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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Indiana finds way to close running lanes

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana's defensive players spent the entire offseason hearing the complaints. They could pressure quarterbacks, they just couldn't stop the run.

On Saturday, the Hoosiers finally did something about it.

They held Western Kentucky, a team that averaged more than 247 yards per game rushing in 2007, to 63 yards rushing. That set up a new mission for the revamped unit: Making sure one good game wasn't a fluke.

"We did take that personally," linebacker Geno Johnson said Tuesday. "A lot of teams did like to run the ball on us last year, and we took that personal."

That tactic could change after Saturday's performance.

Indiana allowed no long runs, missed few assignments and closed holes quickly. Of course, the rushing numbers usually decrease when you're holding a big lead, as the Hoosiers did for most of Saturday's game.

But what coach Bill Lynch saw from the sidelines -- and on film -- indicates this defense could be far better at stopping runners.

The Hoosiers (1-0) allowed a meager 2.0 yards per carry and were playing with a better understanding of where to be and what to do. That allowed them to play quicker and excel in pursuit.

"A lot of guys have been in this system a long time," Lynch said. "They've played in the system and they understand the system. And the more you play in a system, the faster you play, and that's what we saw."

If Indiana can keep this up for the next three weeks, they'll head into Big Ten play with a much needed confidence boost. Their first conference game comes Sept. 27 against a Michigan State team that rushed for 368 yards in a 52-27 victory at East Lansing last year.

Michigan State was a power team, but the Hoosiers also struggled mightily against Illinois' option attack and Oklahoma State's balanced running game.

So the Hoosiers spent months trying to correct their flaws.

They're quicker, deeper, bigger and more powerful, traits that should help them match up with opponents who dare to grind it out. To Johnson, a senior who has added 30 pounds since his freshman year when he weighed 200, the results came as no surprise.

"We've practiced like that all camp," Johnson said. "Watching the film from Saturday's game, I think we looked like a totally different defense from last year. Everyone's running to the ball, everyone's putting in the effort."

The Hoosiers also did that without their best defensive lineman, Greg Middleton, the nation's sacks leader in 2007, who was suspended for one game for disciplinary reasons. He's expected to be back in the lineup this weekend against Murray State.

Indiana also was breaking in some newcomers. Safety Jerimy Finch, a transfer who played at Florida last year, had just one tackle but should make a bigger impact in the coming weeks. Lynch also gave previously untested cornerbacks Richard Council, Chris Adkins, Adrian Burks and Donnell Jones significant action and found little to quibble with.

The quartet played so well, Lynch said they may continue to rotate at the cornerback spot opposite team captain Chris Phillips.

The difference, Johnson believes, is leadership.

"We've got guys like me, Will Patterson, Austin Thomas and Chris Phillips, guys who were in the weight room all offseason and that carries over into the season," he said.

Now the question is whether they can continuing stopping the run, and they may have to wait a couple of more weeks for their next big test.

Murray State used two quarterbacks last week against Lambuth (Tenn.), doing its most significant damage by throwing two TD passes and returning an interception for a score.

If Middleton can put pressure on Murray State, that will help slow things down.

But the key this season will be slowing the run, something the Hoosiers have emphasized since long before last weekend's season opener.

"We know what our weakness was, and you've got to find your weakness and work on it," defensive end Jammie Kirlew said. "That's what we've been doing."



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