Campbell thriving in odd kicking environments

Indiana kicker Charles Campbell came into this season with at least one big moment under his belt, a 41-yard field goal to help steal the Old Oaken Bucket from Purdue in 2019.

The redshirt sophomore from Jackson, Tenn., can still remember the exact conditions.

“It was raining, there was a left-to-right wind,” Campbell said. “The wind was a tad at my back, but it kept switching back and forth. … That situation, it was getting thrown in the fire a little bit.”

In the most difficult of circumstances — replacing a struggling Logan Justus in a rivalry game — the former U.S. Army All-American proved he can produce at the college level. This past weekend, in his first game as IU’s No. 1 kicker, Campbell proved the point, again, going 2-of-2 in an overtime win over Penn State.

But again, it was unusual circumstances. The stands at Memorial Stadium were nearly empty, hosting only family members of the players and coaches involved. Behind the field goal posts were cardboard cutouts of fans, among other creatures.

“I was told before the game if I hit one of the cutouts the person in the cutout wins something. I think that was kind of funny,” Campbell said. “I think during the game I might have hit a dog. I hope that dog got something nice.”

The Hoosiers at least came out of the game with something pleasing: a win over a top-10 football team, the program’s first in 33 years. They also rediscovered that they have a reliable kicker, who can perform in atypical environments.

While the Nittany Lions missed all three of their field goals Saturday, Campbell was true from 34 and 48 yards, respectively.

“I just tell myself not to think about the kick. I’ve been training since I was young to get out there and execute,” Campbell said.

“It’s muscle memory at this point. If I don’t think about the kick, I know I will fall back on my technique. And if I fall back on my technique, I’ll make the kick.”

A football school?

Basketball has long held a place at the center of IU’s identity as a school, and the term “basketball school” has often been used to demean its football counterpart.

But with a win over then-No. 8 Penn State, there has arrived an opportunity for the Hoosiers to shift the brand. Junior cornerback Reese Taylor, for one, was ready to just say it.

“This is now a football school, as well,” Taylor said. “This is the standard now. It’s set in stone. It’s nothing less, it’s nothing more.”

One game is just one game, and the Hoosiers will have to prove their worth on the football field again this Saturday at Rutgers, and all through the rest of this season. Shifting away from years of failure on the gridiron requires more than one win over a powerhouse of the Big Ten East, as well as avoiding disappointments against teams that are behind on the development curve.

But there is undoubtedly confidence that emanates from wins like the Hoosiers’ last.

Taylor is a member of a defense that made play after play to keep the Hoosiers in last weekend’s game. The secondary, in particular, made more than its share, as Jamar Johnson, Devon Matthews, and Tiawan Mullen combined for 26 tackles. Johnson, the junior safety, extended his interception streak to three games.

“I feel like our defense and our secondary is just one whole gel that just came together and knows how to work together, knows how to communicate, knows how to move with each other, side to side, and just forward and back,” Taylor said.

“I feel like this defense can go a long way and will probably be one of the top defenses,” Taylor added, quickly retracting “probably.”

” — will be one of the top defenses in the country.”

Taylor also sneakily had one of the better individual performances Saturday, tackling a PSU return man at the 5-yard line, as well as taking his first punt return 21 yards to help spark a scoring drive.

After a hand injury in 2019 kept him from those return duties, Taylor has set high goals for himself in that phase.

“I’m trying to be the best punt returner in the country,” Taylor said. “I’m not trying to be nothing less. I’m trying to be the No. 1 guy in the country. I’m going to be the best I can, make sure I’m grabbing punts, make sure I don’t make any mistakes … try to do what I need to do to be the No. 1 guy in the country.”

Allen’s energy

IU running back Stevie Scott can picture it, but he can’t quite think of the word.

He’s just recalling the energy IU head coach Tom Allen brings to practice, constantly shouting instructions through this piece of equipment in his hand.

A megaphone, actually, but that’s not important. What matters are the words coming out of Allen’s mouth — then amplified — stressing “Effort!” and giving everything on “Every Rep!”

“He comes through with a little … I forgot the name of it,” Scott said. “But he goes around through practice, screaming with that, with a lot of energy. He just gets us excited, gets us woke up.”

