Game week has finally arrived for the Hoosiers

A very harrowing, stop-and-start, unorthodox offseason has finally arrived at a much-anticipated point.

On Monday, there was a press conference with Indiana coach Tom Allen. Not just to talk about how the Hoosiers’ meetings over Zoom were going. Or the results of COVID-19 tests. Or the quick ramp-up to a late-October start.

Allen was talking about a football game, less than a week away.

“It’s been such a long wait for everybody, to finally get a chance to play,” Allen said of No. 8 Penn State’s impending visit to Memorial Stadium. “They are going to play really hard and we’re going to play really hard and we’re going to see who’s the best team on Saturday.”

For the Hoosiers, this represents their first opportunity to build on last year’s eight-win season. And they get one of the perennial powerhouses of the Big Ten’s East Division, a program the Hoosiers have a 1-22 record versus all-time.

From the start, IU was preparing for a jump off the deep end. It was just originally slated to be a trip to Wisconsin on the first Friday in September, not PSU on the second-to-last Saturday in October.

In an empty Memorial Stadium, no less.

“There’s no chance to get guys broken in, in an incremental (way). They are going right after it,” Allen said. “Bottom line, you have to have all those typical first-game questions answered, but the margin for error is much, much smaller.”

Allen has been here before, facing Ohio State in his very first home opener as IU’s head coach. He lost that one by 28 points.

The expectation now, as the Hoosiers laid out in their preseason goals, is not only to play close with top 25 teams like OSU and Penn State but to win. The circumstances are challenging, especially with a lack of spring ball, the near-constant uncertainty of when the season would arrive, and a dearth of full-contact days. But it’s something every Big Ten team has had to try and work around. IU just has to hope it’s done a better job of dealing with a frustrating offseason than others.

Week 1 games are typically squirrelly. Even more so now.

“That’s just part of why it makes the first game such an exciting game,” Allen said. “So many nerves going into it, so much energy going into it, so much anticipation going into it. Because, honestly, nobody knows what is going to happen.”

PSU’s mystery offense

There are questions to answer in Saturday’s opener, but one of the most pressing will be figuring out Penn State’s offense.

What’s known is that the Nittany Lions return four out of five starters on their offensive line, a unit that wore the Hoosiers down late in last season’s loss at Beaver Stadium. PSU quarterback Sean Clifford is a gifted passer but hurt the Hoosiers as much, if not more, with his legs. Tight end Pat Freiermuth may be the best at his position in the conference.

What isn’t exactly known is how all of those pieces will be deployed by offensive coordinator Kirk Ciarrocca, who comes over from Minnesota.

IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack hinted that he’s watched both last year’s PSU film and 2019 Gopher footage to prepare.

“I glanced at both once or twice, and then went back to Netflix,” Wommack said, jokingly. “They made no bones about (it) … you don’t bring somebody in from our league with the offensive production that they had last year at Minnesota without giving them a chance to run his system. I am sure they will give him the freedom and authority to be able to do those things.”

In 2019, both PSU and Minnesota had success offensively. The Lions averaged 35.8 points per game, while the Gophers put up 34.1. IU rounds out the top five at 31.8.

Minnesota was extremely efficient through the air, led by quarterback Tanner Morgan. While the Lions don’t return a wideout with the name recognition of Rashod Bateman, there is little doubt Ciarrocca will find ways to maximize his personnel. Containing Freiermuth is, Wommack said, “the name of the game,” along with slowing the Lions’ run game.

IU will just have to adjust to how Ciarrocca plays his cards.

“There’s going to have to be a lot of adjustments made after the first couple of series, on both sides of the football. Probably even on special teams,” Allen said. “Our coaching staff is going to have to be really, really sharp in that area and be able to adapt with what they are showing us and what they are doing to us and we gotta have answers.”

OC’s first go-around

Not only will the Hoosiers be facing a recent coordinator hire. They will be breaking in one of their own.

IU assistant Nick Sheridan, promoted from tight ends coach to offensive coordinator this offseason, isn’t expected to drastically change IU’s offense. But this will be his first game calling plays.

“I don’t have anxiety or nerves sitting here right now,” Sheridan said. “I’m sure everyone, to some degree, when you get close to kickoff, there is a level of whatever you want to call it because you care. You enjoy the competition and you want to do well.”

