If there was such a thing as an award for which unit in a football game was the most pleasant surprise? Indiana State's defensive line might get the vote from the Sycamores' near-miss 24-17 loss at Kansas last Saturday.
ISU had 11 tackles for loss against the Jayhawks and eight of them were registered by defensive linemen. Add two fumble recoveries, two sacks and a forced fumble on to the ledger and it was a productive day for ISU's defensive interior.
"I thought we were active up front and we were able to get behind the line of scrimmage and make things happen. We pressured the quarterback and 11 tackles for loss is something we can build on," ISU coach Curt Mallory said.
Statistically, if not by the eye test, defensive end Kaleb Brewer stood out amongst the defensive line contributors. The junior had five tackles, three of them for a loss, a sack and the forced fumble that led to an Inoke Moala fourth quarter fumble recovery that gave the Sycamores a 17-16 lead with 4 minutes, 24 seconds left.
Brewer, a Bloomington native, has played in eight games for the Sycamores, all during the 2018 season, but this was the coming out party ISU was hoping for.
Brewer's biggest game to-date was a similar five-tackle, three-tackle-for-loss performance in the regular season finale at Western Illinois in 2018. One game is not much to go on as far as predictive performance is concerned, but two over the course of two seasons is encouraging.
"I just lined up where I was supposed to line up and did my job. Play fast and play hard — that's doing your job. When you do that? Good things will happen," Brewer said.
The fumble Brewer forced in the fourth quarter from Kansas quarterback Carter Stanley was a big moment. Moala got the touchdown glory, but Brewer was there first.
"I lined up wide, rushed the edge and the pressure coming from the other side pressed the quarterback to me and I just hit the quarterback. I saw Inoke grab the ball for the touchdown. It was a pretty cool moment," Brewer said.
Like the other defensive linemen, Brewer benefits from the rotation philosophy used on the defensive line. Brewer was effective, but so was his backup Isaac Fotu, who had a tackle for loss himself.
"We've got a lot of depth at defensive end. We have five guys who can play right now. It keeps us fresh and it helps us a lot," Brewer said.
The upward trajectory Brewer has been on has impressed his head coach.
"He's really started to come on towards the end of the season last year. He got better and better each week last year, had a good spring and summer and it showed [on Saturday]. He's still got a lot of football ahead of him and will continue to get better," Mallory said.
• Sustaining drives — After watching film, Mallory saw good things on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. One thing he wants to see occur when ISU hosts Dayton on Saturday? Drives that end in points. Nine of ISU's 12 offensive series ended without any points put on the board. There were four punts, two interceptions, two missed field goals and one series that ended on downs.
"We can't die on drives. We have to end drives, but I was pleased with the way we were able to run and throw the football," Mallory said.
• Injury update — Running back Titus McCoy and wide receiver Rontrez Morgan were the only injuries suffered Saturday that will have any lasting effect — and neither was as serious as previously thought.
McCoy suffered a deep bone bruise on his left knee. He was off crutches and his leg was no longer immobilized as it was during the game on Saturday, but McCoy's return will be a week-by-week proposition. The same is the case for Morgan, who suffered a collarbone injury.
"Titus took a pretty good jolt on the knee. It was a scare, but he'll be back. He's a tough kid. I expect him to be back sooner than later. Same thing with Rontrez," Mallory said.
Neither player was available for comment to the media on Wednesday.
All of the other players who left Saturday's game left due to cramping. Some returned to action during Saturday's game, but all who left the game will play Saturday.