Allen on IU football: ‘We got a lot of work to do’

Given the events of the last several months, there is a heightened level of positivity surrounding Indiana football. Tom Allen, himself, was grinning from ear to ear as he reintroduced Deland McCullough as the Hoosiers’ running backs coach after three years with the Kansas City Chiefs.

There came a point in Tuesday’s press conference, though, where even Allen had to pull back on the optimism. Sure, the Hoosiers just hired an assistant from the Chiefs, right after hiring a defensive coordinator, Charlton Warren, from a top-notch SEC program, Georgia. Yes, the Hoosiers return a ton of talent in 2021.

But that doesn’t guarantee anything.

“We got a lot of work to do,” Allen said. “I think one thing people misunderstand from one season to the next, you just assume because we came close there in the fourth quarter against Ohio State, all of a sudden it’s like ‘OK, everybody’s a year older, we have a lot of kids coming back … ’ — you can’t fall into that trap. You have to recreate everything.”

Allen went on to balance the scale.

IU hasn’t won the Big Ten East. IU hasn’t held a share of the overall Big Ten title since 1967. IU still hasn’t won a bowl game since 1991, dropping heartbreakers to Tennessee and Ole Miss to end consecutive seasons.

So as Allen and the Hoosiers move into this offseason with two new assistants in the fold — assistants he says have “SEC eyes” and “NFL eyes,” respectively — the focus is on how to get over those bothersome humps. The Hoosiers don’t take those next steps by being complacent.

There are areas where IU could stand to improve. The run game, for one, wasn’t consistent in 2020. IU finished 12th in the Big Ten in rushing yards per game, producing just 108.6 per contest. Stevie Scott, IU’s workhorse, produced just 3.6 yards per rush.

McCullough may be able to help there, to a degree, though improvement on the offensive line may be just as important. Along with the run game, IU’s quarterbacks also found themselves under significant pressure in the pocket in some games.

Even the defense, which hit another level in 2020, could stand to create more of a pass rush with its front line. IU seemed overly reliant on the blitz, at times, even if it produced a league-best 25 sacks.

There are steps to be taken toward greatness, which is why Allen chose the word “Chase” as IU’s mantra for 2021.

“You have to recreate your culture, you have to recreate the fire you have within you to do the little things it takes. We have to work harder,” Allen said. “That’s why I’m meeting with all these guys now. We have certain things, goals we have set up for them, chasing greatness.

“I want this football team to be great. Obviously, when you play in the Big Ten, greatness is defined by one thing, and that’s to win a Big Ten championship.”

The fact Allen can utter those words and not be completely laughed off a Zoom call does underscore how far IU’s program has come. The additions of Warren and McCullough, Allen believes, push the Hoosiers closer to being able to achieve those lofty expectations.

The places where IU was able to pull those coaches from does saying something.

“It does speak to our program, it speaks to what we’re building, it speaks to what we’ve done the last few years, and it speaks to what we’re about to do, in my opinion,” Allen said. “Because I do believe the best is yet to come for Indiana football. I don’t just say that flippantly. That doesn’t mean we are going to be better next year just because we’re a year older.

“I’m having player meetings right now with a lot of our guys and we’re talking about that every single day. We gotta work now. We ain’t done anything.”

Allen on Holt-Bennett

In the days since Allen last spoke to the media, IU’s 2021 recruiting class did add one more piece, wide receiver Malachi Holt-Bennett.

The 6-foot-2, 190-pound receiver from Alabama is considered one of the top 50 players at his position by the recruiting site 247Sports, but Allen liked another aspect of Holt-Bennett’s game.

“Can play on both sides of the football, I love that,” Allen said. “I love finding guys that play both ways, because, to me, if you’re a Division I football player, you should be on the field most of the time. He shows physicality on defense.”

Holt-Bennett posted 29 tackles and two interceptions as a senior at Fairfield High.

