Nobody thought the Indiana defense had it in them.
The defense didn’t let what everybody else had to say keep them from putting in the hard work, and it showed in their 31-27 victory over Missouri on Saturday.
Sure, they still allowed nearly 500 yards of offense to the Tigers. And yes, 326 of those were through the air. However, there was a certain attitude, a swagger even, about the defense that hadn’t been seen before.
That swagger helped make stops when the defense needed them and only allowed Missouri to go 5-of-16 on third downs. The defense also was successful in the red zone, where Missouri found themselves three times and Indiana forced field goals on two of those possessions.
“Coach said he was going to let us loose this week,” freshman linebacker Tegray Scales said. “Bringing pressure, flushing the quarterback out. That was our goal going into this game, and we did that and we had success with it.”
Blitzing was the theme of the day against Missouri. Everybody around the defense has been talking about how teams aren’t going to know where the blitz will be coming from this year. One down it will be Nick Mangieri and David Cooper. The next Mark Murphy would come off the edge.
But in Indiana’s first two games this year, there was no sign of such aggressiveness.
Then came Saturday’s game, where the coaching staff let the defense go after Missouri quarterback Maty Mauk all game, sacking him two times, hitting him twice more, and causing him to hurry passes on multiple occasions. On top of that, they were flying to the running backs, resulting in 11 tackles for a loss, which totaled a remarkable -43 yards.
“They came after us a little bit,” Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel said. “I thought there was a time in the second quarter when he (Mauk) was struggling a little bit. It was all or nothing. We either got negative yards or made a big play.
“They move around a lot,” Missouri running back Marcus Murphy said. “And they had a lot of linebackers coming up into the box. We have to focus on staying put and not jumping offsides.”
The new attitude of the defense this week can be partially credited to a refocus at practice this week.
“You can’t wait for it to happen,” head coach Kevin Wilson said after the game. “You’ve got to make it happen with aggressiveness and attitude. You don’t wait and look around.
“It starts with me, and I don’t think I can coach this hard every week, so I’m going to need some coaches to help me next week because I was bringing it this week. We’ve got to put them in a position, but there’s a point time where they have to fly out of that nest and run around and make those plays.”
Linebacker Zack Shaw said it was clear in practice last week that the aggressive style of play was the game plan for Missouri.
"The coaches were fired up all week in practice and they were just letting us loose,'' Shaw said. "We worked on it a lot in practice and it really showed how here today.''
Scales, who had five tackles, four solo and a huge 10-yard sack on a third and long situation in a tie game in the third quarter, said that there is a whole new life to this unit. They are all bonded in a way that they can continue to show success, and this win was important in gaining confidence for these guys moving forward.
Everybody in the rotation played his part too. Every single Hoosier defender was flying to ball, as 17 different defenders were in on two or more tackles. Plus, 12 different Hoosiers at least shared a tackle for a loss, eight of which were credited for a solo stop behind the line of scrimmage, and when the defense got up after making a play, there was more energy than they’ve ever displayed before.
“It was fun playing, fun being out there with my brothers, fighting through every down,” Scales said. “From our standpoint, it’s not a surprise that we won, but it was a big upset in reality. I think we’re very excited to know we could do that.”
The key from here will be to continue to build on this success. While it was certainly encouraging to see the way the defense attacked against Missouri, they can’t fall back into their old ways. According to Scales though, Hoosier fans shouldn’t be worried.
“I think that’s the defense you can expect to see this year,” Scales said. “Our coaches were able to let us loose this week and see what we were capable of doing.”