Defense propels Hoosiers to 30-20 win over Ball State

It authored a first-half shutout, recorded its sixth takeaway six quarters into the season and allowed only one offensive touchdown all afternoon.

Tom Allen’s new Indiana defense continues to trend in the right direction.

The Hoosiers are playing a more complete brand of football, as Saturday’s 30-20 win over Ball State attests. Six years into Kevin Wilson’s tenure as coach — and under its third defensive coordinator during that span — Indiana has found a formula for implementing a stronger, more sustained defensive approach.

This is a defense focused on takeaways and more aggressive play on the back end. Through two games defensively, the Hoosiers have controlled the line of scrimmage for long chunks of the action, while refusing to break deep in the red zone.

Explosive plays have been limited and a new mindset is taking hold.

While greater tests sit on the horizon, Indiana continues to string together tangible evidence that the defensive breakthrough this program needs may not be too far in the distance.

“You’re seeing everybody play with confidence,” linebacker Marcus Oliver said. “The whole team. We’re starting to play team football. That’s the best thing about what we have going on right now.”

Indiana built a 20-0 halftime lead, propelled by an early tone set by a pair of takeaways on two of Ball State’s first three possessions. It was the first time since IU held Bowling Green scoreless over the final 30 minutes on Sept. 14, 2013 that the Hoosier defense had produced a clean half.

By the time Ball State scored its first three points late in the third quarter, Indiana capped an impressive run of 56:31 between allowing points — a span that includes the second half of the season opener at Florida International.

Oliver and fellow linebacker Tegray Scales, respectively, stripped Cardinal ball carriers on the first and third possessions of the day and sophomore safety Jonathan Crawford was there to scoop up the leftovers. In between, IU’s defense delivered a three-and-out.

By the second quarter, super freshman Marcelino Ball was on his way to strong encore performance. He finished the day with a team-best eight tackles and intercepted Ball State quarterback Riley Neal just before halftime.

“Coach Allen always tells us to play hard and run to the football no matter what,” Crawford said. “Just always run to the football and make plays.”

That approach complemented Indiana’s offense, which saw new quarterback Richard Lagow answer last week’s debut with another steady performance.

Lagow completed 17 of his 27 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those scores went to sophomore receiver Nick Westbrook, who did well stepping in for injured receiver Simmie Cobbs in the first half. Cobbs went down with a left ankle injury on IU’s first offensive play of the day and did not return. Luke Timian added another 10-yard touchdown reception.

And kicker Griffin Oakes added field goals of 29, 49, 41 yards.

“I thought the first half was good team football,” Wilson said.

Westbrook’s 79-yard score came on a bubble screen along the Indiana sideline. He bounced free on a block by Danny Friend and took off for the score. By then, it was 27-0. Oakes’ 41-yard shot made it a 30-point lead.

From there, the afternoon drew to an uninspiring close.

The offense bogged down, drowned in conservatism and the defense allowed a trio of chunk plays that helped the Cardinals spring for points.

Indiana wanted the shut out and didn’t get it.

Consolation was found through the fact that it came so close.

Indiana didn’t allow its first offensive touchdown until the final three minutes of the game when quarterback Riley Neal led the Cardinals 78 yards in 13 plays and six minutes, capping the drive with a five-yard pass to Jordan Hogue.

The fourth quarter also saw Ball State block a punt for a score when Joseph Gedeon took too much time to get off his kick. Malik Dunner picked up the ball and took it three yards for the score. Kicker Morgan Hagee added field goals of 22 and 38 yards.

But those plays were not as lethal as they could have been. The defensive foundation laid by Indiana during the first 30 minutes made it so.

“I feel great about a lot of things, but there’s a lot of things we need to work on,” Oliver said.

And yet there’s plenty this defense has already done to raise expectations to a reasonable level.

After an open date next week, Indiana returns to action on Sept. 24 against Wake Forest.


