With Indiana’s defense focused on stopping the nation’s leading rusher and down two cornerbacks to injury, the recipe for Michigan State seemed simple — target the backup cornerback.
And that’s exactly what they did.
“No question they were going after him,” head coach Tom Allen said.
That backup was fourth year defensive back Noah Pierre, who up until a few weeks ago was playing a different position. In fact, the Florida product has played every position in the secondary in Indiana’s 4-2-5 scheme — husky, safety and corner — since he arrived in Bloomington in 2018, while becoming an important part of the special teams.
For each of the last three seasons Pierre has always seemed like the next man up whose opportunity never arose. He was moved around because the staff knew he was good enough to see the field, and they were trying to find a way for him to break through. But Indiana’s secondary is deep and experienced, and the additional year of eligibility granted to all college athletes because of the pandemic only made Pierre’s path to the field more difficult.
In an era of players with experiences like Pierre transferring before, during and after seasons, his patience means a great deal to his head coach, who has built an entire program around a selfless, team-first approach.
“It means a lot. It has always meant a lot. I have been doing this a long time,” Allen said. “A kid rewarded for persevering. He came here, he wanted to play. Especially after you’re here for a couple years, you really want that. I think last year he accepted that role on special teams. Wanted a more expanded role, like they all do, but he stayed the course.”
Staying the course came easy for Pierre.
“Indiana chose me, and I chose them to, so leaving never really crossed my mind,” Pierre said on Tuesday. “I always wanted to make a point here and prove that I can be that player here.”
Pierre had a total of seven tackles through his first three seasons at IU. But he eclipsed that total in one game on Saturday after cornerbacks Tiawan Mullen and Reese Taylor couldn’t play due to injuries. Michigan State kept dialing up plays to target Pierre, and he kept everything in front of him on a day when Spartans’ quarterback Payton Thorne struggled to find a rhythm.
The 5-foot-11 and 182 pound Pierre added a tackle for loss, a pass defended, and in the fourth quarter with Indiana in desperate need of a stop, he really delivered.
Michigan State had the football at the IU 20 yard line, up 20-15 late in the fourth quarter and going for the knockout. So they of course targeted Pierre, who was isolated in a one-on-one matchup with Michigan State’s big-play receiver Jalen Nailor.
And as was the case all afternoon in Bloomington, Pierre was ready. He didn’t let the speedy Nailor get any separation, and at the perfect moment turned and undercut the route to find the ball delivered right into his hands.
Payton Thorne is intercepted by Noah Pierre!!
Pierre, a junior, has been having the game of his life today. That's the first pick of his career.pic.twitter.com/Cm1UC78cXe
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) October 16, 2021
The interception was Pierre’s first as a Hoosier. It gave his team one more chance to mount a rally. And it capped off a day of firsts for him, after waiting patiently for just this kind of an opportunity.
“Just a tough, hard-nosed kid we loved when we saw him out of high school and thought he was a competitive guy,” Allen said. “Knew he was a little undersized, but loved his heart, loved his passion and the way he played the game, how physical he played the game. Just thought he was always a competitor. That’s proven to be true. Did a heck of a job for us.
“I think it speaks to his commitment of who we are, his belief in our program, him wanting to graduate from here, getting a degree from here, being able to finish what he started. I respect that so much.”
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