Written By Sammy Jacobs (@Hoosier_Huddle)
We are continuing our post-season grades for the 2015 IU football season. On this edition we will be reviewing the defense did (gulp!). This may be the equivalent of being called into the principal’s office in high school for a unit that was mostly abysmal, so let’s get started.
As has been the theme for over 20 years, the Hoosiers defense is what kept them from becoming an eight, nine, or even a 10-win team. IU’s defense gave up 37.6 points per game. To put this in perspective, the IU offense led the conference in most categories, but they only scored 36.5 points per game.
The Hoosiers were slightly better against the run, surrendering 195.7 yards per game, while allowing teams to throw for 313.8 yards per game.
Third down conversions were a particular thorn in the side for the Hoosiers, as they allowed a first down at a 42-percent clip and when they forced opponents to fourth down, they surrendered a first down 13 times in 28 tries.
Shockingly the defense took a step back from 2014, reverting back to their 2013 form, which cost IU a bowl bid that year.
Defensive Line (Bandit Included): C
The defensive line was supposed to be the strength of this team, and still were probably the best unit when it was all said and done. The unit sported talented upper classmen like Darius Latham, Zack Shaw, Nick Mangieri, Adarius Rayner and Ralph Green. It also welcomed back youngsters, like Shawn Heffern and Nate Hoff, who had been successful during their freshman seasons and were supposed to be quality depth pieces.
As a whole the defensive line accounted for 19.5 of the Hoosiers’ 30 sacks and 41 of the 82 tackles for loss (TFL). Senior defensive end Nick Mangieri, 9.5 sacks, and bandit Zack Shaw, 11.5 TFLs, led the way. Junior defensive tackle Darius Latham battled off the field issues early in the season that caused him to miss two games, but he finished a solid campaign with 33 total tackles, 10 TFLs, four sacks, and one impressive interception.
While these three performed up to or above expectations the Hoosiers received disappointing results from fifth year senior Adarius Rayner and junior Ralph Green. Rayner played in all 13 games, but only registered 15 tackles, 3 TFLs, and two pass break ups. Green, who was supposed to create an impenetrable wall with Latham only had 17 tackles, 3.5 TFLs, and one sack. It was noticeable how few times people heard Green’s named mentioned on defense on TV.
What might be even more concerning was the lack of a jump in improvement Shawn Heffern and Nate Hoff had. These were two players that the Hoosiers needed to step up and take the next step after solid freshman seasons to be depth players along the line so that IU could keep fresh bodies on the field. Hoff played in 12 games and totaled only four tackles while Heffern was slightly better with 15 tackles.
The linebacking corps for the Hoosiers showed promise at times in 2015, but too often fell victim to the big plays by running backs and tight ends. The good news for the Hoosiers is that they will get everyone back from the unit that featured three of their top four tackles.
Sophomore Marcus Oliver was a superstar on the field as he returned from an ACL injury that cost him the 2014 season. He became the first IU defender to crack the century mark in tackles, 112, since Matt Mayberry in 2008. He was the heart and soul of this defense and IU fans should be excited that this kid has two more years in Bloomington. In addition to his 112 tackles, Oliver forced a team-high four fumbles and picked off two passes.
Junior T.J. Simmons had flashes of brilliance, highlighted by his 15-tackle effort at Michigan State. However, Simmons did not have enough lateral speed to be a great defender in pass coverage and often fell victim to big plays from tight ends.
Tegray Scales, who was so good as a freshman, was hampered by injuries most of the year and did not look to regain his form until late in the season. When healthy, he was as good as anyone in the front seven for IU. He finished with 64 tackles, 5.5 TFL’s, and two interceptions in just 11 games.
Some of the reserves played well for the Hoosiers. Clyde Newton finished with 50 tackles and provided some big hits down the stretch, including several in the Bucket Game against Purdue. Zeke Walker was becoming a contributor until his season was cut short with a Lis Franc injury.
The talent is there at the linebacker position for 2016, but the Hoosiers need all these players to stay healthy and on the field.
This would be a failing grade if not for the efforts of sophomore corner Rashard Fant and true freshman safety Jonathan Crawford. It was no secret that the bugaboo of the 2015 Hoosiers would be the defensive secondary. Indiana lost all four of their starters from 2014 due to one factor or another, and would be replacing them with some talented, but largely untested players.
Those concerns were realized in the first half of the first game against Southern Illinois when the beleaguered defense gave up 411 yards through the air. For the season the Hoosiers gave up a whopping 313.8 yards per game through the air. The safety position was also victim to big runs as they crashed early and allowed runners to go 70-plus yards instead of 20 or so.
Indiana could not develop depth at the position as only Fant and Crawford were the only players in the secondary to play in every game. Chase Dutra, a player with high expectations to be an impact guy, played in only eight games, missing the last few with an ankle injury. Devonte Williams, who switched to corner in fall camp, played in only three games, while fellow freshman corner Andre Brown played in 10. Tyler Green, another freshman played in eight. The Hoosiers became so desperate for bodies in the secondary that they played Leon Thornton, a freshman wide out, there the final three games. For the record Thornton impressed me in his limited time at the position.
The two players who do deserve recognition are Rashard Fant, who finished the year with 22 pass break ups, 52 tackles, and picked off the first pass of his career in the bowl game, and Jonathan Crawford. Crawford started from day one as a true freshman and finished second on the team in total tackles with 76, picked off a team-high four passes, and blocked a field goal, Without depth at safety it seemed like he was out on the field for every play, and he clearly looked like he had hit a wall mid-way through the season. Crawford will be a major player for the Hoosiers in the coming years.