There’s plenty of ways to describe Indiana’s defense last year. They led the Big Ten in takeaways and sacks, and were top 50 nationally in both yards and points allowed.
Some of the important pieces from that squad are gone, including a couple All-Big Ten first-teamers and defensive coordinator Kane Wommack. One thing still remains the same however, is the mentality.
“Defensively extremely aggressive, very, very aggressive, very attacking,” Moon Family Head Football Coach Kirk Ferentz said.
That aggression got them 20 turnovers in just eight games last season. Something an Iowa offense that coughed the ball up five times in their two losses last season is very mindful of.
“The first two games last year, that was a little bit of a problem for us and one could say that cost us the game,” junior tight end Sam LaPorta said.
So the emphasis this offseason was spent trying to prevent a repeat performance of that and those slow starts Hawkeyes fans know so much about.
“We’ve been doing ball security drills all throughout camp and spring ball and leading right up into the season,” LaPorta said. “We’re happy with our ball security and we just have to do what we do.”
The players they have returning are nothing short of impressive. They have an accomplished secondary, with a 2020 first-team All-American in junior cornerback Tiawan Mullen on one side and a second-team All-Big Ten selection in senior Jaylin Williams on the other.
“When we’re throwing, it’s about placing the ball right, not forcing anything, not giving any gift turnovers,” junior quarterback Spencer Petras said. “When we’re running the ball, we need to have great ball security.”
The Hoosiers also return the conference’s leading sack man from last year in All-American linebacker Micah McFadden. He wasn’t alone in opponent backfields either. They had 12 players record a sack and they came from everywhere.
Mullen finished with three and a half sacks from his cornerback spot and senior linebacker Cam Jones finished with three. It’s a lot of chaos and a similar scheme can be expected from new defensive coordinator Charlton Warren.
“The only challenge to us that I see is us not knowing our assignment and what we need to do,” junior running back Tyler Goodson said. “They’re a downhill team, they bring a lot of blitzes. We just have to make sure we get the right ID and our guys get to the right person at the right time for us to be successful.”
For a team that isn’t 100 percent sure who their o-line is yet, that could be a problem. This week coach Ferentz said they could play as many as eight guys. It does help though to practice against a defense that finished top five in the Big Ten in both sacks and takeaways last season.
“The defense we go against is the best in the nation, I think,” junior center Tyler Linderbaum said. “Going against them all spring ball, all fall camp, has helped prepare us for what we’re going to see.”
It’s also helped an offense with quite a bit of turnover find some cohesion.
“We’ve grown as a team and have grown chemistry between us,” Goodson said. “Everything to me, in my eyes, is clicking on all cylinders. We just have to make sure we don’t get ahead of ourselves.”
They’re certainly not getting ahead of themselves. In a game full of stats, it seems the key to this game can be boiled down to one thing. And this team knows exactly what this is.
“When we don’t turn the ball over we win the game over 90 percent of the time,” Petras said. “It’s a really important stat.”