CHICAGO — IU had the worst defense in the Big Ten in 2015.
It allowed the most points per game (37.6), the most yards per game (509.5) and the most first downs per game (25.1) of any Big Ten team.
Junior linebacker Marcus Oliver and the Hoosier defense are tired of hearing about it.
“I think guys are tired of it,” Oliver said. “I’ve been tired of it.”
That’s where new defensive coordinator Tom Allen comes into play.
After consecutive seasons of sub-par defense, former defensive coordinator Brian Knorr was let go, and the Hoosiers are high on the man who is replacing him. Allen also happens to be an Indiana-native.
“I didn’t know he was a Ben Davis guy or grew up in Indiana,” Wilson said. “I didn’t know all that. I just felt a connection with him right away. I couldn’t believe how positive he was.”
Wilson said during the interview he had to ask Allen which defensive scheme he ran because he liked his style so much that the scheme seemed less important than how Allen was able to get his players and coaches to buy into his system.
Allen was one candidate in line for the Auburn defensive coordinator before the Tigers decided upon Kevin Steele, which left Allen to take the IU job.
Though Wilson had some candidates in mind for the vacant IU defensive coordinator position, Allen erased them and took the spot immediately, which left Wilson calling for recommendations right after the interview.
“Out of the blue I had reached out to him,” Wilson said. “He didn’t reach out to me.”
What Wilson and the defense rave about Allen the most is his positivity and how he sees the good in players and ideas. In fact, Wilson said Allen can be positive to a fault, supporting players to a fault and not enabling a learning curve.
“When you’re a positive guy it’s hard to be critical,” Wilson said. “I actually have a critical eye. I see a lot of shortcomings. He’s a guy that sees a lot of positive things. He’s got a neat skillset.”
Schematically, Allen differs quite a bit from previous IU defenses, running the 4-2-5 defense that features a husky position, a hybrid between a linebacker and a defensive back.
Culturally, he came to Bloomington prepared to change the defense, immediately barring all defensive players from using the word “turnover” and requiring them to use “takeaway” to provide a more aggressive connotation.
On the football field though, Oliver said it isn’t any different with Allen.
“He told me from the first day he got there, he was waiting for me to mess up,” Oliver said. “Even if it was the slightest thing like not stepping right or something, he was waiting for it. As soon as I did, he used me as an example in order to show everybody else that nobody is too good to not do everything right.”
Before summer practices, Allen had his defensive players take quizzes in order for each player to understand every aspect of the defense in any situation, something Oliver said he used to learn his style of play. The linebacker said it’s paying off in a quick way.
He also said this summer has been like no other in his career as the defense prepares to improve on its dismal numbers from last season.
And that has Oliver excited, he said.
“It’s definitely a chip to play with,” Oliver said about IU’s worst conference defense. “It just excites me more for this year. Coach Allen is excited and we’re gonna get it done this year. No ifs, ands or buts. It’s gonna happen.”
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