Knorr looking to turn defense around

Kevin Wilson’s demand for change is resonating with his defensive coordinator.

Brian Knorr echoed his boss on Tuesday, calling Indiana’s season-opening defensive performance embarrassing and unacceptable. Now, Knorr is determined to fix it and prove that the near-debacle was only an aberration.

“We need to be much better, obviously,” Knorr said. “That’s unacceptable to go out and give up that many yards and that many points, especially in your opener. As far as our kids, they’re playing their butts off. We just have to get them in the right places and play better defensively.”

Knorr diagnosed many of the problems as a product of youth and miscommunication after Indiana surrendered 659 yards and 8.4 yards per play in the 48-47 win over Southern Illinois. The Hoosiers played 10 true freshmen, including half on defense. Three of the other five appeared on special teams and two more played at receiver.

All but one of the five defensive freshmen played in the secondary. Freshmen safety Jonathan Crawford and corner Andre Brown each had their moments, but they were also playing their first game without a defensive backfield anchor like Chase Dutra.

“I think there were some young guys in there (that struggled) with some of the unbalanced and different situations of college football you come up with,” Knorr said. “You’re not going to be able to show everything each week. (SIU) did a couple new things that took us a little time to identify and tell our guys on the sideline what they’re doing to make adjustments. So I think continuing that communication (is important). There were a couple times we didn’t communicate well enough and that’s what we’re trying to fix this week.”

But how quickly can Indiana expect to find a remedy? At least publicly, the Hoosiers think they’re on the right track.

Bandit Zack Shaw said on Monday the team addressed defensive communication when they returned to the football facility on Sunday, and Knorr added after Tuesday’s practice that freshmen are being asked to make a lot of the checks and calls during every phase of practice this week.

So as the Hoosiers prepare for their second game of the season Saturday against Florida International, part of the task for IU defensive coaches is finding a balance between relying on freshmen at key positions and not overwhelming them.

“We have to simplify it for them because maybe they can do it in practice when they know the script and know what’s coming, but Saturday you don’t know what’s coming. Especially with a high tempo, pace offense like we saw. As coaches, we have to simplify things for our defense, especially for our young guys.”

The defense figures to be better against FIU if for no other reason than it will be deeper. Starting defensive tackle Darius Latham is expected back, as is his backup, Ralph Green III, and bandit Greg Gooch. Although there’s no update on the status of Chase Dutra (undisclosed injury) and Rashard Fant (possible concussion) both players were listed as starters on IU’s latest depth chart, which was released Tuesday afternoon.

“We’ll be excited to get some of those young men back,” Wilson said. “They’re an integral part of our defense, but by no means is that a huge part (of why the defense played poorly). We had plenty of guys out there, good players, and we needed to play better.”

Oliver lets loose
It just comes naturally. That’s how Marcus Oliver explains his knack for knocking the football away from opposing ball handlers.

Oliver forced two fumbles in Saturday’s game, giving him five in only 15 career contests. He’s continued a trend that began back in Ohio, where he combined for seven forced fumbles between his last two years at Hamilton High.

“I’ve just always been a person that went after the ball,” Oliver said. “I’ve been pretty good at it in high school and here, too.”

Oliver also set a career high with 10 tackles, but it was mostly his ability to strip the ball from Southern Illinois that drew positive attention. He forced his first fumble of the day two minutes into the second quarter, helping Indiana flip the turnover into a 23-yard rushing score from Jordan Howard.

“A big key to success in winning any game is to cause more turnovers than the other team,” Oliver said. “Our emphasis this whole camp and the last year has been to get more turnovers than the other team and get the ball back to the offense. That takes points off the board and gives us points. That’s the biggest key.”

Strong start at bandit for Shaw
Zack Shaw has appeared in 37 consecutive games for Indiana, but Saturday was his first start at the bandit spot.

