, because several players stood out at that position. Connor Underwood was a presence after a very good freshman season, redshirt freshman George Stone was the leading tackler for the day, sophomore Gerrick Ratliff had a fumble recovery and redshirt freshman Beau Shields had some big hits on the second unit.
Another redshirt freshman, defensive end Tyshon Waller, had the day’s other turnover, picking up a fumble and returning it 13 yards to set up a touchdown pass from Perish to Chris O’Leary.
“Somebody knocked [the ball] out; I scooped it and tried to run, but they caught me,” Waller said afterward. “When you fly to the ball, good things happen … we work to get that ball out.”
Standout Ben Obaseki is gone from the defensive end spot too, but the ISU defense didn’t seem to be missing any pieces on Saturday. “I think we’ve got a championship defense, no doubt,” Waller said.
After the third score, Lancaster’s unit had the ball the rest of the second quarter, the quarterback extending the drive with a scramble and shovel pass to Foluke Gordon-Lamar for one big gain, then escaping the pocket for another big run. The second half was played with a running clock and dominated by the defenses, with the exception of a 14-yard completion from Tonyan to O’Leary and two completions of more than 20 yards by Lancaster, one to Joel Magrum and the other to DeSean Prentice. George Cheeseborough was leading rusher for the day with 80 yards on 13 carries.
Asked afterward about the progress his team had made in picking up new systems, Sanford said, “I’d probably give us a C+ … and we’ll need to be an A by the time we play Indiana [to open the 2013 season].”
The coach may be a tough grader, however. There was just one offensive penalty the entire scrimmage, and no obvious alignment problems.
“Overall, the spring’s been great,” Lutz said. “We’re learning a new system, and all the adjustments for it. We’ve got to hold onto the ball, and up front we definitely can improve.”
Asked about the penalty-free offense, Lutz said, “Nothing can happen before the snap; that’s one of the things we try and stress.
“Everybody loves the new [coaching] staff,” he added. “They’re looking for perfection, and that what we’re going to give them.”