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COLUMN

Bad Indiana defense is back

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For more on college football, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio

Fix it or goodbye bowl hopes

Sunday, September 8, 2013 - 8:15 am

BLOOMINGTON -- We've seen this before. Of course we have. It is an Indiana tradition that never ends no matter how much you want it to. Bad defense begets frustrating losses begets losing records begets no bowls.

You'd better believe Saturday night's 41-35 loss to Navy featured bad defense. How else do you explain giving up 444 rushing yards, 19 plays of 10 or more yards and never forcing the Midshipmen to punt?

“We prepared for them for a year and a half, even going back to spring ball,” safety Greg Heban said, "and it's discouraging we didn't play as well as we needed to.

“In the fourth quarter, we sort of stepped up and showed a little heart and attitude, but that's something we have to come out of the gate with.”

The Hoosiers (1-1) had everything set up for a special season -- eight home games, including the first five, a record-setting 73-point outburst against Indiana State, a promising freshman class -- only to deliver more misery.

An optimist will say it can still happen. It's just the second game. The numbers remain in Cream 'n Crimson favor -- five more victories to become bowl eligible with 10 games remaining, none that include, say, Alabama.

“We've got a lot more football left to play,” linebacker David Cooper said. “We all feel we let one get away. We've got to keep on going.”

A realist who has watched IU bumble along for a generation knows this won't end well.

Why?

Because the defense stinks. Despite all the work and recruiting emphasis, it remains the unwelcome gift that keeps on giving.

Yes, Navy is good with a difficult-to-defend rushing attack IU won't face again this season. Still, the Midshipmen had two players surpass 100 rushing yards (quarterback Keenan Reynolds with 127, tailback Darius Whiteside with 106), with tailback DeBrandon Sanders just missing with 97.

And don't forget Indiana State's Shakir Bell rushed for 113 yards in a half against IU before missing the second half with a shoulder injury. If he had played the entire game, he might have broken 200 rushing yards.

It goes beyond that. IU has given up at least 35 points in its last five games. Next up is a 2-0 Bowling Green team that averages 37.5 points.

Blame the coaches, the players, the scheme or misaligned stars. It has to get better. It just does. If not, Indiana has no chance.

And that's a shame because this offense, with quarterback Nate Sudfeld directing it, can provide a lot of chances. IU has scored 108 in its first two games, a school record for consecutive games.

A pessimist will say there is no chance, that this was an embarrassment, but the Hoosiers won't buy into that. Coach Kevin Wilson, who has spent the last three years building for a better tomorrow, pushes hard to keep optimism intact, that adversity is just part of the deal, another obstacle that will be overcome.

“I'm very proud because we had a chance,” he said. “We battled, battled, battled.”

Or, as Cooper said, “We didn't give up.”

That's nice, but this is a bottom-line world, and that means winning. So what was the defensive problem Saturday?

“We didn't execute the plays we went over and practiced,” Cooper said. “It took a while for us to adjust. We just didn't execute.”

As far as dealing with Navy's cut blocking, Cooper said, “You can't practice to their tempo. It's something they have perfected. You never see how they cut in practice. When it comes to the game, cutting is what they do.”

Navy (1-0) has become a perennial bowl team over the last decade because of its unique offense and tough-minded play.

“When you've done it for 26 years,” Wilson said, “you've seen just about everything (defensively). It's very unique. They're very good at it. I thought it would be difficult. I would have liked to have stopped it better, but we didn't.

“We didn't adjust well. When we made our adjustments, I don't know if we got them made. I don't know if the kids understood. I'm not blaming guys. It's a difficult deal. We tweaked it as best we could. It wasn't good enough.”

It has to become good enough. Not great. Just good enough. Otherwise, well, we've seen it before.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Pete DiPrimio at pdiprimio@news-sentinel.com.