For a lot of reasons, Indiana's defense needed to have a strong performance against Bowling Green.
After being gashed by Navy last week, the collective groan of fans could be heard around Bloomington as the familiar feeling of ‘Here we go again with the IU defense' began to set in.
Indiana held Bowling Green to 409 yards of total offense in the Hoosiers' 42-10 win Saturday. More importantly, the Falcons did not score an offensive touchdown. This, from a team that was averaging 37.5 points per game. The night and day turnaround was a welcome sight for the much-maligned defense.
"It's good because last week they were the worst defense that ever played in the history of the universe if you just listened," joked Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson, responding to criticism from fans and the media following the Navy game. "And now they're going to be the greatest thing ever.
"Nah, they just are what they are. They're young, they're getting better."
The Hoosiers (2-1) kept Bowling Green out of the endzone, the first time Indiana has not allowed an opponent to score an offensive touchdown since 2008 against Murray State. Bowling Green's lone touchdown came on a punt block return.
"It's that the teams that come in here, some of them just don't respect our secondary or our defense that much," Bennett said. "We have to come out swinging every day. From last week getting punched in the gut right now, it hurt us. So we had to come out more physical."
And they did. Indiana held Bowling Green to 136 yards rushing, 90 yards below the Falcons' season average. Navy rushed for 444 yards, 35 more than Bowling Green's total offense.
"That's the key to our defense is stopping the run," Bennett said. "If we stop the run we have a chance to be a good defense in the Big Ten."
Indiana's ability to stop the run, along with an offensive explosion following the first quarter, forced Bowling Green to pass more often. Falcon's QB Matt Johnson finished 25-of-44 for 248 yards with no touchdowns and an interception.
The Hoosiers in fact made a concerted effort to stop the run by packing the box with eight or more players. That left Bennett and fellow corner Michael Hunter out an island in one-on-one coverage.
Wilson pointed out that Bowling Green picked on Hunter at the onset. With Indiana up 14-10 midway through the second quarter, Falcons wide receiver Shaun Joplin beat Michael Hunter on a double move for a 28-yard gain.
Wilson said Hunter settled in after that. He finished with four pass break ups and two tackles. Bennett had seven tackles and three pass break ups.
"I think they did a great job," Heban said of the corners. "We kept talking about the whole game that they're going to try to take shots out there on the perimeter, short routes, double moves. I think they did a phenomenal job the whole game."
Having those two play on an island will be valuable moving forward. Wilson said Indiana will face several teams with strong running attacks, which will force the Hoosiers to once again pack the box and leave the corners in man coverage.
"Mike misses last year with a hernia, Timmy's played safety, so those guys are kind of learning under fire and they're doing good," Wilson said. "But they're going to be challenged and pressed and stressed even more and next week with the crowd coming in and what we'll see in Big Ten play."
The Hoosiers also made a number of key stops. Indiana held Bowling Green to 8-of-20 on third down conversions and 2-of-6 on fourth down.
The Falcons (2-1) came into the game a perfect 11-for-11 in the red zone. Against Indiana, they were 0-for-3.
Indiana needed this kind of complete effort, especially after absorbing so much ridicule for a week. Senior linebacker David Cooper was one who listened.
"Just the usuals: ‘The IU defense can't hold up their end of the bargain; The offense is doing good,'" said Cooper, who finished 10 tackles and one-half of a tackle for loss. "We take that to heart. We know we've got to go out and prove everybody wrong and do what we do best, which y'all saw today."
After Indiana State, fans felt pretty good about the defense, which allowed just 21 points. Then came the major letdown against Navy.
Heban said Wilson would be sure to talk to the defense about handling success.
"We didn't do that well the first week and it's something we've got to respond with this week," Heban said.