A 37-15 loss to Maryland last week killed the momentum from a win over Missouri.
Saturday, it didn’t take long to get it back.
On the third play of the game, freshman linebacker Tegray Scales intercepted North Texas quarterback Dajon Williams.
It gave the IU offense a short, 31-yard field to work with and led to 21-unanswered IU points.
“Our coaches wanted to destroy them, just put our hand on their throat and just send a message pretty much,” Scales said. “That was our goal going into the game.”
This mentality, and a constant eagerness, is something a group of young defenders has adopted this season.
Redshirt freshman safety Chase Dutra added an interception of his own in the third quarter. Nearly half of the IU sideline emptied to celebrate with him.
“It was actually really crazy,” Dutra said. “I was kind of ?speechless. All my teammates just went crazy, all the coaches, it’s just a really good feeling.”
Scales and Dutra were the team’s two defensive players of the week.
Scales said younger guys still fighting for their spots and trying to get on the field increases their energy level. They’re always flying to the ball.
That’s a mindset they have as a defense. Sophomore linebacker Marcus Oliver called it “playing free,” and said it’s something Scales has done well as a ?freshman.
“I like to think of it like it’s still football, you have a job to do, but at the same time if you think about it too much, stuff can happen to knock you off your task really easy,” Oliver said. “You want to be kind of free-minded.”
Scales has 23 tackles through his first five collegiate games. He was named Big Ten Freshman of the Week after a five-tackle effort against Missouri and had 11 tackles the previous week against Bowling Green.
Another freshman, cornerback Donovan Clark, led the Hoosiers defense against North Texas with six tackles.
Dutra has just 10 tackles on the season, but is gradually becoming a larger part of the defense. He said he and senior safety Mark Murphy are always talking through the game, talking plays and routes.
Scales, too, credited the upperclassmen for taking him under their wing.
“I lean on them a whole bunch,” he said. “Actually all of them took me under their wing and prepped me for our defense, get me to this point right now and still helping me out.”
The freshmen are quickly buying into first-year defensive coordinator Brian Knorr’s plan.
Part of that change is including several players, getting fewer repetitions.
Last year it was the opposite, with a few players getting the majority of the playing time.
A more constant rotation means fresher legs, Scales said, and having more energy come the fourth quarter of games.
“We feel pretty fresh just due to our rotation,” he said. “We all get about 35 plays each, so when we get in we give 100 percent because we’re still fresh.
Knorr and IU Coach Kevin Wilson said as young players, they won’t always be in the right position.
But the aggressive, high-energy play will continue to lead to big plays like ?Saturday.
“Where we may not have played as well in the earlier games, I think there was tremendous effort,” Knorr said. “A lot of times we may not have run the technique correct, but guys were being relentless and chasing the ball. Guys weren’t afraid to miss tackles.”