In fall camp, Allen has given Sheridan some practice at calling plays “live.” They went off-script defensively, throwing the first-year coordinator into some situations where he had to think on the fly.

“It makes you problem-solve, which is obviously game-like,” Sheridan said. “I feel very comfortable, excited for the opportunity. The primary reason I feel comfortable is because of our staff and our players. I think we’ve done a nice job.”

IU names captains

Allen also announced the Hoosiers’ captains on Monday. The five will be redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr., senior center Harry Crider, redshirt senior husky Marcelino Ball, and junior linebackers Micah McFadden and Cam Jones.

The first two are not surprising, given the positions of leadership that quarterbacks and centers have on the offensive side of the ball. The nomination of Ball, though, was somewhat of a surprise given he suffered a season-ending injury in fall camp.

Ball is having surgery on his torn ACL this week.

“He will probably not be able to be very active in that role on game day,” Allen said, “but at the same time, his leadership is obvious by the way his teammates feel about him, and the way he’s handled a tough situation with so much maturity and a positive attitude.”

Redshirt junior Bryant Fitzgerald, who has stepped into Ball’s spot at husky, has relayed how helpful the fifth-year senior has been in helping him learn the position. This is somewhat of a rerun of last year, when senior offensive tackle Coy Cronk became “Coach Cronk” following a season-ending ankle injury, helping then-freshman Matthew Bedford step into his spot.

As far as Jones and McFadden, coaches have alluded to the leadership presence the linebacker group, in general, has shown this offseason. This just validates that via their teammates’ votes.

“Tell you one thing, though, we had so many guys get votes, more so than I can ever remember,” Allen said. “It just speaks to the breadth of the leadership on this team. Guys have been not just good football players the last couple years but also young men that are respected by their teammates.”

No tailgating, for real

As previously announced, there are no fans allowed at this year’s Big Ten football contests, aside from family members of the players and coaches involved.

On top of that, IU sent out a reminder Monday that tailgating at Memorial Stadium will be prohibited. Aside from designated entry points for families and staff, parking lots at Memorial Stadium will be closed on game day.

“This is a disappointing but necessary step as we ensure that we follow the university, local and state guidelines related to the COVID-19 pandemic,” IU athletic director Scott Dolson said in a release. “Gamedays at Memorial Stadium are special, and we look forward to welcoming all of our Hoosier fans back in the future once it is safe to do so. But at this time, it is important that we follow the guidance of public health officials.

“In the meantime, I hope that Hoosier fans will continue our great tailgating tradition from home while cheering on our Hoosiers, and be ready to return to Bloomington next fall and bring that great energy and passion that we all love so much at our Hoosier tailgates.”

(above photo courtesy of IU Athletics)


  1. It feels good to be in game week and I am sure the players and coaches feel it even more than I do. I will be watching to see how the Hoosier’s perform and if they are up to beating PSU. I hope the Hoosiers come out fired up taking it to PSU and keep taking it to them through out the whole game. The time for coming up short is over; this team needs to finish games they play well against and not fizzle at the end of the game like they have in the past.

  2. Crowd vs. No Crowd @ Memorial?

    It may be better to have no fans than a 1/2 full stadium of dull, indifferent and uncommitted fans who generally give up on the team and head for exits to get to parties or beat traffic.

    At least the cardboard cutouts can’t get out of their seats and leave early. They will be more loyal than the typical Memorial tailgater.

  3. Then again, nothing would shock me. After 100 years of mostly losing….?

    How bad is IU Football?
    IU football is so bad the cardboard cutouts headed for the exits wearing paper bags over their heads. Yes, redundant…but true.

    Sorry, couldn’t resist.

    1. Cardboard cutouts ‘headed’ for the exits…lol. Get it? I didn’t realize I did that….The heads headed …Never mind. Tough crowd.

  4. Cardboard cutouts heading for the exit vs inflated balloon fans just deflating right in their seats.

  5. Headline: Cutouts exit Memorial early in masses…
    Many claim they were ‘board’ with the game.
    Others said they were squared of decapitation and being re-purposed into a cue card.
    Some said they could no long endure the heckling from referees for not standing for the national anthem.

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