Indiana football head coach Tom Allen thought his defense should have conceded fewer points. Redshirt senior linebacker Jacob Mangum-Farrar — a transfer from Stanford University this offseason — thought it could have been a shutout.
In reality, the Hoosiers’ defense surrendered 23 points to Ohio State Sept. 2, by no means disconcerting after the Buckeyes’ 56-point outburst when the teams met in 2022.
With an amalgam of experienced transfers, established veteran leaders and talented underclassmen, Indiana’s defense essentially eliminated Ohio State junior receivers Marvin Harrison Jr. and Emeka Egbuka from the game, holding the duo to just five catches for a combined 34 yards.
Particularly in the red zone — the Buckeyes only scored two touchdowns — Indiana’s defense showed its ability against a high-powered offensive force.
“That to me is purely mentality,” co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri said in a press conference Sept. 4 about his defense making timely stops. “Our mentality is, I don’t care where the ball is; give us an inch and we’ll defend it.”
Two of the Hoosiers’ newcomers on defense, Mangum-Farrar and redshirt senior defensive end Andre Carter, made significant impacts in their first game in the cream and crimson. The former led the game with a pair of pass breakups, and the latter paced both teams in tackles for loss with two.
Toward the end of the second quarter, Mangum-Farrar jarred the ball loose from Ohio State junior quarterback Kyle McCord in a tight ruling that would ultimately be deemed an incomplete pass. Mangum-Farrar, who arrived in Bloomington alongside redshirt junior defensive back Nic Toomer from Stanford, saw an uptick from his traditional usage against the Buckeyes.
Though he said he had to drink pickle juice to quell cramping in the heat, Mangum-Farrar shined in his enhanced role. Guerrieri said the linebacker will only continue to improve.
“You have a new face who’s learning a new system,” Guerrieri said of Mangum-Farrar. “We put a lot on his plate, and he’s responded. (I’m) pleased with his progress, and I expect that every week.”
Beside Mangum-Farrar is redshirt senior linebacker Aaron Casey, one of just two members of Indiana’s defense who was around for the 2020 season. Casey understands what it takes to reach the success the Hoosiers did that year — a season that saw Indiana lead the Big Ten with 17 interceptions and finish second in sacks.
Sept. 2, Casey was everything Guerrieri and the Hoosiers needed him to be. He led the game with 11 tackles, nine solo and added a tackle for loss. To Mangum-Farrar, something he tries to emulate in Casey’s game is decisiveness — an ability to shoot a gap with complete conviction.
Against Ohio State, on top of being the defense’s unquestioned leader, Casey was perhaps the best defensive player on the field. Like Mangum-Farrar, Allen noticed a distinct level of confidence in Casey’s performance.
“If you want to have a great defense, you have to have great linebacker play,” Allen said. “(Casey’s) very decisive in his run fits. He definitely was our best player on that day, and I expect him to continue to grow and keep improving.”
An area Indiana lacked in its last two seasons on the defensive end was athleticism. Like Casey and Mangum-Farrar, the Hoosiers deploy an array of versatile players on all three levels. In the secondary, sophomore defensive back Phillip Dunnam, who came up with the game’s lone interception, Toomer and redshirt junior Kobee Minor stuck out against a formidable Buckeye receiving core.
On the defensive line, Guerrieri was able to rotate seamlessly with players such as senior Philip Blidi and redshirt sophomore Marcus Burris Jr., but the play of Carter may dictate how much the Hoosiers can accomplish defensively.
His disruption and prowess against the run were evident, and Ohio State frequently double-teamed the Western Michigan University transfer. It may have prevented Carter from spending more time in the backfield, but it simultaneously sprung some of his teammates for easy tackles.
While Indiana’s strong defensive performance may have come as a surprise to some, it didn’t to the players. Throughout the spring and summer, they knew this group had an enticing upside.
“We’ve been crafting and working for eight months,” Mangum-Farrar said. “I think it was just exciting to see us click and have those flashes of really good defense.”