IU defense looks to ‘be the reason why’

Throughout this season, “Be the reason why” has been a rallying cry for the Hoosier defense.

Be the reason a play is won. Be the reason Indiana gets the other team off the field. Be the reason the Hoosiers take a game and change the program’s direction.

But as the Hoosiers head into their bowl game, there is a sense the defense can do more to live up to their mantra. In the last two Big Ten games of the season, IU’s defense looked slow, according to d-coordinator Kane Wommack. The Hoosiers had to pull out an overtime shootout with Purdue, avoiding a three-game November slide.

A matchup with the speed and athleticism of a Southeastern Conference team, Tennessee, gives the Hoosier defense one last chance to be the reason why.

“We’ve had our struggles, we’ve had our successes throughout the season,” IU linebacker Reakwon Jones said. “In this game, we want to take the fight to them. That’s the message Coach Kane gave this morning. They are good at what they do, they like to run the ball, they like to take shots. But we want to come out there, play physical, play violent, play downhill.

“We want to make plays and be the reason why.”

The Hoosier defense can take solace in the fact that they are a young, developing unit. There is a smattering of upperclassmen, but it’s mostly freshmen and sophomores. They are bound to improve as each week passes, including these bonus practices leading into the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2.

But in the final three weeks of the season, IU’s defense surrendered 38 points per game. After looking fresh versus Penn State on the road, their energy level dropped versus Michigan and Purdue.

The time between the regular-season finale and the bowl should freshen the Hoosiers. The last three games should provide ample motivation, too. But not only will the Hoosiers need a better effort from that side of the ball to stay within range of the Volunteers — they need it to maintain momentum heading into the offseason.

“The longer you stay away from the game, the rustier you are going to get, especially for these young guys, which every single rep is so critical for them,” Wommack said. “This was gold for our defense. This really is.

“You want to finish with a lot of momentum, carrying on into the offseason. That pushes you into spring, summer, and then, all of a sudden, here we are, we are getting ready for Wisconsin (to open 2020).”

Wommack, himself, is the youngest defensive coordinator in the Big Ten at 32 years old. But that doesn’t mean he is inexperienced when it comes to bowl prep.
The son of a veteran coordinator, Dave Wommack, the Gator Bowl will count as Bowl No. 21 for the former player, coach’s son, and coach. The younger Wommack was the defensive coordinator for South Alabama in a 45-21 loss to Air Force in the 2016 Arizona Bowl.

Wommack is comfortable working at this time of year. He’s familiar with the SEC — much more than he was Air Force’s triple-option attack — spending time with Allen and his father at Ole Miss from 2012-13. And his players seem to understand the challenge in front of them.

“The one thing this group does have is a sense of urgency defensively,” Wommack said. “They understand how young they are and how every rep matters.”

For veterans like Jones, early bowl practices were as much about coaching up younger teammates as personal preparation.

He found himself in the ear of freshman Cameron Williams, the Andrean alum, as he took reps in team periods.

“When they are up, I’ll be behind everybody, ‘Scoot to the left some … Get hands on him … Don’t let him inside,’” Jones said. “I’m jumping around on the sideline, making sure when they come off the field, I’m one of the first ones to greet them. I keep them motivated.”

These practices will hopefully benefit the future as much as the present. As the Hoosiers’ attention turns to Tennessee this week, there is an array of challenges for Jones and his first-team counterparts to confront.

The Vols’ speed was evident to IU coach Tom Allen just watching special teams film, because their best receivers scream down the field on kickoff teams. Tennessee has the 77th-ranked passing attack in the country (220 yards per game), but the Vols are 13th in yards per completion (14.6).

Their top targets, including Jauan Jennings, can explode for big plays in an instant. The Hoosiers won’t have to deal with Jennings until the second half, though, because he will be serving a first-half suspension for stepping on the face of a Vanderbilt player in the Vols’ last game.

“You love to go against the best,” Wommack said. “I’m not complaining he’s out for the first half. But he’s a very special football player and I’d imagine they’d maximize his ability any rep, any chance they get in the second half.”

IU’s defense has to maximize each rep, as well. To complete just the third nine-win season in program history, they will have to be a reason why.

Jones, in his final game as a Hoosier, hopes that’s the case.

“That’s something we are going to emphasize over our bowl practices, going into the game. We want to be the reason,” Jones said. “It would be a great statement for this defense to end on a strong note.”


  1. I would say Tennessee solidly covers spread of -1.5 points in this one. IU has yet to beat a team with a winning record. IU didn’t look good in towards end of first half and a lot of second half against banged up Purdue. Tennessee does have a couple wins against teams with 500 and above 500 season. Plus Tennessee is on 5 game win streak.
    IU has opportunity for its first win over a team with a winning record this season.

    1. …’banged up PUke’…either your failing or selective memory is exposed…how about our 2 LT’s, RB, QB, WR, DT…played on PUke’s home field…they were hardly at a disadvantage…

      1. Purdue’s injury situation was much worse than IU’s. Compare the two teams and it’s indisputable.

  2. Careful T, I made similar comments about the quality of our victories on another Hoosier site and I was chastised. I hope we can pull out a win and maybe we can if we can have a big lead going into the 2nd half. We have had trouble handling fast receivers. We seem to lack speed in our backs.

  3. T – UT is very athletic and won’t be a pushover, but don’t be overly impressed by their 7-5 record and having beaten some teams with winning records. All SEC teams play 4 non- conference games instead of the B1G’s 3, and usually 3 or sometimes even all 4 are patsies. UT played Georgia State, BYU (both losses), UT Chattanooga (think EIU) and UAB, all at home. Their 5 straight wins include a staggering South Carolina, a 6-6 Miss State, and a horrendous Vanderbilt who got creamed by Purdue, all at home. They also beat a quarterback less Ky who ran the ball 95% or more of the time from the wildcat in a squeaker. Ky had 1st and goal at the 5 with two minutes to go and ran 4 straight plays, getting no closer than the 1. UT should have lost the game. Their other victory in the streak was a squeaker against a demoralized Missou team on a 6 game losing streak at Columbia.

