3rd down defense helping Hoosiers get off the field #iufb

It’s part surprise and part execution, but Indiana’s recent approach to third-down defense has been almost wholly successful.

Defensive coordinator Brian Knorr’s implementation of a three-man stack on third-down situations has added an intriguing wrinkle the past three weeks, giving the Hoosiers a stronger push up front and a better success rate in critical situations.

By lining three linebackers behind three defensive linemen on third down, Indiana has introduced a degree of versatility to its front seven, masking which players will bring pressure and which will drop into coverage.

It bothered Kendall Hinton at Wake Forest last month, it flustered Cardale Jones and the mighty Ohio State offense two weeks ago, and it gave Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg moments of confusion last week.

And it’s becoming a cornerstone to Indiana’s ongoing defensive development.

“It’s been nice to keep it fresh on third down,” linebacker Marcus Oliver said. “It keeps teams guessing about what we’re going to do.”

Prior to IU’s trip to Wake Forest on Sept. 26, its first three opponents combined to convert 50 percent of their third downs against the Hoosiers. Since the 31-24 win over the Demon Deacons, IU’s last three opponents are converting only 23 percent of their third-down opportunities.

Wake Forest was 4-of-18 on third downs, Ohio State was only 2-of-14, and Penn State was 5-for-14.

“Especially the last three weeks, we’ve been very effective on third down,” Knorr said. “That’s generally where you see that (stack) structure. I think it makes you real multiple in an odd front. We’re an odd-front team — we’ve been a little bit more even this year — but the odd front is our base and our background, so it’s pretty easy for us to get into that alignment.”

Knorr introduced the stack concepts at one point last season, but it wasn’t until last month when it first appeared to become such a featured and successful part of IU’s defensive repertoire.

Indiana generated a great push up front early in its win at Wake Forest, giving Hinton little time to throw and read the field. It was the same case against Jones, who appeared confused going through his second and third reads while trying to determine how many Hoosiers were dropping into coverage, and who specifically they would be.

At Penn State, Oliver said there were a few times that Hackenberg called out his number at the line thinking he was going to blitz when, in fact, the blitz was coming from the other side. That was the case in the first quarter when Tegray Scales came around left tackle and got to Hackenberg for a strip sack.

“They just don’t know what’s coming,” Oliver said. “We did a little bit of it last year, too. It’s just different each week. We come in, get our installment and it could be anything. We never have the same people coming from the same side, or coming for the same reasons. We always have different rules and it keeps people guessing.”

That element of surprise will once again be needed this week against a Rutgers offense that is ranked third in the Big Ten with a third-down conversion rate of 44.8 percent. That trails only Northwestern (45 percent) and Michigan State (50 percent).

At the midway point of the season, the Hoosiers defense has shown some concerning holes that must be plugged. But if they can continue getting opposing offenses off the field before long, noticeable progress will follow.

“A lot of teams try to pick up on tendencies,” Oliver said. “But so far, with our (third-down) blitzing, I don’t think we have a very strong tendency because we’re always switching it up.”


  1. There are areas the defense is improving on and next year’s defense could be a good one if they find a couple of key replacements. I think with the success of the stack I would try it out on 1st and 2nd downs so teams don’t know what down they will see it. I wonder how much the success is we have the right people on the field doing the jobs that fit their talent best. If that is the case I would run the defense more often. I am glad to see the progress the defense is making but the big plays need to end.

  2. The D has been playing well enough the last two or three weeks. Gotta pray for Howard and Sudfeld to get and remain healthy for there to be any hope of progress beyond recent years. And for the D to not go to hell in a hand basket in conjunction with that.

  3. 50% to 23% is remarkable.progress in slowing down 3rd down conversion. Big Ralph and Latham do a ton in the offense not handling the blitz well no matter where it is coming from.

  4. this game and this season comes down to how well the defense can stop Leonte Carroo, that is it!! if this WR runs feel in the secondary the game is lost and the season gets very long…..personally i do not think the IU secondary can stop Leonte Carroo, i can see Leonte Carroo having a record day, probably breaking some BIG 10 record….for IU to win this football game the IU football team is going to have to step up and play their best game of the seasons….it is very hard to believe that Kevin Wilson has never won a homecoming game, but his overall BIG 10 record is not that good….GOOD LUCK HOOSIER.

  5. IU79, You are right about Carroo but there a two parts to stopping a WR, get to the QB or do a great job in coverage. There are also combination coverages that can be used so he ends up with tight man coverage with help behind him or many other strategies to handle a top WR. I leave it up to our coaches to come up with the best scheme because if they don’t Carroo could have a record day. So far we haven’t shown the ability to stop a top WR and I hope we can because we will be seeing several the next few games.

    It will help if we have our starting offense this game as controlling the clock keeps Carroo off the field and limits the opportunities for him to run wild. Let’s hope IU has their best effort of the year for Homecoming. Go Hoosiers!

Comments are closed.