Odds are, at some point Saturday, you will end up next to somebody at a sports bar or sitting next to somebody at the ball game and they will joke around about obscure little Indiana State. This article is designed to prepare you to totally wow them (or at least make them uncomfortable) with your deep knowledge of The Sycamores. I’m going to try to stick to the interesting, or at least funny, points.
Their mascot is some trees: It is. And good for them. Sometimes you have to branch out.
Legend: If something in your brain is saying “Why does Indiana State ring a bell?” it might be because it is the alma mater of NBA legend Larry Bird. If it’s not for this football game OR Larry Bird, then you and Indiana State have got something personal going on and that’s not my business.
Most fun fact: Indiana is home to the world’s largest Sycamore stump!!!! But that’s in Kokomo. This school is in Terra Haute. While learning this, I also learned that Indiana is home to a bunch of “World’s Largest” attractions, including a ball of paint (?), a candle, a PRESERVED STEER …like, what is going on in Indiana? There’s a whole blog called “Big Things In Indiana.” Don’t even get me started on Muncie’s Paul Bunyan statue.
New Coach: The Sycamores are lead by first year coach Curt Mallory, who comes to Indiana State from Wyoming, where he coached defensive backs. Before Wyoming, he coached the same position under…you guessed it…Vols defensive line coach, Brady Hoke. A good portion of the ISU staff has coached or played under Hoke. So, if the Vols goof around and make Indiana State famous on Saturday, build your conspiracy theories there.
Don’t Count On It: The Sycamores lost their season opener, letting a lead slip away late against bitter rival…some other tiny school. Anyways, The Trees are 0-1, and haven’t first-cracked the Win column on the road since 1984.
QB Battle: Tennessee isn’t the only school with two quarterbacks trolling for snaps. The Sycness, like The Vols, are in the midst of a QB battle between a junior and a freshman. Unlike Tennessee, the Sycamores DID put in their Freshman during last week’s game, and they LOST so HUSH.
Booker: The Trees have a somewhat legit weapon in redshirt Senior running back LeMonte Booker. After missing last season with an injury, Booker opened 2017 last week with a career high of 154 rushing yards. He’s had a productive career at ISU and seems to be interfacing well with the transition from the Spread offense to Mallory’s pro-style philosophies. Booker currently leads the Missouri Valley Conference in rushing yards. Unfortunately, Tennessee is not Eastern Illinois State (Tony Romo’s alma mater), so LeMonte’s climb into the Sycamore record books might hit a speed bump in the shape of some SEC talent this week. That said, there’s still no proof Tennessee can hold a team under 1,000 yards rushing, so I guess we’ll see.
Against The Rush: As difficult and weird as it was to process Tennessee giving up infinity rushing yards and still winning against Georgia Tech, The Tree Team had the exact opposite experience. Indiana State only allowed a suffocating 76 yards and still managed to lose, so nothing makes sense. It’ll be interesting to see the Sycamore run D against a stout UT offensive line and Junior RB John MGK Kelly. And by interesting, I mean Indiana State is gonna have a really, really long day.
All in all, I like seeing teams like this come duke it out with big programs. Tennessee should get to rest, experiment and have a pretty fun afternoon. We’ll finally see “gamer” Jarrett Guarantano, but because it’s against an FCS high school, every attempted analysis of his performance will include “but it was against an FCS high school.” Still, getting him live snaps matters. The real hope Saturday is that the coaches don’t spend much time with the first team on the field, particularly along the defensive front. Those guys played one million downs Monday and need to recover, while their backups need live snaps. Every generation of this team has a horror story about losing a star in a meaningless game (most recently, Cam Sutton gone for the year because of the Ohio Bobcats). This game must be quickly bagged and then treated as a chance to cultivate quality depth at every position. If they could, in the process, score 1000 points to keep the comment section under control, well that’d be just great.