BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson spent extra practice time working with his defense this week. All week, he said he expected them to make major improvements in week two.
They did Saturday.
Indiana’s defense turned three turnovers into 20 points, giving the Hoosiers the jump-start they needed to defeat Florida International, 36-22. The win improves Indiana to 2-0 for the first time since 2012, and the second time in Wilson’s tenure.
“When we watched the tape last week, with the defense, I said ‘I don’t like the number of times our defensive linemen, linebackers, are going sideways.'” Wilson said. “I just want to get guys to be more aggressive.”
Playing on the attack turned into the defense’s motto this week, freshman safety Jonathan Crawfordsaid. The defense stepping up was most evident late in the game with Florida International mounting a comeback.
On fourth-and-goal at the 2-yard line, Indiana freshman cornerback Jameel Cook, Jr., picked off FIU sophomore quarterback Alex McGough and returned the interception 96 yards to give the Hoosiers the decisive 36-22 advantage with 3:58 remaining.
The interception was the result of the defense’s group effort rather than Cook’s individual play. The Hoosiers’ pass rush managed to close in on McGough—as it did routinely throughout the night—and forced him to float up the throw searching for a receiver.
“That was extremely exciting,” senior defensive end Nick Mangieri said. “It was a huge play. It’s fun when you’re making plays out there.”
Though Cook’s interception ultimately grabbed the attention, Wilson made a point to make sure redshirt junior linebacker Dawson Fletcher received his due credit. Two plays earlier, Fletcher deflected a pass destined for a wide-open Panthers receiver in the back of the end zone at the last possible moment.
“You guys remember the touchdown,” Wilson said. “Dawson Fletcher made a huge play two plays before to get his hand on the ball and deflect what could be an open pop pass for a touchdown.”
Ten minutes before either play, Mangieri sacked and stripped McGough to allow redshirt sophomore linebacker Marcus Oliver to recover at the FIU 16-yard line in a tie game.
On the first play of the ensuing Indiana drive, redshirt junior receiver Mitchell Paige spun and dove his way into the end zone for his first career touchdown on a bubble screen to give Indiana a 29-22 lead with 10:02 remaining in the game.
Paige joked that scoring comes easier when working with a shortened field, passing off credit to the defense that put the Hoosiers in the red zone.
Mangieri agreed, calling the turnovers the difference maker. Earlier in the game, he also recovered a fumble at the FIU 20-yard line to ignite a quick scoring drive.
“They were huge to score 20 points off them,” Mangieri said. “That’s the game right there.”
Senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld completed 19-of-33 passes for 234 yards and one touchdown. He spread the field well, connecting with eight different receivers—including three who had more than 50 yards.
Junior running back Jordan Howard continued to prove his value as a physical runner. Sudfeld called the UAB transfer a “workhorse,” rushing for 160 yards on 27 carries.
“Coach has us write our goals down for each week,” Howard said. “My goal is to stay consistent.”
Howard and his Hoosier offense’s consistency paid off. They managed to make the most out of the short field the defense gave them without making any mistakes of their own.
For a second consecutive weekend, Indiana managed to methodically pick away and capitalize when the game was on the line.
“Give them credit,” FIU head coach Ron Turner said. “They didn’t make mistakes, and we did. It was really that simple.”