So here is Doug Mallory, a successful coach who grew up on football, watching Indiana play some of the worst defense imaginable.
Yeah, it's to sleep.
Mallory and co-defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler are trying to devise a defense capable of stopping Big Ten teams, or any teams. In the last four weeks, it hasn’t happened. There is no sign it will happen this Saturday, when the Hoosiers head to Ohio State for what looms as another beat down.
What the heck is going on?
Against Northwestern, the Hoosiers busted pass coverages. On one big Wildcat play, IU’s cornerback, nickelback and safety played two different coverages.
This is not what being multiple on defense is supposed to mean.
“We felt the call would have been good against that particular route,” Mallory said, “we just didn’t execute.”
That happens a lot. On another big Northwestern play, IU’s defensive end didn’t contain the quarterback and a linebacker came out of his coverage.
Another time IU called for a blitz that would have worked if the defensive lineman had gone through the right gap. He did not.
“Those are things you can’t do to be successful on defense,” Mallory said.
There are others, of course, such as being lousy on third downs and in the red zone, and not being able to make teams one dimensional by taking away something, anything.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Mallory said.
IU played seven true freshmen against Northwestern, some of that because of injuries to veteran players, some of it because they were the ones practicing the best.
In an ideal world, your best and most experienced players practice the best all the time. In this Cream ‘n Crimson world, it ain’t happening.
Mallory said two defensive players had winning performances against Northwestern and none of them were freshmen.
“They’ve got to continue to grow,” he said. “They’ve been thrown into action, so you have to live with some of the errors they’re making. You do everything you can to get them corrected.”
Mallory said it’s not a matter of just giving up on the veterans, going with the freshmen and building for the future.
“We’ll play the best kids available. We’ll play with who we have and who’s having the best week of practice.”
Youth and inexperience often means simplifying the game plan, which makes it easier for offenses to attack and succeed.
“You’ve got to be able to call a game and put kids in position where they can be successful,” Mallory said. “When you’ve got a confused team out there, when you have kids making mental mistakes, you’re probably doing too much. It’s not what we as a staff knows, it’s what the kids know and are able to execute.”
This is a mostly a veteran defensive staff with a reputation of good teachers. The lessons, however, aren’t being learned. In the end, that falls on the coaches.
“We pride ourselves on beging good teachers,” Mallory said. “We’ve got to get through it.”
The bottom line is not so much teaching as communicating.
Mallory calls plays from the press box. He relays the call to coaches on the sidelines, who flash the signals to the players. The players are also responsible for ensuring everyone knows the call. Most of the time, it works. Occassionally, it doesn’t, and the results are obvious.
“Those are things that have to be stressed to get everybody on the same page,” Mallory said.
Communication is made more difficult by teams that go no-huddle or call plays quickly.
“We’re stressing to the safeties that we’ve got to get a guy who’s a field general out there,” Mallory said. “We’ve got some young guys plaing and they’re not taking chare of the secondary and communicating their side of the field so we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”
“That’s on me. I’ve got to do a better job of getting them talking.”
Ohio State isn’t usually an uptempo team. It powers away with the run, mixing in the pass behind its freshman quarterback. If the Buckeyes can win just by running, they’ll do it. It’s up to IU to stop them.
Given the way this season has gone, the outlook isn’t promising.