TERRE HAUTE —
Once the disappointment of missing the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs wore off, Indiana State football coach Trent Miles could look back on the 2012 season with a sense of accomplishment.
He has thoroughly researched just how much the Sycamores’ program has accomplished in the last three years, all winning seasons, including the 7-4 campaign just completed. It’s the first time since 1967-69 that ISU have had as many winning seasons as it currently has.
ISU also finished the season ranked 23rd and 24th in the FCS coaches’ and media polls.
“I thought it was a great season, it just didn’t end the way we wanted. They did a lot of things. They were in every game; there was never a game we didn’t have a chance to win. I’m proud of them, they’ve established this program as a firm top 25 team,” Miles said.
But wait … there’s more.
“ISU began football in 1896, but they started playing eight games a season regularly in 1920. Since then, [ISU] has only had 29 winning seasons and these kids accounted for three of them, almost 11 percent of winning [since 1920] comes from these seniors,” Miles said.
“The only thing that stacks up happened in the 1960s [when ISU had seven winning seasons], and no disrespect to those teams, but their schedule back then had teams like DePauw, Evansville and St. Joe’s on it. This senior class has done a great job and we’ve played tough competition,” Miles added.
ISU’s departing seniors are the foundation of ISU’s recent success and set a high bar for their replacements to live up to. ISU’s defense, whose scoring defense was ranked third in the nation and second in the MVFC behind champion North Dakota State, was chock full of those seniors.
Defensive end Ben Obaseki, linebackers Aaron Archie and Jacolby Washington and cornerback Johnny Towalid have been mainstays through ISU’s three winning seasons.
“The defense played phenomenal. Archie, Washington and Obaseki were outstanding, but it wasn’t just them. Jordan Bright played solid all year, replacing Garrison McElroy who never played a down. We had a lot of men we didn’t know about who stepped up and we were actually better,” Miles said.
Among those men was linebacker Connor Underwood, who led the team with six sacks. Defensive tackle Tyler Boyd and safety Donovan Layne also became quality starters. Junior cornerback Calvin Burnett and safety Larry King will provide senior leadership next season.
Miles was also satisfied with ISU’s offense, even though the Sycamores ranked 100th in the nation in total offense and seventh in the 10-team MVFC.
Running back Shakir Bell rushed for 1,475 yards and 11 touchdowns, both totals were down slightly from his 2011 season. Bell had 1,617 total yards (he had 142 yards on 19 receptions), which comprised 47.7 percent of ISU’s total offense of 3,387 yards.
Sophomore quarterback Mike Perish threw for 1,615 yards and 10 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Perish struggled at times with accuracy, but also was victimized by a receiving corps that suffered from too many dropped passes.
Given that many of ISU’s offensive skill players aside from Bell were new starters this season, Miles is buoyed by the fact that there’s room to grow.
“People forget that we had a sophomore QB that hadn’t played. We lost [wide receiver] Justin Hilton, [quarterback] Ronnie Fouch, [fullback] Brock Lough, [tight end] Alex Jones and FN Lutz [ISU’s starting center who sat out the season with a knee injury],”
“We had a lot of things that we had to overcome. Guys like [tight end] Mike Mardis, [center] Evan Borchers, [fullback] Austen Wozniak and Mike Perish did well,” Miles added.
Miles stressed that ISU returns nearly its entire offensive line next season (right tackle Casey Paswater graduates). Miles is excited about ISU’s future at the quarterback position. He feels Perish will improve and will continue to be pushed in practice by Robert Tonyan Jr. and Trent Lancaster.
“Perish, Tonyan Jr. and Lancaster will be battling, and I think they’re all good,” Miles said.
One area of significant improvement was in the kicking game. Kicker Tanner Fritschle solidified a spot that had been uncertain for several years. The sophomore converted 83.3 percent of his field goal attempts and made all but one of his extra point attempts.
Punter Lucas Hileman was the MVFC’s best with a 44.1 per punt average, including 22 punts placed inside the 20.
Miles acknowledged that ISU needs to learn how to win championships in its next step of its evolution. Phase one of his initial plan to blow up the program and start over is completed, but the effects on recruiting are still being felt and will continue to be felt in the coming years.
Miles wants to get ISU on the footing of having normal departing class sizes and normal incoming recruiting classes.
“You can’t rid of 42 players in three years and have them all replaced. There’s certain areas to focus on to get the right mix when players leave and that’s a seven-year deal,” Miles said. “Last year, we went heavy for defense. Now we have to improve our offensive skill. We need more receivers.”
Miles declined to comment on one of the fruits of his and ISU’s success. His name has been mentioned in published reports for job openings at the FBS level. His name has been speculatively brought up in conjunction with openings at Kentucky, Purdue, and on Tuesday, Western Michigan.
Miles has three years left on a contract extension signed in 2011.
n ISU injuries — ISU lost Towalid and Layne in its loss to Youngstown State last Saturday. Towalid had a lower fibula injury on his right leg. It had not yet been determined whether he broke the leg. Layne suffered a bruised leg.