Allen, Wommack working to boost IU defense

Tom Allen knew from the outset it would be hard to surrender some control over Indiana’s defense.

When he arrived as defensive coordinator in 2016, it was his sole mission to create a worthy counterpart to Kevin Wilson’s offensive units. In 2017, when Allen was elevated to head coach, the DC title remained with him, because it takes more than one year to establish a culture of defense at an institution that’s lacked it.

Going into his first season as just the head coach, Allen would preface his feelings on the move with a similar line, some version of “Ask me later.” It’s not easy to invest so much time and energy in a project and then relinquish control. And it’s incredibly difficult to stand there and watch as a team puts 51 points on that defense, as Ohio State did last Saturday.

“It was not a whole lot of fun not being the one calling it in that kind of situation,” Allen said. “At the end of the day, I’m responsible.”

A laundry list of errors put the Hoosiers at a steep disadvantage, but Allen spent hours after the game honing in on a few. All too often when the Buckeyes went ‘tempo,’ the Hoosiers weren’t set. Ohio State’s well-built rushers were able to rampage through the Hoosier secondary.

Structurally, some alignments could have been improved, techniques could have been applied.

Allen showed up to Sunday’s meetings angry, as defensive coordinator Kane Wommack would have expected. There were hard conversations to be had between coaches and players, but also between the coaches themselves.

“That to me is when the coaches know that I care more about them as a person than as a coach, than as a guy that just works for me,” Allen said. “You don’t take it personal but you have so much pride in what you are about and you care so much about the guys around you, as coaches, you want to get it right. It’s an emotional thing.”

Wommack, who was a grad assistant at Ole Miss while Allen was there, is a close pupil. Allen brought him to IU as a linebackers coach in 2018, but with every intention of making him the DC at some point. After a tough loss, this is a test of Allen’s development as a manager, and Wommack’s ability to execute Allen’s orders.

Together, they are trying to get IU back to the standard Allen set when he jumped from South Florida to IU in 2016.

That year, a unit that surrendered nearly 510 yards per game during the ‘15 season — worst in the Big Ten — cut its total by more than 129 yards per contest and jumped out of the conference cellar. In Allen’s first year as head coach, IU gave up 340 yards a game and ranked in the Big Ten’s top six for both total offense and defense for the first time since 1991.

There has been a regression in the last two seasons, though. IU threw its share of youth on the field in 2018 and ranked 11th in the conference at 424 yards allowed per game. Following Saturday’s 520-yard effort by the Buckeyes, the Hoosiers rank 10th in the Big Ten at 345 yards allowed per contest.

IU’s relative youth, particularly at the linebacker and safety positions, has to be considered as Allen evaluates his team. And Ohio State may have exposed some of the Hoosiers’ immaturities.

There are just 14 seniors on IU’s roster, while 53 of the 113 are freshmen.

“As I told our coaches, sometimes you take certain things for granted. But at the same time you can’t when you are young,” Allen said. “It’s just a great reminder of how purposeful we have to be as a staff in everything we do with our guys and the mindset that we have.”

Allen may have had some “rough” meetings with his assistants Sunday, but he’s only going so far with his oversight. He’s not going to second-guess play calls or dial up specific blitzes for Wommack during a game. He’s been there as a defensive coordinator, and it’s not helpful.

At the same time, there is a standard Allen wants to set, and he’s providing input on alignments and techniques as the Hoosiers head into the UConn game.

“To me, it’s structural things,” Allen said. “It’s been a lot of ‘Hey, listen, how are we going to defend this?’ ‘I want us to look like this and I want us to line up like this.’ ‘I want us to play this kind of technique.’ … We’ve made some adjustments with that.

“I’m not calling it, but I did, I stepped in, because this is what I do … but at the same time, it’s because I want us to be able to do what we need to do against the very best on our schedule.”

Wommack, like the rest of the staff, understood where Allen was coming from.

“He should have been angry, I think we all were,” Wommack said Monday. “When you compete and you go so hard and you work under the leadership of Tom Allen, who puts so much into this program, and he cares so much about it, and he’s hired people that care so much — and we didn’t do everything perfect. We got things we have to get corrected and fixed as coaches, too.

“But ultimately that’s not the product we feel like we are capable of on game day.”

Flush it, as Allen said.

On the other hand, Allen and Wommack have both been framing the OSU loss as an opportunity — a humbling experience that builds character within IU’s players and the coaches.

If they can all work together and push forward, maybe they can put the right product on the field versus the Huskies.

“I’m excited to find out what it’s going to make us, from what we just experienced and the way we didn’t perform,” Allen said. “Those are tough conversations we’re having, but it’s coming together, trying to find ‘What do we have to do to be at our best for us to win Big Ten football games?’ Which is our goal.”

8 comments

  1. IU needs to find some answers quickly as the tougher second half of the season comes up in several weeks. IU has a chance to improve and win three games before the first bye but they will have to improve to accomplish that goal. I would like to see Wommack quit substituting so much of the time. Get set on the top 15 – 18 players and let them play, this gives you some flexibility and rest players that need it in a series. Going through so many players doesn’t let them get in a rhythm especially against offenses that stress you all over the field.

  2. Now that we know IU’s defensive players and coaches have accumulated a lot of “character,” I can’t wait to see when they start producing higher levels of performance on the field. A good start would be to demonstrate they know how to tackle.

    I still think TA went too easy on his players in the spring and summer camps. Perhaps he was too concerned about his young players getting injured and feels that he still does not have enough depth? Maybe he assumed his player’s technique was solid and that it did not need to be reinforced? Regardless, this defense just looks like a bunch of guys that did not get enough time practicing the violent activities involved in how to properly tackle or shed blocks.

  3. Only 2 Power 5 coaches since 2014 have not won as an underdog. The worst? Tom Allen at 0-14. Coach the defense or don’t coach the defense, get angry or love each other….same head coach, same results.

  4. It’s easy to reflect after kickoff. I remember IU being heavy favorites vs the Huskies. Both times IU was outplayed and thoroghly beaten. Edsall has IU’s number. Statitically, UConn is a ‘superior team’, in some instances by a wide margin. Don’t be surprised at how close this thing ends up. 27.5 points! I’m glad Anderson has opened its sports window $$$$$$$.

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