Wilson, Ekeler discuss D-Line adjustments and other notes from Tuesday’s press conference

The defensive coaching staff’s reason for altering its defensive line philosophy to become more gap-oriented was apparently pretty simple.

They watched the Ball State game. They saw no sacks and 210 yards rushing for the Cardinals.

“Did you see our first game?” co-defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Mike Ekeler said. “After that game, again, we tried to do some things we thought we’d be able to do. We’re just not at that point right now. It’s just constantly a game that you’ve gotta play to your personnel. You’ve gotta make adjustments. That’s what you’re trying to do.”

Indiana coach Kevin Wilson said it simplifies things for some of the players. The Hoosiers will still play heavy into the man on some occasions as they said they would since the spring, but attacking gaps is something the defensive linemen are more used to and it allows them to be more aggressive getting into the backfield.

“It’s a little more assertive,” Wilson said. “… The first game we kind of got head up, we just didn’t get off blocks. We kind of just got caught. We weren’t able to occupy and get off blocks as much. That happened the next week against Virginia. Instead of being head-up on guards, we were more inside and outside shades. At the same time, South Carolina State did some things where we wanted to come back and be a little bit more head up. It’s just a subtle tweak. It’s no different than sometimes at receiver, widening a split, tightening a split. A cornerback, tucking inside to take away the inside route or lining up outside because he’s got outside help. You’re always tweaking a little bit, it’s not a huge philosophical deal”

But it does require changes the rest of the way back on the defense. Wilson reiterated that it’s not a wholesale change, but said that linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties to have to adjust to the defensive line’s approach.

“You have to match the coverage with it,” Wilson said. “The safeties have to know what they’re doing, the corners have to know what they’re doing. It’s not like it’s a brand new defense, it’s just basically taking a part of our package and emphasizing some other things different than what we were doing at the start.”

Attacking gaps is the default setting for many defensive linemen, so they’re more comfortable with it, but having tried to play heavy in the man all spring and preseason, the Hoosier front feels comfortable in its ability to take both approaches.

“We’re not throwing away our other schemes,” junior defensive tackle Larry Black Jr. said. “… You can key the ball more (when attacking gaps) and worry about getting off of that. Just with that it’s totally different. But also when we’re playing even on those guys it’s the same. It’s about getting off the ball and attacking your man no matter what we’re in.”

Other notes from Tuesday’s press conference

— Wilson talked at length about the 20 penalties the Hoosiers incurred on Saturday. He said that as much as there’s a concern about the players’ mindsets, questions have to come back to the coaches themselves.

“When you’re making a bunch of mistakes, to me it’s a couple of things,” Wilson said. “What’s the guy’s confidence level or maturity or thought process that’s causing him to think about things where he’s missing an assignment, missing a play, having a penalty.  … Are you doing things where he’s thinking so much that you’re cluttering his mind. When you have errors, you have to look at the coaching format, what are you doing that’s enabling this guy to jump offsides as many times as he did? Are we getting sloppy on practice habits? Are our hands getting outside and clamping and getting cheap holding calls. A lot of times you can point fingers at your players, but you can point a thumb at yourself.

— Wilson said he was still generally happy with the play of the three freshman he played on the offensive line. True freshmen Bernard Taylor and Peyton Eckert played at left guard and right tackle respectively, supplanting junior Marc Damisch and senior Justin Pagan. Redshirt freshman Collin Rahrig took over for classmate Cody Evers at right guard.

“I thought Collin Rahrig did a nice job,” Wilson said. “He’s kind of a competitor, got a little juice, a little fire in him. He did well. Peyton settled down. Both he and Bernard need to keep coming along. We need to complement them with the old guys. I’m just anxious to see as we move forward, you know, do our old guys really want to (push back). If you keep practicing the same way and you get results that aren’t good, you’re going to get the same results. I’m just getting tired of seeing some average practices from a team that was losing and thought we’d give the next man up a chance to do it. Short term, those guys did well, but it would be nice with some of the other guys to come back and complement them.”

— Wilson talked at length about being an imperfect team and hoping his team understands exactly how imperfect it is.

“I would hope as we try to install our values to our men that they would never be arrogant,” Wilson said. “We’re so far away from being where we’re capable of being this year let alone being as good as we’d like to be as we move forward. It’s bad coaching by me if this team thinks that they’ve arrived.”

–Wilson played down North Texas’s 0-3 record, pointing out that Florida International, Houston and Central Florida are all undefeated.He said that the Hoosiers are treating this as their first true road game, considering that they treated the game against Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium as a home game.

“I think this game’s gonna be a bigger challenge than most,” Wilson said. “I’m looking forward as we build what we’re doing to see if our guys can see the week they need to build a little success. Can we practice hard after success. We talked about it last week practicing hard after failure, can we practice hard after success.”

— Wilson said one of the keys will be Indiana’s ability to stop the run, in particular North Texas tailback Lance Dunbar, who entered this season with the third most career yards of any active tailback in the Football Bowl Subdivision.