In the days following IU’s big win over PSU, the Hoosiers’ energetic coach has found himself in the spotlight with his team. Allen was just named coach of the week by the Bobby Dodd Trophy Coach of the Year Foundation, commended by chairman Jim Terry for a “bold decision” to go for two in overtime, which he says the foundation’s namesake would have admired.

IU’s players admire a great many things about their leader. He’s energetic, and the tales go back to his years as an assistant, diving on a pile at Ole Miss and getting his teeth knocked out, or fake brawling with then-Drake head coach Chris Creighton on April Fool’s Day. That spirit clearly has not been lost as a head coach, as Allen demonstrated after the PSU win, crowd-surfing in the locker room following an emotional postgame speech.

“That crowd-surfing, that was something new,” Scott said, smiling.

But the Hoosiers will say they react to Allen as they do because they believe he’s a genuine leader. They trusted in him when they came to Bloomington to alter the course of a middling football program. In beating PSU, the broader college football world is just now starting to pay attention.

When an anonymous Hoosier screamed “We love you, coach” prior to Allen’s leap onto his players, it was a true sentiment.

“We really do love him,” IU linebacker Micah McFadden said. “He’s just a guy, he sets the example. A lot of coaches can talk the talk, but not every coach lives out what they speak to their players every single day. Coach Allen brings that to the table every single day. I’ve not seen him not bringing energy or not motivating his players or living out what he says.

“We can joke about it, LEO and whatnot. But it’s true. He lives it out, we recognize it, and we follow him. He’s a true leader.”

Keeping focus

Along with “love each other,” or LEO, a mantra Allen has long employed is his “one word” for the week, and it’s “focus” as the Hoosiers prepare for Rutgers.

That is a multifaceted proposition. For one, they have to focus on the task at hand, taking seriously a Rutgers team that just defeated Michigan State, 38-27. Quarterbacked by Nebraska transfer Noah Vedral, they are more competent in the pass phase than the squad that managed just one yard on IU in 2019. Coached by Greg Schiano, the Scarlet Knights just seem more disciplined.

But more than just on the field, the Hoosiers need to be focused on controlling what they can. They are heading on the road for the first time, which presents logistical challenges in the midst of a pandemic. There is also the reality that there will be a smaller travel roster, and the players who are left behind will have to keep their focus to prevent the virus from penetrating IU’s “bubble.”

“We gotta stay locked in,” Scott said. “That’s one thing I stress to my teammates a lot. You gotta stay locked in at all times. You have to stay cautious of your surroundings, what you are doing, who you associate yourself with.

“We’d hate to see something bad or negative, especially dealing with coronavirus, tear down this team. That’s something we stress a lot, meetings and in the locker room, in general, making sure everybody is staying safe and staying cautious.”

As of IU’s last update Saturday, there were no active cases of COVID-19 on the team.

“We always say this,” Allen said. “What do you want, how hard are you willing to work to get that, and what are you willing to sacrifice to get what you want?”

3 comments

  1. It is good to hear Taylor say IU is now a football school too not knocking basketball. This team has enough belief in themselves and coaches to have a great season but know they have to play each week in a way to win the coming game that week. With the right hunger it is possible to get better each week and we see how some teams don’t do that.

    The players love coach Allen as he shows he recruits and families how he will be for their sons. The players reinforce that as they explain how coach is for them now that they are at IU. Coach’s push for STs has shown up so far this year as it looks like the return teams, no real look for KO return so far, along with Campbell at kicker and Whitehead as punter IU is in good shape. Add in Wratcher at LS who hasn’t had a bad snap in his career yet and they all help make IU win games.

    I am looking for a big improvement from IU this week and expect we will see the difference in playing teams other than the top teams in the B1G. Rutgers is better with a number of transfers but they were back ups at the good programs they came from, so it isn’t like they are super stars. Rutgers is trying to show improvement this year and it looks like they are but we don’t know how bad MSU is yet.

    Who but a few of us could have seen IU ranked ahead of PSU this season and leading the B1G, tied with half the teams right now, with a good shot of going 2-0 this week. To keep it going IU will have to be very focused and disciplined to do what they should instead of what they want right now. It will be easy to fall in with the crowd that praises you instead of staying your teammates and doing the right things.

  2. Momentum rarely swells if preceded by a swelling head.
    When a program has been a notorious bottom-feeder for decades upon decades, it’s probably vary easy to suddenly think the hamburger helper you saw in the mirror is now prime steak because of one quality victory.

    Never take winning too seriously.

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