Hoosier D-line wants to be more aggressive in 2017

When defensive coordinator Tom Allen and line coach Mark Hagen joined forces at Indiana last spring, they sought to transform IU’s approach up front.

Allen and Hagen wanted their Hoosiers to attack.

And attack they did.

One of the early signs that Indiana’s defensive culture was shifting came in the Big Ten opener against Michigan State. On that night, a 24-21 overtime victory for IU, defensive tackles Patrick Dougherty and Nate Hoff rammed through the Spartans’ offensive line to bring down MSU quarterback Tyler O’Connor for back-to-back sacks in the final seconds of regulation.

Down the stretch of the season, across the final seven games, IU’s defense demonstrated further development by totaling 71 tackles for loss, including 30.5 by defensive linemen during that span.

This fall, as Indiana begins its second season with Allen overseeing the defense and Hagen instructing the linemen, the Hoosiers recognize the need for more aggressive, attacking line play in their pursuit of a top 25 defense.

“I think we can relieve pressure on our linebackers and secondary by being able to line up four guys and get to the quarterback,” Hagen said, “and not have to bring an extra linebacker, a corner or DB off the edge. That just makes things tougher from a coverage standpoint. If we can relieve the stress on our back seven in terms of coverage, I think that’s going to go a long way into being a top 25 defense.”

While linebackers Tegray Scales and Marcus Oliver were the heart and soul of IU’s defense, and cornerback Rashard Fant and safety Jonathan Crawford headlined a lively secondary, Indiana’s defensive line provided the foundation with which to work.

The line play wasn’t necessarily spectacular, but it was altogether solid. So the Hoosiers recognize that there is still plenty of room for their linemen to grow in 2017.

To foster further development, Indiana will lean on an array of players rather than rely merely on four dedicated starters. Hagen rotated linemen at a high volume last season, so that by the end of the year, IU’s backups played nearly as many snaps as the starters.

As IU’s fall camp continues, the defensive line appears to be shaping up as expected. Gooch and McCray are projected as the two starting ends, while Hoff and Jacob Robinson are projected to start at defensive tackle.

Behind that first group, Mike Barwick, Jerome Johnson and Juan Harris will add depth at tackle, while Brandon Wilson and Allen Stallings will see considerable time on the edge. Stallings’ emergence will be crucial for a line that lost developing rusher Nile Sykes, who will miss the season to injury.

Indiana still doesn’t have a proven pass rusher off the edge, so Hagen is adamant about the need for guys such as McCray and Stallings, especially, to deliver.

“(McCray) and all Allen Stallings have got to be two guys that generate pass rush for us,” Hagen said. “We don’t have a lot of natural pass rush guys. Our guys work hard, they work in tandem together, but a year ago I think we had to blitz too much. We had to run too many twist games in there. We have to be able to line up four guys and get to the quarterback better. Those are two guys that need to step up.”

What makes a good pass rusher? Two main things, Hagen says.

One quality is relentless effort.

Another is a command of concepts.

“We’re gonna try and put a guy on half of a man instead of right down the middle,” Hagen said. “It’s a lot easier to rush half a man. You gotta be able to use your hands and your feet to put your body in position once you beat that offensive lineman, but so much of it is just flat out effort. Just a tenacious, relentless style. Our guys have that.”

Gooch isn’t viewed as a great pass rusher, but he’s tough against the run. Hagen liked what Gooch gave the group last season on first and second downs, along with his contributions in IU’s blitz package. If he can show more upside as a pass rusher as a senior this fall, then Hagen believes Gooch, who is already a trusted leader, will be closer to becoming a more complete player.

Elsewhere on the line, Hagen would like to keep Robinson at tackle for the full season. Robinson played inside and out last season, shifting between tackle and end as needed. Moving Robinson outside was necessitated, in part, by a shoulder injury that cost McCray the first four games.

“This year, with Robert McCray being healthy and Brandon Wilson hopefully coming on and providing depth there, we can keep Jacob inside most of the season,” Hagen said.

And by the end of the year, Hagen hopes to have a group that is among the catalysts for Indiana’s surge to a potential top-25 defensive season.

“I know our guys have laid out that goal,” Hagen said. “They want to continue to take steps forward.”

16 comments

  1. Having a defensive front that can handle the run along with providing a pass rush creates a lot of freedom for the back 7 to provide run support and coverage. The better the front four plays the better the defense is and coach Hagen understands this. Getting the new class in gets the defensive front closer to being the type of players coach is wanting.

