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BLOOMINGTON -- In an era of ever more explosive college football offenses, defensive complexity is in.
So is fear.
We'll get to that.
New Indiana defensive coordinator Brian Knorr arrives vowing to run a defense that is neither simple nor single-minded. Yes, he brings 3-4 perspective to what had been 4-3 Hoosier preference. But that's just a start as he attempts to do what no Cream and Crimson defensive coach has done in a generation -- build a decent Big Ten defense.
“In this day and age, you have to be multiple,” Knorr said. “Especially in this conference, you just can't line up with an odd front every snap. So we'll be very multiple. We'll have some of the schemes from last year, but we will be based out of a 3-4.”
Last season IU set standards for defensive ineptitude that might never be broken. It ranked last in the Big Ten in points allowed (38.8 a game) and total yards (527.9). It couldn't stop the run or the pass, and it gave up too many big plays.
The result was a historic low for the Hoosiers' historically bad defense. No matter the coach or the philosophy, substandard defense remained an unwanted Hoosier tradition even as coach Kevin Wilson built one of the Big Ten's best offenses (averaging 38.4 points last season).
Knorr knows the history. He's well aware that Doug Mallory was fired to create this Hoosier coaching opportunity.
Knorr built a solid defense at Wake Forest (it ranked No. 38 nationally with 24.1 points allowed, No. 34 with 143.2 rushing yards allowed and No. 32 with 366.2 total yards allowed) after having similar success at Air Force and Ohio University. He said he can do it again.
“I had an opportunity to be at places that struggled on defense and significantly improved. I see this as another one of those opportunities. The first meeting with the defense, I talked about coming into those situations and our defense significantly improved and we went to bowl games.”
One key, Knorr added, is building the defense's belief it can get the job done.
“The No. 1 thing is our confidence on defense. You can't just snap your fingers and get it. That's something we'll have to grow and work on, not just this spring, but in winter workouts.”
Knorr envisions a competitive workout atmosphere pitting defense against offense.
“We've got a great challenge competing with our offense,” he said. “That's something we've challenged them about -- in the weight room, offseason workouts and spring ball. Just competition and confidence will be a big step to that.”
Some of Indiana's defensive problems last year were blamed on youth and the offense's up-tempo attack, which often put the defense back on the field faster than desired. Knorr said the defense will handle it.
“The big things are to get the offense the ball and our ability to get off the field.
“If you look at one thing from last year (at Wake Forest), it was being able to get off the field on third down. Our philosophy is, we'll be out front moving around, but on third down you'll look at a lot of different things.”
Knorr will use blitzes, although how much depends on the players. IU is set to return 10 defensive starters. It has 10 defensive recruiting commitments.
“As I continue to evaluate the personnel we have, and the personnel we're bringing in, that will determine how much blitzing we do,” Knorr said.
Since being hired Knorr has spent most of his time recruiting, very little with returning players. That will change.
“I haven't broken it down like I need to yet,” he said. “Some of our strengths are up front. I was pretty excited when I watched film on them.”
What does he want from his defensive players?
“The No. 1 attribute we're looking for is how important is football? If football is important enough, everything else will take care of itself.
“We were a little more speed conscious in the ACC, but the Big Ten being such a physical conference, it's a little different recruiting, a little bigger kid. We won't have as many DBs as we've had on the field in the ACC. We're looking for a more physical player.”
At the recent college football coaches convention in Indianapolis, Knorr got to commiserate with his defensive brethren, who are witnessing an offensive onslaught that shows few signs of slowing down. Last season two teams (Baylor and Florida State) averaged more than 51.0 points, nine averaged more than 40.2 and 26 averaged at least 35.1 points.
“You could tell the defensive coordinators because they were walking around looking shell-shocked,” Knorr said. “It's a challenge in college football. The rules continue to favor the offense. It's a challenge to be a defensive coordinator, but it's exciting, especially in this league. There is a tremendous diversity in schemes in this conference.”