The Indiana Hoosiers got used to playing catchup last year.
Among Big 10 teams, Indiana came in dead last in scoring defense (37 points per game) and total defense (458 yards per game), and allowed every team besides Penn State to put up at least 21 points. Head coach Kevin Wilson, now in his second year with the program, did not feel like waiting for the defensive unit to develop and went out and signed five JUCO defensive players.
The Hoosiers are still working to find continuity. Indiana held off in-state FCS foe Indiana State 24-17, but still allowed Shakir Bell, the Sycamore’s Walter Payton Award finalist, to run for 194 yards and a touchdown. Bell’s stats are a little deceiving, as the 5’8, 185-pound speeder ran for 103 of his yards in the first quarter.
Indiana’s defense doesn’t quite have the speed or experience that UConn’s boasts, but the Hoosiers still have Big-10-quality athletes that will be a major test for a UMass offense that had trouble putting anything together in its first game.
The Indiana linebacking corps is a JUCO-strewn unit that Wilson hopes will be much improved after last season.
Leading the way for the Hoosiers is Chase Hoobler, a redshirt sophomore who was named to the Freshman All-Big Ten Team last year. Hoobler had 48 total tackles last year and five tackles for loss. In Indiana’s opening game, Hoobler had seven tackles. He is the only non-JUCO full-time starting linebacker for the Hoosiers. Hoobler, an Ohio native, committed to Indiana over Boston College, Louisville and a number of MAC programs.
Outside linebacker Jacarri Alexander transferred to Indiana from Iowa Central Community College where he played both linebacker and defensive end. Last year, Alexander was the team Defensive Player of the Year after recording 78 tackles, six sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. He was also an all-conference player and team captain. Several pre-season publications had Alexander as Indiana’s top recruit this past year. Alexander split time with redshirt junior Griffen Dahlstrom against Indiana State. Dahlstrom is home-grown talent and has been primarily on special teams during his time in Bloomington.
At middle linebacker, the Hoosiers are starting JUCO transfer David Cooper, who had seven tackles in his first start. Cooper was a tackling machine for Coffeyville Community College in Kansas last year. Cooper had 102 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries. The 6’1, 230-pound athlete was an honorable mention all-conference player last year. Cooper chose Indiana over Minnesota, Iowa State, Kentucky, and several MAC schools.
The Hoosier defense is anchored by its defensive tackle duo.
Seniors Larry Black Jr. and Adam Replogle, both of whom started for Indiana last year, return as starters this season. Last year, Black and Replogle had nearly identical numbers, with both recording more than 45 tackles. Replogle is a little more aggressive in getting to the quarterback and had four sacks last year. Not to be outdone, Black had two sacks against Indiana State, while Replogle had one. Combined, they had 10 tackles.
Size-wise, the tackles are nearly carbon copies of each other – both are about 6’3 and both weigh in at 294 pounds.
Indiana is still trying to figure out its identity at the defensive end position. The Hoosiers trotted out four ends against the Sycamores but were unable to get too much production. Competing for playing time at left end will be redshirt sophomore Ryan Phillis and sophomore Bobby Richardson. Both had around 30 tackles last year and should push each other again for playing time this year.
At right end, redshirt sophomore John Laihinen and redshirt freshman Zack Shaw are getting most of the work. Both had a tough time against Indiana State and combined for just three tackles.
It’s unclear where JUCO transfer Justin Rayside fits in the mix. Rayside transferred to Indiana from Riverside Community College in Californiea where he had 45 tackles, six sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
The Hoosiers need to take a significant step forward in the secondary if they are going to compete in the Big 10 this year. Last season, Indiana allowed 26 passing touchdowns while making only five interceptions. While there is some experience with this group, it must improve greatly from last year’s sub-par performance.
Redshirt sophomore Brian Williams beat out incumbent Lawrence Barrett for one of the starting cornerback spots and impressed during his first game. Williams had four tackles and in interception against Indiana State. Williams is a speedy defender that was originally recruited as a safety out of Georgia.
At the other corner position, it appears that sophomore Kenny Mullen is giving redshirt junior Greg Heban a run for his money. Heban had 62 tackles last year, but only recorded one against Indiana State. Mullen, who got the starting nod on Indiana’s first depth chart, didn’t do too much better and had two tackles.
The safeties led the way for Indiana in the first game and should continue to be a strength for the secondary. Redshirt sophomore Drew Hardin beat out Alexander Webb for the free safety spot and made the most of his opportunity with a team-leading eight tackles and a fumble recovery. Hardin was under-recruited coming out of Kentucky, and may be a diamond-in-the-rough for the Hoosiers.
At strong safety, Mark Murphy leads the way as a returning starter. Murphy was second on the team in tackles against Indiana State with seven. Last year, the sophomore had 76 tackles.
There is no doubt that the new-look Hoosiers are going to be aggressive on defense.
Indiana had five sacks and seven tackles for loss against the Sycamores. Last year, the Hoosiers only had five-or-more sacks in a game once. They had seven-or-more tackles for loss three times.
After UMass’ crushing loss to UConn, one thing became abundantly clear – the Minutemen need a lot of work at offensive line. Husky defenders were constantly in the backfield wreaking havoc on Mike Wegzyn and whatever running back happened to be next to him. In order to have any success against Indiana, UMass is going to need a better push from its young O-line.
The Minutemen may have a chance for some big plays against a mostly untested secondary. The Hoosiers had a particularly hard time stopping opposing wide receivers last year, and against Indiana State still gave up 211 yards through the air.
Overall, Indiana’s defense is not the same quality as UConn’s, but that does not make the task any less difficult for a Minutemen offense that is still taking baby-deer steps in figuring out Charley Molnar’s new spread offense.