When Indiana football sophomore defensive back Phillip Dunnam and sixth-year senior linebacker Aaron Casey were told the stat, they were stunned.
“We only allowed 21 passing yards?” Dunnam asked after the Hoosiers’ 41-7 victory over Indiana State University inside Memorial Stadium on Friday.
“I didn’t know that,” Casey added on Monday.
It was quite the showing from Indiana’s secondary, which held the Sycamores’ passing offense to just three completions on 11 attempts for a minuscule 21 yards, providing statistical support to a visually suffocating performance. Though just two games in, Indiana ranks No. 11 nationally in passing yards allowed per game at 129 and has already nabbed two interceptions after posting seven all last season.
The most impressive part of those numbers is none of them were supposed to be that way.
Despite having a disappointing 4-8 record last year, the Hoosiers had a talented defensive backfield, headlined by a trio of players who spent time with NFL teams this fall: Jaylin Williams, Tiawan Mullen and Devon Matthews.
With those three and several others no longer in the picture, Indiana head coach Tom Allen pivoted to the transfer portal, where he brought in cornerbacks Nic Toomer, Jamier Johnson, Kobee Minor and JoJo Johnson.
Talented but featuring many new faces, the secondary was Allen’s biggest question mark entering the year, he said leading up to the season opener – yet so far, the group has delivered.
Why? Better yet, how?
How have the Hoosiers’ defensive backs been able to find such a rhythm early in their time on campus?
It’s simple – a group chat with a straightforward title: Mob.
Started by Dunnam and named by sixth-year defensive back Noah Pierre, the chat contains nearly the entire Hoosiers secondary and has been home to conversations featuring football, life and everything in between.
The result is a cohesive unit filled with confidence, guided by the name that best portrays the mindset of Indiana’s defense when it takes the field.
“When you think of a mob, it’s some people coming to handle business,” senior defensive back Louis Moore said. “They got something to show. They ain’t coming with good intentions. So, I feel like that’s what it is.”
So far, Indiana’s defensive backs have checked the box of handling business. Even before shutting down Indiana State’s aerial attack, the Hoosiers allowed Ohio State to complete only 58 percent of its passes for 237 yards in the season opener. Buckeyes receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., a preseason All-American, had just two catches for 18 yards while facing multiple different corners throughout the afternoon.
There may be no better example of just how tight this Hoosiers secondary is — they’re in it for each other, and the mob chat signifies exactly that.
“It’s unity,” Dunnam said. “We are one unit. We are strong, and we all win together.”
The back end of Indiana’s defense being so productive stems, in part, from an improved pass rush led by more new faces in defensive linemen Lanell Carr Jr., Andre Carter and Marcus Burris Jr., with the trio compiling three sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss in two games.
Both parts of the defense complement one another, with Casey noting it’s the front seven’s job to pressure the quarterback so the secondary can do what they do best – cover and force takeaways. Carr added that having such a strong secondary makes the game easier for the defensive line as the quarterback is forced to hold onto the ball.
Casey has been a Hoosier for all six years of his college career. He’s seen the good and the bad of Indiana football, and this year’s defensive backfield, led by coordinator Matt Guerrieri and cornerbacks coach Brandon Shelby, has a strong chance to be the former.
“They're a tight-knit group,” Casey said. “Coach (Guerrieri) and coach Shelby really have those guys in line and (they’re) detail-oriented guys. I think if they keep going and keep stacking days, they’ll have a good season.”
The intangible factors may be the biggest key to Indiana’s early success. Allen pointed out Monday how challenging it is to find the right culture fits in the transfer portal. Considering the sheer number of new faces the Hoosiers brought in, there was an element of uncertainty surrounding how the group would mesh.
Step one in the process was having the transfers visit together — early bonds started forming, and relationships grew. Now, several months later, the benefits of these relationships are being shown on the field – and the mob chat has played a big part in accomplishing that feat.
“It’s helped a lot,” Dunnam said. “It brought everybody closer.”
Defensive backs are known for being more vocally expressive than other positions. There’s a certain level of confidence that’s required to line up snap-after-snap as the last line of defense when the possibility of going from hero to zero exists on each play.
Each of Indiana’s transfers carries that confidence, per Moore, and it’s only spread to the rest of the secondary. With the introduction of the mob chat, there’s an identity forming – and the new faces are at the forefront.
“They transferred because they’ve got something to prove but didn’t get an opportunity probably where they were,” Moore said. “So, they come here with that mentality – Nic, Jamier, Kobee, that’s how they come with. That’s what I like about my team. They go out there and dominate.”
The Hoosiers, currently holding a 1-1 record, will play the University of Louisville in a non-conference game at noon this Saturday inside Lucas Oil Stadium.
Indiana will enter as underdogs – but the mob is coming with bad intent, and there’s no role it cherishes more than earning an opportunity to handle business, just like it has thus far.