Shelby: Indiana corners get a 'C'

Starting cornerbacks Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter have shown flashes of greatness. They've also been burned badly on too many occasions.

Cornerbacks will tell you the most important attribute they can have is a short memory.

That would serve Indiana cornerbacks Tim Bennett and Michael Hunter well heading into Indiana's game against Illinois at 3:30 p.m. today.

Indiana has allowed an average of 414 yards through the air over the last two games after limiting opponents to 239.5 through the first six games. It won't get any easier today when the Hoosiers try to slow down the Big Ten's No. 3 passing offense and its mobile quarterback, Nathan Scheelhaase.

Both corners are in their first year as starters. Both have shown flashes of brilliance. Both have been burned badly, too. Cornerbacks Coach Brandon Shelby was quite candid when evaluating their performance to this point.

"Overall I would give them a C," Shelby said. "Definitely needs some improvement but I've seen what we possibly could be. In the end we just keep working and try to get to chase perfection and see where we're at."

Take Bennett. There's been the good — he leads the nation in pass breakups with 18 — there's been the bad — Minnesota's Derek Engel caught four passes for a season-high 97 yards and two touchdowns last week — and the downright ugly: see Jeremy Gallon's Big Ten-record 369 yards receiving performance in Ann Arbor three weeks ago.

Bennett is a converted safety in his first year at corner. He's used his athleticism and good instincts along with an aggressive approach to compile the breakups. On the flip side, that aggressiveness has killed him on double moves time and time again.

"I'm going to always be aggressive," Bennett said. "That's just in my nature. I'm just taking my chances when they get there. I'm not going to do too much. I'm just going to take my chances when I see it."

Shelby doesn't want Bennett to stop playing aggressively. He said he simply wants Bennett to be smarter about when to gamble.

"You can't tell a guy to go and break up balls and passes and not be aggressive," Shelby said. "If he wasn't doing that, everybody in Bloomington and all you media guys would be asking, ‘Why isn't he more aggressive?' So when you're an aggressive corner, they're going to double move you.

"…I would never tell him to not be aggressive. That's crazy. That's just telling a D-lineman to get mad every time they jump offsides once in a while. They're jumping the ball."

Shelby said it doesn't upset him when his corners get beat on a double move. What upsets him is when they get beat on the same type of double move the next series. In that case, he said, they're not analyzing how the opponent is attacking them.

The two corners and their coach preached a greater emphasis on fundamentals in order to recapture what made the secondary successful earlier in the season. That means not allowing deep balls and driving through the receiver.

"Of course when you get beat, a lot of stuff goes through your head, what you should of done, what you could have done," Hunter said. "But after plays like that happen you've really got to continue to play and get back to what you've been taught."

Bennett's 18 pass breakups, no matter how you look at it, is an impressive stat. But he has just one interception.

"It's definitely a good stat for him, but we always joke around: that means he has the most dropped interceptions in the nation," said senior safety Greg Heban. "But he's been doing a great job."

Indiana has just five interceptions, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten. Shelby stressed that the interceptions is a reflection of the entire defense — including the pass rush, linebacker play and safety play — but that he is disappointed in the low interception number to this point.

Hunter had a golden opportunity to add to that total in the fourth quarter against Minnesota, when quarterback Philip Nelson overshot his target in the end zone. The ball practically hit Hunter in stride, but it went right through his hands.

"It's silly things like that where we're in position to make plays and we don't," Shelby said. "So I am disappointed in the interceptions and it's something we've just got to work on."

Hunter said most of Indiana's blown coverages have resulted from not picking up shifts in formations and communicating assignments. He said that if he and Bennett nail down the mental aspect and return to fundamentals, they'll perform well against the Illini.

"We've had some flashes that we can be a great secondary, but we've also had some flashes where we didn't perform to our expectations," Bennett said. "We've just got to learn from it and get better."

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