by Kevin Massoth, Daily Vidette Senior Staff
Baseball is usually considered the game of inches, but for the ISU football team the past couple weeks, an inch or two may have decided the outcome of two games.
On Sept. 17, the Redbirds traveled to Youngstown State where multiple long passing plays in the secondary were barely completed for the Penguins over outstretched ISU hands, ultimately leading to a 34-27 YSU win.
But despite getting beat deep in critical situations, the Redbird defensive backs kept their heads in Saturday’s game against South Dakota State, and when put in the same situations, they were able to tip passes and knock the ball away, helping ISU to a 20-13 win at home.
“[YSU’s] quarterback made some great throws and we just couldn’t knock the ball out,” ISU head coach and defensive coordinator Brock Spack said. “But last week our technique was just a little better, and we finished plays.”
To Spack, the difference of the two games was literally a play or two in the secondary, and against SDSU, the Redbirds were able to extend the extra inch and deflect the ball away.
“The plays we had given up in the secondary [against YSU] weren’t like the guys were wide open,” Spack said. “Our guys were hanging all over them, so we were very close to making some big plays. That’s the way it is in college football. When you play a good team, the margin of error is very slim.”
ISU’s secondary was a problem area last season when the Redbird defense gave up 39.6 points per game, often times the result of big plays down the field.
But prior to this season, Spack took over as defensive coordinator and his personnel drastically changed in the secondary, getting much younger.
The Redbird starters are freshman cornerback Mike Banks, junior free safety Ben Ericksen, sophomore strong safety Matt Goldsmith and senior cornerback Otis Merrill. Freshman Steve Nelson, freshman Tevin Allen, sophomore Marcus Harris, sophomore Ryan Givens and freshman Dontae McCoy also contribute for ISU.
Although ISU’s secondary is young, Spack and the ISU coaching staff never allowed their players to feel sorry for themselves because nobody else was going to.
“It’s time for you to grow up,” Spack said. “Nobody out here is going to feel sorry for you when you cross these white lines and get on this green field. Everybody’s going to keep taking shots at you until you start breaking them up.”
The tough love has helped the Redbird secondary progress quickly, and the young players played like veterans on Saturday.
Banks was named the Missouri Valley Football Conference Newcomer of the Week thanks to his seven tackles and fumble recovery against SDSU.
Desptie Banks’ small stature at 5-foot-7, Spack knew the type of contributor he was getting when he offered Banks a scholarship out of high school last year.
“We gave [Banks] a scholarship not only for his athleticism but because he’s such a hard worker, and he’s a great person and a great student,” Spack said. “He doesn’t say much, but he tells you a lot just by the way he carries himself, and those kids are usually the best players.”
According to Banks, the Redbird secondary does not worry much about its youth but instead focuses on the task at hand each week.
“What some of our coaches say is after the first game you’re not a rookie anymore,” Banks said. “We just put the youth behind us and come out here and try to make plays.”
He added, “When it comes down to it, you’re just playing football. You’ve got to go up against the guy across from you and try to beat him.”