Indiana took its bye week to focus on itself, to take a refresher course on fundamentals, to self-evaluate and figure out where it needs to adjust and improve.
And to no one’s surprise including their own, the Hoosiers found the area in most dire need of repair to be the run defense. That’s been a weak spot for several years, including last season when they finished 116th out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision in the category. Four games into this season, they are yet again last in the Big Ten against the run, surrendering 247.8 yards per game. That’s 64.6 yards per game more than Purdue, the No. 11 team against the run out of the 12 in the Big Ten.
At times the Hoosiers have been overpowered, but Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said that just as often, the players have made mistakes and been out of position and displayed symptoms of miscommunication.
“We’ve looked very hard just conceptually to make sure that what we’re doing, our kids understand our calls, our alignments and where to go and how to play the structure of the defense right,” Wilson said. “I don’t think we’ve played structurally sound and as clean as we need to. And I think, again, you go through and you got some young guys and you want to do some things to, quote, take advantage or sometimes maybe even disguise what you can’t do. If you’re not careful, you overscheme. And so to me we’ve had significant amount of miscommunication, misalignment, and we’re not as sound as we need to be, versus we’re getting totally blocked all the time.”
Indiana defensive coordinator Doug Mallory said he’s seen the same things and that he and the rest of his staff have to take responsibility for some of that, and said that was especially true in the loss to Missouri.
“We gotta do a better job coaching,” Mallory said. “We weren’t sound in some of our gap control. We weren’t sound in some of our fits. I think that’s something we’ve really stressed and put a lot of work and emphasis on this past bye week. But again, for us to be successful defensively, you can not let them come in here and run the football like that.”
And as Wilson said, poor run defense looks even worse if it is the result of failing to execute the game plan. Mallory said he also saw evidence of players being either unsure of their assignments or freelancing to try to make a play. Much of that could be attributed to youthful exuberance, he said, but it still needs to be corrected.
“Sometimes with young kids, I think they see too much,” Mallory said. “You try to put them in a position and teach them where their vision supposed to be, then their eyes aren’t going to lie. If your eyes are where they’re supposed to be, now it’s just a matter of knowing how I react to that visual key, where I need to fit, how I need to react. If my eyes are seeing the big picture and trying to see everything that’s going on, you’re seeing too much and you’re not going to be able to play your responsibilities. It’s been a big focus on ,’here’s your alignment, here’s where your vision needs to be, and this is where you’re fitting.’ Again, I think once kids get confident with that, the game slows down, it allows them to play with a lot more confidence and it allows them to play faster. It’s going back to basics. Alignment, key, reaction, play fast and play physical. That’s really what we’ve tried to go back to.”
– The bye week has allowed Indiana to heal, and just about all of the players who were injured other than those who are out for the season will be ready to go for Saturday’s noon game against Penn State. Wilson said left guard Bernard Taylor has practiced after missing the last two games with an ankle injury, but said that he will have a real battle with Jake Reed for that spot.
Right tackle Peyton Eckert is another story, however. Eckert suffered a back injury just before the season started. He has practiced, but the injury has continued to act up and Wilson said there is consideration underway for him to take a redshirt season.
“He just hurt his back,” Wilson said. “And it was a running thing where he just took off running to the left and just glitched his he’s got a low back. And so it’s a deal that we’ve tried to settle down, but just with the inflammation. I believe it’s called L5 S1 sciatic nerve, if you want to get doctor, which is not me. But he’s got a bad back. We’ve tried to quiet it down, we’ve done some things that they do with the epidurals, try to help it, but he’s not been able to come back and practice at a strength level that he can do it. If he does too much work, then he really can’t go the next day. So it’s just getting that thing quieted down and strong. It’s not a it doesn’t appear to be a major deal, but it has not quieted down where he’s able to practice like he needs to. And he’s in a position where he’s playing where there’s a lot of strain in that area because you’re playing in a bent knee leverage position where there’s a lot of strain in your low back. It’s kind of a tough deal for him.”
– Indiana’s concerns with Penn State are similar to the ones they had a year ago. Wide receiver Allen Robinson caught 10 passes for 197 yards and three touchdowns in last year’s game and now ranks second in the conference to Wisconsin’s Jared Abbrederis in both receptions (26) and receiving yards (448)
“His skill set is very, very good. A basketball guy that I think understands space. I think was a very talented basketball player in high school, so I think his feel of space and leverage and how to work and how to make some acrobatic plays even though I don’t think he’s maybe the biggest receiver, he does have some substance so he can make competitive plays. He’s a quality complete football player receiver. There might be faster guys, there might be bigger guys, but when he puts it all together, he’s one of the better receivers in the country.”