Written by Lloyd Ribner III (@Ribner3)
Over the last week or so Kevin Wilson’s staff has gone over a major overhaul. Most noteworthy is the fact that Indiana will have a pair of new coordinators for the 2014 season. On the offensive side of the ball it was basically next man up, as Kevin Johns was tabbed to take the reins after Seth Littrell was poached away by North Carolina. The hope being that the offense will continue its growth in the same system. Defensively the decision wasn't made as easily. Finding a man to replace the recently jettisoned Doug Mallory was a mammoth task, not due to the success he had during his time leading the cream and crimson defense, but just the opposite.
Repulsive has been the standard for Hoosier defenses for quite some time now, as the Hoosiers have yet to rank inside the top 100 in total defense with Wilson on board. Many names were discussed in terms filling the opening. The potential to poach a bright young mind off of one of the top defenses right in the Hoosiers B1G backyard, such as Michigan State or Wisconsin was a popular idea. However, Wilson decided to go in a very different direction, and instead valued experience. The outcome, tabbing Brian Knorr from Air Force the next man to try and fix the defensive debacle at Indiana.
Just a week after accepting the coordinator job at Air Force, the 50-year old Knorr felt that an opportunity to coach in the Big Ten was just too good to pass up. Prior to his weeklong tenure at the Academy, the Kansas native spent the previous six seasons leading the defense at Wake Forest. With Knorr at the helm the Demon Deacon defense finished in the top-40 in both total defense and scoring defense last season.
The most interesting aspect of the hire is the fact that Knorr ran a 3-4 scheme at Wake Forest, and most likely will want to bring that to the Big Ten. We have seen the 3-4 scheme be successful in the conference, most recently with Wisconsin flipping to it under new head coach Gary Anderson.
It will be interesting to see how the new defensive staff decides to implement the system. Will it be a clean break where the Hoosiers go straight to a 3-4 from Knorr’s first day on the job? Or will it be a more gradual transition that will allow the defense to be very multiple in 2014?
The assumption would have to be the latter. The personnel, most especially the talented defensive players from the 2013 recruiting class were brought in to play and fit into a 4-3 scheme. The greatest example of this is the gem of the 2013 class Darius Latham.
A local boy, who decided to stay home instead of testing out the waters of the SEC where he had a multitude of offers, would be a very interesting fit in a 3-4 system. While he is naturally a defensive tackle, he would mist likely be forced to move outside as a 3-4 end. While he shows some potential at that spot, is that the best use of the resource at hand?
It will be intriguing to watch the scheme develop as the year plays out. Will Knorr fit his scheme around the pieces he has to play with or will he try to shove square pegs into round holes?
There are a myriad of benefits to an odd man front, especially in this new age of college football. It allows you the ability to adjust, adapt and stay balanced. It gives a team versatility. With a four-man front those with their hands in the ground will be rushing the passer about ninety-percent of the time. However, with four linebackers, a defense can put more speed on the field to attack spread style offenses. In addition quality linebackers are typically easier to come by on the recruiting trail than their counterparts on the offensive line.
If you speak with anyone on the subject, the most important piece in a 3-4 defense is the nose guard. He needs to be big and strong enough to take on double-teams and cannot allow the guards to read the second level behind him. The player most likely to take on this role for the Hoosiers will be Ralphael Green. To be successful the lone star state native will have to play Texas big, and truly become the anchor of the Indiana defense.
The defensive end’s role changes significantly in the 3-4 alignments as well. It is often regarded as somewhat unglamorous. As opposed to lining up outside the tight end or tackle trying to use their athleticism and speed to beat blocks and rush the quarterback, their most important job will be to control gaps and push the pocket. That’s where the aforementioned Darius Latham comes into play. He has the size to play the position for sure, and could eventually overpower opposing lineman when paired up with Green.
The weakside linebacker usually becomes the premier pass-rusher in the 3-4. He is a player who must be very versatile, big and strong enough to beat blocks, yet quick enough to work up field. The strongside linebacker is often asked to drop into space, cover tight ends and backs and play with his head up. The two inside linebackers are there to find holes in the line and make plays in the run game, and occasionally pressure the quarterback. It will be interesting to see how David Cooper takes to the transition after being very successful under the old scheme. However, players like T.J. Simmons who had a big first year in Bloomington, and commits like Tegray Scales and Airius Moore could become much bigger impact players in the new 3-4 scheme.
Indiana Athletic Director Fred Glass has reaffirmed his commitment to Wilson, pointing to not wanting more program turnover, more so than the coach’s abilities. It would seem as if the head coach’s destiny is now in the hands of the newly arrived Knorr. It will not be an easy job, not only is he taking on the mammoth task of overhauling the Hoosier defense, but he will be doing it against the new Big Ten East Division where they will face Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State and Penn State. Oh, not to mention one less MAC game to help the god awful defensive stats at least a bit as the Big Ten moves to a nine-game slate.
Typically the idea of making the change from a 4-3 to a 3-4 defense in the college game is a bit scary. However, with the disaster the Hoosiers defense has been under Mallory, how much worse could it get? At the very least it will make for an interesting year of Hoosier football.