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NCAA Football Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana Football’s LBs to Be Key to Success in 2014

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Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

The biggest downfall to the Indiana Hoosiers‘ 2013 season was a defense that could not contain anything thrown its direction. Indiana ranked 117th in the nation last year with 38.8 points allowed per game, and that number spiked to 41.9 against Big 10 opponents. And when you dive further, it gets even uglier.

For instance, Navy pounded the ball on the ground for 444 yards against Indiana; Missouri finished with 623 total yards; Illinois even got in on the action and averaged 6.7 yards per play on the Hoosiers’ defense. It was a sloppy mess under defensive coordinator Doug Mallory, which is why head coach Kevin Wilson went out in the offseason and acquired Brian Knorr, a lesser known (but extremely intelligent) mind when it comes to sculpting defensive units.

Knorr’s 3-4 scheme fits almost flawlessly with Indiana’s current personnel, especially on the defensive line, where the Hoosiers return four starters from a season ago who started all 12 games, as well as another who started 11. The defensive line is looking like it will be a strength for Indiana’s defense because of good size, which is extremely important when running a 3-4 defense; the defensive linemen need to occupy blockers and create opportunities for the linebackers.

This is where the x-factor comes in. We don’t know if Indiana’s linebackers have that playmaking ability. The options are certainly there, but where exactly will the production come from?

If we’re including Nick Mangieri, who has moved from defensive end to outside linebacker, Indiana returns its top seven tacklers from a season ago. Senior inside linebacker David Cooper made the most noise last year with six tackles for loss (almost twice that of the next highest linebacker total) and 2.5 sacks.

Beyond Cooper, sophomores T.J. Simmons and Clyde Newton each return as 12-game starters in 2013. The experience is certainly there, and we can’t count out incoming freshmen Tegray Scales, Greg Gooch and Dameon Willis, who were all three-star recruits.

Knorr’s priority for the defense this season has to be getting his linebackers to take advantage of a sturdy defensive line and make plays. If they can’t do that, this 3-4 scheme will not come anywhere close to meeting its potential for Indiana’s defense. There is a multitude of options at linebacker this season — plenty of experience and talent — but we really haven’t seen anyone put it on display. The potential for this group is untold, and they’ll need to fill it out in order for Indiana’s defense to start coming back around.

Tyler Fenwick is a Big 10 writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick, “Like” him on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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