When a defender has a knack for making plays, it’s often said he has a nose for the football. Indiana coach Kevin Wilson believes it’s something different when it comes to talented linebacker Marcus Oliver.
“It’s easy when you’re playing sports that you visually get distracted a lot. I don’t think he gets distracted. Everybody talks about a nose for the ball, I think he’s got an eye for the ball. I think he sees it and is pretty uniquely gifted there. I don’t think it’s luck, because it’s happened a lot. Happens a lot in practice too,” Wilson said.
The redshirt junior from Hamilton (Ohio) High leads the Big Ten with four forced fumbles. The 11 in his career are a school record.
Oliver Monday became the first Hoosier to win conference defensive player of the week honors since John Pannozzo picked it up in 2005. He recorded two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss in an important 42-36 win against Maryland. He finished with eight tackles (seven solo).
“He goes for the ball. It would be nice to have more of them do it,” Wilson said.
Oliver played as a true freshman in ’13. He rotated through three linebacker spots, totaling 36 tackles (21 solo), 2.5 tackles for loss and a pair of forced fumbles.
Oliver (6-1, 238) appeared poised to take off as a sophomore until tearing his ACL in the third game of the season. He received a medical redshirt.
Last year, on a porous Indiana defense, Oliver stood out. He recorded 112 tackles, becoming the first player in the program to pass the century mark since ’09 (Matt Mayberry). He forced four fumbles.
The Hoosiers have improved on defense under first-year coordinator Tom Allen. It’s taken some pressure off of Oliver but he’s still making a lot of plays. He’s averaged 7.6 tackles a game.
“Before I ever got here, he’s a guy that had a knack for raking the ball out and creating fumbles. That hasn’t diminished,” Allen said. “Obviously the way we emphasize it, he’s bought into the emphasis. He’s bought into the things that we talk about. If you watch him in practice, we reward out guys for raking at the ball. He’s always doing that.”
With Maryland driving and nine minutes left to play, Oliver sacked quarterback Perry Hills and stripped him of the ball. Teammate Marcelino Ball returned it to the Terrapin nine, setting up a touchdown. The Hoosiers clung to a 28-24 lead before Oliver changed the momentum.
“He seems to understand the importance of attacking the football. So, it’s really been great to have him and then have other guys follow suit. It’s not an accident. Your playmakers are around the football and they make plays and they’re game changers,” Allen said.
Oliver shared credit with the staff.
“The coaches gave me a good call,” he told the Indianapolis Star after the game. “I was able to get pass rush up the middle and get to the quarterback. When you’re around the ball, good things happen. Anytime you get a takeaway, it’s going to change the game. That’s one thing we preach, getting the ball back so our offense can score.”