Shaw, who took the starting assignment after Nick Mangieri was moved to defensive end during the spring, made four tackles, including three solo stops. He and Mangieri were the only defensive players to receive winning grades in the postgame coaches evaluation.

“I feel like I came out pretty good,” Shaw said. “I had like 70 snaps, so I felt like I did pretty good. I feel like I left a few plays out there, so I definitely want to get those back this week.”

9 comments

  1. I’m confident that with the commitment to improve coupled with renewed focus and getting some more experienced players back, the defensive performance will get better. I also agree with several other posters here who say that we do not have to be good defensively but just adequate to win six games. What is concerning is that at least 2 of those six wins will need to be in conference and that’s scary. The B1G is back and to get 2 wins, assuming we only need 2 wins in conference, is going to mean that we cannot sustain key injuries or off the field issues that could suspend players plus our coaching has got to be spot on…doable, definitely…but we need to be hitting on all cylinders….a lot of pressure on a young group!

  2. The Hoosiers better get their defense in order or they won’t win another game. That was the most pathetic performance on defense that I have seen in years. Even an average defense may not get this team to a bowl game. I sure hope I am wrong.

  3. I have a hard time using the words “I’m confident” in a sentence that includes “IU’s defense.” But I’ll give it a try. I’m confident IU’s defense will get better because it simply can’t get any worse than it was last Saturday. When you’re at the absolute rock-bottom of your performance range, there is no where to go but up.

  4. I’m trying to remain positive and I did see some good things, even on defense. For example, we’ve gotten faster and even when we are out of position which is a lot, we’re able to close faster which gives us a chance to make a play. The challenge is how much can we expect the defense to improve. For example, if the metric is yards allowed and we set a standard of 300, that would be a 50% improvement, which may not be realistic, is that even enough? Getting 6 wins is doable but despite the progress, our program is still so very fragile and vulnerable that any one negative event can put us in a tail spin. Yet, if we don’t get 6 wins, then is it reasonable to say the progress is stymied? I’ve been a college FB fan for a lot of years and I’ve read a lot about turnarounds…gotta say…ours has been by far the most challenging.

  5. Im sure they will be better. How much better is still in question. Knorr needs to get these kids on the same page or just a few returning starters back in the rotation won’t help. We should be good enough to win Saturday, but how much more than that on Defense remains to be seen.

  6. I sincerely appreciate your optimism, iufan23. It is a breath of fresh air on this site.

    Yes, IU’s defense will be better. But the question is, will they be “better enough”? IU can’t afford to lose to FIU at home. In fact, they can’t really afford to lose any of their pre-conference games! If IU wants to go to a bowl game, if Wilson wants to keep his job, if the team has any chance of generating improved fan support, it needs to beat FIU this Saturday. For true Hoosier Football fans, I think it’s going to be pins and needles like this, wondering if the defense will show up, each week, for the remainder of the season.

  7. I’m confident the defense will get better. If nothing else we will have more depth from our players that were suspended. It was an embarrassment though.

  8. Defense is about tackling and pursuit to the ball at full speed. I saw too many players over running the ball which gives runners a lane to gain yards. The other issue is recognizing formations and covering all receivers. I know they will improve this week and those “suspended” players better step up and prove how much they missed playing.

    On offense I wish Coach Wilson and Johns would add motion and a lot of misdirection. It makes it tough on the opposing defense and keeping them from gang tackling. Our running game looks good but could pickup more yards with misdirection and slow down the defensive rush.

  9. We have had a running joke in our home for many years, that IU must score a minimum of 39 points to have a chance to win any football game. I send and receive texts from family when we hit 39. This does not mean we will win, just that we have a chance. After many years of ruined weekends I stopped my season tickets to IU football games. It seems like regardless of what IU does, we always put that same team on the field. Our results are often bad and sometimes heartbreaking, yet I still watch IU football on TV. Why? I love IU I’m just hoping for 39 pts this Saturday.

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