Indiana's defense more composed in the clutch

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Twice in as many games, Indiana's opponent has had the ball, driving toward the end zone for a game-winning touchdown. And twice, the Hoosiers defense has turned them away.

It's still early in the 2009 season, but the two stops speak volumes about a unit that ranked last in the Big Ten in most major statistical categories last fall, including both points allowed (35.2 ppg) and yards allowed (432.2 ypg).

"The last couple of games, they played with good composure, and that’s really important," head coach Bill Lynch said. "Particularly last week, Western Michigan was taking the ball right down the field to score and win the game. It’s one of those drives where there’s some crazy plays and different things going on. But our kids had great composure, great communication between one another, and ultimately, we got a turnover."

Western Michigan trailed 23-17 with less than two minutes remaining and faced first-and-goal from the Indiana 5-yard line. But Hoosiers senior defensive end Greg Middleton jarred the ball loose from Western Michigan's Aaron Winchester, and linebacker Justin Carrington recovered.

After Indiana took a safety, Western Michigan had one final chance. Defensive end Jammie Kirlew dropped Tim Hiller for a sack, and a lateral-filled final play ended with a fumble recovered by Indiana safety Jerimy Finch.

A week earlier, Eastern Kentucky was five yards away from the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter when cornerback Ray Fisher forced a fumble that Kirlew recovered.

Middleton and Kirlew are among the nine starters Indiana returns on defense this year, while Fisher started at wide receiver before moving to the defensive side. The wealth of experience is paying off for a unit that has hurt Indiana for much of the decade.

"That’s what you always hope with a football team," Lynch said. "When you’re playing young kids, you want them to learn from their experiences so it’ll pay off down the road, and we’ve seen that some over the last two weeks. Maybe where we didn’t get it done in the past, they were able to rally and make the corrections on the field themselves during a two-minute drive.

"Experience helps in those situations.”