Allen, IU ready for wild ride of a 2020 season

With kickoff under two weeks away, thoughts about No. 9 Penn State are growing in significance in Tom Allen’s mind.

Indiana’s coach is thinking about PSU’s talented rushers, including Journey Brown. He’s thinking about their elite tight end, a future pro, Pat Freiermuth. Even the Nittany Lions’ kickers and punters and returners are a concern.

“To me, those are the kinds of things that make me not sleep at night and make me pretty restless,” Allen said. “That’s been growing as kickoff gets closer.”

There is an excitement building, as well, especially following a chopped-up offseason where it was unclear when football may return. Following an eight-win season, the Hoosiers haven’t faced another opponent since Tennessee in January. That will finally change on Oct. 24, at 3:30 p.m., at Memorial Stadium.

At the same time, Allen readily admits nerves. He’s watched the SEC and the Big 12. A text message popped onto his phone recently about the poor play of defenses nationwide, as point totals soared into the 70s and 80s. The defensive-minded coach had an additional reason to be concerned Saturday because of an undesired amount of missed tackles in IU’s second intrasquad scrimmage.

On top of the defensive miscues and special teams blunders, the unconventional nature of this season hasn’t been lost on Allen. At any moment, positive COVID-19 tests could sideline key players. It could scrap a game altogether.

Allen talks about “earmuffs and blinders,” and a “1-0 mindset,” and “don’t blink,” and that narrow focus is going to be as important as ever. As a potentially wild and unpredictable season closes in, and game-specific preparations for PSU begin later this week, nights may become restless.

But the Hoosiers’ focus must remain unmoved.

“We are just not going to let anything faze us, good or bad,” Allen said. “More than anything, I want our guys to prepare well and then get out there and let it rip, and play their tails off, and have a ton of fun playing together, and for each other, with each other — and we’ll see what happens at the end of the day.”

For the most part, the Hoosiers remain healthy and on track. Freshman offensive lineman Kahlil Benson did just join senior husky Marcelino Ball in suffering a season-ending ACL injury. But there haven’t been large swaths of the team impacted by COVID-19.

IU currently has no active COVID-19 cases, a spokesperson confirmed before Monday’s Zoom call with Allen, and there have been just four positive results as opposed to 3,016 negatives. That’s encouraging, especially considering the Hoosiers had to shut down for two weeks this summer because of positive COVID tests.

As the PSU game nears, there is an even greater sense of urgency about social-distancing off the field.

“Anytime it gets close to what you are going to be preparing for, that’s a great motivator,” Allen said. “The further you are away from it, it’s more challenging, because it doesn’t seem as real. For our guys, we had some bumps along the way. Once that reality hit, we have to do this a certain way, they figured it out, it’s been way better. Now as the games get closer, I think that helps.”

Allen emphasized, however, that it’s not just players that have to be disciplined. Coaches will have to take serious measures to make sure positive tests remain low.

“We don’t live in a bubble. We all go home at night. We don’t sleep in the stadium,” Allen said. “Our families, we have children, some of our coaches’ kids are in different stages of school locally. And spouses have jobs, interact with other people. Those are concerns. We’ve talked about the choices you have to make as a family, and who you choose to hang out with and be around away from here.

“We’ll have to make some sacrifices. So we talked about that with our coaches. We talked about that with our players. It’s a constant, constant conversation.”

On the field, the Hoosiers also have to stay sharp. While the coaches were pleased with a lack of missed tackles in the first preseason scrimmage, the number of blown tackles increased this past weekend. That was expected somewhat, as the number of snaps increased from one scrimmage to the next. But it was still concerning.

There were also referees at Saturday’s scrimmage — and crowd noise was pumped in — and the defense was flagged for jumping offside a few times.

“You just haven’t played. We haven’t played a game since the bowl game,” Allen said. “The whole execution piece, the tackling piece, it makes me nervous going against someone else. A team of Penn State’s caliber is going to have some of the best running backs in the country, some of the best receivers and tight ends and skill guys.”

Then again, this is one of the more hyped IU football teams in recent memory, returning a high percentage of talent from an eight-win squad. The hope is that Saturday’s transgressions were an aberration and that the Hoosiers will have the maturity to limit mistakes, both on and off the field, that could derail the season.

But there is no doubt, this season could be quite a ride. Allen smiled as he was asked about LSU, the defending national champions, losing two of its first three games. Oklahoma just outlasted Texas in a four-overtime thriller.

“I think it’s going to be one of those years, you can’t get too high or too low. You just have to keep playing,” Allen said. “That’s going to be the key. The games, you better be ready to play.”

7 comments

  1. No matter how the games go IU needs to win games and not have any excuses about why they lost. Proper pursuit angles and gang tackling negate the missed tackles that may happen. Watching games this year it seems the ones with complicated defenses or new DCs are the ones getting gashed.

    I ran into this issue against some teams then deciding we need to run our defense and not adjust to everything except not to be outflanked; it is worse in college with all the variations offense can bring. It still becomes who tackles the best and defends the field the best.

    IU has its on offensive talent to create problems for PSU and how well coach Sheridan creates those mismatches will determine how much trouble opposing defense have with IU’s offense. I want to see our offense explode and make defenses look silly against us. Have a great game plan and don’t hold back attacking the defense in every way. Let’s get the season started and find out how wild this season can be for IUFB.

  2. My concern is not the offense or special teams. The offense will do fine if they’re not playing from behind the entire game. My concern is the defense. And on defense, it’s the D-line that is most suspect. If they play tough and are not moved off the LOS on run plays, and are able to get some pressure on the QB, IU has a good chance. If not, it could be a long day after such a long wait.

    1. PO, for the first time in a while I don’t think the DL will be a problem but an asset for the defense. I could be wrong but the way they played most of the TN game and adding Swann along with Lewis [freshman that I think will play a lot who was initial committed to Auburn] should be a very good DL. I also hope coach Peoples can improve the pass rush like he has at other schools. There are good reason to expect the front to be improved this year due to additions and more experience. The real concern after the second scrimmage was the missed tackles due to more reps. We won’t know for sure how the front will do until the PSU game is over because they will be a good test for the DL.

  3. The offense run game has excellent upside and should be very solid. A little bit of caution for IU pass game including qb. For the time Penix has played he has looked pretty good. However, there seems to be much hope based on his previous limited play versus his sustainability of good play over an entire season. Plus receivers have to, block, run routes, make plays including after catching the ball and go up and catch the ball or simply catch the ball. There is much valid hope in both, run and pass game on offense.

  4. One other point, and I hope I’m being very particular as I make this point. While IU’s receivers are gifted and will be more experienced this year, I’d like them to be more physical and aggressive in fighting for 50/50 balls. Over the last two seasons, there were two many situations where an IU receiver just got mugged by defensive backs and were unable to catch 50/50 balls. The little guys have to use speed and quickness when going against bigger DBs, but IU has some bigger receivers now, and I want to see them be a lot more physical in going after contested passes. IMO, IU still can’t count on the referees to be objective in calling PI.

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