Knorr expects defense to be multiple, incorporate 3-4 front and principles

Brian Knorr doesn’t know exactly what he’s working with yet. The former Air Force and Wake Forest defensive coordinator and Ohio University head coach was just formally hired as Indiana’s defensive coordinator on Monday and immediately shipped on the recruiting trail, so he’s had little time to less film and no time to watch his new charges live.

But Knorr’s goal is to shake-up the Hoosiers’ defensive approach, especially up front. Indiana ran a 4-3 front — the colllege football standard — under recently fired defensive coordinator Doug Mallory. Knorr has more experience with the more aggressive 3-4, which has a much greater presence in the NFL, and plans to implement it and its principles as long as he can mold Indiana’s personnel to do so. He won’t get rid of the 4-3 front altogether and plans to use both, but he does believe he’ll be able to include 3-4 in the mix.

“Obviously, a lot of my background is in 3-4 but we’re very multiple,” Knorr said. “We’re in the process of seeing the personnel, of figuring out where we fit with the package we’ve run at different places. We’ll be much more multiple than we’ve been in the past. There’s certainly will be some 3-4 principles in this package. We’re going to look at the personnel and we’ll run some plays from an even front. But we’ll utilize the talent that’s here, we’ll incorporate what we’ve done and we’ll be very multiple.” 

That Wilson decided on a defensive coordinator with a history of running the 3-4 suggests that he was willing to put his defense through a nearly complete overhaul and he had plenty of reason to think that way.

This year, the Hoosiers surrendered 560.2 yards per game in Big Ten play this season, the most by any conference team in history. Counting league and non-league games, the Hoosiers surrendered more points (38.8 per game), total yards (527.9 per game) and passing yards (290.2  per game) than any other Big Ten team and ranked in the bottom 10 among the Football Bowl Subdivision’s 123 teams in all three categories. Only Illinois had a worse rush defense than the Hoosiers (237.8 yards per game), but both of them finished lower than 115th in that category as well. All of those dreadful numbers led to a 5-7 record for Indiana despite the fact that the Hoosiers ranked second in the Big Ten in scoring and total offense.

That was not an anomaly. The Hoosiers ranked last in the Big Ten in scoring defense and total defense.

The move to incorporate the 3-4 suggests that Wilson wants his teams to be more aggressive and unpredictable. With more players lining up in a stand-up position as opposed to a three-point stance, a 3-4 front allows defense to bring pressure from different angles, and it’s more difficult for offense to read and predict. Knorr said he expects his secondary to use similar coverage concepts to the ones Mallory used, but the front seven will operate much differently.

“It gives you more of an ability to have multiple blitz opportunities than you can from an even front,” Knorr said. “… You have an opportunity to pressure and give maybe a different look than people see from week-to-week in the Big Ten.”

That different look has served Knorr well in his coaching past, and was especially effective at Wake Forest. In 2013, the Demon Deacons finished fifth in the ACC in both scoring defense (24.1 points per game) and total defense (366.2 yards per game). And ranked in the top 40 nationally in both categories. They also ranked in the top 40 in rush defense (143.2 yards per game.)

The Demon Deacons had one of the worst offenses in the FBS, however, and struggled to a 4-8 record. Head coach Jim Grobe, Knorr’s mentor, resigned, leaving Knorr without a job. Knorr took the position as Air Force defensive coordinator earlier this month. Knorr had played quarterback at the academy, graduating in 1986, and had two previous coaching stints there, most recently as a defensive position coach from 2005-07.

However, the Indiana defensive coordinator position was attractive to him for a number of different reasons, so he was still very interested when contacted by Wilson even though he’d just taken a new job. Knorr is originally from Shawnee Mission, Kan., but his wife, Julie, is from Fort Wayne and is an IU graduate. Taking the position would also allow him to take a job in a BCS conference.

“Obviously, an opportunity to coordinate in the Big Ten is something very attractive,” Knorr said. “And talking to people in the industry who have played Indiana in the last few years, they said they’ve had some good teams. I thought it was an attractive position.”

But there was more to it than that. Wilson and Knorr have been friends for more than 20 years. Before Knorr was promoted to head coach at Ohio University in 2001 for what would be a four-year, 11-35 stint there, he was an assistant there from 1995-2000 under Grobe. Wilson was one of his competitors in the Mid-American Conference, working under Randy Walker at Miami (Ohio) from 1990-98.

The two also shared a mentor. Bill Stewart was an assistant coach at North Carolina when Wilson was a graduate assistant there in the mid-80s. He was then an assistant at Air Force when Knorr was working there as an assistant offensive line coach. That created a bond between the two of them. Stewart would go on to be the head coach at West Virginia from 2008-10, but he died  of an apparent heart attack in 2012.

“Obviously, it was a tough decision, because (Air Force coach) Troy Calhoun and I are very, very close,” Knorr said. “But the opportunity to come to the Big Ten and the opportunity to work for Coach Wilson was a tremendous opportunity that I really couldn’t turn down. … I know Bill would be excited to hear that I was coaching with him. That’s for sure.”

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