Recapping Wake Forest and looking ahead to Ohio State #iufb

It was Indiana’s most encouraging defensive effort of the season, and to linebacker Tegray Scales, it came at the most important time.

The first three games of IU’s perfect non-conference run provided glimpses of potential for a beleaguered defense. There were takeaways, key stops and a concentration on playing faster and more aggressively. Saturday’s win at Wake Forest saw a confluence of each of those factors, and as the Hoosiers prepare to host No. 1 Ohio State this weekend, they finally have positive defensive momentum to spin forward.

“It’s a confidence boost for our team,” Scales said. “Especially going into a game that we’re going into this week.”

Kevin Wilson and his coaching staff partially viewed Saturday’s win through a lens of what is still missing. Despite a season-best six sacks, Wilson says the Hoosiers are still too slow at the line of scrimmage, they’re too slow in their blitzing and they’re not as assertive or as aggressive as they need to be. And yet Indiana (4-0) has its best takeoff under Wilson — its best start to a season in 25 years — and a better sense of the direction its defense can move toward as Big Ten play begins.

While the overall optics of the defense show a unit that is still far from complete, the gradual progression during a crucial non-conference sweep give Wilson hope that the growth has only begun.

“To me that’s encouraging,” Wilson said. “We’re not playing our best, but yet we’re still seeing a lot of good things. So when you’re playing bad, you can always get better. Well, we’re playing pretty good in spots, and if we could just kind of keep syncing and working and getting it together (we’ll be OK).”

Indiana’s defense came out swinging in Saturday’s win at Wake Forest, starting the game with three consecutive three-and-outs and bringing life to a previously stagnant, if not absent, pass rush.

Most impressively, was Indiana’s ability to frustrate the Deacons up front. Of the Wake Forest’s 80 plays, 41 of them produced zero or negative yards. A number of those were incomplete passes, but Indiana followed through on its mission to chase and fluster freshman quarterback Kendall Hinton.

“That was good to get the pressure and good to have some of those plays,” Wilson said, “but I don’t think it’s close to what it can be, and their ability to get lined up, get their cleats on the ground, get their eyes on the target and go sic it a little bit (can be better). So we’re going to keep working on it. It’s better, but it’s a long way from what I think it ought to be. I’m going to keep working on that.”

— Indiana emerged from the first month of the season mostly injury free, but saw a pair of its top offensive contributors suffer from health issues Saturday at Wake Forest.

Leading receiver Ricky Jones missed most of the second half after rolling his ankle, and tight end Danny Friend had to be helped off the field with a knee injury.

Wilson updated their status on Monday, saying Jones — who has dealt with ankle injuries in the past — will be monitored in practice Tuesday and Wednesday, but should be able to play this week against Ohio State. Friend’s situation is a bit more problematic, and the redshirt sophomore is expected to miss at least the next couple weeks.

“I think we’ll look to see if it can be managed,” Wilson said. “I don’t think it’s a major deal. I think it can be managed without a minor surgery, but they’re looking to see how he progresses over the next few days. We’ll see what’s up with Danny. So anticipate Ricky (playing Saturday), not sure with Danny.”

— Freshman cornerback Andre Brown and sophomore linebacker Tegray Scales were recognized as IU’s defensive players of the week. Brown’s strong play is especially encouraging ahead of the upcoming game against Ohio State, finishing Saturday’s game with three tackles and a breakup against the Demon Deacons.

“For him, we chart on-the-ball production — anytime you have a chance to make a play on the ball — and we certainly had some guys that made plays,” defensive coordinator Brian Knorr said. “We felt like Andre had the highest percentage, especially in the secondary. He just keeps getting better, and he’s a guy that we’re really counting on coming into his own.”

— Running back Jordan Howard, who earned the Big Ten’s co-Offensive Player of the Week award, and right guard Dan Feeney were recognized as Indiana’s offensive players of the week.

— The last time Indiana faced a No. 1 ranked team was on Oct. 21, 2006 at Ohio State. The Buckeyes are also the last No. 1 team to travel to Bloomington, dating back to a game on Oct. 31, 1998.

— Indiana is 0-15 all-time against top-ranked teams, including an 0-5 mark against Ohio State.

— The Hoosiers’ five-game winning streak is the program’s longest since the 1987 season.