CHICAGO, Ill. — If one stripped away all the cameras, football decorations, and Big Ten Network signage, and closed his or her eyes, it would sound like Indiana football head coach Tom Allen was leading a shareholders’ meeting, passionately persuading investors to stay on board after a couple years of just missing expectations.
After all, Allen’s Hoosiers either won or stayed close in every game they played last season, except for a big home loss to Iowa, and one more win would have taken his program to just its fourth bowl game since 1993.
However, for a coach whose mantra in 2017 was “breakthrough”, his team is still looking for that cathartic, program-defining victory, if not season.
Standing unwaveringly at the podium during Big Ten Media Day on Thursday, Allen listed a number of positive trends for the program, identified some areas of improvement, and discussed significant changes that took place during the offseason. Here are the major takeaways:
New offensive looks for Indiana Football
The most important development for the football program since the season-ending Bucket game loss last November was the hiring of former Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer to take over the same job at IU. “I don’t think it’s going to be dramatically different than it has been in the past,” Allen said, during the televised press conference.
However, DeBoer will have full reign as far as installing his system.
“I told Coach DeBoer when he got here, I want him to come in any completely implement everything as he wanted it in terms of terminology and everything, and let our guys be able to learn a new system.”IU Head Coach Tom Allen
In a session with the media later in the afternoon, Allen made it clear he would not get involved in the play calling on offense; that would be DeBoer’s domain. Senior WR Nick Westbrook, serving as one of three player representatives at media day, was looking forward to working with DeBoer. “I’m super excited to see how this is going to play out,” Westbrook said.
“This past spring was incredible. We saw a lot of deep shots down the field, which is what us receivers love. There are a lot of different formations, motions, and shifts that can get people in the right position to allow them to succeed and show off their athleticism.”
Westbrook also suggested that the Hoosiers’ offense should be more focused on the specifics and particulars, which he believed may lead to more success on that side of the rock.
Coach DeBoer really preaches that explosive plays don’t have to just be 50-yard bombs. We’re going to try to make more with our bubble screens, making sure the details are right to block those the right way, so we can break one of those for 20, 30 yards. Before, we knew what our play was and how to run it, but we didn’t do our jobs to the best of our abilities, and the details made the difference.IU Wide Receiver Nick Westbrook
Another point of discussion on Thursday was IU’s quarterback situation. Allen made it clear that three quarterbacks will vie for the starting spot: redshirt junior Peyton Ramsey, redshirt freshman Michael Penix, and redshirt freshman and Utah transfer Jack Tuttle.
Allen said that Ramsey, as the returning starter, will have to be beat out, but the head coach believes all three are capable of leading the team. On a positive note, this means that Michael Penix is coming along fine in his recovery from the serious leg injury he suffered last season against Penn St.
Also noteworthy, the Hoosiers are planning to use a single-QB system, despite many believing the potential for a multiple quarterback rotation.
On the offensive line, Allen commented that the depth is a concern for the team (he said the same about the defensive line). Seniors Coy Cronk, Simon Stepaniak, and Hunter Littlejohn offer some experience, but they will still have to replace a couple of NFL prospects, Wes Martin (4th round – Washington) and Brandon Knight (undrafted – Dallas).
Allen announced that redshirt sophomore Caleb Jones will start at RT. Jones, a Lawrence North product, comes in at an eye-popping 6’8”, 360 lbs.
After an impressive freshman campaign, running back Stevie Scott, who changed his jersey number to #8, will enter the 2019 with plenty of expectations, especially after being named to the Doak Walker Award Watch List, for the nation’s best running back.
Answering a question from IndianaHQ, Allen was very transparent in his comments on Scott.
(Running backs) Coach (Mike) Hart has done a great job of challenging him, because we see a lot of guys lay an egg in their sophomore campaign.
One thing that helps (Scott) is that he’s got a whole bunch of guys in that room that are very talented. If he lets up, he won’t get to play much. He had a great freshman season, but that has nothing to do with his sophomore season. He has to reinvest, and take his preparation to another level.
