KRAVITZ: An improved IU defense? We’ll believe it when we finally see it

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BLOOMINGTON – It’s supposed to be better this time. The IU football team’s defense, that is. New defensive coordinator in South Florida’s Tom Allen. A new scheme in the 4-2-5. A new attitude, as opposed to the new attitude every previous defensive coordinator brought to Bloomington, only to see his defense annihilated week in and week out.

Yeah, well…

I’ll believe it when I see it.

I’ll believe it when the IU defense actually makes a couple of stops. Once last year, they scored 52 points – and lost. Twice last year, they scored 41 points – and lost. I’ll believe it when the Hoosiers’ defense is ranked in the top 100 in the nation, a lofty goal for a group that has had an average rank of 102nd during Kevin Wilson’s tenure.

The good news is, eight of 11 defensive starters return to the Hoosiers, who open their season Thursday night at Florida International.

The bad news is, eight of 11 defensive starters return to the Hoosiers, who open their season Thursday night at Florida International.

“I would say right now, the defense has won the preseason,’’ Wilson said.

Then he quickly pointed out that the defense really should win the preseason. The defense knows the offense’s plays and tendencies, but when the real games begin, there are a whole new set of plays and tendencies and formation, so it’s a matter of adjusting to those adjustments.

Wilson made a golf analogy.

“Can you take it from the driving range to the course?’’ he asked.

He believes they can. But, then, he’s paid to believe they can. The rest of us, we’re in the we’ll-believe-it-when-we-see-it camp.

We have this same conversation year after year after stinking year. We had this conversation when Antwaan Randle-El was performing his offensive magic, only to fail to reach a single bowl game because of that horrendous defense. We had this conversation through the Nate Sudfeld Era, when the quarterback and the offense were breaking all sorts of records, only to reach a single bowl game – and lose that bowl game, the Pinstripe Bowl against Duke, because the defense continually failed the offense. The last time IU had anything resembling a decent defense was way back in the Bill Mallory heyday, which tells you that while it hasn’t been done in recent decades, it CAN be done with the right talent and coaching.

Fixing the defense? It’s like the New Year’s resolution you never keep.

This year, I’m going to lose those 25 pounds.

Right.

But first, let’s go out for chicken wings and pizza.

There’s some reason for hope in Bloomington, assuming their new starting quarterback, Richard Lagow, plays reasonably well. The offensive line, led by Dan Feeney, figures to be one of the Big Ten’s best. There’s talent at the skill positions. If Devine Redding can go for 1,000 yards again, that will mark the third straight season IU has featured a 1,000-yard rusher, a number the Colts can only dream of achieving. And Wilson has shown he has the touch offensively, except during those bizarre moments when his game management skills elude him. (Tell me I’m not the only one who’s noticed).

But that defense…

Man, that defense.

Since 2005, IU has allowed 34.1 points per game.

One year ago, only one FBS team allowed more passing yards – congratulations, Arizona State – and only seven teams nationally allowed more yards per game.

But you don’t need the numbers. You’ve seen it. Can’t stop the run, especially the long run, which we saw again in the Pinstripe Bowl loss to Duke. Can’t stop the pass. Can’t stop anybody or anything.

Seriously, if Allen, the new defensive coordinator, can build a defense that is merely mediocre or slightly worse, they should erect a statue of him outside of Memorial Stadium.

Wilson keeps changing defensive coordinators, but they all end up suffering the same fate – which makes you focus on Wilson and his failure to recruit and/or develop defensive players.

Now we’re hearing again about new schemes, new coaches, new attitudes, how the players have all bought in to the new guy. Well, pardon me for saying I’ve heard all this before. Like, I’ve been hearing this since Mallory was let go. And nothing ever changes.

True, the Hoosiers’ most recent recruiting class was defense-heavy, but until these guys show something on the field and give the offense a chance to make an occasional mistake, I’m not buying. We won’t be fooled again, or something like that.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who have played a lot of snaps, especially at linebacker and the back end,’’ Allen said. “I know last year they played a lot of young guys in the secondary, and that’s difficult to do. They’re all a year older, so that’s a big plus. It’s a different situation up from, where we graduated a lot of players, so we have some question marks there.

“Overall for me, it’s believing in what we’re doing, believing in the system and what we’re building…We’ve worked really hard on developing those good habits, and seeing them use those good habits consistently on the practice field, that’s given us encouragement going against a really good offense every day.’’

Said Wilson: “We can be better and still not be where we need to be.’’

Still, the Hoosiers believe. The Hoosiers believe that after turning a corner last year and making a bowl game despite their horrific defense, they can take the next step and produce a mildly acceptable defense that will allow the offense to make the occasional mistake.

They believe.

The rest of us will sit back and wait.

These are the Hoosiers, after all.