  2. We all give Allen the credit he earned by instilling the D with the backbone and smarts for their improvement and success last year. But as a position coach Hagen led his DL to the most improved play on the team. I don’t know when it will happen but it will happen that Allen will give up the DC title and Hagen will elevate to the responsibility he deserves. He’ll be a tremendous DC.

  3. I think you’re right HC, he seems to be a very talented football coach. But I just hope we can keep Hagen, and the other excellent position coaches on staff long enough for them to elevate IU football to a winning program. Coaching turnover is inevitable, and there is no way to completely eliminate the risk of talented coaches getting lured away for more money, but IU needs to maintain a nucleus of assistant coaches for at least three years. What worries me is that the better job these position coaches do, the more likely they are to get poached by wealthier football programs. Hagen, having left IU for one of those programs (Texas A&M) a few years ago, then returned to Bloomington, may be less vulnerable than some of his peers, but it is up to Glass to make sure that IU is minimizing that risk by being proactive (instead of reactive and trying to match competitive offers) in regard to football coaching compensation.

    1. I tend to agree with Podunker on this one regarding staff salaries. Truth be known schools with elite football programs many times pay their coordinators as much as IU pays the HC. Problem is their alumni support the programs much better than Hoosier nation. Want elite football and basketball programs, put your money where your mouth is, but spend it wisely. With as large an alumni population as IU has, there is no reason why it cannot compete with the elite programs in both sports. That is, unless the IU alumni are less affluent overall than comparable schools. Then the question becomes is IU academically preparing graduates for reasonable financial success? It is one or the other, either we are turning out grads who tend to be cheap in their support of the school or they cannot afford to be generous.

  4. Or, as others would suggest, IU always has plenty of money but simply chooses not to spend it to protect our most valuable coaches. (I was chuckling while I typed that)

    IU Athletics’ not-to-distant history is filled with incompetent management that resulted in the waste of millions of dollars, spent on severance paid to coaches and ADs fired in the middle of their contracts. Litterally millions of dollars have been wasted because IU Administrators were incompetent when it came to hiring good coaches and/or negotiating contracts. Let’s review some of the most recent recipients of IU’s generous severance benefits:
    In Football:
    Gerry Dinardo: $500,000
    Bill Lynch: $500,000
    Kevin Wilson: $540,000
    Cam Cameron: $580,963 (fired by McNeely, who IU fired a year later)

    In Basketball:
    Kelvin Sampson: $750,000 (even though he was fired for cause)
    Tom Crean: Up to $1 million per year for up to four years

    Athletic Directors:
    Rick Greenspan (alleged to have exceeded $500,000)
    Michael McNeely: $800,000 (screw up the athletic department and walk away rich)

    So who can blame IU’s alumni for not wanting to contribute money to an Athletic Department that has squandered millions over the last 15 years in severance payments (and that does included the fees paid to search firms hired when trying to replace a terminated coach) to coaches and Administrators. It got so bad back in 2001/2002, that after IU fired McNeely, they could not afford to hire a replacement right away so they asked Terry Clapacs to take on an expanded role and manage the Athletic Department for an extra $40,000 per year. Then those brilliant administrators hired Rick Greenspan, who they had to fire a few years later after he wrecked the basketball program. It was the blind leading the blind, and it became very expensive.

    It’s just a guess, but I’m thinking that maybe, if IU had not wasted a minimum of $5.1 million (and it could go as high as $9 million depending on Crean) on severance payments, it could have hired better assistant coaches to begin with or at least paid its best assistant coaches more, thereby reducing the risk of having them lured away by more money.

    1. Podunker, HC’s dead horse comment not withstanding, I agree and disagree with your comments.
      I am not so sure we can blame alumni contribution reluctance on poor performance of the Athletic Department or on the possibility of the old adage, “you get what you pay for.” The University may not be able to afford better quality management because the funds for such simply are not there. As for HC’s dead horse comment, it is correct in this respect. The problem goes back an extremely long time. There was a reason why the legendary IU football coach Bo McMillian referred to the IU football program as the, “graveyard of coaches.”

      1. You’ve misinterpreted my “horse comment”. It has to do with Po’s proclivity to imitate Harvard for Hillbillies who monotonously rants his bias against Tom Crean. Most of which is stupid. Po pulls the same crap with all IU administrators who’ve ever drawn a paycheck from IU. Neither are able to draw much interest to a dead horse.

  5. I have no idea where IU ranks as a whole these days. But way back yonder when I started at IU in 1988, IU ranked 9th out of the 10 Big Ten schools in professor salaries. The athletic department followed suit with the rest of the university.