  1. For about two and a half quarters IU seemed like a legitimate big ten team playing a middle of the pack mac team. I have seen this scenario several times before. IU is up fairly big and then let’s some subs play or makes decisions or adjustments in the third quarter and the whole team gets bogged down to the point where a win almost seems like a loss. IU does not have the killer attitude and looses concentration to soon as if game is over. A couple of years ago that cost them the Rutgers game. It is troubling if IU is going to play above 500% fb. If you are up 30 to 0 keep intensity going or even get more intense until well into quarter number 4 not quit half way through quarter number 3. This is part of tradition and in many cases has resulted in losses over the years. Or are they not capable and just not good enough? However, it is a win 2-0 for 2016. This season’s dream continues and we will see if it becomes nightmarish again starting October 1 and continuing through the month of October as IU fans once again awaken.

  2. t, you are correct about the game and I hope the coaches decide to settle down and decide on starters and back ups. They are too involved with the potential of the players instead on team cohesion but I understand the need to develop back ups early on. The OL didn’t have a very good game as they were well matched by BSU which raises concerns for the B1G season. It is time to start getting the team to gel as they show they can be very good when the top players are in.

    I am concerned about the two big injuries, Feeney and Cobbs. Cobbs looks like he will miss a number of games based on walking off the field in a walking boot. Feeney will be back as soon as he can be but no news about his injury yet.

    It is time to start cutting Lagow loose and establishing receivers. It was clear in the second half the play calling changed and it hurt the offense. Still no power running or even trying to see if Newton or Natee can do the job as power backs. It will be important to get Patrick on the field to bolster the power running. Coach Johns has been saying each team develops their own signature and I hope the coaches now know what this team’s strengths are and decides on the starters with back-ups. The talk about so much talent in the RB department needs to be finalized to no more than three RBs. What happened to getting the TE in the passing game, that is another position that needs to be decided on. It seems as if they have some good options as receivers in that group but they sure weren’t utilized against BSU. The running game is good right now but not overpowering so it is important to focus on the passing game as B1G teams will challenge the OL.

    Defensively, the team looked very good until deep in the third quarter. Ball has some shortcomings but looks like a star so far. The DL and ILBs did a great job the first half limiting BSU on the ground after BSU did so well the first game. I am encouraged by the pass coverage as we have several players near the ball most plays. There is still some work to do on deep passes but they are getting better. They are in better position than last year and as they tighten up the coverage it will lead to even more interceptions. The defense continues to create take-aways and it is to see that continue.

    Game notes: it looks like BSU has found the coach they need and I hope for them Neu decides being home is more important than chasing a better job. IU has the makings of a very good team this year but the coaches need to settle down the rotations and figure out who can step up and do the job for the team. In the next game, the team needs to be honed down and develop some cohesion and consistency. We now have a defense that can play and be an asset for winning games. Where has Ricky Jones been, it seems he has been forgotten this year. The offense adjusted well in the first half when BSU was so concerned with the running game. Pass protection needs to be worked on as there is too much leakage up front. Lagow is good on passes inside the hash marks but we don’t attack that area enough.

    It is good to get the bye week to let injuries heal and let the players focus on school and practice. I hope the coaches work on getting the line ups settled down and focus on getting the top players meshed up on offense gaining trust in each other. We have a QB that can be one of the leaders in the B1G, receivers that can do the job if they get enough reps, but we need to utilize our TEs in the passing game, and finally settle on two or three RBs so they can work on pass blocking and timing up the running game. It has been a good start to the year; now is the time to decide on the what kind of team we have and focus on our strengths as we near the B1G season.

  3. Allen is really strong with in-game adjustments. Fr. RB Dunner came in and made his 1st series look like he was 1 of the old USC RB’s heading for headlines. After that he only gained 2-3 yards and BSU then went into passing mode for much of the remainder of the game. But Mallory nor Knorr made in-game and for that matter halftime adjustments as Allen can do. MY fear after next year Big $ could lure him away as a DC at a national powerhouse or an initial D1 HC job which I would think would be his goal..

  4. v13- Trying to run inside may have been abandoned after Feeney came out.

    t- You said it! How a team responds when it is up by 30 pts. says as much as how it responds when its down by 30.

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