For more on college athletics, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at pdiprimio.
BLOOMINGTON -- Kevin Wilson paused before his straight-shooting talk. He had no time for spin or see-no-wrong blather. It's Year Three of his Indiana coaching run and it's time to produce, and if you've seen the Hoosiers the last decade or so, you know it starts with defense.
“We need to start showing we can play competitive, solid D,” Wilson said. “There are enough players. We have good recruits coming. We've got to keep making strides.”
A blazing April sun brightened the end of Tuesday's 10th spring practice at the IU practice fields. Wilson's white-and-red IU ball cap shadowed his face, but not his resolve.
“We've got to play defense at a better level,” he said. “We can't play 12 games and create 15 turnovers. We can't be a defense that's last in rush defense.”
Last year, IU had the Big Ten's most potent passing offense and, in almost every major category, its worst defense. The Hoosiers couldn't stop the run and couldn't stop opponents from scoring. For every good play, and there were many, there was an equal number of bad ones.
In its last three games, IU gave up 62, 45 and 56 points. It allowed at least 52 points three times, at least 41 points six times. Opponents averaged 35.2 points, 231.3 rushing yards, 232.2 passing yards and 6.1 yards for every play.
The Hoosiers' offense, even with the loss of dual-threat quarterback Tre Roberson, averaged 30.8 points and 311.2 passing yards. They scored 49 points against unbeaten Ohio State and lost. They scored 41 points against Ball State and lost.
Yes, it's been a point of vigorous discussion among the coaches and players.
“Everyone can see we fell off at the end of the season,” veteran safety Greg Heban said. “We need to pick it up. It's something we're trying to improve on, not just a game, but the whole season.
“The middle of last season we were doing a pretty good job, then we tailed off. That comes down to having enough heart and energy to finish the season way we want to.”
Why did it happen?
“I'm not sure why. The grind overwhelmed everybody.”
That can't happen anymore, and the Hoosiers know it.
“There are three things we're talking about,” defensive coordinator Doug Mallory said. “First, we expect and demand great effort every play. They got to be full speed.
“Second, we have to do a better job of tackling. We have to create takeaways. We have to find easy ways to get off the field and get the ball back to the offense.
“Third, and maybe most important, we have to be able to stop the run. We have to be able to stop the run. We're doing some different things from a package standpoint, getting more numbers down in the box, try to out-number you. Try to find more ways to get guys involved in the run. We've got to do a lot better job.
“A lot of things go into stopping the run. You have to get lined up correctly. It's about defeating the block, getting to the ball, doing a better job of tackling. We need great effort, tackling, stopping the run.”
Eleven of IU's top-15 tacklers are back, including cornerback Kenny Mullen, a former Bishop Luers standout. The Hoosiers also signed 13 defensive players in this year's recruiting class, including four-star players Antonio Allen (defensive back), David Kenney (defensive end), Darius Latham (defensive tackle) and athlete Rashard Fant.
There is talent and experience. Youth is no longer an excuse. Bad players aren't around.
Wilson knows it.
“We're trying to figure out how to put all the pieces in the right spot. Going into Year Three, the challenge as a coaching staff is we've had time to recruit, time to develop. The bottom line is offense or defense, if we can take two freshmen O-linemen (Jason Spriggs and Dan Feeney) and a freshman quarterback (Nate Sudfeld) and play offense at a high level, you can start playing defense pretty good, too.
“That's a little bit of total coaching and schematics. If this guy can do things, he does it. If he can't, you either don't to it or you put someone else in.
“There are a lot of ways to defend -- three-man fronts, four-man fronts, man coverages, zone coverages, close coverages, tight coverages. There are many ways to skin a cat. In the end, at Year 3, we're all part of the problem and all part of the answer.”
Wilson was hired to provide that answer. He has more resources, better facilities and more money to pay assistant coaches than any Cream 'n Crimson head coach before him. IU went from one victory in his first season to four last year. The potential to win at least six, and become bowl eligible, is there.
Wilson, an offensive guy who has helped produce some of the most prolific attacks in college history, is working more closely with his defensive staff than ever before, starting with Mallory and defensive line coach Jon Fabris.
“I'm spending a fair amount of time saying, Here's what I see as an offensive guy. Here's where I'm going. If you do this, I don't like this or that. Here's why.”
In order to better prepare the defense for bruising Big Ten offenses, IU is working in 16 to 20 plays of power football in every practice along with its own uptempo spread attack.
“We're doing everything as a staff to give the defense what they want,” Wilson said. “We'll still run our offense the way it runs. I don't think the way we run our offense hurts our defense.
“Our defense has to start stepping up for itself. If Jason Spiggs can be a high school tight end and play Big Ten ball (as an offensive lineman), then there are some guys who can play defnse. It's time we start doing it.”