There was little doubt Monday what Indiana co-defensive coordinator Doug Mallory was thinking regarding where IU's defense needs to be better.
Job one this week heading into the Penn State game is stopping the run.
Indiana is coming off a game against Missouri, two weeks ago in a 45-28 loss to the Tigers, when it gave up 280 yards on the ground on 50 carries. Missouri scored three rushing touchdowns.
"Probably the most disappointing thing looking back at Missouri was allowing Missouri to come in and run the football like they did,'' Mallory said at Monday's weekly IU press conference. "I think there are a lot of reasons why that happened. We've got to do a better job coaching. Some of it was assignments and some of it was gap control. We put a lot of emphasis on those things during our bye week. But again for us to be successful defensively we cannot allow a team to come in here and run the football like that.
"You have to stop the run first and make them more one dimensional. And again, Missouri was a talented football team and a good football team but we were disappointed defensively coming out of that game.''
Mallory said overall the Hoosiers gave up way too many yards against Missouri. The Tigers also passed for 343 to along with the 280 on the ground. But he said if you don't slow a team down running the ball , it just makes is nearly impossible to get their offense off the field.
In its two wins this season, IU has given up a total of 267 yards rushing. In the two losses, IU has given up a total of 724 yards on the ground.
"When we've been good on defense, we've done an adequate job stopping the run,'' Mallory said. "But in the two games we've gotten beat we've given up way too many yards with the run defense. So first and foremost that's the biggest improvement that we've got to make. We worked on stuff last night where we had maybe 35-40 plays and out of those plays there may have been two passes. So it's an emphasis on where you need to be, where your vision needs to be, where your alignment is and your footwork and just being sound from that standpoint.
"That's really where our emphasis has been. We've really got to do a better job defending the run. We've got to be sound in coverage, too. You look at Penn State and they have a talented young quarterback but they've got a receiver who may be one of the best in the Big Ten. So that just makes them that much more difficult to defend. But our philosophy continues to be we've got to do a better job defending the run. So when we prepped for Penn State last night that again is where our emphasis is right now.
Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg has been solid for the Nittany Lions. He has completed 79-of-127 passes for 1,027 yards with five touchdown and four interceptions in four games.
"He's an extremely talented quarterback especially for a young guy,'' Mallory said. "He was a highly recruited kid coming out of high school and he has done a good job stepping in and playing in their package. I think he has been very effective playing for them this year. I haven't seen any signs of the guy getting rattled at all. He has a lot of poise and knows where to go with the ball if he's getting pressure. For the most part he has made good decisions and thrown the ball where it needs to be thrown. Again, where you're looking at him as a freshman I think he's farther ahead than your average freshman.''
As for his own team, Mallory said he has been impressed with the work ethic from his defensive group.
"Effort wise the kids have been great,'' Mallory said. "The kids have worked extremely hard. They've worked hard, they have a great attitude, I noticed that when they came back to work last night. So I think the attitude and the work ethic have been very good. We're showing signs of making progress and that's what it's all about. Even though it was an off week, you know fundamentally we were trying to go back to the basics, and playing with more responsibility and playing within the frame work of the team. And I think we made some progress with that here in the last week.''
Mallory said especially with his younger defensive players, the focus last week was on vision.
"I think you try to put them in a position and teach them where there vision is supposed to be,'' Mallory said. "Because your eyes aren't going to lie. If your eyes are where they're supposed to be now it's just a matter of knowing how to react to that visual key. Where I need to fill, how I need to react. Sometimes when you're seeing the big picture and seeing everything that's going on you're seeing too much and you're not going to be able to play your responsibility. So there has been a big focus on ‘Here's your alignment, here's where your vision needs to be and this is where you should be.' Once kids feel comfortable with that the game starts to slow down and that allows them to play with confidence and it allows them to play faster. It's going back to basics. Alignment, reaction, play fast and play physical and that's really what we're trying to get back to.''
Mallory said the younger players maybe got a few more reps than they normally do in a game week scenario during practice in the bye week. He asked to identify who he believes has been playing particularly well on the defensive side of the ball.
"I think on the back end Tim Bennett has been pretty sound for us,'' Mallory said. "He has played pretty physical and good assignment coverage. Greg Heban has been pretty sound and made some big plays for us this past week. At the linebacker position I think Flo Hardin has done a heck of a job for us at this point. And up front I think Bobby Richardson has been pretty active for us. And Nick Mangieri has done a pretty solid job.
"The thing you're looking for is consistency. It has to be every play, and every down. At times we see flashes from some guys but the same guys a couple of plays later maybe aren't where they're supposed to be. It can't be a great play here and then you screw up for two plays and make another great play. It has to be every play and that's the thing with your team that you strive for.''
Mallory said from a position standpoint every position needs to improve.
"I think every single position we need to be better,'' Mallory said. "I don't think we're where we want to be at any position. I don't think they're close to where they're capable of being. We just need to continue to develop at every position. I don't think you can say that there is one position that's the strength of our team nor could you say there's one position that's the weak spot of the team. It's 11 guys working as one. It was a good off week and I hope it continues to develop here this week and carry over until Saturday.''
Follow Terry Hutchens at Twitter.com/Foxsportshutch