Kickoff: Indiana State at Indiana, noon, Saturday
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BLOOMINGTON -- Bobby Richardson is the face of Indiana's reborn defense.
Get used to it.
The senior defensive linemen glares at you from the IU media guide. If you want cuddly or comfort or compassion, look elsewhere. Let others, such as quarterback Nate Sudfeld or receiver Nick Stoner, or linebacker David Cooper smile.
Richardson isn't in the business of making you feel welcome. He's played on three of the worst defenses in Big Ten history, and enough is enough. Edgy is fine, uneasy is great, confused is perfect.
Indiana's new 3-4 defense is billed as a difference maker -- Saturday we'll get the first public indication when Indiana State comes to Memorial Stadium -- with the under-the-radar Richardson (all 6-3 and 286 pounds of him) set to make the biggest difference of all.
“He's been as impressive a player as we've had on defense,” defensive coordinator Brian Knorr says.
Injuries have slowed, but not stopped Richardson. His numbers don't overwhelm -- last year his 39 tackles led all Hoosier defensive linemen -- but that's not the point. He's been a defensive end and a defensive tackle and, given the unorthodox nature of the 3-4, he might even be a linebacker.
“I think he's one of the more under-appreciated guys on our team,” coach Kevin Wilson says. “He's been fighting some hip and low back (injuries) and almost like a sport hernia deal, where he gets gimpy and can't play at the speed he has.
“He's very diverse. He's had the best preseason he's ever had. He's healthier than he's ever been.
“We have guys on our team that have better stats, that have better name value to our fans, but he might be our best senior. He's one of our better leaders. I'm expecting him to play at a high end and have a great year. He's had his best practices to date the last two weeks. He's been very, very good.”
For Richardson, it's less about personal acclaim and more about team production. The defense created a preseason camp buzz by out-performing the highly touted offense, but that won't mean anything if it isn't duplicated on game days.
“As a defense, we feel way better,” Richardson says. “We should be a dominant defense.
“We've still got much room to improve. We're a good, solid, bonded defense right now. We've got a different swagger about us. We've got the biggest chip on our shoulders. We have to bring it to the field.”
The Hoosiers especially want to bring it to opposing quarterbacks.
“Pressuring the quarterback is a big goal for the whole defense line,” Richardson says. “Getting to the quarterback is what we do, who we need to tackle. We'll get there.”
Richardson is poised to lead the way.
“I'm looking for him to pressure the quarterback and be a great leader,” Knorr says. “He's had a great fall.”
Can that greatness lead to Hoosier victories? While Indiana State, which went 1-11 last season, doesn't project as a threat in this potential Cream 'n Crimson bowl season, it could provide early signs on what's to come.
“We have to do what we can to win,” Richardson says. “Don't worry about them as much as us. Do what we are taught to do, what we know what we can do.”
Last year Indiana State exposed IU's defensive flaws. The Sycamores had 35 points and 306 total yards. Tailback Shakir Bell rushed for 113 first-half yards, and didn't play in the second half because of an injury.
The Hoosiers went on to put up epically bad defensive numbers.
Can't happen again, Richardson says.
“Not with them or any other team. We let them off the hook. We've got to finish every game. We can't give up too many yards or points.”
Knorr was hired last winter to make a difference.
“He made defense more simple,” Richardson says. “The calls aren't too hard. Everything is more relaxed. When we get under pressure, we don't fall apart like we did before. Last year, if there was a bad play, people started panicking. We don't panic any more.
“Stay calm, hit, be physical, and do what we're taught to do. Run and have great effort. If we do that, everything will work out.”