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IU football rush defense prepares for another top-tier Big Ten running back


Senior defensive end Greg Gooch works on his blocking in warmups before IU's game against Michigan on Oct. 14. Gooch and the IU defense restricted Illinois to less than 300 total yards of offense Saturday. Katie Franke Buy Photos

IU football has been known as "Running Back U" in recent years.

The moniker was earned thanks to the legacies left by Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard, former IU running backs-turned NFL starters.

However, with the Hoosier running game being hit-or-miss in 2017, a more appropriate title for this year's team may be "Linebacker U."

Seniors Chris Covington and Tegray Scales have anchored the middle part of IU's 4-2-5 defensive formation through six games.

"They've been playing pretty consistent so far," IU linebackers coach William Inge said. "We've been very pleased with their play thus far."

The duo has been tasked with stopping some of the nation's best backfield talents — Ohio State's J.K. Dobbins, Penn State's Saquon Barkley and Michigan's Karan Higdon.

Dobbins and Higdon each posted more than 180 yards rushing against IU. Barkley was kept in check with less than 60 yards on the ground.

When IU visits No. 18 Michigan State for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. kickoff, the Hoosiers will face their next elite halfback — junior LJ Scott.

A bruising downhill runner, Scott averages nearly five yards per carry for the Spartans.

"He runs through arm tackles, he does a great job with keeping his feet moving, he helps their offense go when it comes to keeping the chains moving," Inge said. "We go to be very effective when it comes to wrapping up and tackling him and getting him to the ground."

The Hoosiers have prepared to face Scott during this week's practices, but he may not take the field for the Spartans come Saturday.

Scott was arrested Wednesday in East Lansing, Michigan, for driving on a suspended license. While the 21-year-old was later released on personal recognizance bond, his status for the game against IU is unknown.

Wednesday's arrest marked the seventh time Scott has been charged for either driving without a license or for driving on a suspended license in Ohio or Michigan.

Regardless if Scott lines up in the Spartan backfield or not, IU plans to use last week's poor run defense performance against Michigan as a learning tool. 

"I just thought that that was a disappointment in our defense," IU Coach Tom Allen said. "It's about discipline in your fits from start to finish."

Allen singled out two specific runs by Michigan — a 59-yard Wolverine touchdown run early in the fourth quarter and the game-winning touchdown run by Michigan in overtime — as examples of plays IU can't allow against Michigan State.

"I tell them it's always about the little things, fundamentals," Allen said. "It was fundamental fitting of a base concept offensively that we didn't get right that you do kind of from day one. But can you do it late in the game when it matters, and that's the key."

Last year's home upset of a ranked Michigan State team gave IU possession of the Old Brass Spittoon for the first time since 2006. The Hoosiers haven't defeated the Spartans in consecutive, non-vacated games, since the late 1960s.

After watching big plays cost IU its first win against Michigan in 30 years, Allen said discipline will be a focus for the IU defense in order to get a win.

"To me it's just continuing to pound, to pound, to pound," Allen said. 

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