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IU linebackers show improvement in win over Ball State


Senior linebacker Dameon Willis Jr., left, and junior linebacker Reakwon Jones tackle Ball State’s quarterback Jones has a GoFundMe page to support his family following the damage of Hurricane Michael. Noble Guyon

Reakwon Jones admitted he was a little too “hype.”

Early in the fourth quarter of IU’s home win against Ball State on Saturday, a hole in the Cardinals’ offensive line presented itself and Jones took advantage of it. 

He penetrated through the opening and brought down Ball State junior quarterback Riley Neal for a ferocious sack on second down.

“I was like ‘yes,’” Jones said. “My eyes got big and I was ready to go make a play.” 

It was the junior linebacker’s first sack of his IU career and in the heat of the moment, Jones let out a celebratory scream and high-stepped his way toward the IU sideline.

“I made myself a little tired but it was great to go out there and make some plays,” Jones said.

Jones didn’t need too much energy on the next play as senior safety Jonathan Crawford broke through for a sack of his own on third down to end Ball State’s drive for good.

It was a recurring theme in the Hoosiers’ 38-10 victory. 

IU’s defense managed to record three sacks on the day, but was also able to apply constant pressure on the Cardinals’ offense throughout.

Jones and the rest of linebacking crew in particular were the main catalysts of the defense's aggressive mindset.

“Our one word this week was 'dominate,'” IU Coach Tom Allen said. “Part of that was just keep coming, keep coming, keep coming, bringing in new linebackers, bringing in new defensive lineman, bringing in new defensive backs.”

Allen and his staff have had a rolodex of linebackers to rotate in and out of the lineup over the past two games. 

In last week’s home victory over Virginia, it was young players like freshmen Micah McFadden and Thomas Allen who were making big plays for the Hoosiers.

On Saturday, it was Jones and sophomore T.D. Roof who made their presence felt. Jones tied for the team lead in tackles with five, which were all solo takedowns. Of those five, two were tackles for a loss and a sack.

Meanwhile, Roof had four tackles, also all solo, to go along with one sack of his own and a pass deflection that was nearly an interception.

For a unit that has been searching for successors to take over now-departed linebackers Tegray Scales’ and Chris Covington’s reign terrorizing opposing offenses, the improvement in both play and depth has been promising.

“Just to see guys really come out there, live it out, really do what we talk about, it’s just great to actually put a game together and finish,” Jones said. “That has been our biggest problem in the past, so it just great to see people come out and compete.”

Allen said that while that depth can be a blessing when it comes to rotating in fresh players throughout games, it can also be a challenge in disguise.

“One thing that’s been challenging with that group is we rep so many guys in practice, that the negative is they maybe don’t get enough reps to get honed in,” Allen said. “So I just feel like we have to continue to do that.”

After Saturday's contest, Jones couldn’t help but crack a smile thinking back to his fourth-quarter sack.

He laughed at himself and his impromptu celebration in the moment.

But it was a career milestone, so why not milk it while he can.

It’s a feeling he wants to replicate much more as he and the defense continue to look to improve moving forward. 

Then, maybe it won’t be as “hype.” It’ll just be business as usual. 

“I want to continue to get better every game,” Jones said. “I want to continue to make big plays for this defense and put this defense in the top 25. I feel like we are a very good defense. We’re very young but we’re very talented and have a lot people that can play.”

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