Hoosiers aim to get back on track with takeaways

Juwan Burgess had just done the thing his coaches ask for.

With a violent effort, the safety’s shoulder pads helped dislodge a football from the hands of an Ohio State ballcarrier. He had just created a forced fumble, a coveted takeaway.

But in the fourth quarter of a 51-10 loss to the Buckeyes, it was hard for Burgess to maintain a celebratory mood.

“I’m so hard on myself, because I told myself, ‘Man, we should have been making plays like that,’” Burgess said. “We need them plays early in the game, not just right now. Do you feel me? That’s what I told myself.”

Takeaways, tackling and effort.

Those are the three things IU coach Tom Allen stresses the most, but the first two items have been only somewhat there for the Hoosiers through three games.

As far as takeaways are concerned, the Hoosiers have a pair. The first came at the tail end of a 10-point win over Ball State, a game-sealing pick by sophomore corner Jaylin Williams. Burgess, the redshirt sophomore, forced a fumble toward the end of a blowout loss.

That’s not the level of production IU wants in that department — a statistical category that can change the course of games when it tilts to one team’s favor. Last season, the Hoosiers created 2.2 takeaways per game, which ranked ninth in the nation. Williams’ interception continued a 19-game takeaway streak — the longest in the country, at the time — until it was snapped versus Eastern Illinois.

As the Hoosiers head into a noon kick with UConn, takeaways are a priority.

“It changes the outcome of football games, especially against good teams like Ohio State,” IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said. “Obviously, it provides an opportunity and momentum for your offense. Those things come in bunches. We have to be unwavering in our standard and how we preach those things.

“I can’t sit here and say it comes on this one or that one, you don’t know when the opportunity comes. But when you play with a violent effort and an attacking style of defense, you create more takeaways, and that’s certainly what we want to accomplish.”

IU (2-1) was very much on the attack when it played EIU in Game 2, but the No. 6 Buckeyes, loaded with talent, had the Hoosiers on their heels. For Burgess and his teammates, a matchup with UConn is a chance to reassert themselves in a meaningful way.

The Huskies (1-1) are led by an experienced rusher in Kevin Mensah but an inexperienced quarterback in freshman Jack Zergiotis. The native of Montreal, Quebec, was 21-of-31 for 275 yards versus Illinois but threw two picks.

While it felt like Burgess’ takeaway may have come too late in the OSU loss, he was hopeful it would be a spark for something greater.

“Maybe this could be the start of us as a program getting our takeaways,” Burgess said. “Just a few weeks ago, we were No. 1 in the nation in takeaways. This week, I’m expecting a lot of takeaways. But score with it. Not just take the ball away but score with it.”

The Hoosier defense is motivated to do as much as they possibly can following a performance where they lacked in so many areas. Run fits, tackling, coverages — it all fell below the standard they are trying to set.

Wommack met with his players Monday and repeated the words “enough is enough,” indicating it was time for the Hoosiers to put their collective foot in the ground.

Burgess got the message.

“So pretty much, enough is enough,” Burgess said. “Like Coach Allen says, that should really put fuel on the fire, man. Everybody should be hungry for a dub.”

If the Hoosiers play as Burgess expects, UConn will be facing a team with a massive chip on its shoulder.

“This is me telling you this right now: We (are about to) put up 50 on them boys, man,” Burgess said. “Just like (Ohio State) just came in and put 50 on us. We just did that the week before (against EIU) … and we let someone come in here and do that to us?

“That’s crazy. We can’t let that happen.”

4 STORYLINES

1. Run, run, run.

If there was a game for the Hoosier run game to get back on track, it would be this one. In 2018, the Huskies had the worst defense in college football, allowing 617 yards per game. Opponents scored more than 50 points per contest. IU offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer talked this week about establishing the run early, and the Hoosiers should get more than the 3.1 yards per carry they’ve managed through three contests. On the other side of the ball, shutting down the Huskies’ rushing attack will be key. Kevin Mensah, a 1,000-yard rusher in ‘18, is UConn’s top returner on offense.

2. Get some takeaways.

In the second game of the season, IU had its nation’s best takeaway streak end at 19 games. Two takeaways in three games isn’t the number Tom Allen would like to see from his unit. In two games (UConn had a bye last week), the Huskies have coughed up two fumbles and thrown three interceptions. Takeaways can change the course of a game, especially when they come early. If there was a game for the Hoosier defense to force turnovers in bunches, again, this would be it.

3. Who’s the QB?

Just like last week, the status of Michael Penix Jr. is unknown heading into Saturday. IU might have redshirt junior Peyton Ramsey under center again. It would be beneficial for the Hoosiers to get more snaps for a young quarterback like Penix ahead of next week’s Michigan State game, so if he’s ready to go, Allen would be more than happy to let him play. It would be less than ideal for Penix to return versus a defense like the Spartans, on the road.

4. Bounce back.

Regardless of the statistical details, this game is about something much more intangible: How do the Hoosiers bounce back from a bad loss? After a 41-point blowout at the hands of Ohio State, some players talked about a lack of focus from teammates in practice. Others were determined to “not let Ohio State beat us twice.” Just getting mentally right is crucial before IU heads into the rest of its Big Ten schedule. Will the UConn contest be marked with inconsistencies, or will the Hoosiers come out with a sharp focus? That will say a lot about this team.

By the numbers

2: Wins for UConn in the all-time series (2003, 2006). The Hoosiers have yet to win.

5th: Where Peyton Hendershot ranks nationally among tight ends for receptions (13) and yards (191). He also shares eighth in TDs (2).

8: Consecutive non-conference games the Hoosiers have won, including 16 of their last 17.

13: Number of teams, including IU, that has yet to fumble this season.

32: Kickers in college football that have made all of their field goal attempts, including IU’s Logan Justus.

7 comments

  1. Take-aways happen when you tackle well and hit opponents. I am concerned so much has been said about take-aways the players have forgotten the tackling part. I would be happy without any take-aways today if I see lots of players around the ball and hard tackling every play.

  2. A pair of siblings the same age…One popular, the other not so popular. One an achiever. The other an underachiever…One with trophies decorating the shelves of the room. The other down the hall decorates with ‘Beanie Babies.’ One fills the house when having a party…The other has party invitations ignored. One given all the right parents’ genes. The other got the eyes way too close together. One handed a basketball he joyfully rolled around the floor as a baby. The other given a football…long after teething still gnaws at its seam. One married with children successful…The other single lives in parents’ remodeled basement.
    One Hoosier Basketball. The other Hoosier Football.

    IU vs. UConn. The battle of the “others.”

  3. Second quarter UCONN 10 minutes to go in quarter 2. Play calling and Debord? Looks like it wasn’t Debord….at least not nearly all of it was his fault.

  4. I think Ball State could crush UConn today. I’m obviously happy that IU is dominating them, but UConn is terrible. This opponent is not going to do much to prepare IU to play Big Ten teams.

    I want to see Tuttle play the entire fourth quarter. He needs the game reps.

  5. Yup,
    You’re stating the obvious t, and you are absolutely correct. No one should have missed the point you have made for the last two years, but somehow they did.

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