Defense looks to meet its standard vs. Virginia

The feeling of victory was unmistakably euphoric.

But even in the wake of a season-opening road triumph at Florida International, something didn’t sit well with Indiana coach Tom Allen and his crew.

College football games are seldom perfect, especially this one, a 38-28 win in Miami that saw Allen’s Hoosiers struggle to fully match their own high standards on defense. So many positive changes have come since Allen arrived at IU as its defensive coordinator in 2016. With them, expectations have been recalibrated.

So, when the team reconvened for meetings on Monday morning, Allen engaged in tough talk with his defenders, challenging them to play a better, more complete game. That’s IU’s focus when it hosts Virginia in Saturday’s home opener at 7:30 p.m.

“I did not think we played well defensively after watching the film,” Allen said. “I obviously saw it live and didn’t feel great about it (then, either). Really disappointed in our fits. I know we got a lot of new faces and I get that. That’s part of the growth. I expected to have some of those issues, but I felt like there were too many and just didn’t feel like we were able to get off the field.”

FIU totaled 327 yards against the Hoosiers, scored touchdowns on each of its three red zone trips and recorded one second-half scoring drive consisting of 16 plays and 78 yards, followed by another scoring drive of 10 plays and 75 yards in the fourth quarter.

At times, the Panthers gashed IU’s front seven on the way to 170 rushing yards, posting four runs consisting of 10 or more yards.

Indiana’s front seven looked slow and out of synch, raising concern over just how much the defense must improve not only before this week’s game against Virginia, but by the start of Big Ten play later this month.

“It wasn’t good enough,” Indiana defensive line coach Mark Hagen said. “We weren’t physical enough up front. Our pad level wasn’t good enough. We didn’t come off the ball and attack people. Those are three areas we always preach from Day 1. We didn’t do that and that was very, very disappointing.”

At the same time, at least statistically speaking, IU’s performance wasn’t totally off par from previous non-conference performances. Or season openers.

Take, for example, the Hoosiers’ 2016 trip to Florida International, which was largely viewed as a revelation given that IU was coming off a woeful defensive season in 2015.

In that 2016 game, FIU posted 331 yards — four more than it did last week — while averaging 4.8 yards per play. The Panthers posted 4.9 yards per play on Saturday. Granted, much of that production in 2016 came through the air as opposed to the more balanced production FIU found against IU in the opener.

But Saturday felt off, at least given the gains Indiana has already made defensively across the past two seasons.

“It felt different coming off (the field) when they said you gave up 327 yards,” Hagen said. “It felt worse than that. Well, that’s because we’re used to a standard of play.”

And the Hoosiers didn’t feel like they saw that standard met in Miami.

Allen was frustrated with FIU’s success on first down, when the Panthers averaged 4.7 yards per gain. He was disappointed that FIU converted a pair of fourth downs and he was let down in the instances when Panthers beat his Hoosiers in one-on-one battles.

All the while, Allen understands that, with eight defensive starters gone from last year’s team, this is going to be a work in progress.

He was pleased to see his team play aggressively at times, recording three takeaways. Safety Jonathan Crawford factored into two of those, looking the part of a senior leader.

So there is optimism that, in time, IU will once again meet its standard for tough, in-your-face defense.

It has its next chance on Saturday in a key non-conference game against the Cavaliers.

“There were a lot of things we can take away from that game as (far as) areas of improvement,” Hagen said. “Thankfully, we won the game. I thought our offense played excellent. I thought we were opportunistic on defense when we needed to be. But, overall, that’s not our standard.”

7 comments

  1. The defense has a game under its belt with film to see what they need to work on. It is easier to get players to understand after they see the issues in film. Much of the issues are correctable along with getting used to game speed. Each week will be a learning experience and how quickly they learn will determine how good the D will be this year.

    1. IU needs 2 killer LB’s like we had last season: fast, powerful, aggressive, flying to the ball, smashing the opponent. Do we have them on this roster?

  2. Love the attitude and approach from IU’s coaches. Stating that the performance made in a victory was not good enough, and specifically why it was not good enough, that’s encouraging. I remember the days of IU coaches speaking in general platitudes and wondering, “do these guys know what’s going on with their team?” Obviously, this coaching staff does.

  3. Hoosiers are going to have to find a way to bottle up the UVA QB. He ran for over 100 yards last week and IU has had issues in the past trying to stop dual threat QBs.

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