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‘Takeaways, tackling and effort is our DNA’: With system in place, Matt Guerrieri ready to lift Indiana defense back to old ways



BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — New Indiana football defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri will do something not many coaches have done under Tom Allen, especially not in the past few seasons. That is control all the play-calling duties on the defensive side of the ball.

Ever since taking over the head coaching role in 2017, Allen has always had a hand in the play-calling. A defensive-minded coach, it was difficult for Allen to be 100 percent hands off. Even during Indiana’s success in 2019 and 2020, Allen played a role on the defensive side of the ball. So, it was a significant step for Allen to pass that torch off to Guerrieri when he was hired this offseason.

“I feel like it’s important for me to become the best head coach I can be, the best game-day manager of the entire game, both sides of the football and special teams, for me not to be focused on calling the defense,” Allen said at Big Ten Media Days last month. “… I also want the ability and flexibility to be in that offensive meeting time as well, making sure all three phases is being where we need to be to be our best on game day.”

Guerrieri comes to Indiana with the mindset of keeping Allen’s principals while adding his own tweaks to the ‘system’.

“It starts with the system. Coach Allen has a system. There’s fundamentals of how we play defense, of how we stop the run, pressure the quarterback and stop the throw game. So you start with a system. The tweaks to me, are week-to-week in the game plan of twofold,” Guerrieri told reporters on Wednesday. “What does the opponent do best and how do you limit that? What do we do the best? So that’s part of the process of learning the players, new faces and new bodies that are here from transfers and figure out what do those guys do best and, how do we highlight that? But, definitely what does the opponent do. This is a pro style system. An air raid system. How do those function. How do you live it from there? We have a system in place with Coach Allen whose system has been here a long time.”

Read: ‘It’s important for me to become the best head coach I can be’: Tom Allen taking a step back to — hopefully — take a step forward with Indiana football

Guerrieri’s tweaks come from his experience on the sidelines in many different roles. He served as a position coach and defensive coordinator for Duke for numerous years before joining the Ohio State staff as an advisor and analyst.

Despite spending just one season with the Buckeyes, it gave him a new perspective on play-calling, schemes and most importantly, self-reflection.

“It’s a unique perspective to be a position coach and had been a coordinator and then be able to see it from a different lens from that point,” Guerrieri said of his time at OSU ” … Sometimes when you’re in the fire, you don’t see the big picture at times. It gives you a chance to reassess, and then reapply going forward.”

So, back to the fire Guerrieri goes. And with his new perspective, it’s about two things; how do you drill it and what is the design.

He’ll take those two aspects into the 2023 season in which the defense looks to get back to the ways of the 2019 and 2020 seasons for Indiana football. In 2020, Indiana led the Big Ten and the entire country in both interceptions (17) and also red-zone defense. It also led the Big Ten in sacks (23).

“How do you drill it to make sure it happens, that is a big emphasis since I’ve been here. Takeaways, tackling and effort is our DNA from that standpoint. How do we make sure we’re taking the ball away,” Guerrieri said. “We’ve thought long and hard about that in the offseason, about what are the best drills to simulate this. How do we demand this at practice and how are we held accountable if we don’t do this.

“The second is design … what is the balance of tight coverage and zone coverage and pressure on the quarterback and dropping into coverage … how were these takeaways created (back then) and how to get back to that from a design standpoint and also from a drill standpoint.”

At the end of the day, it’s simple for Guerrieri. Did the play work, or did it not. There is an expectation from him that everyone is on the same page, with no excuses. Because, there is no ‘gray’ area — or shouldn’t be — when it comes to dissecting the defense.

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.