COLUMBUS, Ohio — A season-long struggle for Indiana’s defense reached a new low Saturday afternoon at Ohio Stadium, as the Hoosiers fell 56-14 to the No. 2 Ohio State Buckeyes.
The performance marked not only Indiana’s worst defensive showing of the season, but also its worst in nearly a decade. Ohio State’s 56 points and 662 yards from scrimmage are the most allowed by the team since a 56-17 loss to Michigan State on Oct. 18, 2014, in which the Hoosiers also allowed exactly 662 yards.
Head coach Tom Allen was disappointed with the team’s defensive performance against a star-studded Ohio State offense.
“[Against] a really talented football team, we have to have guys step up,” Allen said following the game. “But I just think we didn’t. Execution to me was too, we had a pretty simple plan to help our guys to get to that get to the football surrounded and get guys on the ground. So just poor performance for sure.”
One area that Indiana’s struggled with most in Saturday’s defeat was tackling, something that the team made a point of emphasis in practice in the week leading up to the Ohio State game.
Indiana’s tackling problem came to a head when Ohio State wide receiver Xavier Johnson weaved through the entire Indiana defense on a reverse play, evading a number of Hoosier tackle attempts with relative ease, en route to a 71-yard touchdown run.
Even in an area that the Hoosiers focused on tightening up all week long, the team still could not do what needed to be done.
“We’ve gotta be more fundamentally sound when it comes to tackling,” linebacker Aaron Casey said. “All in all, everyone together, just swarming the ball, eleven hats to the ball. We need that every play.”
Indiana’s special teams did its best to put the defense in a good position throughout the afternoon, although it was not enough. Punter James Evans had 500 yards of punting on 11 punts against the Buckeyes, regularly putting them well into their own territory.
But that field position rarely lasted for the Buckeyes, however, with explosive plays propelling them down the field like clockwork – an issue Allen noticed with his defense all afternoon long.
“I’m disappointed in the explosive plays we gave up, especially in the run game,” Allen said. “The pass game is hard, they’ve got guys matched up against you and just there’s not enough hats to the ball, not enough guys making plays and finishing plays at the point of attack.”
The historically-poor defensive outing for Indiana was not a one-off performance, either. The defense has been in its worst form of the Tom Allen era in recent weeks.
Over the past eleven quarters and since taking a 14-0 lead against Rutgers in the first quarter of that game, the Hoosiers have been outscored 125-31 by its opposition, and have allowed more than 40 points in back-to-back games for the first time since Oct. 13, 2018.
The defense is aware of its struggles – now with the season winding to a close and bowl eligibility out of the picture, the Hoosiers are looking to correct course and reverse that disturbing trend.
For the Hoosiers, the path back to the defensive dominance that defined the team in 2019 and 2020 starts with improving the little things and instilling confidence in the locker room.
“Really just going back to the basics,” Casey said. “Telling everybody, ‘we can play, we can play with these boys,’ just let them know that they put our pants on the same way we do. So just go in there, play our hardest and play the way we know how to play.”
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