    If IU plays up to it’s potential, this should be a close win. Sure hope Stevie Scott plays! If not, Sampson better live up to his name and run hard like he did against PU!

  4. Coach Wommack says the right thing about the defense playing fast and attacking downhill but his calls seem to counter the philosophy he espouses. I hope he calls the defense and let any adjustment needed be made my players so they can play fast and down hill. Also I hope DE and DT aren’t locked up on OL players instead of working up field. It would be great to see the defense play fast and hard limiting TN’s offense. This bowl game will be a great chance to establish how coach Wommack’s defense will play in the future.

    1. v solid observation and thoughts. Good opportunity for Coach Wommack to grow in his youth too.

    2. What calls are you questioning, specifically? And no team allows the players alone to make adjustments. Coaches certainly take a great deal of input from players, but adjustments are made based on what both coaches and players see and experience.

      1. The calls I am talking about are DE moving down the LOS instead of up the field, DE used in coverage, etc there are too many to name. I am talking about calling defense right away and players adjusting to formations not calling defenses or calling their own stunts. Getting the defense call in right away [instead of waiting to see what formation they are in as most top team have adjustments in the call] and letting our DL work up field would be a big improvement to disrupting offenses. When this happened IU defense did disrupt opponents offenses.

        1. The calls are late across all of football because they’re in response to the personnel packages the offense fields, along with the corresponding packages that the rules permit the defense to put on the field pre-snap. Fans get frustrated by late calls but they’re a reality of the way the rules are enforced. Similarly, IU’s defense is dictated by down and distance packages, and DE’s and others line up and make reads based on both those facts as well as their keys. I realize that frustrates fans, but if you ever attended a practice you’d see the length they go to in order to make it work. I’m a bit surprised you wouldn’t be aware of these things, but I realize you’ve never been to practices so I assume that’s why.

          1. You obviously haven’t watched the top teams in the country and see their defense don’t wait to call their defense only after the offense presents their personnel grouping. I keep up with football, despite becoming disabled and unable to coach or travel, as their are a number of web sites with video breaking down teams.

        2. v, I’m with you. Wommack needs to uncomplicate the schemes and get the play called to the field in time for back 7 to get in position and front 4 to get in their stance whatever it is.

          1. Actually, there is constant substituting of personnel packages on both sides, with defenses often not able to signal in until late due to that. Watch some games and you’ll see that this is in fact quite common for all teams and far from unique to IU. It happened regularly with Allen when he coordinated, too. If you’ve ever seen an IU practice, you’d know that they actually time certain position groups to get on the field in reaction to offensive packages, downs and distances, and then they’re coached to look to the sideline to get calls. IU practiced this under Allen and continue to do it exactly the same under KW. Again, this was happening just as regularly when Allen coordinated the D.

  5. Didn’t say IU wasn’t banged up. Yes, IU has lost several players out as well. I was referring how it relates to Tennessee game.

  6. Quiz Game

    What do you get when you combine the following:

    A type of game we’re playing in on Jan. 2 …..plus
    A thing at Memorial Stadium serving as a symbol for team motivation….plus
    The simple abbreviation often used for ‘offense’….plus
    A college football team coached by Nick Saban?

    Answer: BowlRock OBama

  7. Merry Christmas to all. This game should be interesting and revealing. Many, like myself, would appreciate the SEC playing another conference game. I think everyone would also like more games like this during the regular season instead of matching up against directional state schools. I think IU has a ‘punchers’ chance in this one if they stay away from needless penalties and don’t lose the turnover battle. My gut tells me IU’s passing attack might be effective and not what the Vols are used to dealing with. We’ll see.

  8. Bear Down whoever he is doesn’t realize I watch a lot of games and he doesn’t realize a lot of teams don’t do that late calling. Yes it did happen late in Allen’s last DC year and players get frustrated not getting the call. You must not watch IU games BD to see the frustration of the players waiting on the very late calls. Yes defenses change when offenses change formation personnel but it doesn’t excuse calling defense so late the DL can’t get lined up. I can’t travel to go to IU practices even though I would love to go and see how the coaches and players do in practice. Waiting so late with the calls that DL can’t get set before is inexcusable. Make adjustments but early enough to let the players up front get set so they can come off the ball the LBs and DBs can move around later to adjust. Film breakdown should tell you what to expect and get the right players ready to go in at a moments notice. I have no problem with sending in different players but get the front set early in the process.

    BD we can watch the play-offs and see which of those schools call defenses as late as IU.

    1. Once again, if you actually watched much football you’d know this goes on everywhere, and it went on throughout the entire time Allen has been at IU as both DC and HC. It’s not new. Yes, they do extensive film study, but offenses often change personnel late and fans like you would go crazy if they didn’t adjust. They practice getting players onto the field and into position as quickly as possible, but late adjustments are always better than no adjustments. Yes, it frustrates players, but it’s always frustrated players, even when Allen was the DC. You just weren’t aware that it was going on then.

  9. Have a great time watching the bowl game, V13….

    Hope your problems getting around don’t get you down. May you have some pain-free days ahead and good memories of watching the Hoosiers, hopefully, take down an SEC team.


  10. Thanks H4H and I hope you have a Happy New year enjoying the company of family and friends.

    No I don’t let them get travel issues get me down. I can still get around in our area and my golden retriever keeps me going.

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