Column: IU football defense must quickly improve
By Robby Howard
But just potentially.
In IU’s 41-35 loss to Navy Saturday, the IU defense looked just like it did last year — unable to stop the run.
It was fourth-and-one. For all of the poor tackling, missed contain, inability to get off blocks and failure at the line of scrimmage, all the defense needed to do was make that one stop.
Just under three minutes remained and there was plenty of time for IU sophomore quarterback Nate Sudfeld — who looked unstoppable in his own right — to take the offense down the field and score a touchdown that would potentially give the Hoosiers a win.
Stop Navy just once — once — and IU has a good chance at winning that game.
Instead, Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds, who was hit by freshman linebacker T.J. Simmons at the line, stretched out his arm with ball in hand, getting just enough to seal the win.
“They were 3-of-4 on fourth downs,” IU Coach Kevin Wilson said. “So as the game went on we just came up short.”
The Hoosier defense couldn’t stop the Midshipmen once.
Yes, the Midshipmen failed to score on that final possession as time expired, and they also failed on a field goal attempt.
But other than that, they scored every other time they had the ball.
That’s potentially catastrophic.
The good news is that IU won’t have to face a team like Navy the rest of the season. No one else runs the option that well.
“I read one of (Navy Coach Ken Niumatalolo’s) quotes the other day,” Wilson said. “‘When you’ve done it 26 years, you’ve seen about everything.’ It’s very unique.”
Most teams don’t have a quarterback like Reynolds, who ran it 32 times for 127 yards and three scores. He’s an anomaly.
And, as Wilson and several players admitted, IU didn’t come out sharp. It was 17-0 before the team looked like it woke up.
“We prepared for them for a year and a half,” senior safety Greg Heban said, “even going back to spring ball, and it’s just a little discouraging that we didn’t come out and play as well as we needed to.”
That is also potentially catastrophic. IU scheduled Indiana State for Thursday just to have more time to prepare for Navy.
They knew the offense. They saw it last year. They had an entire offseason and nine days to prepare for it.
They knew what Navy was going to run. All 47,013 people at Memorial Stadium knew Navy was running the triple option.
And they still couldn’t stop it? Not once?
But, it’s all only potentially catastrophic.
Because although the defense didn’t make a single real stop, it did show life.
Simmons did hit Reynolds at the line. Reynolds just gave a warrior effort to fight for that extra yard.
The defense did eventually manage to force the Midshipmen into fourth downs in the second half. It just couldn’t get that final one- or two-yard stop.
“Had a couple close plays, just couldn’t make the plays we needed to,” Wilson said. “Had a chance to get a stop a couple of times and didn’t.”
Sudfeld and his 363 yards and four touchdowns through the air and 35 yards on the ground kept IU in the game. The offense is capable of keeping IU in just about every game this year.
The defense just has to figure out how to make that extra one-yard stop.
It’s only the second game. There’s still time to figure out how to win.
But, for now, the Hoosiers have put themselves in a more difficult position to make a bowl appearance. Now, in all likelihood, IU will have to beat either Penn State or Missouri at home to make a Bowl game.
It’s potentially catastrophic. But just potentially.
Follow columnist Robby Howard on Twitter @robbyhoward1.
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