Doug Mallory has a cold. It’s the least of his problems.
Indiana’s co-defensive coordinator is trying to help build a defense that can stay with Big Ten offenses.
Let’s just say the Hoosiers ain’t there yet.
“We’ve got a long ways to go defensively,” he said. “There are a lot of things to work on. The good news is most are correctbable, but I feel like we need to play better. We’ve got to get that consistency there.”
The Hoosiers are consistent in their inconsistency. They rank last in the Big Ten in scoring defense and 11th in rushing defense. It’s not like they’re playing Oklahoma or Oregon or Wisconsin. Ball State, Virginia and South Carolina State do not represent a murderer’s row of college offenses.
Now comes Saturday’s trip to North Texas, which is 0-3 on the season after a brutal opening that included last Saturday’s 41-0 loss to Alabama.
If IU wants to do better than a 3-9 season record, which seems the best it can hope for after its 0-2 start, it’s gotta play better defense. What are the keys to get that?
Here’s what Mallory had to say.
“No. 1 is stop the run. We still haven’t been real efficient on that. In the run game we’re not giving up explosion plays, but nickel and dime stuff. The offense is able to stay on track -- getting four to five yards a clip. We won’t be successful if we don’t set them back, get them third and long, and get into a winnable situation. We have to be more efficient in our early down defense. If we get them to third down we’ve earned the right to rush the passer. We’ve got to do a better job on early downs and get the ball back.”
Another priority is forcing more turnovers. IU got none in the first game, three in the second and one against South Carolina State.
“There were two other times (against South Carolina State) we knocked the ball loose and had an interception and dropped it,” Mallory said. “Those are missed opportunities. But our third-down efficiency was better. They were 4-for-14, so that was good. We finally made a play in the red zone and held them to zero points.”
Still, the Hoosiers gave up three big pass plays to a team that had done nothing in the air its first three games. On the long touchdown pass, Mallory admitted exposing the secondary with a blitz that left no help deep.
“Regardless of the (defensive) call we’re expected to win on the play,” Mallory said.
As far as players’ reaction to giving up big plays, Mallory said, “I know how I’m going to react. I’m not too happy when that happens. You try to vent your frustration before you get them on the phone.”
Mallory needs a phone because he coaches from the press box. When the defense gets to the sidelines, he’ll often use a phone to coach up a player. When a player messes up, sometimes a coach tears into him, sometimes he goes gently.
“No one feels worse than the kid who just got beat,” Mallory said. “I was a defensive back. I know if you give up a big play the last thing you want is to get ripped. He probably already knows what he did wrong. You talk to him and get it corrected. That’s the main thing. Get it corrected”
Just so you know, D’Angelo Roberts has done something Anthony Thompson never did at Indiana:
Win Big Ten freshman of the week honors.
Okay, the Big Ten didn’t have that award when Thompson broke into the Cream ‘n Crimson lineup in the mid 1980s, but that misses the point, which is Roberts had a strong performance against South Carolina State.
Yes, the Bulldogs cannot match the defensive talent Indiana will face in the Big Ten, but they weren’t dogs. They likely will make the national playoffs in NCAA Division I-AA (we know it’s called FCS or FCC or whatever, but it’s too confusing for us) mostly because of defense.
Roberts had his way with them, totaling 102 yards in 19 carries, all in the second half. He also added two catches for 12 yards. He now leads IU in rushing with 150 yards. He’s the eighth Hoosier true freshman to reach 100 yards and the first since BenJarvus Green-Ellis did it against Purdue in 2003.
Only one other Hoosier has ever won this freshman award -- kicker Mitch Ewald. He did it on Nov. 29, 2010.