For much of the 2015 season, Indiana found itself in offensive battles that exploited their weakness on the defensive end. The team came into last Saturday’s game against Wake Forest giving up an average of 35 points and 544 yards per game.
The defense improved both of these averages by allowing only 363 yards, a season low, and 24 points, the second lowest total they have given up, in the Hoosiers’ 31-24 victory Saturday over the Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem, N.C. Indiana’s victory gave it its first 4-0 start since 1990.
A key factor in this improvement came from the improved pass rush displayed against the Demon Deacons. Indiana came into the game with only three sacks, the second lowest in the Big Ten. But on Saturday the defense was able to sack Wake Forest quarterback Kendall Hinton a total of six times.
“We were able to disrupt the quarterback with batted balls in the past, but we wanted to actually get sacks,” IU defensive coordinator Brian Knorr said.
Linebacker Tegray Scales led the defensive push with nine total tackles, his first two sacks of the season and a pass deflection. He was named a defensive player of the week for this performance.
“It’s a big deal,” said Scales, when asked about starting the season 4-0. “We prepared all summer and spring for this.”
The Hoosiers’ constant pressure on Kendall Hinton forced him to complete only 19 of his 46 pass attempts and throw a costly interception early in the fourth quarter that was returned for a touchdown by safety Tony Fields.
When asked about the defensive growth through the first four games, Fields said, “That was our goal before the season, to grow each and every week.”
The defense has shown its playmaking ability through the first four games, as highlighted by its eight forced turnovers, which is tied for third in the Big Ten. Two of those turnovers were returned for touchdowns.
While the Hoosiers did have one of their better overall defensive performances to date on Saturday, the ending of the game left much to be desired.
Following Fields’ touchdown Indiana was leading 31-10 with nearly 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. It appeared that the team was well on their way to a double-digit victory, but they were never able to put Wake Forest away.
The Demon Deacons scored touchdowns on their next two possessions to cut the lead to seven with over two minutes remaining.
After recovering an onside kick, Wake Forest moved into Indiana territory with a costly pass interference penalty by defensive back Rashard Fant on fourth down with 18 yards to go.
The Hoosiers went on to make a defensive stand on their own 42-yard line to put the game away.
However, there’s still room for improvement as Indiana was penalized 11 times for 119 yards, including a pass interference penalty on the final Wake Forest drive.
“Unfortunately, we did have five huge penalties through pass interference and three personal fouls,” Wilson said. “That needs to get out of our football.”