TERRE HAUTE —
I’ve often heard it said when a player has a big statistical day that he’s racking up “video game numbers.”
Anyone who knows their way around the virtual gridiron on Madden or the NCAA football video games knows you can roll up your numbers to silly extremes if you know what you’re doing.
But there’s no way “video game numbers” does anywhere near enough justice in describing Indiana State running back Shakir Bell’s school-record 256-yard rushing effort against Youngstown State on Saturday.
If you racked up yards with the ease that Bell did in the 37-35 victory? You’d quit the video game because it was too easy.
Bell’s rushing onslaught — the sophomore had 215 yards on 10 carries and four touchdowns at halftime — can’t be aptly captured with the usual adjectives.
At times, it seemed supernatural. Supernatural Shakir put Youngstown State’s defense and the 6,523 in attendance at Memorial Stadium into a spell and took them all on a magical (or nightmarish in YSU’s case) ride in ISU’s 37-35 victory.
Hyperbole? I don’t think so. The numbers for Bell were so off-the-charts outlandish during the first half that even if you saw Bell do what he did in the flesh, they’re still hard to believe.
To wit, after two carries and not even four minutes into the contest, Bell had 101 yards and two touchdowns. Good for a humdrum 50.5 yards per carry.
He scored on the first play of the game via a 62-yard scamper, setting a blazing tone that left the Penguins’ defense charred.
At the break, Bell had the Memorial Stadium press box scrambling for the NCAA record books. The 215 yards on 10 carries the 5-foot-7 sophomore had (among them a Barry Sanders-style 10-yard loss … he could have had more) put him ahead of the all-time NCAA FCS record for yards per carry in a game.
Bell was averaging 21.5 yards per carry at the break. The NCAA FCS record is 19.1 per carry, with a minimum threshold of 15 carries to qualify for the mark. Bell was on pace for 430 rushing yards, seven short of the all-time single-game record.
“I didn’t even know what I had. I knew I had a lot,” Bell said.
Bell inevitably slowed, but only down to incredible instead of interstellar. By the time Bell got to the 15-carry mark, his average had slipped below the record, but not by much. His average dropped to only 16 yards. He finished at 12.2.
His last carry put him over the top for the school record and clinched the game with a key first down after YSU had rallied to cut its deficit to two. He broke the previous record of 253 yards, set by Derrick Franklin in 1990.
It was a bravado performance. But Bell was quick to spread the credit around.
“The coordinators set everything up perfectly for us. The offensive line did everything they needed to do to make their blocks. The wide receivers did a great job blocking. When everyone does their job, we get great results,” Bell said.
Bell’s right. On his second touchdown, a 39-yard run with 11:11 left in the first quarter, Bell was released on a crushing block by fullback Brock Lough. On his fourth touchdown, a 51-yarder, Bell broke into space after right tackle Casey Paswater and right guard Adam Masters neutralized their defenders — Paswater taking his outside, Masters going inside — and from there the speedster was gone. On all of his scores, Bell also benefited from excellent downfield blocking by ISU’s receivers.
But a big part of it was the play-calling by ISU’s coaching staff. ISU continually caught out YSU’s defense in formations where Bell was isolated against a single defender or two on the outside. With Bell’s speed, the Penguins didn’t stand a chance.
“They brought their safeties down. We brought in an extra tight end and fullback so we could go hat-for-hat. As long as everyone got blocked, we were OK,” ISU tight end Alex Jones said. “We also ran a lot of weak-side stuff because we saw a weakness there. When they brought their safety down, we wanted to test him and see if he could play the linebacker role.”
From the Penguins’ side of things, YSU coach Eric Wolford lamented missed assignments.
“We emphasized all week we couldn’t give up big plays. We had some missed tackles and some missed alignments,” Wolford said.
Of course, the benefit of Bell’s early running was the ease in which it set up the pass later on. ISU went to plenty of play-action passes in the second half and why not? YSU had to spread its defenders out to account for Bell’s speed on the outside, opening up plenty of passing lanes for ISU quarterback Ronnie Fouch to exploit. Fouch had 189 passing yards.
For Bell, it was his second outstanding week of rushing in a row — he had 221 yards against Western Kentucky on Sept. 17. But for ISU, it was third week in a row in which it had a 100-yard rusher — Lough had 131 against Butler on Sept. 10.
ISU can beat you either way — via its ground attack or via the arm of Fouch. In a defensively-challenged Missouri Valley Football Conference, the ISU offensive potency will give opposing defensive coordinators night sweats.
“It was tremendous. We expect to be able to run even if they [put] seven or eight guys in the box. If we get the running game going, teams in our conference can’t key on one thing because we’re pretty balanced,” said Jones, who had five receptions for 81 yards.
Expecting to be able to run is one thing. But the display that Bell put on Saturday?
It was supernatural.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.