    It’s an obviously different era now. The expanded BigTen, network revenues, etc. Under Glass, IU has done a respectable job with salaries, department facilities improvements, etc. But as he has correctly pointed out, IU is a football PT boat compared to the aircraft carriers of Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. Those programs make more money off of one home game than IU nearly makes in it’s entire season. And those schools/programs have eaten coaches salaries too. Maybe in home stater Coach Allen IU has found a gem who will produce and be in it for the long haul. A la Pat Fitzgerald at Northwestern. Regardless, the assistant coaching carousel is just a fact in collegiate ball. For example, look at all the stops IU’s new OC has had.

    I believe IU is on the rise to being perennially competitive. Despite being in the tougher East division, IU is far better positioned for near and long term success than it’s immediate competition to the north and east, Purdue and Illinois. Factor in Rutgers and perhaps Maryland for additional perspective. Could things be better at IU by now? Sure. But they could be a heck of a lot worse.

    Let’s rally behind Coach Allen and Go Hoosiers!

    1. Okie,
      Like you I hope IU can at least duplicate at least the level of success Northwestern has enjoyed over the last 30 years. Remember the resurgence of the Northwestern program was what ultimately got Coach Mallory and a lot of other Big Ten coaches fired. If you could do succeed with the lackluster facilities and the much higher academic standards at Northwestern, no excuse for any other conference school.

      This being said, regarding the aircraft carrier comparison of the game attendance at the elite conference schools. Even with their much larger cash hauls from their games, it is only a fraction of the revenues brought into their programs. The big buck have and still remain alumni contributions. If Indiana wants to build a respectable program the alumni have to step up to the plate with the necessary resources to do so.

      My perspective comes from looking at the SEC for a number of years. Top to bottom the programs are supported at a much higher ratio than IU and other Big Ten lower tier schools. Even the two small Mississippi schools are far more supportive and in the case of one currently, a little too much. Obviously the SEC has quite a few more aircraft carriers than the Big Ten, but the lower tier schools have made a far more concerted effort to stay competitive.

  6. HC, you are nothing if not predictable in your responses to comments on this topic. I was chuckling while writing my previous post in anticipation of your response. And bless your heart, you did not disappoint.

    thinkaboutit, good posts. And I did not mean to suggest that IU Administration’s past incompetence is the only reason IU Alums withhold contributions, but it certainly has been one of the contributing factors. My wife and I were two such alumni. The way IU fired Knight clearly affected donations, and that was well documented at the time. Recently, Glass referenced in the media that IU was at risk of losing the support of major donors unless Crean was terminated. But basically, people whether they have money or not, simply don’t want to be associated incompetance. They spend their disposable income in ways that makes them feel good, whether that’s taking a dream vacation or contributing to the success of their beloved alma mater’s football program. And whether writing a big check or simply buying tickets to a football game, alumni and fans use their money to either reward or punish a university’s administration. Whether it be a political campaign or a donation to their alma mater, people don’t want to reward incompetence or waste their money on a losing cause; it makes them feel like fools. I have several close friends who are successful (i.e., financially “well off”) IU alumni and who were previously rabid IU sports fans. I have spoken to them about this subject, and I have asked them if they’re buying tickets or making donations to IU’s Athletic Department. With one exception (a die-hard fan), none of them have donated a penny to IU or attended a football game in years. And most amazingly, all but one of them stopped going to IU basketball games after the Kelvin Sampson debacle. I don’t think my group of friends is unique. In fact, I think they are representative of a very large group of alumni in my age group. We’re the generation of alumni that can and should be writing check to IU, but many of us refuse to do so. Given how enthusiastic these friends were in their support of IU when we were students in the late 70’s, their opinions and rational for not remaining involved was/is surprising to me.

    Okie, I hope you’re right when you suggest that IU athletics is on the rise. But in order to break through, Glass needs to stop squandering his limited athletic budget on paying out generous severance compensation to terminated employees and foolish things like giant flag poles, and spend his budget to support the men and women who have proven to be contributors to IU’s success in athletics. It’s the people who will make IU athletics successful. That’s why I refer to him as a “competent manager” and not a dynamic leader.

  7. HC, I’m overwhelmed by the breadth of your witty repartee and simply devastated by your insults.

  8. Now back to the topic, IU is now recruiting pass rushers and large DTs to stop the run and let the rushers put pressure on the QBs with a push up the middle. We will see some of that this year and in another two years the front will look like I describe. Despite not wanting to us LBs and DBs to rush the QB they will still do some of the blitzing as the front gets better.

    I hope the pass rushers they brought in with this last class and the commits from this class develop to become terrors for the QBs.

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