Run defense the focus of IU’s bye-week work

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.”


  1. Western Ky. beat Navy last week. Held ’em to 7 points and 162 yds. total offense (86 yds. rushing). The IUD is not a talent issue. Of course IU doesn’t stack up to the OSUs and the Alabamas player-wise, but you can’t tell me that IU’s players are a less talented bunch than Western Ky.’s. The IUD defensive staff needs a wholesale house cleaning. Unless there is some miraculous turnaround on defense, how does KW justify keeping this staff for year 4?

  2. I’m with you, Davis. I don’t see a drastic turnaround happening in the near future. I just can’t see Coach Mallory being back next year. The good coaches can at least create some sort of scheme to make the most of what talent they have to work with. As stated, this isn’t a talent issue. There is enough talent on the D to be a respectable squad, this is no doubt a coaching issue. CKW is a smart guy, I’m sure he’s aware of what needs to happen.

  3. davis, you just made my day! But you must be careful expressing your disdain for IU’s defensive coaching staff. You might find yourself on the receiving end of some critical rebuttals from Tsao. He might accuse you of being disloyal, rushing to judgement, or simply failing to understand that rebuilding IU football is a long term process and that all those hard working defensive coaches simply need more time, as in at least two more years. He’ll caution you not to rush to judgement because Mallory and company inherited a team devoid of defensive talent. You’ll be reminded that this is only Mallory’s third recruiting class (“second full recruiting class”). You see, by suggesting that IU’s defensive coaches should be part of a “wholesale house cleaning,” according to Tsao and a few others, you have exposed yourself as being a person who is unable to recognize “the plan” that Wilson has for building IU football into a competitive program. That plan takes time, lots of time, so just be patient. You’ll be told that these terrible defensive performances, like allowing Navy to set records for rushing yards in a game, rushing yards per carry, etc. will not affect recruiting, will not affect attendance, will not affect real IU fan morale and will not affect the alumni’s financial support of IU athletics. It will be implied that IU football is a special case, not like other college football programs, and that it just takes considerably longer for IU to turn its football program around. And besides, most importantly, it will be said that IU football is turning the program around “the right way.” I assume that means they’re not cheating (violating NCAA rules), not recruiting players that can’t handle IU’s academic requirements, but aside from those obvious no-nos, I’m not really sure what “the right way” really means.

    Then lastly, if you suggest that IU’s defensive coaching staff undergo “a wholesale housecleaning,” you’ll be accused of wanting to throw those men, their wives and their children out into the street and ruin their professional and financial lives. Because goodness knows, if you lose your job as an assistant football coach at IU, you have no other opportunities for employment. Heads-up, Davis.

  4. Note: Sorry for the double posting of the comment to follow..The first attempt was placed on the wrong thread. Dustin- Feel free to remove the initial one.


    You can’t judge any team by one game in the first weeks of the season. And if some fans continue in firing squad fashion to judge Wilson’s staff and IU football in the 3rd year of building something from 30 years of near comatose, you’ll be the judge Memorial’s final death sentence.

    Again, this isn’t basketball where one or two “everything hinges” recruits can catapult your team, change the entire local recruiting landscape, and take you from a middle of the pack Big 10 team to a top echelon squad almost overnight.

    Navy could have had a “let down” game against WKU…

    Did anyone watch the 49ers two weeks ago? Are the 49ers that bad or are the Colts that unstoppable? After the Bears shellacking at the hand of the Lions yesterday, should the fans now reconsider bringing back Lovie Smith?

    We ask for coaches heads so frequently anymore…Yes, it often works. But why does it necessarily work initially(the first years the new assistant or head man that comes in on the heels another coach’s rebuilding efforts)? Because often the guy getting fired has left the incoming coach his next level of stronger talent and a maturing team that was within a very short window of getting over the hump.

    Indiana is getting closer to breaking through. You can feel it in a product that is far more full of life than anything to my recollection a program that just lacked sideline energy.

