There is no doubt the Indiana defense is a much improved unit this year under new coordinator Tom Allen, but this week they will face by far their toughest test of the season when they take on Ohio State. The Buckeyes are averaging 57 points per game which is the tops in the Big Ten and the third best total in the country. They are also averaging 332 rushing yards per game, which is also tops in the Big Ten and third in the nation.
IU head coach Kevin Wilson believes the Ohio State offense is being led by one of the best players in the country and quarterback J.T. Barrett.
“I think one of the premier players in college football is J.T. Barrett,” Wilson said. “And one of the reasons why he's probably one of the best teammates because he battled through a quarterback controversy as a great player."
Coach Allen echoed the thoughts of Coach Wilson when it comes to J.T. Barrett and what he means for the Ohio State offense.
“They have great team speed,” Allen said about OSU offensively. “They have an excellent quarterback. As good as you’re going to find in this country. Any time you’ve got a guy that can throw it and run it with very, very great effectiveness it always puts pressure on the defense. And he’s big so he obviously makes them go.”
Indiana defensive lineman Nate Hoff, who is a native of Ohio, said he is very excited to go back home and play against a team like OSU this weekend.
“We need a great week of practice,” Hoff said. “They are, obviously, a great team. It will be a great challenge for us, but I am excited. It is going to be fun."
While slowing down the Buckeyes will be extremely difficult, there is something different about the IU defense this year. To say Coach Allen’s arrival at Indiana has made an impact on the Indiana defensive unit would be a pretty big understatement. Coach Wilson said he has been pleased with the job Coach Allen has done, and with how he has been able to get everyone to buy into what he wants to do.
“We’re playing harder,” Wilson said on the Big Ten Teleconference this week. “A new defensive coordinator in Tom Allen. He’s done a great job in trying to get our coaches on the same page and very, very consistent in setting the standard he wants and getting the coaches and then the players to buy into that. There’s experience, it’s maturing, but it just really starts with strong leadership and direction from Tom Allen.”
Coach Wilson likes the way the Hoosiers are playing on defense, but he also understands they still have a lot work to do to get where they want to be as a unit.
“Well we’ve got four games, I don’t know that it’s a turn-around,” Wilson said. “We’re doing better and we’ll see over time. We still have a lot of errors and we still have a lot of things to clean up. We’re playing better in a short window of time, and to be good we’ve got to continue to do so.”
The Hoosiers have been a fairly opportunistic defense as they have forced seven turnovers so far this season, which is good for fifth best in the Big Ten. Coach Allen said that getting takeaways is a huge priority for them, and it will be important this week and for the rest of the season.
“We play a very aggressive brand of defense,” Allen said. “When the ball is in the air, we want to make sure that we come down with it. Takeaways have been and will continue to be a very big emphasis for us this season."
When it comes to the match-up this weekend against a great OSU offense Coach Allen said his guys have to do the little things to have a chance to be successful.
“We’re going to have to be extremely sound and do a great job,” Allen said. “We’ll have a great plan, and the kids are going to believe in it and they’re going to play their tails off for 60 minutes. But obviously, a tremendous challenge for us as a defense in scheme, in talent and in environment.”
Coach Allen said the challenge this weekend is something he wants his players to embrace because games like this are why you play college football.
“As I told our guys today, this excites me,” Allen said. “It’s a great opportunity. You get a chance to go there and prove a bunch of people wrong.”