By Todd Golden
Cedar Falls, Iowa — Indiana State’s football season has hit the halfway point. Saturday’s 62-7 loss at No. 3 Northern Iowa was, unfortunately for the Sycamores, a fitting rotten cherry to go on a sundae that has been spoiled almost from drop.
The nation’s longest losing streak? Still going strong.
ISU’s ability to compete in the conference this season? It’s going to be an uphill climb, though the schedule is theoretically less difficult the rest of the way.
Improvement on each side of the ball? Other than today, with UNI bringing the nation’s fourth-best offense to the table, the defense has been decent.
The offense isn’t even close. The Sycamores nearly hit the four-hour mark in game minutes without scoring.
These are clear problems. But a less obvious factor has dogged ISU from the beginning of the season.
Ever since practice began in August, it seems ISU has been on borrowed time. The hourglass has been tipped against the Sycamores from day one.
This is no excuse and the time factor is no one’s fault but ISU’s own. ISU wanted to play the Quincy game in August — a week before the rest of Division I began play — and went so far to get a NCAA waiver to do so.
It was done with the idea that a win over Quincy would end the nation’s longest losing streak and get the Sycamores’ season started on the right foot. The side-effect was that preseason practice time was sacrificed to make it happen. The Sycamores only had about three weeks before it played its first game.
When it all backfired after ISU lost to Quincy 26-20, not only did it get the season started on the worst note possible in the win-loss column, the time sacrificed at the start of the season very likely stunted the growth of a still-very-young team, especially on the offensive side of the ball, where ISU has only a handful of upperclassmen.
The Sycamores have basically had to sink-or-swim. On the offensive side of the ball, especially, lets just say there hasn’t been a lot of dog-paddling.
“It was rough for the incoming freshmen coming in, but aside from that, it wasn’t that big of a deal. The bottom line is that we need to execute,” ISU safety Alex Sewall said.
With a young team, time is of the essence. Now, with a bye week ahead, ISU has it.
But has the well been poisoned too much for the extra time to matter? Has ISU’s psyche taken too big of a hit?
In the immediate, crushing disappointment after UNI loss, it sure seemed like it.
“They need to remember why they’re playing this game. They’re here to compete. We didn’t come to compete today and that’s unacceptable. I didn’t see Sycamore fight. I didn’t see playing with heart and all that kind of stuff. That will be corrected. That will never happen again,” said emotional ISU coach Trent Miles. “This will be a really ugly bye week, I can promise you. This will not be a happy bye week for them, I can promise you that.”
Miles later clarified and said it would be a productive bye week for the team.
It has to be.
ISU will not get another two-week window to get better for the rest of the season. ISU’s coaches have time to teach, time to at least smooth out some of the problems that have made ISU the nation’s worst program. Every last minute has to be maximized. No time can be wasted dwelling on the UNI loss, hard though that will be given the issues of effort Miles had after the game. All eyes on the future.
“It’s nice having a bye week, we can focus on us. We can work on our problems and our mental mistakes and our line issues. It can take us back up to speed to get ready for Illinois State,” Sewall said.
A bye week is usually thought of, at least by fans, as an afterthought. This is an exception. It’s the most important week of the year for the Sycamores.
ISU finally has time. It absolutely cannot waste it.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org