BLOOMINGTON – Each movement made by Marcelino Ball is calculated.
Designed for optimal impact, each hit delivered and word spoken by IU's redshirt junior carries significance.
So when asked Monday about the importance of Indiana's weekend game at Nebraska, which could make the Hoosiers bowl eligible for the first time since 2016, he paused and carefully crafted his response.
“Shoot, how many games we got left?” he asked a group of reporters inside Memorial Stadium's Henke Hall of Champions.
The answer is five.
“So we're trying to get five wins. Simple as that. (If) we had 12 games we'd try to get 12 wins. It's not about the bowl, it's about the wins.”
Victories have been increasingly hard to come by for Ball since his breakout freshman season in 2016. He quickly became then-defensive coordinator Tom Allen's go-to option at the husky position. But after leading all Big Ten freshmen in tackles during the 2016 season, Ball has slogged through injuries and at times ineffective play.
Ball's 2017 season was cut short after three games due to a knee injury. Despite earning honorable-mention All-Big Ten honors a season ago, Ball still lacked the explosive, dynamic playmaking displayed so often as a freshman. Then the 2019 season got off to a inauspicious start for Ball, who committed two 15-yard penalties during the season-opening win against Ball State in Indianapolis.
“Those are selfish penalties, so that's why I took him out and ripped his tail,” Allen said after that week one game. “So we'll have a nice little week with him for that. He'll never do it again.”
True to Allen's statement, Ball hasn't put a foot wrong since. Last week's win at Maryland was Ball's most effective game of the season, as he recorded a team-high five tackles and his first sack of the season.
“(If) I've got a blocker in front of me, I'm going to destroy him,” Ball said.
With sophomore Jamar Johnson also seeing time at husky and with two sacks to his name this season, Ball said “cliché phrases” are allowing the Hoosier defense to excel. This was particularly true to close out the Maryland game, as IU forced consecutive defensive takeaways on Maryland's final two offensive drives to seal the win.
“'Pinning our ears back' and 'making the play' or 'just executing, trusting each other,'” Ball said. “It was good for us to just pick up what they (Maryland) were giving us and get the calls in and understand our reads.”
The crowd of 32,606 on hand at Maryland Stadium last Saturday will pale in comparison to the nearly 90,000 people expected in Lincoln, Nebraska, this weekend. IU's ability to eventually shut the door on Maryland, sealing the team's fourth Big Ten road win since 2016, has the Hoosiers feeling optimistic about their road chances, with Ball leading the group.
“The energy is going to be live and we're going to be the guest,” Ball said slowly with a mischievous tone in his voice. “I embrace it. We like being the unwelcome guest. The crowd is just the audience, we're not worried about that. We're worried about the players on the field. The crowd, that's just a variable.”
Indiana at Nebraska
When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, Neb.
Records: Indiana (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten); Nebraska (4-3, 2-2)
Radio: 1250 AM