The Indiana football team was successful offensively for most of the 2013 season, but they finished with a 5-7 record and missed out on a chance to play in a bowl game.
Many of those losses could be blamed on IU’s horrible defense. Under their former defensive coordinator Doug Mallory, the 2013 IU defense allowed 506.2 yards per game during conference play. That statistic is the worst in the Big Ten’s history.
Although last year’s statistics and win-loss record will lead many to believe that IU lacks talent on the defensive side of the ball, I believe most of the blame should be placed on their former coordinator. That problem was addressed this offseason when head coach Kevin Wilson replaced Mallory with former Wake Forest defensive coordinator Brian Knorr.
The IU defense was equally bad in run defense and pass defense last year, ranking 110th and 112th among FBS teams respectively. It is extremely rare to see a team that is good at defending either the run or pass, but is horrible at defending the other. So if IU can improve at defending one offensive element, hopefully the other will follow suit or at least show some improvement.
Knorr’s 2013 Wake Forest defense was best at stopping the run, ranking 34th among FBS schools in rush defense last season. The most vital part of a team’s run defense is their linebackers. If Knorr intends to have similar success this season, he needs the linebackers to perform well.
IU’s linebackers have plenty of experience returning for this season, as all three starters are returning. Two of the three linebackers in the second unit have plenty of experience as well. David Cooper will return as the starting weak-side, or ‘Will’, linebacker. The 6-foot-1, 237-pound senior had 85 tackles last season, which included 6 tackles for a loss and 2.5 sacks. Marcus Oliver (6-foot-1, 238 pounds) recorded 37 tackles and 2.5 tackles for a loss last season while playing behind Cooper. Oliver is projected to be the backup again this year.
Senior Forisse ‘Flo’ Hardin is the returning strong-side, or ‘Sam’, linebacker. Hardin, standing at 6-foot-1 and weighing 230 pounds, had 59 tackles and 3.5 tackles for a loss last season. Sophomore Clyde Newton (6-foot-1, 230 pounds) will return as Hardin’s backup this season. Last year, Newton had 32 tackles playing behind Hardin.
The middle, or ‘Mike’, linebacker position will be played by Sophomore T.J. Simmons. The 6-foot, 228-pound Simmons recorded 68 tackles, which included 3.5 tackles for a loss and 1 sack last season as a freshman.
The backup ‘Mike’ linebacker is a little more difficult to project. Jake Michalek was second on the depth chart last season but he is no longer with the team this year. The most likely candidates for Simmons’ backup is junior Kyle Kennedy. The 6-foot-3, 237-pound Kennedy appeared in just one game last season, in which he recorded one tackle.
With Knorr’s track record as a successful defensive coordinator, I fully expect IU’s linebackers to have better production across the board. I expect to see increases in every statistical category from Simmons, Hardin and Cooper, with Simmons making the biggest improvement from last year now that he has a season under his belt. I would also not be surprised to see any major changes made by Knorr to the depth chart, as he tries to find the best overall group.