Trust me, you’ll like it
By: Andrew Vailliencourt
The defense won the game for Indiana in its first game of the 2014 season.Wait—the defense? IU’s defense, not the other team’s? Yes, really.
Despite the fact they played Indiana State, the Hoosier defense looked good. In fact, not just good, they looked dominant. That is probably the first time I have ever equated the IU defense with the word good, let alone dominant. But the Hoosiers earned it. IU gave up only 170 total yards, and 83 of them came in the first quarter. Tackles that would have been missed last year were made. Dumb penalties that would’ve been taken last year were not made.
Now you might say, well it was just Indiana State? How much can we read into the defense’s performance? The answer is a lot more than you may think. In last year’s home opener the Hoosiers gave up 35 points and 306 yards against the Sycamores. They looked bad. The 10 points the Hoosiers allowed Saturday all came off of turnovers that set up short fields for ISU.
Last year, IU hardly ever got to the opposing quarterback. Saturday, they had four sacks, with three coming from senior Bobby Richardson. They had 20 all of last season.
Brian Knorr’s new 3-4 defensive scheme has given this defense some much-needed life. Junior banshee Nick Mangieri said the defense has a lot more confidence than last year and is more together. Sophomore safety Antonio Allen—who missed most of last year with an injury— lit up multiple Sycamores, including a huge hit in the first quarter. He’s going to be an impact player on this defense. When asked about the hit after the game, Allen smiled so big you would have thought he won the lottery.
The key to winning in the Big Ten is having a great defense. Just ask Ohio State and Michigan how they liked playing Michigan State last year. I’m not going to call IU’s defense great, and they’re certainly not the best in the conference. But they did improve; they showed the kind of progress Hoosier fans have been looking for since Coach Kevin Wilson took over. They showed they can make stops and they showed that they can be an average defense in the Big Ten. Last year we grew accustomed to IU giving up touchdown after touchdown (Navy game anyone?) and had to rely on the offense to get wins. That will be different for two reasons.
One: the Hoosier defense will be able to make stops. They can’t be worse than last year. They just can’t. (Wisconsin game anyone?) Reason number two: IU’s offense is not the same as it was last year.
Junior quarterback Nate Sudfeld looked bad Saturday. This wasn’t entirely his fault though, because the wide receivers looked bad as well. Sudfeld was forced to scramble and run more times than fans would hope, especially since we no longer have Tre Roberson to come in should Sudfeld get hurt. Receivers were not able to get open, forcing Sudfeld to take a couple sacks. In last year’s opener, Sudfeld went 12-for-17 and 219 yards, throwing for four touchdowns and one interception. This year he went 11-for-17 and 111 yards, throwing for no touchdowns and one interception. This year, Sudfeld has no Cody Latimer, Kofi Hughes, or Ted Bolser. These three will be missed much more than fans think.
The IU offense won’t be able to rely on huge pass plays all the time. Sudfeld won’t throw for four touchdowns a game. The catch, however, is that junior running back Tevin Coleman could run for four touchdowns a game. The offense won’t be the same as last year, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.
IU ran the ball 69 times Saturday for a total of 455 yards. Coleman went for 247 yards—a a career high—and two touchdowns, while senior D’Angelo Roberts ran for his own career high of 129 yards and added a touchdown. 69 rushing plays to 18 passing plays—that’s certainly a change from last year’s split against ISU: 54 running plays to 30 passing plays.
Saturday’s victory was a much-needed one for the Hoosiers. And it showed us a team that will be something IU football fans have not seen in a while: a balanced team. So while it won’t be as exciting to watch sometimes compared to last season, balanced will be better—and trust me, you’ll like it.
Follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewVcourt