Micah McFadden had Ball State running back Walter Fletcher wrapped up. He tried to spin him to the ground, short of the first down marker.
But suddenly Fletcher was gone. He got to the sideline and found the endzone for a Ball State touchdown.
“I brought (McFadden) in, put my arm around him, ‘It’s alright, you can make that play,'” linebacker Reakwon Jones said. “‘We’re going to get another opportunity. Just flush it and we’re gonna move on.'”
McFadden’s missed tackle might have been the most costly, but it was just one of 25 seen on film by IU Head Coach Tom Allen. Those missed tackles led to 181 extra yards for Ball State.
“Tackling, after watching the film, was just as bad on film as it was live,” Allen said. “So disappointed in that, but that will be fixed.”
Defensive coordinator Kane Wommack thought his defense did a good job overall executing his scheme. In order to miss a tackle, his players at least had to be in the right place.
But those missed tackles cost his defense a much better statistical day. Ball State had 398 total yards. Take away the missed tackles and that becomes 217. If McFadden had been able to make the tackle on Fletcher it would have been fourth down, and seven points would have come off the board.
“There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it, that wasn’t even close to the standard that we have set for ourselves,” defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said.
Jones was named IU’s defensive player of the game after he led the team with 11 tackles. He was the most reliable tackler for a team that didn’t have any reliable tackling.
“The thing I’m thankful for is that it happened earlier in the season,” Jones said. “We’re going to get it fixed and all corrected. I just want them to know that I believe in every linebacker that touched the field.”
Missed tackles were an issue not just for the Hoosiers, but across the country. As teams roll back live tackling in fall camp, the first game was the first opportunity to hit another player for many players. Allen called the first game a three hour live practice.
With less hitting in practice, players didn’t have the repetitions to be as ready to tackle an opposing player in the opening game.
“The simple and real answer is sometimes you just gotta feel 220 pounds coming down on you and feel like, ‘Oh, that’s what it feels like to tackle,'” Wommack said.
Wommack did say there will be a focus in practice on ball carriers with momentum going away from his defenders, something he saw as an issue on film in the Ball State game.
In fact, that’s exactly the type of play where Fletcher escaped the tackle of McFadden.
41 career D-II touchdowns. And now a big first one in D-
— Ball State Football (@BallStateFB) August 31, 2019
“I think it’s just me staying to my fundamental details, wrapping and driving through the guy instead of trying to roll him to the ground,” McFadden said.
As a leader on the defense, Jones doesn’t want the structure of fall camp to be blamed. He wasn’t the biggest culprit for the defense, but he knows it’s a group that can and should have done better.
“Not having as many reps going full bore live like that,” Jones said. “But I don’t want to use that as an excuse. We did work on fundamentals. We know what it takes to tackle a running back, a Big Ten running back, and hone in like we we’re supposed to.”
Allen took the missed tackles personally. It was a stain on the performance of the side of the ball where he has his expertise. But he had to lighten the hitting load in practice just as many coaches are around the country. He was willing to sacrifice mistakes against Ball State in order to keep his roster at full strength.
“To stay healthy truly has to be worth it,” Allen said. “Losing a guy, he can’t make any plays for you if he’s not out there. So the true challenge is, how do you keep them healthy and also tackle enough to get ready to play the game? I think it’s a very difficult task. I think that’s why the common theme across the country and maybe if it’s worth keeping a guy healthy for the whole season, then yeah, it probably is worth it.”
So it’s been according to plan for Allen. For the most part, his defense is healthy. Only Reese Taylor missed the opening game.
Now the tackling just has to catch up.
News and Notes
- Taylor is expected back this week against Eastern Illinois. He missed the opener against Ball State with a hand injury. Tom Allen said Taylor could have played against Ball State, but the team was being safe.
- Linebacker Cam Jones suffered a lower leg injury. The extent to the injury is unknown and he will be re-evaluated later this week. No report on his status for Saturday’s game just yet, but the injury didn’t appear significant.
- IU will be hosting the 40 year reunion of the team’s Holiday Bowl victory this weekend. The 1979 Holiday Bowl was IU’s first bowl win. Lee Corso was the head coach.
- Running back Ronnie Walker and tight end Peyton Hendershot were the team’s Offensive Players of the Week. Jones was the Defensive Player of the Week. Kicker Logan Justus was the special teams player of the week.
- Quarterback Michael Penix was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week. Justus was named the Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week.
- Offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said he isn’t concerned about the drops from the wide receivers. He knows what guys such as Nick Westbrook and Whop Philyor are capable of, and said that won’t happen again.
- Allen and DeBoer both appeared pleased with Penix’s first start. “The country got to see what I saw in practice,” Allen said.
- From 2014-15, Wommack was the defensive coordinator for this week’s opponent, Eastern Illinois. He still has strong connections to the school, including being in group chats where trash talking has already begun.