IU defense hopes to leave better lasting impression in New York #iufb

NEW YORK — No one has forgotten the games that got away, the botched coverages or the list of ugly moments that followed Indiana’s defense over 12 games this fall.

But the Hoosiers also recognize Saturday’s Pinstripe Bowl as a final opportunity to leave a more favorable lasting impression entering a new year.

“It’s huge to leave on a good note in order to show that the young guys are growing and give people confidence,” linebacker Marcus Oliver said Thursday at Yankee Stadium.

That confidence has begun to emerge during the three weeks since Indiana closed the season with its third consecutive Old Oaken Bucket victory over Purdue. Oliver sees players — especially the younger ones — moving faster and playing with more physicality and attention to detail.

Behind the scenes, there is a sense that the Hoosiers are regaining their legs — and not a moment too soon.

“(Freshman safety) Jon Crawford is an 18-year-old kid that played over 900 snaps,” defensive coordinator Brian Knorr said. “That’s a lot of snaps for a freshman. (It’s huge) for him to be able to get that time off and kind of re-energize. (Corner) Andre Brown hasn’t played the last four-to-six weeks, but for him to try and heal up is good. I think (corner) Rashard Fant played more snaps than anybody on the team, so for him to be able to take a couple weeks before we cranked up the preparation, I think that time has helped.”

Against Duke, Indiana will continue to place a heavy reliance on those younger players in its secondary. At safety, the Hoosiers will lean on Crawford, redshirt freshman Will Dawkins and sophomore Tony Fields, among others, with starter Chase Dutra unavailable due to a recent foot procedure.

IU coach Kevin Wilson — who will meet with reporters on Friday — has said in recent weeks that Brown (undisclosed injury) is doing more in practice and could be in line to return to cornerback Saturday. Meanwhile, the downtime has afforded consistent work for freshman receiver-turned-corner Leon Thornton.

Thornton had only three practices at corner prior to his position debut at Maryland on Nov. 21. He made his first start at corner in the regular season finale at Purdue and enters the bowl game with nine tackles, including seven solo stops, in his first two contests.

“It’s big for him to be able to build from the Maryland game, Purdue game and now have three or four weeks to be able to compete and be out there,” Knorr said. “He’ll get tested on the boundary there because Duke has the ability to challenge you and move receivers around to give you different looks.”

The Hoosiers are still looking to add to their list of takeaways this season, especially after finishing the Purdue victory with two interceptions. The Hoosiers arrived in New York with 19 takeaways (10 fumbles, nine picks), which are the most turnovers forced by the program since IU finished with 29 in 2009.

At the same time, there’s a need for focus on the Blue Devils’ running game. Quarterback Thomas Sirk is one of four quarterbacks among Power 5 conference teams to lead his team in both rushing and passing yardage. Sirk has 15 touchdown passes and six interceptions, giving him a 2.5-to-1 touchdown to interception ratio that would match the highest single-season total in program history.

He’s also rushed for 648 yards, which ranks second on Duke’s single-season quarterback list behind Mike Dunn’s 757 in 1976.

Indiana struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks during the season, but the Hoosiers are also hoping that renewed confidence and fresh legs could be the difference in that area and many more on Saturday.

“I think this game, to most people, is about continuing to play hard,” Oliver said. “We know there’s a few things in past games where we let them get away. I think (we) want to finish and to be known as people who can play hard and give IU football a better name coming into the next season. That’s what people are striving for the most.”

3 comments

  1. Don’t think these guys will ever be interested in ‘defense’. Oops, this was about football. not bb.

    I hope the guys & the coaches have a game they will never forget. The football guys. They really pulled it together to get to this game. Win or lose, congratulations. But go ahead & win.

    And HT guys, Merry Christmas and thanks for running in all directions giving us IU sports. You guys are great.

  2. …add my kudos. Thanks for putting this out there for those of us who live far away. It’s a great resource.

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