This is his first full offseason as a college athlete. I expect him to be a better football player than he was last year. He’s got guys nipping at this heels to take his place.
There’s nothing like knowing somebody can take your job, and they’re good enough to take your job. Cole (Gest), Sampson (James), and Ronnie (Walker). I expect (Scott) to elevate his game.
Delegating the defense
The most influential changes comes with Kane Wommack taking over as defensive coordinator. Wommack served as IU’s linebackers coach last year. Allen learned his defensive system under Wommack’s father, Dave, at Ole Miss, which indicates that Allen is on the same philosophical wavelength as his new coordinator. Allen felt strongly about being the team’s defensive play caller in years one and two as head coach, but now felt it was time to focus solely on supervising the team as a whole.
“I actually slept in my office for the first time this past year here. I didn’t get any sleep. Sleeping on the couch was crappy. That’s when it came to me (to give up coordinator duties). You’re not fresh. You’re not ready to go. I want to be at Indiana for a long time. That (lifestyle) wasn’t productive, and not very smart either.”
As far as defensive personnel is concerned, Allen continues to have high expectations on that side of the ball. Allen emphasized three key tenets of his defense he expects to see this season: tackling, effort, and takeaways. Despite Allen being excited for the overall depth of the defense, he expressed concern for the depth on the line.
While they are getting stronger and more physical, Allen is looking for some players to step up. He mentioned Samoa-born freshman Sio Nofoagatoto’a and Alabama-born freshman C.J. Person as a couple guys that have impressed, and how freshman DL Jeramy Passmore was relentless in his requests for more practice repetitions.
In the secondary, Allen talked about how sophomore Reese Taylor, who moved to CB and will help in the return game, surprised the coach with his physicality, especially how he “strikes” ball carriers. Also, sophomore Cam Jones, who is listed as a DB, will probably play more linebacker, although his versatility is valued by the staff.
Recruiting momentum peaking for the program
Allen cited that this year’s recruiting class, led by RB Sampson James, DE Beau Robbins, and LB Cam Williams, is the highest-ranked group in the history of the program (ranked 36th by 247Sports). Allen said he does not pay much attention to the ranking of the recruits; rather, he sees which schools offer players, as that tells him more about the programs pursuing certain guys.
At the end of the day, Allen wants to be real with the recruits and players. In fact, he stated that he wants players to say, “You are who we thought you would be”. Allen also dismissed the notion that IU’s past football struggles affects his recruiting; his mindset is to focus on the future, and he looks for players who believe they can change the culture and success of the IU football program.
If they go elsewhere, Allen would “wish them well, get guys who wanna be here, and then we’ll beat your tail when you play Indiana.” Below are Allen’s full comments regarding recruiting:
Other notables from Big Ten Media Days
- Allen’s key word for 2019 is “GRIT”.
- The Terry Tallen Football Complex, built thanks to a $2 million gift from former IU football captain Terry Tallen, will open soon. The complex will include locker rooms, team lounge, and a training room.
- IU’s week 4 matchup vs. UConn in Bloomington will air on BTN.
- Talking to IndianaHQ, senior OL Coy Cronk was excited to start the season at Lucas Oil Stadium: “I have some great memories there. I finished my senior year there after winning the (IHSAA) state title. I remember leaving that field, at that time it was the best moment of my life. To be able to go back there, we can hopefully get a W, and get the Purdue loss of our backs. I’m looking forward to it.”
- Allen addressed the decision to put names back on the jerseys for the upcoming season. He said that the players loved it, and even parents would text him excited about the decision.
- Allen also explicitly talked about in-game decision making, specifically on 4th down and on two-point conversions. The data analysis is out there, Allen said, and they took more calculated risks as a result last season. That should continue in 2019.
- Lastly, Allen touched on the perceived imbalance in the difficulty of the divisions in the Big Ten. See his comments on that below:
Featured Photo: Saturday Tradition