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Indiana secondary looking to replicate 2020 season despite recent struggles



Sep 2, 2022; Bloomington, Indiana, USA; Indiana Hoosiers defensive back Noah Pierre (21) celebrates his fumble recovery with teammates in the second half against the Illinois Fighting Illini at Memorial Stadium. (Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports)

The Indiana football program has gone through many changes on the defensive side of the ball over the last few years. In 2023, that group looks to replicate some of the 2019 and 2020 seasons, not the past two years.

Last season, Indiana ranked 14th in the Big Ten in passing defense. It gave up a league-high in passing yards (3,290), yards per attempt (8.0) and touchdowns (30). On the flip side, it ranked 12th in interceptions (7).

And now without some of the notable names in the secondary like Taiwan Mullen, Bryant Fitzgerald and Jaylin Williams among others, it’s time for some of the young talent to step in and step up.

Already some of the younger guys are emerging as players ready to make an impact this season.

“I believe we are,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen on development at the cornerback position. “We have two more weeks here, but Jamari Sharpe sticks out to me. He’s a guy that’s been here. We redshirted him. He’s a talented young man with a lot of length and speed. I’m excited about his development … James Monds is another guy that I’m excited about.”

One name that is returning for the Hoosiers is Noah Pierre. He has appeared in 43 games across his career and is now looking to build on his individual success over the past two seasons while taking on a larger leadership role.

“I’m trying to bring that leadership aspect, pushing the younger guys to the best of their abilities,” Pierre told reporters earlier this spring. “Making them believe in what we have going on. I want to push hope onto them and make them believe and understand what we could be.”

Despite being their first year in Bloomington, Indiana also added some experience through the transfer portal this offseason. That includes guys like Jamier Johnson (Texas) and Kobee Minor (Texas Tech) from power five programs and junior college additions with Jamison Kelly and Tyrik McDaniel among others.

What Tom Allen and Indiana were looking for was length and size.

“The new guys have all stepped in … all talented players, got length. We have a little different body types than we’ve had. We’ve got more of the 6-foot, plus guys and being able to take advantage of that is a good thing,” Allen said. “So excited about those guys and trying to figure out who — when creating certain situations — will set up.

“Guys are stepping up and making some critical plays on both sides and we’re able to teach off of that. We’ve got a lot of guys that have played a lot of ball these past couple years. I’m excited to see these guys step up and make plays.”

Not only has Indiana added to its defense through the addition of players, Matt Guerrieri joins the Hoosiers as their new co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach. His responsibilities will include calling the plays this season — something Tom Allen has struggled giving up over the last two years.

Through the first few scrimmages that Indiana has had in spring practice, Guerrieri is bringing a lot of the same intensity and understanding of the defense needed to be back near the top of the Big Ten.

And one thing is for certain. Indiana needs its secondary to make plays, and get back to creating ‘havoc’.

“We are still trying to figure things out as we create game type situations. We did a lot of emphasis on third downs today outside of the two minutes.” Allen explained. “We have had a big emphasis on our coverages. Both man and zone. We’ve got a lot of guys that have played a lot of ball these past couple years. I’m excited to see these guys step up and make plays.”

“Trying to get back that 2020 season and I’m trying to get us back to winning the games we are supposed to win and then upsetting some of the teams that the media and fans think we can’t beat,” Pierre added.

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.