Bloomington, Ind. – When Indiana retreated to its Kinnick Stadium locker room at halftime Saturday…
Middleton Puts Pressure On Himself, Foes
The sophomore defensive end from Indianapolis' Pike H.S. entered his first year as a starter with his sites set on eclipsing the team's season sack total from a year ago.
Indiana tallied a Big Ten-worst 14 sacks a year ago on its way to a 5-7 season. Shoring that area up was a point of emphasis during the off-season, and Middleton was supposed to be a big part of that.
It was a task that he didn't shy away from.
"The goal was to get 15 (sacks) by the end of the season," Middleton said. "I'm getting there."
He's getting there in a hurry. In his first three games the 6'3", 270-pounder has recorded five sacks, helping IU to an NCAA-best 17 sacks as a team. He's had at least one sack in each of IU's games and is on pace to challenge Van Waiters' school record of 14 set in 1987.
Not bad for a player who some didn't think could play defensive end.
One of the more heavily recruited players in the state of Indiana two years ago, Middleton was recruited by plenty of programs during his senior season. But most thought he was a better fit to play defensive tackle than end. Among those programs was Purdue, where he originally verbally committed.
But Middleton coveted the chance to play end, and wound up backing out of that commitment to explore his other options. He wound up landing in Bloomington, where he was promised a chance to try his luck on the edge.
Middleton's de-commitment from Purdue and subsequent pledge to Indiana prompted a surly back-and-forth between Purdue Coach Joe Tiller and the Middleton family, but the Hoosier sack leader is glad he made the decision and glad to have the chance to play his preferred position.
"I didn't really like (that many programs were talking about him as a defensive tackle), and it's probably why I didn't go to some of the other schools," Middleton said. "They told me here I'd be outside. I'm glad where I'm at, glad to be at defensive end, and glad to be at Indiana."
Middleton is the lone newcomer to the Hoosiers' starting defensive line, joining defensive tackles Greg Brown and Joe Kremer along with defensive end Jammie Kirlew. But he's quickly emerging as the linemen they rely on the most. On obvious passing downs, Brown and Kremer often exit the game and are replaced by Brian Faires and Ryan Marando. Kirlew, meanwhile, has been sliding inside to tackle on those passing downs to make way for Marando. The one constant is Middleton, who's generally manning the right defensive end spot whether it's a run or a pass.
"I like to be on the outside – I don't want to be in between two big guys," Middleton said. "I want to be on the edge and come off the ball. As long as I keep working hard, I feel I deserve to be outside.
Middleton will face one of his toughest challenges this weekend. He'll be going up against an Illinois offensive line that has surrendered just five sacks this season, and a quarterback who can make people miss when they think they have a clean shot at him.
He knows it will be a challenge, but it's one he welcomes.
"During camp we had to go against Kellen Lewis, so it will be the same going against (Juice Williams)," Middleton said. "We have to contain him and not let him run around and find people to throw to."
It's a lofty goal for the Hoosiers to keep one of the league's most dynamic players under wraps.
But setting lofty goals is nothing new for Middleton.
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