Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
Defense has been the bugaboo of the Indiana football program for the greater part of two decades, and it will once again be a huge part of the success or failure of the 2015 season. The Hoosiers enter the season opener with a front seven that should be a strength and a secondary that will probably need a game or two to get their sea legs. So while waiting for the first college football games to kick off let's take a look at some keys to a win for the Hoosier from the defensive side of the ball.
1. Attack, Attack, Attack
Head coach Kevin Wilson has stressed the importance of being aggressive on defense, pointing out it is usually the more aggressive team that emerges victorious. The Hoosiers are entering their second season in Brian Knorr's 3-4 defense and they seem to be more comfortable with it than last year. Having that year under their belts will allow coaches to work more on technique and defensive skills rather than just teaching schemes. Wilson said on Monday that, they have been working harder on making plays.
"So just going hard and being a spot is not defense. You need to get off the block and make tackles. We've been working a lot on disengagement and getting to the ball."
Getting off blocks and getting pressure on the quarterback as well as stuffing the run game will be vital for a front seven who will be protecting some of the youthful mistakes that are bound to occur. The Hoosiers had only 77 tackles for loss and 23 sacks a season ago, so that number must improve.
2. Force Turnovers
In the final three games of 2014 the Indiana defense forced nine of their 18 turnovers, so maybe they have turned a corner in terms of getting the ball back from opponents. However, that was a year ago and there will be at least six new starters on defense so those numbers may be meaningless.
The Hoosiers should be able to pressure SIU quarterback Mark Iannotti into some poor throws and be able to get the running backs to put the ball on the ground with a more attacking style of play. Turnovers not only get the defense off the field, they could give an offense who needs to build some confidence and swagger a short field for a shot at relatively easy points.
3. Improve on Third/Fourth Downs and Red Zone Stops
Brian Knorr's defense was absolutely dreadful in the red zone. Indiana allowed opponents to score points on a staggering 96 percent (43-45) of their red zone chances. Of those 45 changes 27 of them went for six points. The Hoosiers simply cannot win allowing this many points, although they may survive against an opponent like Southern Illinois.
The less time Indiana's defense spends on the field the more success they will be. This is not a knock on the talent or the players, it is just a fact of life. The less time any defense is on the field, it is usually a good sign. On 183 third down plays last season the Hoosiers allowed opponents to move the chains on 66 of them. That is a 36 percent clip, which, to my surprise, was good for sixth in the conference. However, the Hoosiers ranked last in the Big Ten on stopping opponents on fourth downs. They allowed 16 of 20 fourth down plays to go for first downs. So, even though they were ok on third downs, they could not get off the field on fourth down. This is a recipe for disaster for any defense as they will run out of gas by the fourth quarter.