Defensive inconsistencies have plagued IU all season and led to narrow or blowout losses. But on Saturday, it would be its defense that played a large role in the victory.
Indiana’s defense forced four turnovers and held Purdue to three field goals in the red zone in the Hoosiers’ 23-16 win over the Boilermakers in the Old Oaken Bucket game at Memorial Stadium.
”We prepared all week for what we thought they were going to do and it came into our hands today,” Indiana sophomore linebacker Tegray Scales said. “Playing fast, there wasn’t any science to it, we just played fast and had a lot of energy out there.”
Saturday’s game marked the second straight game in which Indiana forced at least three turnovers.
Against Ohio State on Nov. 22, the Hoosiers had three forced turnovers – two interceptions and one forced fumble. Each of those turnovers helped Indiana get short field position as it tried to keep the game close.
It was a much different story against Purdue, as the four turnovers resulted in just three points. However, the turnovers stopped Boilermaker drives and prevented them from scoring.
Of the four turnovers, three of them were forced in the first half.
”That first half defensive effort was awesome,” Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said. ”I thought the defense was really good in the first half but the offense wasn’t.”
Indiana gave up a touchdown in the second half, but giving up just a field goal in Purdue’s other three trips to the red zone was of greater importance.
Overall, Purdue managed field goals of 26, 26 and 20 yards respectively.
”We preach and practiced that all week, being steady and holding opponents to field goals,” Indiana redshirt junior cornerback Michael Hunter said. “That definitely played a big part in the outcome of the game, getting good field position on some turnovers and us being able to hold them to field goals is very big.”
The success of the defense the final two games of the regular season can be attributed to how the team has practiced. Indiana sophomore linebacker T.J. Simmons said the team has been doing pursuit drills, getting to the ball, tip drills and stripping the ball drills.
”We’ve focused on it in practice before,” Simmons said. “Later in the season, we’ve really focused on it and just ran a lot of drills focusing on it.”
Despite the strong performances over the last two games, Indiana’s defense finished 11th in the Big Ten in turnover margin, gaining 13 turnovers while losing 17. The 13 turnovers gained was tied for second-fewest in the conference.
As Wilson looked ahead to the 2015 season following the game, he admitted there are areas on defense where the team needs to improve.
”We can’t go backwards,” Wilson said. “We need tackle and D-line length, we need perimeter speed and corner outside linebacker. This is a good program, it took a gut shot and now we are going to need a strong class that’s got that bounce.”
Redshirt freshman safety Chris Dutra was optimistic about the defense next season.
”We’re going to get a lot better in the offseason,” Dutra said. “We’re going to work hard. I know myself and some of the other leaders are going to continue to work hard and get a lot better and come out next season ready for a bowl game."