Takeaways have become such a continued focus in Bloomington that during fall camp, the Hoosiers made a video showing each and every takeaway created by the Indiana defense.
A year ago, Indiana’s defense was historically effective and experienced. But the Hoosiers struggled to create takeaways. In 2017, IU managed eight forced fumbles and five interceptions.
Halfway through this season, Indiana’s defense has already forced seven interceptions and six forced fumbles. They rank eighth in the country in forced turnovers, and for Allen, that’s not necessarily enough.
“A lot of times I felt like last year it was just balls that were right there,” Allen said Monday. “Whether it was a fumble we didn’t quite get or a pick we didn’t secure. So we worked really, really hard on catching balls. We’ve got to keep doing that. We dropped one a week ago that I thought was a pick-six opportunity. We can’t do that.”
The topic dominated discussion at Monday’s media availability with the likes of Coach Allen, Cam Jones, and Jonathan Crawford — and rightfully so. After forcing three turnovers Saturday, which allowed Indiana to stay competitive in its 49-26 loss to Ohio State, attention was warranted.
With the Buckeyes driving in the second quarter ahead by four, another score had serious potential to drown Indiana’s hopes in Columbus. That was a fair sentiment, until freshman Devon Matthews helped bail his new team out, picking off Dwayne Haskins and giving Peyton Ramsey the ball once more, where the ensuing drive resulted in points. It was the second of the three takeaways forced by IU, and yet another instance of defensive takeaways being a key reason why Indiana has remained close in crucial games.
“We didn’t emphasize it any different in the past,” Allen said. “But I do think this fall camp we got back to really attacking the ball in practice.”
While IU’s secondary is a clear strength this season, the takeaways have started up front. As seen against Ohio State, when Indiana’s defensive line pressures the opposing quarterback, the Hoosiers take the ball away.
“To me, the second step of it is providing pressure, hitting quarterbacks,” Allen said. “I think when you have a more athletic group, you create more takeaways. Because number one, you get to the ball quicker to force them, and you’re around the ball more to recover them.”
The Indiana defensive line did what it could early in the game to set the tone, in the form of a stripped fumble, forced out by Brandon Wilson and recovered by husky Cam Jones, who has quickly emerged as a pleasant surprise behind Marcelino Ball.
It wasn’t the only instance in which Jones made a difference on Saturday. The team was quick to credit the freshman with applying pressure and forcing the Matthews interception before the half. Though Haskins was only sacked once by Nile Sykes, “pressure” is a key intangible that does not show up in the postgame box score. But it’s been absolutely key to setting a tone and forcing some errors in judgment, witnessed firsthand in Columbus last weekend.
“We had to have three or more turnovers every single day or we had to run,” Jones said, smiling. “Those runs after fall camp were something serious and we didn’t want to do that. To be a good defense you’ve got to get turnovers and you’ve got to score as a defense.”
On Saturday, Indiana has yet another opportunity to change the conversation surrounding its program. Iowa (4-1, 1-1) will visit Bloomington. The Hawkeyes feature a versatile offense, led by junior quarterback Nate Stanley and a slew of running backs. Stanley is an experienced, poised quarterback that relies on a comfortable pocket and play action calls involving a pair of reliable tight ends. There are multiple players questionable for Iowa this weekend. But if Indiana moves up in the Big Ten’s pecking order, the Hawkeyes are a realistic opponent to surpass. Takeaways, as always, could go a long way for the Hoosiers against a relatively smart and accurate quarterback in Stanley.
“Very disciplined offensively,” Allen said of Iowa. “They really expanded their passing game. Stanley is a great quarterback, big, physical, 6’4, 245 pound guy. Physical backs, big offensive line. Best tight end corps we’ve gone against. So they got a big win last week on the road and did a lot of different things to get that win. So going to be a great challenge for us.”