OAKLAND, Calif. — Richard Lagow isn’t used to hearing it.
“Good throw, 21,” Indiana coach Tom Allen will say after Lagow, his starting quarterback, completes a well-thrown ball in practice.
For many months this year, it used to be the other way around.
“When I make a good play, I’m used to him yelling at Rashard Fant, or whoever it might be (on the other end),” Lagow said. “It’s fun.”
Now, entering his first game as IU’s coach, Allen is balancing his approach and offering encouragement to an Indiana offense that could use a boost. After an up-and-down, largely inconsistent season, IU’s offensive players recognize the opportunity waiting before them.
It’s the chance to end this season on a high note.
“That’s one thing we’ve been stressing and talking about,” running back Devine Redding said. “We’ve had a lot of energy at practice trying to get things back to the way they were, as far as having tempo. We’re trying to get everything back and jumpstarted again.”
That means more consistent passing from Lagow, better blocking from IU’s offensive line and, generally, improved efficiency across the board.
That’s especially true when it comes to finishing drives, an area where the Hoosiers struggled perhaps more than any other during the regular season.
In a postseason game against No. 19 Utah, they’ll have to cash in.
Indiana’s 3.54 points per trip inside the 40-yard line ranked 125th nationally this season, so part of the team’s pre-bowl preparation focused on completing plays in the red zone and making the most of opportunities around the goal line.
“Efficiency, finishing drives, having tempo, we worked on a little bit of everything,” Redding said. “Hopefully, it translates to the game and we can get some things started and feel good going into the offseason.”
For his part, Allen said he hasn’t looked to make sweeping changes to Indiana’s offense ahead of the postseason.
At least not yet.
He’s allowing offensive coordinator Kevin Johns to call the game and take control of personnel. So Allen, by and large, will limit his offensive input to determining whether to go for it on fourth down, or similar situations that affect the whole team. To date, his most noticeable input has been felt through his uplifting words during practice.
“Now it’s kind of interesting where we do competition vs. the defense,” receiver Nick Westbrook said. “He can’t be one-sided. Even though he is, he’s rooting for the defense, but now he gives us some leeway. If we’re doing the two-minute drill, he’ll be like, ‘Oh, that was a first down.’ It’s interesting to be able to compete with them.”
Defenders see it differently.
“I’ve kind of been giving him crap about it because he’s being a little nice to the offense, even though he used to be our (defensive coordinator),” defensive tackle Nate Hoff said with a smile.
But just as Indiana required its defense to make the necessary improvements this season, it still needs its offense to be capable of scoring points when called upon, especially in the postseason against a ranked opponent.
Allen has said repeatedly this month that one of his few requests for the offensive staff is to make sure the Hoosiers establish the run. He appreciates a balanced offense, one that can take advantage of a solid receiving corps and a strong-armed quarterback.
But Allen is also adamant about IU’s ability to run with authority. Injuries and general inconsistencies have been blemishes along the offensive line all season, leading to a rushing attack that ranks 114th in the country in success rate (38.1 percent).
Allen wants that to change.
“That’s where I feel like we have to do a better job of finishing those runs this year, protecting the football and being great in the red zone,” Allen said. “That’s going to be our emphasis in the bowl game.”
And if the Hoosiers can follow through, the offense will carry a greater sense of worth into the offseason despite some of this season’s struggles.
“It’s a great chance to go out with a bang,” Lagow said.