News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Sports

October 12, 2013

ISU embarks on ‘Google maps’ trip to South Dakota

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State’s trip to South Dakota today is the second game in its eight-game march through its Missouri Valley Football Conference schedule.

But you’ll pardon the Sycamores if today’s game doesn’t have the same kind of feel that a typical MVFC road trip has.

ISU is making its first trip to play at the Coyotes’ DakotaDome. USD, a later arrival to Division I football than its Dakota brethren, began playing a full MVFC schedule last season.

USD is not to be confused with North Dakota State and South Dakota State, which joined the MVFC four years before the Coyotes did. By now, ISU feels at home at NDSU and SDSU. Both have been happy hunting grounds for the Sycamores as they’ve won at both schools since 2011.

But Vermillion, S.D., home of USD, which sits near the Missouri River on the South Dakota-Nebraska state line, is terra incognito for the Sycamores. ISU has never played at South Dakota in football. None of ISU’s coaching staff or players have been there.

ISU and USD’s only bona fide link is ISU men’s basketball coach Greg Lansing, a former USD player and graduate assistant, who will be making the trip to the game.

Past that? This is virgin territory for the Sycamores.

“I’ve said it’s the Google maps trip. We fly into Sioux City, Iowa. We stay in Sioux City, Nebraska and we drive 45 minutes to Vermillion, S.D. None of us have been there,” ISU coach Mike Sanford said.

Every trip a team makes is just a bit different from the other. Football teams at the FCS level rarely fly, but ISU booked a charter to go to South Dakota. With ISU’s injury crisis (see related story), there are some players on the travel squad who have never flown, let alone played at USD.

Traveling to a new place isn’t likely to swing the balance one way or another, but unfamiliarity can have an impact.

“It’ll be a new experience for a lot of guys. We’re traveling a lot of young guys who haven’t been around to some of the places in the league. We’re a young team right now. It’s a challenge. It’s a mission,” Sanford said.

Adding to the uncertainty is that the Sycamores aren’t really sure what to expect from the Coyotes.

After going winless in the MVFC in 2012, the Coyotes finally broke their duck last week with a 17-14 home victory over Missouri State. USD switched quarterbacks from the athletic Josh Vander Maten to pro-style QB Kevin Earl. A sophomore, Earl played in ISU’s 45-14 victory at Memorial Stadium last season, but ISU isn’t sure what to make of the switch.

“He’s a NFL-type, dropback, gunslinger type. They’re a bit of unknown because you don’t know what quarterback they’re going to play, so we prepare for both,” Sanford said.

USD has relied on its defense. The Coyotes lead FCS in pass defense (109 yards per game) and rank ninth in overall defense. The Coyotes’ standout is hybrid linebacker/defensive end Tyler Starr, but he will miss the first half of the game after he was penalized for targeting Missouri State quarterback Kierra Harris last week.

“He’s a really good player. He’s the No. 1 NFL prospect in FCS, according to many people,” Sanford said.

Though ISU is dealing with injury emergencies at nearly every turn, the biggest question is whether running back Shakir Bell can play. He left last Saturday’s 35-24 loss to Youngstown State in the first quarter with a lingering toe injury.

Sanford said Bell will make the trip, but is a game-time decision. Bell was having none of it and insisted he’d play.

“I’m good. I finally got to come out and get some reps in [Thursday]. I’m running with two [steel] plates in my shoes, so it’s a little harder to bend. The coaches said I look a lot better,” said Bell, who mentioned that he’s worn plates in his shoes before.

“I definitely expect to play. I know for a fact I’m going to play. I want to get out there ASAP. I’d take that position even if my leg was broken. I’m a game-time decision, but I’ll be ready to play,” he insisted.

ISU is in a position where its hopes for a FCS playoff bid are on life support. Though the FCS playoff field was expanded to 24 teams this season, the traditional cutoff for playoff entrance has been seven Division I wins. ISU doesn’t have a single Division I victory yet … and has just seven games left.

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