MIAMI - An Indiana defense outscoring the opposition by itself? Can’t script a much better start for new coordinator Tom Allen’s Hoosier defense in a 34-13 season opening win at Florida International.
It was great timing as Indiana’s offense struggled to earn points for the first three quarters.
The “defensive scoring barrage” started early as Indiana earned a team safety midway through the opening quarter when holding was called on Florida International in the end zone.
“I think it was (defensive tackle) Pat Dougherty,” said fellow DL Jacob Robinson who was near the play. “That was something we needed. Right off that we were going nuts. We expect to do that so it was a lot of fun.”
Then with 13 minutes left in the first half, veteran cornerback Rashard Fant stepped in front of a Alex McGough throw and raced down the left side with the interception for a 34-yard touchdown. The “pick-6” was the first for the Hoosier defense since Tony Fields got one early last season at Wake Forest and it gave Indiana a 12-3 lead.
“It was a good job of film study,” Fant said. “Saw that it was second and five and the first thing I said to Marcelino (Ball) was ‘the slant is coming, it’s a split.’ It’s a cover eight and I am suppose to drop all the way back and let him get under and he did a great job of disguising it but I saw it and drove it. Great job from the d-line and from Marcelino and Jon (Crawford) for disguising it so they didn’t know what we were in.”
The defensive effort and points proved key to the win. Throughout the first three quarters Indiana continued to have drives stall. Despite 319 yards of offense through that time the Hoosier offense had managed just three points. A botched snap of a field goal, another missed due to a fumbled snap, nothing seemed to work for Indiana after it threatened to score.
“It took us a little while to settle down,” Wilson said, alluding to usual opening game jitters.
Those struggles helped put Indiana into a 13-12 deficit heading into the final quarter.
Luckily for Indiana, the kinks were worked out in the fourth quarter. Newcomer Richard Lagow settled down at quarterback and behind the running of Devine Redding (139 yards on 22 carries), Indiana scored touchdowns on consecutive possessions to begin the period.
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Linebacker Tegray Scales then slammed the door shut completely on the Panthers with his own “pick-6” from 16 yards out with 3:57 to play.
“We’ve been really preaching the finish,” Robinson said. “We haven’t finished in the past and it has been something big for us, that is to finish every single thing we do.”
This is the first time since the 1966 season that and Indiana team has had two interception returns for touchdown in a game.
Thanks to one more interception from corner Ben Bach at the Indiana 25 on FIU’s final drive of the game, Indiana’s 16 points of defense was enough itself to win the contest.
Again, can’t ask for a better start for the Tom Allen era.
“His meetings the last few days, his walk-throughs, have been extremely assertive,” Wilson said. “That gives us a lot of confidence. Great start for those guys.”
It wasn’t perfect. Corner Tyler Green lost Stantley Thomas down the right sideline on a 40-yard reception. There were a few missed assignments in the secondary and Indiana was lucky that FIU botched a couple of those opportunities. McGough did finish with 23-for-46 for 263 yards with those three interceptions.
The run defense was the most consistent, giving up just 63 yards and just two first downs via a rush.
One good game against a Conference USA team doesn’t make a good defense but it’s an important step. And a step taken a bit short handed as one game suspensions nabbed a couple likely starters in defensive tackle Ralph Green and safety Chase Dutra.
Indiana also played three true freshmen in the secondary. Marcelino Ball started at the new husky position while Khalil Bryant and A’Shon Riggins saw time in the defensive backfield as well.
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