    There will always be upsets. Sometimes it’s difficult to absorb the heart of positive change when the anomalies of losses where wins are assumed and big upset victories where defeats the expected prognosis can confuse and distort the perceptions of latent and positive momentum not always indicative by final scores.

    The progress at IU football will come from the confidence we attach to our cheers. To play coach Wilson and ask for heads at the end of the season seems to only sabotage the faith in the man we all claimed was our best shot at turning a long and lifeless football program around. Let the head coach decide where accountability begins and fails amongst his own hires rather than act the hungry Pit Bull and gnaw at the underbelly and undermine.

    I’m beginning to think there is something about Wilson that is threatening to certain so-called fans. I wonder if it’s an insecurity that was very similar when Kngiht used to run Hoosier basketball? He won’t take crap and we’ve already seen he’s confident enough with his vision and rebuilding time tables to not accept cute reporters that want to make IU their outlet for jokes and ridicule. I see these doubts thrown at his staff as calculated shots to soon be going after the the man in charge. It’s seems a very seedy and backstabbing way to turn the hopes into questions pertaining to Wilson’s judgment in personnel.

    What will be gained by undermining his judgment and building more revolving doors where heads role at our whim?

  5. Davis, …for me the point is there is a time to bring up the issue of changing personnel and there is a time when it is self-defeating and demoralizing for everyone involved to whine and moan. Common sense alone should tell us this is the worse moment to raise the point, absolutely self-defeating, which is exactly the tread mill we’ve been in since…since…ahhh, we ‘fired’ Mallory Sr.

    Maybe someone should fire us as fans. We are really, re-a-ll-y bad!!

    A rhetorical question…you’re a smart guy. Do you think that CKW knows he’s got to deal with the D problem if he is to achieve his projects goals? Seems like a reasonably intelligent man with some awareness of circumstances. Don’t you think?

    A deeper, more thoughtful question. Do you think that he understands that effective D and all that goes with it are an important part of the project he’s undertaken if he (we) are to be successful? Wonder if he (CKW) has thought of that?

    One more rhetorical question. As firemen go up the stairs in a blazing inferno, the ceiling above falling, parts of the steps in front collapsing…is that the best moment to bring up the tactical/strategic qualities of the Engine vice commander? Or, if a pilot, and your plane right engine just swallowed thirty-eight birds and started sputtering, is that the best moment to discuss the merits of the co-pilot’s knowledge of engine horse power at the next take-off?

    I probably hurt more than the next guy when we lose. But, crying is not part of my personality (that bothers a lot of people). I make do with what I make do and whatever it is, it will be good enough to beat the next guy who challenges it.

    I suspect we have gotten used to losing and may have forgotten how to learn to learn to win.

  6. Davis, had not seen other posts in this thread prior to writing you my thoughts (#8) on your comment. (By the way, I do think Podunker has pretty much summarized what I think of the loser mentality that had plagued IU football. He represents it accurately enough to capture my perception of the ‘loser’s mentality’ that has plagued the Hoosiers. And, he symbolizes so, so well.

    I am curious about one think in your post. Somehow your post seems to have missed the fact that very, very early in the Navy-WKU game, the Midshipman’s QB who shredded and controlled our defense in Bloomington (Reynolds, I believe) was hurt and taken out of the game and did not return. (I understand he may be out a while, sad for Navy…he’s a great player). The entire offense is one completely dependent on timing, reading the defense and technique; so its my guess losing him was (and is) a pretty catastrophic loss for Navy. I strongly believe that without him, we win by three touchdowns since Navy’s best defense was also, clearly, their offense and its ability to keep the ball away from our offense.

    But, I will readily admit that we will never know, will we? Nevertheless, wthe reality is that we lost though including the fact in the discussion does have some merit.

    Anyway, don’t take my commentary as anything but friendly bantering, the way it is intended. And, enjoy, enjoy your status as Podunker’s ‘bestest’ ‘newest’ friend. I’m not sure I can endure and survive the deep disappointment of having lost the warmth of his deep and true love.

  7. Harvard, great, great comment. That’s why I say there is an instinct for sports (competitive) that is necessary and which you seem to clearly have. But, it may be a shooting star of a comet and awfully deep for some who will read it.