It makes sense that Holt-Bennett’s secondary work would stand out to Allen, a former defensive coordinator. In a broader sense, Allen just loves versatility.

Following the first signing day, Allen spoke at length about his love for multi-sport athletes. This class has a few, including Bloomington North tight end Aaron Steinfeldt (basketball/baseball), Lawrence North quarterback Donaven McCulley (basketball), and Valparaiso defensive lineman Cooper Jones (basketball).

Holt-Bennett is also a basketball player, helping his school win a state title on the hardwood in 2020. That athleticism translates to the receiver position, too.

“Really good ball skills, great range, length,” Allen said. “He’s athletic. He was a wildcat quarterback at times, making people miss in space. Just his toughness. You see it on film, it comes out, the way he plays. But, to me, it’s all about getting open, when you sink your hips, getting in and out of your breaks. That’s what he does well.

“I just feel like he’s a guy that can and will be a part of our offense in the future.”

Open scholarship

IU had another reserve depart via the transfer portal recently, defensive end Jalen Mayala.

The 6-5, 230-pounder from Dacula, Ga., was one of two players the Hoosiers added to the 2020 class during the second signing day. But he did not see any game action during his true freshman season.

IU has now lost four down-the-depth-chart players to the portal, including receivers Jordan Jakes and Rashawn Williams, and defensive end Tramar Reece. Allen was asked Tuesday if the departure of Mayala left open the possibility of the Hoosiers adding another player.

“It will be a wait-and-see right now. We’ll use (the scholarship) in the most efficient way possible,” Allen said. “It could be a chance to get a transfer later in the process. Once we get through spring football, we’ll know more things there, and we’ll make a decision if we want it for a spot in the fall or save it for the next signing class.”


  1. There will be many players from around the country entering the transfer portal after spring camps reveal where players stand on their respective depth charts. I would not be surprised if each IU position coach has an eye on a few players who they recruited previously. My guess is that of all IU’s coaches, Warren is the one most likely to snag a high quality transfer, probably from an SEC school. Being a third or fourth stringer on an SEC school’s roster might motivate you to transfer to IU, where you can immediately compete for a starting spot. One school’s bench-warmer could be another school’s starter.

  2. T.A. implementing action plan to be successful program keeping perspective…lot of work to do and “we ain’t done anything” while CHASING greatness.
    Whether successful or not T.A. greatness for IU football.

    1. No Penix and injured Tuttle IU football was really not able to match up with a better overall more talented average Ole Miss team from SEC. It was comparable to IU playing Oklahoma State in bowl game in Insight bowl.

      1. No, I disagree. I was at that Insight Bowl game in Tempe, and IU was totally outmanned by OSU in that game. OSU’s margin of victory, which was bad enough, actually made the game appear closer than it really was. In this recent bowl game, IU still had a chance to beat Ole Miss late in the fourth quarter. And had the star QB for Ole Miss been injured, I believe IU would have won that game. And Florida’s heat and humidity did not favor IU since the team had no time to acclimate due to COVID. I’m not making excuses, but it is tough to win a bowl game when your best offensive weapon can’t play.

  3. Good for Allen. This coming year will be tougher. A longer schedule, large crowds making away games away games, and at least three teams that will be out to reassert their dominance.

    There’ s no reason IU can’t have a great season, but they will have to earn it. It will be a blast to watch!

    1. Rich, IMO, it all depends on Penix staying healthy. If he stays healthy, I believe IU can beat any team on the schedule. If not, as good as our back-up QB is, producing a winning season will be very difficult. IMO, Penix is simply that special.

  4. If we’re bringing the SEC to the BigTen…..does that mean we adjust to their SAT scores, academic standards and graduation rates?

  5. t, I get your point about the Ole Miss game but IU had a chance to win and OSU whipped IU in the bowl game.

