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COLUMN

IU's defensive buck stops with Mallory

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Kickoff: Bowling Green at Indiana, noon, Saturday
RADIO: 1250-AM
TV: ESPNU

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

Time for Hoosiers to show growth

Tuesday, September 10, 2013 - 5:26 am

BLOOMINGTON -- Indiana's Doug Mallory ducks nothing. He's a stand-up guy, old school, honest, hard working, caring, driven, rock solid, like all the Mallorys.

Like Bill, for instance.

Doug knows the score in the bottom-line coaching profession. He bleeds the numbers. He understands the history, the stakes...

The outside grumbling that can bring down even the most solid of coaches.

Indiana's defense stumbles and the buck stops with Mallory. It has to. He's the defensive coordinator. A year and a half of Navy preparation can't produce 444 rushing yards and 41 points to follow two of the worst years of Cream and Crimson defensive football in a long line of them.

It just can't.

Yeah, he knows it.

“I'm disappointed,” Mallory said. “Real disappointed. You're not going to win many games if you let a team run for over 400 yards. You never force a team to punt; you create zero turnovers.

“If you do that, you're not going to have very many opportunities, regardless of how good your offense is and how well you play on special teams. You're not going to have a chance to win very many games if you perform like that.”

Indiana (1-1) didn't win last Saturday. It wasn't a season-wrecking loss, but when you're fighting for bowl relevance and bucking a losing tradition, you've got to win the winnable games.

Navy was winnable. So is Saturday's home game against Bowling Green (2-0).

We'll get to that.

Indiana has been defensively lousy for a generation. Mallory's been around for the last two-plus seasons of it, so you can't pin it all on him.

Let's face it. Lack of defensive talent, not poor coaching, is the major reason opponents have feasted at Hoosier expense.

To some extent, it still is. IU isn't, say, Alabama. It's not loaded with future NFL players, although the talent level has been upgraded.

Still, there's enough to at least slow down Navy and most of the other teams on the schedule. You hold opponents to 10 points a game, you're a hero. With Indiana's explosive offense, you can make it with a 30-point defensive average. But you continue to let teams average 38 points a game, as IU does, you're a bum.

And then you're out of a job.

So what happened last Saturday? Mallory offered insight.

“We didn't execute the way we needed to execute. Other times we had guys on the ground.

“I think from a coaching standpoint we did a bad job making the adjustments when they needed to be made. We got a little bit stubborn. We tried to continue to play it the way that we'd worked and practiced throughout camp. We weren't getting it done, so we had to go to Plan B on how we were going to try to adjust it. There was one particular play Plan B didn't work, so we had to go to Plan C. That started to help us a little bit more.”

And then there was this:

“One of the things I was really disappointed in, I felt we were on the ground a lot more than we were a year ago when we played them. Credit to Navy, I thought they did a pretty good job particularly for their first game, of executing. We didn't do anything to slow them down.

“You can't play defense if you're on the ground. We've got to do a better job of getting to the ball. We've got to do a better job staying on our feet, and we've certainly gotta do a better job of tackling.”

For some head coaches, such as Texas' on-the-ropes Mack Brown, the easy solution is to toss somebody under the bus. Kevin Wilson isn't Brown, who fired his defensive coordinator -- Manny Diaz -- less than 24 hours after Saturday's 40-21 loss to Brigham Young. The Longhorns allowed 550 rushing yards, 106 more than IU gave up to Navy.

Brown's rationale was bottom-line clear: “Our performance on defense was unacceptable, and we need to change that.”

Wilson isn't so cold hearted, and doesn't have to be, although everybody knows how this will end if the defense doesn't get better.

Wilson, in fact, said the defense has improved.

“I think a lot. We've got five (defensive coaches) and those guys know what they're doing. Sometimes you make a play or you don't. You can always change. The reason I think we can positively coach our guys pretty hard is we're hard on ourselves.

“I heard our coaches, all of us, right after the game, say we have to coach better.

Our kids are working hard. Our kids are playing hard. We've got to continue to learn and put them in better spots.”

IU has the Big Ten's best offense (54.0 points) and its worst defense. Given the remaining opponents, the offense will slow down. The defense can't afford to.

“You're not going to score every time offensively,” Wilson said. “You'd like to, and you'd like to stop them all the time. You're not going to.

“We've got to create some turnovers. We created none last game. No matter what they do, we've got to create some turnovers. We've got to create some negative plays.”

So here comes Bowling Green, which averages 37.5 points with its more traditional spread attack. IU coaches insist they're more familiar with that, and the players better equipped to deal with it.

We'll find out.

“The way you win,” Wilson said, “is you stay with the process. You keep getting better and you play hard. You do your job. You play in the structure of the (offense and defense), the kicking, whatever it is.

“If you play hard, good things happen. If you start freelancing, start doubting, start doing your own thing, now we're independent free agents, things don't work well. You play as a team, you play hard to start making those plays, and we'll see if we can grow from that. That's what we try to take defensively, and the same deal offensively.”

Mallory understands the deal. It's time for the defense to show growth. It starts Saturday with this prime directive:

"We've got to stop the run," Mallory said.

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.