TERRE HAUTE —
One thing Indiana State did well in 2012 was win on the road.
Victories came at Southern Illinois, Western Illinois, and most memorably, at No. 1-ranked North Dakota State. The Sycamores’ ability to travel well put them in the playoff hunt to the bitter end until, ironically, a road loss at Youngstown State in the season finale.
ISU coach Mike Sanford knows that if the Sycamores harbor serious playoff hopes again, they will need a repeat road performance. The road begins at 8 p.m. today at Tennessee Tech.
Road success is vital for ISU in 2013. ISU has just five home games in 12 contests this season. The schedule is so road-heavy that ISU’s next home game — against Youngstown State on Oct. 5 — also is an early homecoming contest.
ISU still has five road games left and will play all of them in the next seven games. Success on Saturday can be a springboard for the Sycamores as they begin Missouri Valley Football Conference play a week later.
“I like that it gives us 12 games and gives us an extra opportunity to get a Division I win. That’s our goal. It’s a business trip. It’ll be exciting to go to a school in Tennessee and it’ll be exciting to play an Ohio Valley school and see how they match up with us,” said ISU wide receiver Chris O’Leary, who is expected to return this week.
It is Indiana State’s first meeting with Tennessee Tech as the two schools begin a home-and-home series. Former ISU coach Trent Miles preferred to play up against Football Bowl Subdivision teams or play home games against non-scholarship FCS schools or non-Division I opponents.
Given that, it is Indiana State’s first nonconference road game against a FCS opponent since the Sycamores played at Eastern Illinois in 2008. ISU has not won a nonconference FCS road game since 2004 when it defeated EIU 33-30 in overtime.
“We have to win on the road. That’s the bottom line. This game has a lot to say about who we are and what we are. We have to make it count. We have to beat a FCS team on the road,” Sanford said.
The Golden Eagles (2-2) have wins over non-Division I Cumberland and Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference member Hampton. Losses were to Wisconsin (48-0) and a 41-21 OVC loss to Tennessee State last week.
Tennessee Tech ranks 92nd in FCS in total offense and 47th in total defense. The Golden Eagles’ primary weapon is quarterback Darian Stone, an athletic double-threat who will run with the ball as effectively as he passes it.
Of the quarterbacks ISU has seen so far, he most closely approximates Indiana’s Tre Roberson in terms of how he plays.
“They’re very similar. An extreme comparison would be that he’s a RG III-type [referring to Robert Griffin III of the NFL’s Washington Redskins]. He’s athletic. He’s a runner. He’s a dynamic player,” Sanford said.
Sanford has considerable respect for Tennessee Tech coach Watson Brown, a long-time fixture in Mid-South coaching and brother of Texas coach Mack Brown. Watson Brown is in his 26th season as a head coach and has led programs at Vanderbilt, UAB and several other stops.
Sanford said he expects ISU running back Shakir Bell to play. He also said cornerback Calvin Burnett is out for an undetermined length of time due to a knee injury. Sanford is banking on several other Sycamores — O’Leary, defensive tackle Tyler Boyd, wide receiver A.J. Johnson and linebacker T.J. Tuuu among them — to return to action, or in Johnson’s and Tuuu’s case — make their ISU debuts.
Sanford’s also concerned about the evening kickoff. ISU had one at IU in the opener, but that was at 7 p.m. Tonight is an hour later. Football teams are generally morning-centric, so Sanford will adjust ISU’s usual plan.
“It’s going to be 11 p.m. by the end of the game. We have to be at our best,” Sanford said. “We’re trying to split the trip up. We’ll have a meal and walk-through in Evansville and then go to Cookeville. We’ll let them sleep in a little bit and start the day later.”