    I wrote in a post earlier about the fine line IU was on currently between being near the top of the B1G and being mediocre. IU is a very good team but PSU and Michigan showed how fine that line is last season. IU still needs to improve their roster to include more top athletes. IU has some with Penix, Mullen, Jamar Johnson [now gone], Taylor, etc but not enough in all positions or as subs behind them. Coach Allen is right that they need to work hard to keep winning B1G games but they also need to bring in top players like they have at QB, WR, and OT to have the quality depth to stay at the top of the B1G.

    Po made the point that progress isn’t a straight line and IU is at the point that it can continue or slip back before having enough talent to be there year after year without some good fortune.

    1. Yes V13, TA knows that “growth is not linear.” He’s instilling that principal into his players and making sure they take nothing for granted in their preparation for the upcoming season. I think Bob Knight used to preach, “a team is most vulnerable of failing immediately after achieving its greatest success.” And you can see many examples of that throughout sports history.

      I recently read that the New England Patriots, after winning a Super Bowl, forbid anyone in the organization (players, coaches, etc.) from mentioning or referring to the previous season’s Championship. Inside the patriot’s facilities at the start of practices for the new season, no one was allowed to mention the previous season’s success. No banners or posters celebrating the championship were in site. That success was in the past, and New England’s players and coaches were starting from scratch, preparing to compete against teams with new/different/improved rosters. Belichick is no fool.

    2. The point is that we lost two bowl games to slightly above average SEC teams, and the lessons are evident. One, that conference is, without question, the best in the country. The West, in particular, is far superior to the BiG East. It’s not really close. And, talent wise, we have a long way to go. Mississippi beat us with all of their offensive skill, save the quarterback, not playing. Their backups were superior to our starters, and they went 4-5. We have to change that if we want to show that 2020 wasn’t a fluke.

  6. I wouldn’t go to sleep on that ‘fine line’ Michigan and PSU dipped below….Shock of empty stadiums and the absence of 100,000 fans going nutso may have had more impact on some than at a school used to 20,000 (half of which leave at halftime…or get to games late).
    Same with hoops…Some traditional powerhouse/blue blood teams are having terrible or very subpar years (e.g. Duke, UK, Kansas, MSU). But I have this sneaky suspicion many of “the elites” in football and basketball will look like their normal selves again once the pandemic is under control and their fervent fan bases have packed their arenas again.

    I simply don’t believe we can draw strong conclusions based on results during a pandemic. Some guys play for the big stage and feed off of the energy of crowds. Some are built more for inward seeking motivation/kumbaya (along with already being conditioned to the subdued atmosphere of Memorial) and may not have been usurped their energy by the deafening silence to the same degree.

    Nothing of last season was college football…It was silent scrimmages. It was a season of voting without full bodies of work. It was not making too much of upsets while giving higher evaluations to some with less body of work. Was it right? We really can’t say…We can only say condensed seasons with cardboard fans = cardboard football. Hard to hear kumbaya campfire songs when 100,000 are drowning out the signals and the senses.

  7. H4H you are right about stadiums being full making some difference but I don’t think it is right that it made all the difference. IU has played those teams close in the past and this roster is better in most spots than in the past. Our defense is faster and more athletic in many spots and if the offense steps up this year scoring from all over the field and not stalling out during stretches of the game. As I have stated earlier, IU showed more mental toughness than the other teams which can make a difference in the outcome of games. This is why I say the 2021 season is so important to IUFB.

  8. Competitive success begins upfront. While IU has vastly upgraded in certain areas, the biggest recruiting disparity remains on the OL. Wins are possible, but not on a reliable basis. To wit: Did you watch the Superbowl? It now is all about ‘Jimmies and Joes’ less ‘X’s and O’s’. 4 and 5* 6’7″ 340 kids also hit the weight room and are getting ‘coached up’ just like their smaller, less talented 3* counterparts.

  9. Coach Allen has used portal in its infancy with positive results. Lots of advantages with its use. The tool will be developed to become even more important for IUFB success. Coach Allen processes very well moves for the future.

