Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Who Are The Football Hoosiers? We’re About To Find Out

That gift wrapped non-conference football schedule is in the books. Indiana is 4-0 beyond the Big Ten, 0-2 in it.

Now comes a six-week run of Big Ten muscle, starting with Saturday’s game at Illinois, and offensive lineman Justin Pagan (pictured left) understands the stakes.

“This is where we find out who we are.”

Who are these 4-2 Hoosiers? For one thing, they’re a dynamic offense and a struggling defense. For another, they’re a program that has lost 12 straight Big Ten road games, not that we’re counting.

Anyway, they face a surprising Illinois team (3-3) that scares nobody with its offense. Its 21.3 scoring average ranks only ahead of Penn State (18.2) in the conference.

This is a good thing because Indiana’s defense rates among the Big Ten’s worst. In fact, it ranks 89th in the nation by allowing 400.7 yards a game.

The good news -– that only ranks ninth in the Big Ten. Minnesota (414.3 yards) and Michigan (441.0 yards) are worse.

Despite that, IU is improving defensively. Yes, it was hard to notice when Arkansas State pushed the Hoosiers to the limit before losing 36-34 last Saturday. Still, they held the Red Wolves to 61 rushing yards (their previous best was 130 yards) and didn’t allow the big plays that had killed them in previous games.

Check that. They didn’t allow OFFENSIVE big plays. They did get burned on kickoff returns, which is why they’ve made that a point of emphasis this week.

Credit the defensive improvement to the maturation of the linebackers. Strong-side linebacker Tyler Replogle (pictured right) has been a rock this season, but the improvement of Leon Beckum and junior college transfer Jeff Thomas have made the biggest difference.

Beckum had nine tackles (three for a loss and one sack) against Ohio State, then followed that with seven tackles against Arkansas State. Thomas, who arrived in the spring after playing at Foothill (Calif.) Community College, had six tackles and an interception against Ohio State, seven tackles against Arkansas State.

For the season Beckum has 36 tackles and Thomas has 33. Replogle leads IU in tackles with 41.

“We think we have the linebackers in the right spots now with Tyler (strong side), Jeff (middle) and Leon (outside) all playing at the same time. We also have the right depth behind them.

“I think Chad Sherer will be a very good inside guy playing behind Tyler. Same thing with Griffen Dahlstrom. All the reps he’s getting in practice playing behind Jeff are important. And then Damon Sims on the outside. We have the older guys playing and the younger guys backing them up, which is an ideal situation.”

Thomas was brought in from junior college to make an immediate impact and has delivered.

“Jeff’s improvement doesn’t surprise me,” Lynch said, “because he is one of those guys who loves football and it is very important to him. He is very talented and is getting more comfortable each game. There is an adjustment going from junior college football to Big Ten football. He is an aggressive, get-after-it player.”

As far the improvement in preventing big plays, Lynch said it started with better execution.

“We could show them with the two losses in a row (to Michigan and Ohio State) that it was the big plays that were getting us beat. We have to take better (tackling) angles. We’ve worked very hard in practice on our drill work and tackling at the near hip. That’s all we really did. We didn’t do anything different from a philosophical or scheme standpoint. We just executed the fundamentals.”

1 comment:

  1. Love to see the "D" take the next step up and bump off the Illini on saturday. Tackling has been the biggest issue for this group so far. Glad they have worked on that in practice for it will pay big dividends. Last week showed some progress, but now is time to prove with actions.