BLOOMINGTON – Indiana’s defense entered the 2007 season wanting to improve its pass rush. The result: A school-record 42 sacks.
This season, the Hoosiers’ focus has been on slowing the run. Through two games, IU ranks fourth nationally in run defense, giving up 45.5 yards per game.
“Just seeing that is something we want to compete for and we want to keep,” defensive end Jammie Kirlew said. “We want to be a top defense, so we want to limit their rushing yards to as low as possible. We’ve done a good job with the last two teams.”
The Hoosiers will meet their toughest test to date at 7 p.m. Saturday against Ball State. Snider graduate MiQuale Lewis leads the Cardinals’ run attack, averaging 121 yards per game.
“Lewis is a difference-maker as a back. We know a lot about him, we have a lot of Fort Wayne guys, so they know how good a player he is, so there is the respect there,” IU coach Bill Lynch said. “They have so much balance on offense. When they can run it as much as they do, it really puts you in a bind. The challenge is, we have to do a good job against the run, which is something we want to do each and every week.”
Saying they want to stop the run is one thing. Doing it is the challenge. IU opened the season against Western Kentucky, a team that likes to run. The Hoosiers limited the Hilltoppers to 63 yards. The next week, Murray State collected 28 yards on 27 carries.
“(We are) stopping them with the front seven instead of having the safety come down all the time and make tackles,” said Kirlew, who leads the team with 13 tackles. “We’re more aggressive, getting off blocks and making plays in the backfield and at the line of scrimmage.”
Kirlew acknowledged the team’s success stopping the run comes with a bit of an asterisk: Indiana has won the games by a combined score of 76-16. With comfortable leads in both, the opposition has been forced to abandon the run early to try to catch up.
“The defense is getting three-and-outs, and the offense is doing a great job scoring points,” he said. “That makes a team want to pass more. We’re starting off the game good, getting off the ball and making plays.”
Ryan Marando has been one of the playmakers. The senior has seven tackles, including a team-leading 2 1/2 tackles for loss. He forced a fumble and recovered the ball to set up an IU touchdown against Murray State.
“I think I’m getting off the ball very, very well, and the tackles are having a hard time of reading what I’m doing against them,” Marando said. “The speed is my best attribute.”
IU held Ball State to 67 rushing yards last season. But the Cardinals played without Lewis, who missed the game with a knee injury.
“Lewis is a great runner. He brings a lot more to the team that they didn’t have last year when they played us,” Kirlew said. “We have to stop him, we have to stop him early and make them think they’re not able to run the ball so they have to pass. It’s not the best thing, because they are great at passing too. So we’ll have to stop the pass as well. We just have to play all-around great defense.”