First Line Of Defense

If one play can change a season, it is not hard to point out the one that has the Indiana defensive line looking like a completely different unit from the beginning of the year.

If one play can change a season, it is not hard to point out the one that has the Indiana defensive line looking like a completely different unit from the beginning of the year.

On the first play from scrimmage in IU's Sept. 17 contest against Kentucky, senior nose guard Russ Richardson broke up the middle of the Kentucky offensive line and stopped the Wildcats for an eight yard loss.

While it was just one snap, that play set the tone for a contest eventually won by IU 38-14, and it might have signaled Indiana was through letting teams run all over them. After an opener against Central Michigan where the Hoosiers allowed the Chippewas to average 5.2 yards per carry to go along with an 80-yard rushing touchdown, option-heavy Nicholls State came into Memorial Stadium and picked up 408 yards on 65 carries, for an average of 6.3 yards a carry – while Indiana knew the run was coming.

But the story has changed ever since. Indiana limited Kentucky to 77 yards rushing, Wisconsin to 103 and Illinois to 113 – all well below each team's season average.

"We're ready for anybody now," said senior defensive end Ben Ishola. "What can I say? As long as we keep on working we can keep on winning.

"We have to keep taking away the run like we're capable of doing. You want to force them to pass on you in the Big Ten. We've been doing a pretty good job of it and I'm proud of us. The Nicholls State game really messed with our stats, but that's fine. We know we're good stopping the run."

Overall, the Hoosiers are giving up 172.2 yards per game and 4.4 yards a rush, compared to the 196.7 yards per game IU surrendered a year ago. Stopping the run has helped the Hoosiers to four wins in five games, the best start for Indiana since 1994 when Indiana started 5-1.

"It was about time," said Ishola. "We got close to four wins last year. We had some big opportunities. But for some reason we couldn't get there. This season, to be 4-1, it's such a great feeling and we're in the middle of the race now. We're very excited and really fired up."

What the Hoosiers are doing is new to every member of the team. None of these players have played for an Indiana team with four wins, let alone on a team that had legitimate aspirations of appearing in a bowl game. With six games to go and two more wins needed for a bowl, these Hoosiers will not be backing down.

That includes not only stopping the run, but doing a better job against the pass. That starts up front, where Ishola and the rest of the defensive line wants to do its part in slowing down opposing passing attacks.

"We have to continue to get pressure on the quarterback to help the secondary," said Ishola. "We can't get stopped up front and give them all day to pass. The pressure we've been getting has helped us a lot. We hope we don't come back down. We keep on working hard and everything can stay this great. Coach Hep is a great coach and he has us in line to compete."

With a tough stretch coming with games against Iowa, Michigan, Ohio State, Michigan State, Minnesota and Purdue, the Hoosiers will need to pull off two upsets to qualify for a bowl game. But Ishola says the best Indiana football is yet to be seen this season.

"As the season progresses, we progress," said Ishola.

Peegs.com Top Stories