  8. Excuse me for showing my age, but I think our 33 LP’s have a scratch in them and keep repeating themselves.

    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Albert Einstein

    How can you expect the run defense to change with the same schemes or same style of players from the 116th ranked defense last year?

    #42 and #34 were and are not Big Ten quality LB’s last year, and the coaching staff reproduced younger versions with #2 and #44 this year. They do not shed blocks, fill gaps properly or read plays on their initial steps. Once they are pushed to the ground or away from play, they are good at getting up fast though.

    The coaches have moved #42 outside and hardly play #34, replacing him with smaller, less physical players (27,44).

    Watch how Big Ten LB’s are supposed to play the next few weeks (PSU, MSU, UM). Strong run stoppers who can fill gaps, shed blocks and are excellent tacklers.

    There is plenty of time to right this ship, but stubbornness from the staff has already lost valuable practice time. Time to remove the scratched record and give something/someone else a chance.

  9. Not hard to understand the WKU game when you insert the small bit of criteria about the Navy QB was a spectator for 3/4 of the game.
    mack truck you are paraphrasing what a handful of us have been preaching, the IU D is in need of better talent. Strides have been made since KW’s 1st year but there has been some patchwork JUCOS(#34, #42) to get us an inch better for a short period of transition. Now you are seeing true Freshman Simmons #2, Oliver #44 along with a JUCO red shirt JR. Funderburk #27 getting significant playing time over veteran upperclassmen Dahlstrom, Michalek and Alexander. Do not forget 1 of the best LB’s is out for the season, Hoobler. That is progress. IU has 18 LB’s on the roster, 8 are Freshman or RS Freshman. 2 of those 8 are already better than 10 upperclassmen. This staff knows what they are doing.

  10. Mack- “Sanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results.” Woody Hayes (from an old 78 rpm)

  11. There are two related issues with our defense. The first issue is talent which includes strength and conditioning. We have come a long way there. We have a long way to go but we aren’t getting burned quite as much and our guys aren’t playing the fourth quarter with their hands on their hips just waiting for the final gun as before. The second issue is coaching and I agree that we are skill deficient in that area which is to say that the talent we do have is sub-optimized in several areas. I suspect Coach Mallory will not be back next season despite his relationship with IU. I just do not see the fit and I think he would be happier as a HC at a MAC type school.

  12. Respectfully HC…I must be at a different stadium or practice facility since August. I don’t see progress in run defense and think it went backwards in 2012 with JUCO additions of #42 & #34.

    Since this thread was about run defense, LB’s must read initial keys,shed blocks,fill gaps and be strong tacklers. I don’t see that with #42,#2,#44,#27,#34. The vets you mentioned can perform those fundamentals better as I witnessed in practices, but have not been given the opportunity in games to help fix this issue. Maybe after another team rolls up 440 on the ground? Wisconsin had how many yards rushing last year?

    TT…when things are working, you are correct, keep it going until isn’t working anymore as Coaches’ Hayes, Knight and Counsilman; but when they are not…?

  13. Tsao- your research into the Navy-WKU game is welcome and relevant; certainly losing the starting QB crippled Navy’s offense. But I don’t get why it’s some kind of crime to criticize anything re: IU football on this forum. No one pays attention to this forum outside of its regulars and even were the audience broader, so what? I presume Coach Wilson is smart enough to ignore blabbermouths (blabberkeyboards?) like me, but if my whining and moaning somehow alter the course of IU football, this program is in more trouble than I thought.

  14. mack truck sounds pretty knowledgeable…like he’s an insider. Hey, you guys don’t think it’s really CKW on the downlow, do you?

  15. Davis, in your case I wasn’t trying to be a smart ass. I was trying to think through the meaning of the Navy/WKU score which surprised me greatly. I thinke Reynolds’ injury explained quite a bit, as does Petrino’s coaching and how he may view the importance of national level games such as the Navy (A way back)

    As to the last sentence, I was trying to lighten up and be a tad humorous. No offense intended.

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