“If they can run the football, they can play on their terms because they’re moving the ball and staying on schedule,” Wilson said. “I think one of the keys will be their running game, their running back and our defense’s ability to play some good run D.”

Ekeler is more concerned about Dunbar, who rushed for 1,553 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

“I told our guys, ‘I promise you, we won’t see a better running back this year,'” Ekeler said. “This guy is legit. I mean, he is unbelievable out of the backfield and running the ball. He’s got that unique blend. He’s a guy who loves to bounce it and he’s got sprinter speed, but he also loves to run between the tackles. As you mentioned, he’s great receiving out of the backfield, so he’s the total package. He’ll have a great career on Sundays.”

— Ekeler was asked if his defense is mean enough on Saturdays for his taste. “I don’t know that that will ever be the case,” he said. “Not even close. … Bill Parcells said one time, as a puppy, you either bite or you don’t bite. And sometimes I think there’s a little truth to that, but we’re trying to get everybody to bite.”

— Ekeler took the blame for the 69-yard touchdown pass between South Carolina State quarterback Derrick Wiley and wide receiver Tyler McDonald. It was a short screen pass that turned into a big play because the Hoosiers blitzed hard and left the defensive backfield in zero coverage, straight man-to-man with no over the top help.

“I talked (co-defensive coordinator Doug Mallory) into it,” Ekeler said. “It was their first empty. I said ‘let’s go get ’em.’ They hadn’t shown it, but it was the worst play we could be in. Those guys came off the field, and I said, ‘Guys, that is just poor coaching. that’s just poor coaching. That’s on me.’ That call is totally 100 percent on me. I put them in a bad position and they scored.”

— Co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Rod Smith gushed about D’Angelo Roberts’ mentality.

“That kid runs hard,” Smith said. “He plays the game violent. He plays mad. That’s what you like. You saw the hit, he blew up the kid at Virginia, that’s him. He runs that way. He plays that way. He brings you a hard edge at that position. Even though he’s a freshman, he brings that element, and I think other guys feed off that as well. When you see that guy getting after it, it’s contagious.”

— Smith said he knows a young team will draw penalties, but he just wasn’t expecting this many.

“With a young bunch, you know you’re going to hit bumps,” Smith said. “You know you’re going to hit roadblocks. You just don’t think you’re going to hit 20 road blocks. A lot of them, not all of them, but a lot of them were driving-ending. They halted us. … You gotta eliminate them.”

— Smith said he saw significant improvement from Ed Wright-Baker from Week 2 to Week 3.

“I think he made better decisions,” Smith said. “He was more accurate with his throws. His presence was a little bit better. Still missed a couple of things. The one thing that eats me is the turnover. We gotta take care of the football. When he’s scrambling and he’s moving, the ball is way too loose. We gotta get two hands on the ball, so we’ll work that all week in practice and keep repping it. It’s a habit we gotta break him of. But I think his progression from Game 1, 2, and 3 is on an upward swing, which is positive. Is he where we want him to be? Not yet. But he’s making up ground on it.”


AUDIO: Kevin Wilson Part 1

AUDIO: Kevin Wilson Part 2

AUDIO: Mike Ekeler

AUDIO: Rod Smith

AUDIO: Kofi Hughes

AUDIO: Larry Black Jr.

AUDIO: Max Dedmond


  1. Pleasing to hear the staff talk about their jobs, analysis and thoughts on improving now that the season has started they have something to share.

  2. This is an excellent and very, very football-educational presentation for us who want to see ‘inside the game’. Thanks to the coaches and to DD for the really focused and well analyzed summary of the presentation.

    It reminds me of Robert Montgomery Knight master level lectures on how the court is divided; the process and shape of ‘triangleizing'(is that even a word?) the ball, your man and the basket; defending the basket and the passing lane simultaneously; and minutia like the hop-step in taking the charge, the position of the heel relevant to the toe in shooting free-throws… Detail, detail, the devil and/or the gods are in the critical minutia of the detail.

    One can get a masters attending Coach Wilsons discussions.

    And, the juniors and seniors can learn how to be winners (and/or how to be losers) as part of their education over the time they have left with him. Either will last them a long, long time. The rest of us, we can watch the process of winning grwo in our players and ourselves.

  3. To answer my own question, in 2007 IU led the nation, or was #2, in sacks into the middle of the season, but tapered off to finish 8th.

  4. The problem with a stat like that is, if you sell out for the sack every play and give up 250 yards per game rushing, are you really accomplishing anything? What were our run defense stats during the same period?

  5. Clarification- 159 yds. rushing defense. It didn’t help the pass defense, either- 81st (244 yds./game). Maybe they were red dogging a lot.

  6. That’s a good bet, or at least a similar scheme. Usually every borderline team stands out in one aspect. At least these guys got a shot at the League with their gaudy statistics.

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