Yes, IU is still a day away from its season opener against Indiana State, so we don't know if this will be bad defense as usual or the start of a new era.
One thing is sure. Mallory likes what he's seen so far.
“We've focused on being a better run defense and we've made some strides,” he says. “I'd like to think it will carry over to the season.”
For much of preseason camp, coach Kevin Wilson used a one- and two-back power approach when working with the defense. No, he wasn't scrapping the up-tempo spread attack that produced nearly 31 points a game last season, but he wanted to make sure the defense got the practice looks against the run it will need against Big Ten competition.
The Hoosiers have been soft as no coach wants to see against the run the last couple of years. Of course, that's also been true against the pass. They have given up at least 34.0 points a game for three straight seasons.
Wisconsin, more than any other team, bullied IU into submission.
The good news — the players are stronger and more experienced. The camp emphasis on tough, physical play seemed to work. Mallory simplified some of the base defense to avoid confusion and maximize production and aggression.
“The kids are communicating better,” he says. “They have a better feel for the scheme. They're getting better at making adjustments. I think we're going in the right direction. We've got to up the standard we've set and we're making progress.”
Progress will be tested by Indiana State tailback Shakir Bell, who rushed for more than 3,100 yards in the last two seasons. He's a big reason why the Sycamores have had three straight winning seasons.
“He's a great back,” Mallory said. “He's not big in stature (5-8 and 185 pounds), but it's hard to get a clean shot at him. He's elusive. He has good speed.”
As far as the Hoosiers' quarterback situation, nothing has changed. Tre Roberson, Cam Coffman and Nate Sudfeld are in a dead heat.
“It's going to be a challenge for us as coaches with practice reps and opportunities,” Wilson says. “In fairness to the kids, it would be a subjective opinion of why someone's not in. In preseason here we've completed 78 and 76 and 74 percent of our passes. We've thrown eight, eight and six interceptions with the three guys.They're very similar in age as far as their time and length here. It's not like we've got a veteran senior and a first-year rookie, so the leadership level is the same.”
Wilson did say he won't pull a guy for one mistake.
“We're not going to be looking over our shoulder if you make a bad throw or if you have a bad play, because the game's not perfect.”
Wilson says he talked to Sudfeld and Coffman about redshirting this season (Roberson redshirted last year because of a broken leg and doesn't have that option). Neither wanted to. Wilson says he might play one quarterback against Indiana State, or all three.
“I'm trying to be fair to these kids, fair to their career, fair to their futures. If the offense scores every drive and it's a high-scoring game both ways and there's no need to change whoever started, that guy will probably play the whole game. If we have pitfalls and think we need a shot in the arm, we'll go to a second guy.”
Will this be a brutal decision?
“No, the brutal one is one where you don't have one that can play and you have to play somebody,” Wilson said. “This one's pretty easy. They're all three pretty dad-gum good. … To me, we've got phenomenal choices…. The brutal thing is you want to be fair to all three kids, because they're all good kids.”