It’s an impossible task, but whenever Indiana State plays up against a FBS team, the thing I try to project is how an equivalent performance would match up in a Missouri Valley Football Conference game.
After all, that’s what matters. Upsets like South Dakota’s win over Minnesota and James Madison’s victory over Virginia Tech (someone put Boise State under observation) aside, most of the FCS vs. FBS matchups are for one thing … the payday.
ISU got $325,000 for its efforts in Saturday’s 40-7 loss at Cincinnati. What it also got was some hope for the future.
Was it a breathtaking performance by the Sycamores? Not necessarily. ISU didn’t come out and surprise Cincinnati with a early lead. The Sycamores really only had the Bearcats on their heels for a four-minute stretch at the end of the second quarter.
But in a way, the fact that no one really played over their heads or that there was no super-human effort for ISU to be within one score at halftime is a good thing for the Sycamores. ISU did what it was capable of doing and the capability allowed them to be within five points at the break against the two-time Big East Conference champions.
A normal effort that produces results beats an extraordinary effort required to produce the same result every time.
So how did Cincinnati manage a 33-point win and a 28-point third quarter? Some of it was having the horses to do it, but a lot of it was predicated on ISU mistakes. Missed coverages, botched snaps, dropped balls.
“You can’t make the mistakes we made and step up to the Big East. You’ve got to protect the ball, you have to execute, you have to do all of those things. You don’t give yourself a chance when you don’t do those things,” ISU coach Trent Miles said.
Those types of mistakes are frustrating in the extreme for the Sycamores, but it’s also not a matter of physical talent. Mistakes like that are mental, and in Miles’ view, are easily dealt with.
“The negatives from today are all correctable. It’s one thing to go out there, and we’ve been in this situation in the past, where we went out there and there was nothing we could do, we got our butts beat. Everything we did today, we did to ourselves. We can take that and fix it. There’s nothing about our negatives that aren’t fixable. That’s a good thing,” Miles said.
There were other good things too.
It appears that ISU will finally have a viable passing game. Quarterback Ronnie Fouch completed 22 of 38 pass attempts for 161 yards and a touchdown. He had no interceptions and was sacked just twice against a big Cincinnati defensive line that dictated the tenor of the game in many respects.
Fouch completed passes to 11 receivers on Saturday … that’s more than the entire output from the 2009 season.
ISU’s secondary was victimized a few times — freshman corner Johnny Towalid was beat twice on UC touchdowns and there was a blown coverage on a key third-quarter third down — but Towalid, corner Larry Burnett, corner Larry Carter and safeties Larry King and Kamerin Mitchell also put bodies on UC’s talented receiving corps and they never got into a consistent rhythm. ISU’s ends — particularly Ben Obaseki — also did a good job putting pressure on UC quarterback Zach Collaros.
Those were some good things and there were some questions that remain unanswered. ISU’s running game amassed 371 yards last week against Division II St. Joseph’s and managed just 93 against Cincinnati — 67 of those yards were gained when the game was out of hand in the fourth quarter.
Cincinnati’s defensive line deserves a lot of the credit for that. The temptation is to say ISU won’t face a line like that again, and perhaps they won’t, but there’s some good front fours in the MVFC too … Southern Illinois jumps immediately to mind. If ISU achieves balance offensively, they will be far tougher to handle than in recent seasons.
ISU special teams are still a question mark. Cory Little’s two kickoffs reached the 22 and the 18-yard lines. If that can’t be remedied the field position disadvantage is going to put pressure on the defense. There was also a botched punt snap that led to a UC touchdown. Davis has punted well after taking the position in late August, averaging 36.3 yards on Saturday, but understandably, he looks like someone who took over a specialist’s role just three weeks ago.
So to answer my own question … would ISU’s effort on Saturday be good enough in a MVFC game?
It was pretty close. And pretty close is a lot better than where the Sycamores have been in recent seasons.
“I like the way we fought today. Nobody gave up and that’s going to be key in the conference games. I feel like we did that today and it’ll help us,” Fouch said.
Time will tell. But the Sycamores seem to be moving in the right direction.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Terre Haute Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out Golden’s blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.