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Can Indiana's Defense Make a Difference?

Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

It has been rehashed over and over and over and over again in the last couple years. IU's defense stinks. Like it couldn't fight it's way out of a wet paper bag weak. We went into last expecting better. Especially since the beginning of the season thought process was, well it would have to be a historically bad defense to be worse than 2012, so there is nowhere to go but up, right? Wrong. 2013 Indiana football had a historically bad defense. But you can't do much worse than that right?

Well we're just two days away from the IU season opener and with Coach Wilson gutting last year's defensive staff there is some renewed hope that Indiana can figure things out on the defensive side of the ball this season. The Hoosiers will be transitioning to new coordinator Brian Knorr's 3-4 defense. Usually that means a down year or two due to transition and player types that make a 4-3 and 3-4 different animals. Luckily though, IU has already had in place the personnel that seem to fit a 3-4 better anyway.

So now the question is can the Hoosiers make hay with these changes. Last season, Indiana gave up 35 or more points to all but two opponents in their 12 game schedule. That's an absolute ton and cost the Hoosiers several games in the process. Last year's team was a bowl team pretty easily if it weren't for the defensive woes. There were 3 games that immediately jump to mind as games we win if Indiana's defense knew what a 3rd down stop looked like. So, I wouldn't fault anyone's confidence in a potential 8 win season this year if they truly believe Knorr can fix the defense quickly. Hell it doesn't even have to be good or average, just not worst in the nation bad.

Looking to generate that turnaround are going to be a lot of young guys that collected a lot of experience on defense last year. The Hoosiers had one senior on the starting 11 last year so a lot of the players on the squad were getting thrown to the wolves before they were prepared to face any major conference competition. Luckily, by biting the bullet they're back and more experienced than most players their age. Add in that there is a lot of veteran leadership with this first team defense and we have a unique mix of young talent and season vets.

Leading off the seasoned veterans list are Tim Bennett, Mark Murphy, David Cooper, Forisse Hardin and Bobby Richardson. All 5 guys are seniors this year and expected to contribute in a big way. Murphy and Bennett are probably the two most important on that list. They'll be manning the backfield and defending against the passing game. They played quite well as a unit last year and they need to maintain that steady presence on the field. By locking up receivers quickly it should help defend against the quick strike touchdowns we've become so used to seeing.

On the line we're going to see a different look than in the past. Darius Latham is likely going to start as a DE when he was recruited as a DT. Fortunately Latham's MO has been a guy with incredible speed for his size. If he can anchor the outside of the line and eat blockers along with Richardson and Adarius Rayner, then the rest of the wheels can be set in motion.

As with all 3-4 defenses we're going to see a lot of LB blitzing and it's going to be interesting to see how this team reacts. In the past we've been notorious for undisciplined and sluggish LB play. Poor tackling, missing gaps and assignments has been standard operating procedure for Indiana defenses for quite some time. With the youngest starting linebacker now to be sophomore TJ Simmons (who is likely the most talented) you'd hope that the years of experience can save the Hoosiers from historic precedence.

Either way, Indiana's defense has to be better. This season's offense likely isn't to be as explosive as years past. Which means the defense is going to have to make up some of the difference. If they don't we may be in for yet another disappointing 5 win season. If they can find a way to play close to average this may be the year that Indiana is a late season dark horse to knock off Ohio State and Michigan State from the top of the division.