In Indiana’s football locker room, they’re still talking about the way last season ended. No one is happy with the flat, unfulfilling finish the Hoosiers experienced at the Outback Bowl in January, a sour ending to an otherwise uplifting season.
Well, everyone except for maybe Ryder Anderson.
The 6-foot-6, 266-pound defensive lineman was lined up on the other side of the ball for that Jan. 2 postseason showdown in Tampa, Fla., recording one sack and three stops in Ole Miss’ 26-20 victory over the Hoosiers. Personally, Anderson’s season-ending performance was exactly what he’d hoped it be, but since arriving in Bloomington earlier this winter as a senior transfer, he’s had to adjust his point of view.
“The whole message has been that we didn’t finish out the season,” he said. “I say ‘we’ like I was on the team last year, but that’s just how it feels being integrated with the program now.”
That integration process is happening fast. And though it might have initially been awkward to fraternize with the competition and experience the other side of his most recent victory, Anderson is fitting right in with his new teammates at IU — and taking the first steps toward seizing a role on a defensive line that could use his skill set.
“It’s all been good, just getting in here and meeting everybody,” Anderson said. “We’ve definitely had a couple jokes and chit-chat about the game, but it’s been great. We’ve been getting to work the past couple weeks. It’s been fun meeting everybody.”
Fun, too, for the Hoosiers to begin projecting the impact Anderson might have in the months to come.
Even with all the excitement and pressure Indiana’s defense created in opposing backfields last fall, those explosive plays didn’t regularly come from the Hoosiers’ front. That’s something IU’s coaching staff believes Anderson can help fix in 2021. He already has experience playing in a 4-2-5 from his freshman and sophomore seasons at Ole Miss, and while he could see time in a couple different roles as the season unfolds, Anderson is most likely to factor into the edge rotation this fall.
According to Pro Football Focus, Anderson would have been IU’s best edge rusher last season, recording nine hurries, four hits and three sacks in 569 snaps. PFF gave him an overall defensive grade of 72.5 and a pass rush grade of 64.9, both of which were better grades than any of IU’s ends from last season.
“I’m really excited,” Anderson said. “I just feel like I’m fitting in as a piece of the puzzle. That was a big reason for me wanting to come here. I’m toward the end of my collegiate career, and I didn’t necessarily want to go somewhere where I was starting from scratch. I wanted to go somewhere where I fit in as a piece of the puzzle.”
Anderson believes the ability to focus on one position will also help his production at Indiana.
“I think that can benefit me a lot,” he said. “I had no problem moving all around and all down the line of scrimmage last year. I feel like that just gave me a chance to show my versatility. I gained experience doing that, so that was great. Now, (I have) the opportunity to focus in and hone my skills on the edge and soak in as much as I can.”
And by season’s end, perhaps he’ll help his new teammates experience the joy of postseason victory, too.
“I’m ready to take off and just build off of last year,” Anderson said. “I feel like that’s what we’re getting ready to do here.”