When Indiana State's football team starts to look at their opponent for their home opener at 1 p.m. today at Memorial Stadium, they see a Dayton team that's a lot like the Sycamores.
The Flyers are experienced, have a dependable quarterback and have postseason aspirations. Though Dayton plays in the non-scholarship Pioneer League, and hasn't played a game yet, the Sycamores know that they can't take anything for granted in front of the home fans today.
"It's a tradition-rich program that plays really good on offense and really hard on defense. We'll have to play much better than we did last year," Mallory said. "We respect everyone we play. We have a strong contingent from Ohio and Indiana and if you have awareness of college football, you're aware of Dayton. They have a great tradition."
How close is Dayton to ISU's roster? Four of the Flyers' five offensive linemen are seniors (ISU has five seniors). Quarterback Jack Cook returns after throwing for 2,421 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2018. Overall, the Flyers — picked second in the Pioneer League preseason poll — return 13 starters from a team that was 6-5 last year with three losses coming against FCS playoff teams.
Sounds a bit like ISU doesn't it?
"It's a veteran group, led by their quarterback and tight end on the offensive side. We have some great skill [players] too. We're almost a mirror image of each other," Mallory said.
Dayton's aerial attack is indeed stout. Kansas kept the ball on the ground in ISU's season-opening 24-17 loss at Lawrence, Kan. last Saturday — but the Jayhawks did the most damage on their final scoring series through the air.
With Cook manning the controls, he has tight end Adam Trautman (41 catches, 604 yards, 9 TD), wide receiver Ryan Skibinski (33, 497, 5 TD) and wide receiver Kyle Butz (27, 340, 1 TD) all back to throw to.
Asked to assess Cook, Mallory lavished high praise.
"He reminds me of our guy [Ryan Boyle]. He can extend plays, he can throw and you can see he's a competitor. You can see his command. He came in about the same time Ryan did last year and took off and was a freshman All-American. I think everyone knows how high we are on Ryan Boyle and I compare [Cook] to him. He's a winner," Mallory said.
Boyle was displeased with himself after his two interceptions helped Kansas score 14 points from the picks. He'll contend with a 4-2-5 defense led by safety Tim Simon (team second-best with 75 tackles in 2018) and defensive tackle Mike Stodola.
"They're a blue collar team and they earn what they get," said Boyle, who then referenced the elimination of mistakes he wants to see today. "Our standard is very high and that goes from the bottom to the top of the totem pole. Mistakes can't happen. I was able to see the coverages didn't go the way I wanted to, but you have to forget it, move on and help your team."
One thing that Mallory wanted to see throughout the week was a more consistent approach to practice and "game week" generally. Did he get what he wanted?
"I thought it was better, but it's still not where I'd like it to be or want it to be. It was a little bit above average this week. I thought it was average at best last week," Mallory said.
Mallory was asked what constituted a successful game week.
"I gauge it on academics, going to class, I gauge it on treatments, workouts and hydration, things you have to prepare for everyday, along with practices," Mallory explained. "We've got to improve on that. When we become a team that buys into game week lasting all week and stack them up on each other? We'll be cooking with gas."
ISU won't have running back Titus McCoy (knee) or wide receiver Rontrez Morgan (collarbone) on Saturday, but every other starter is healthy. Peterson Kerlegrand is expected to start in McCoy's place. Dante Jones II and Daijon Collins will like get more snaps too at receiver.
Fans will see a slightly different look at Memorial Stadium in 2019 for ISU's record seven home games. Giant banners have been laid over the top of the sections on the extreme east and west side of the grandstand. Fans won't be able to spread out as much as they have in the past which could help the game atmosphere.
There are also banners of football and women's soccer players hung outside the grandstand as well.
"It's a chance to play in front of our Terre Haute community and get everyone out here. We want to get a first win and then stack one after another," Boyle said.
Dayton at ISU
Time — 1 p.m.
Place — Memorial Stadium, Terre Haute.
Radio — WIBQ-FM 97.9.
Web — ESPN+.
Records — ISU 0-1, Dayton 0-0.
Last week — ISU lost 24-17 at Kansas.
Series — Tied 1-1.
Last meeting — Dayton beat ISU 20-14 in 1976. ISU won in 1975.
Next — ISU hosts Eastern Kentucky and Dayton plays at Robert Morris.