The Indiana defense played in both the Rutgers and Purdue games…and that’s the end of the list of similarities between these two games, at least as far as the IU defense is concerned. IU utterly dominated a hapless Rutgers offense, and then turned around and struggled to stop what had been a fairly average Purdue offense, particularly on the ground.
- At corner, Andre Brown’s injury and A’Shon Riggins status as less than 100% left true freshman Raheem Layne as the starter against Rutgers. As he did against Illinois, Riggins saw limited duty as Coach Allen eased him back from injury. Against Purdue, Riggins got the start, but for some reason, Brown (apparently recovered from injury) took over after 3 possessions and played the rest of the way, except for one possession in which Layne subbed in. I didn’t see Riggins suffer or re-aggravate an injury, and I didn’t hear anyone else mention it. I didn’t see anything in his pass coverage that justified replacement, but there may have been a few run-fit issues on outside runs. In any event, the boundary corner position, which has been an Achilles’ heel all season, was again an issue against the Purdue. On the other side, Fant played all of both games, with the exception of a handful of plays he missed after being shaken up in the Purdue game.
- At safety and husky, the story was pretty much the same as it has been all season: Crawford, Dutra and Fields handled everything. The only exception came against Rutgers, when Crawford was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty1, sophomore Khalil Bryant replaced him for parts of two series.
- At linebacker, Tegray Scales left the field for part of one series against Purdue. Reakwon Jones replaced him and promptly missed a tackle that led to a big run by Markell Jones. At MLB, Dameon Willis spelled Covington for parts of a handful of possessions in each game.
- Along the line, the rotation remained as it has for most of the 2nd half of the season. Against Purdue, I found it interesting that Mike Barwick was on the field for more possessions than Nate Hoff. It makes me wonder if Hoff didn’t get nicked up. Jerome Johnson played the Purdue game with what appeared to be a cast on his left hand – I don’t believe he had that in the Rutgers game or earlier in the season.
Against a truly terrible Rutgers’ passing attack, Coach Allen didn’t need to blitz so he largely didn’t. The 17% blitz percentage is the lowest in Allen’s two seasons running IU’s defense.2 His front 4 still generated good pressure, including a strip sack by Greg Gooch.
Against Purdue, Allen blitzed more at 35%, but still below his average. By comparison, Allen called blitzes on 59% of Purdue’s drop-backs in 2016. And IU’s front generated pressure at only a 23% clip, good for 3rd lowest on the season ahead of only the OSU and UVA contests. Some credit is certainly due to the Purdue coaching staff and Elijah Sindelar, who did a solid job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly.
Again, Rutgers’ passing offense by this point in the season was essentially non-existent so we won’t spend much time on it. IU didn’t give up anything here, but they weren’t tested. Rutgers didn’t attempt a single pass traveling more than 10 yards downfield. A simple running back screen that caught IU in a blitz accounted for almost all of Rutgers’ production through the air.
Against Purdue, one of the real back-breakers was a 49-yard TD from Sindelar to Anthony Mahoungou late in the 1st half, a pass barely out of the reach of a leaping Rashard Fant. Aside from that TD, Fant was also flagged for two pass interference penalties. Given the issues at the other corner spot, Fant was expected to be almost perfect when opponents threw his way this season. He didn’t approach that exacting standard in this one. Speaking of that other corner spot, Andre Brown gave up completions on all three of the throws to his man, including a TD.
Another huge Purdue passing play is not shown in either chart. Purdue’s fake punt pass from Jake Schopper to Gregory Phillips picked up 22 yards, and set up the Boilers for the go-ahead score midway through the 2nd quarter. It’s hard to tell exactly who was at fault for the coverage bust, but my suspicion based on defensive alignment and his reaction as the play developed is that Phillips was Chase Dutra’s responsibility. Dutra appeared to be stuck between coming up to tackle Schopper as Purdue’s punter ran towards the line of scrimmage and playing coverage. If that fake had failed, IU would have taken over in a tie game at their own 43 with less than five minutes to go in the half. Who knows how things would have progressed from there, but it is hard to imagine that they would have gone into the half trailing by 11.
IU had little trouble shutting down Rutgers’ running game, which is as it should be, given the lack of any viable passing threat. Rutgers managed just 3.0 YPC on 9 inside runs and 3.8 YPC on 4 outside runs. Scales had his 3rd game of the season with multiple missed tackles, but IU’s tackling was otherwise solid.
IU’s performance against Purdue was the polar opposite. Purdue’s gameplan was clear: attack the IU defense with outside gap runs designed to punish the aggressive and somewhat undersized IU front seven by getting pulling linemen to the second level and creating cutback lanes. IU had struggled with gap runs – albeit between the tackles – earlier in the season against Michigan and Wisconsin so there was certainly merit to this plan, but I doubt even the most optimistic of Purdue coaches expected it to work as well as it did. This plan of attack became wildly successful because (1) IU’s linebackers – and specifically Chris Covington – played their worst game of the year and (2) the entire IU defense tackled incredibly poorly. Covington’s play at MLB this season was a revelation. He was everything IU fans could have hoped for, filling Marcus Oliver’s shoes in all respects.3 But he was simply not very good in this game. He was consistently slow to diagnose and react to outside runs, and when he did react quickly, he over-pursued or missed the tackle. Scales was a little better, but he struggled to get off the blocks of Purdue’s pulling linemen.
IU’s tackling problems were puzzling. Fourteen of IU’s sixteen missed tackles came on runs by Jones. It’s one thing to struggle when facing a big, powerful back like Jonathan Taylor or an incredibly elusive back like Saquon Barkley. Markell Jones is a decent runner and is probably better than he showed much of this season4, but he’s not as good as IU made him appear.
It was a disappointing final chapter for a truly remarkable core group of IU defenders. Seniors Tegray Scales, Rashard Fant, Nate Hoff, Greg Gooch, Robert McCray, Tony Fields, Chase Dutra and Chris Covington all played a role in giving IU its first above-average defense in roughly a quarter century. They will be missed.