    1. HC: Not sure what (?) was supposed to infer, but if YOU think modestly upgrading the OL each season is ‘out of reach’ then how do you expain the other higher caliber position players saying yes, including transfers, already? Do you think Warren and McCulloch would have come if they thought it likely wouldn’t be upgraded?

  10. Wow, we get a little taste and our appetite sores! Expectations for IU FB are elevating rapidly and some fans appear to be setting themselves up for disappointment. I guess expectations are hard to manage.

    Of course it’s going to take years. When did anyone ever say otherwise? Of course SEC FB is superior to Big Ten FB (look at what Alabama did to OSU). When was that ever in question? TA is doing great things (with less), but he doesn’t have a magic wand. Hey, here’s an idea! How about IU fans fill Memorial Stadium (total sold out and packed) just once before we begin expressing expectations of IU winning Big Ten Championships or beating SEC teams in bowl games. Would that be appropriate?

    If IU FB produces a winning season in 2021, I will be thrilled (again). Anything more than a winning record, such as winning a bowl game, will be a bonus. But some folks are already implying that they will be disappointed unless TA’s team wins the Big Ten Championship or knocks off a top SEC team in a bowl game? Are they kidding? Do they not remember how bad this FB program was just ten years ago?

    Let’s keep our perspective folks and simply enjoy the fact that IU FB is now relevant and that it’s modest success appears to be sustainable. Now we have to ask ourselves “what am I willing to do to help IU FB ascend to and stay at the next level?”

  11. Po, point on about where this team and the B1G are. That is the reason I think coach Allen is saying more work is needed. He brings in coaches to upgrade IU’s chances to improve even more but it isn’t a set thing that will show up in 2021. I hope the team shows do as well as the 2020 team did but if not I will understand and not panic about the decline. The team needs to show they aren’t falling behind and of the teams they beat in 2020 other than one of them possibly. The “big” boys had problems with their teams that were player related so IU should do well in 2021. Whatever success they have will be somewhat limited to finishing in the top ten but we will see.

  12. In terms of wins, IU got a bigger Return-On-Investment than any other Big Ten program last season. IU’s players over-achieved in a big way. I’m not talking about financial ROI, I’m talking wins against losses relative to available talent. That’s something to celebrate. And Tom Allen deserves enormous credit for making that happen.

    1. How did IU over achieve. Was it beating up on every opponent, including the 2nd best team in the nation on the road in the 2nd half? IU earned every win, and outplayed everyone they beat. So we lost to a high scoring and very underrated team with a quarter back that never started a game. I think you may want to go back and watch this past years games again.

      1. IU “over-achieved” by beating teams with a lot more talent. By any relevant standard of measuring a team’s FB talent, IU should not have beaten PSU, MI, or WI. And it should not have lost to OSU by just a touchdown. And IU FB over-achieved if you compare its FB budget to most other Big Ten teams. But TA showed the college FB world that a group of young men who believe in and play for each other and who are united in their mission can defeat teams that possess superior talent. TA proved once again that “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” TA proved that providing the right environment and support allows under-rated and unheralded individuals to reach their full potential. That’s why the Big Ten Conference and one other organization rightfully honored him as “Coach of the Year.”

        Losing the bowl game may have been a blessing in disguise to IU’s 2021 FB team. Because that loss reinforced to all the returning players and coaches that they “have a lot of work to do” and that their program is not quite where they want it to be. It probably stoked the collective fire in their collective belly. If used properly, the disappointment of losing that bowl game should motivate every IU FB player and coach to get better in every way. I trust that TA is and will continue implementing a plan that maximizes that motivation.

  13. In this year’s January bowl game I thought Ole Miss controlled game and looked better vs an IU injured QB. However, it always seems to be something negative that comes up in those opportunity times regarding IU football. If it’s not injured QBs it’s something else. I still think Tuttle is a good QB and will eventually prove himself. Eventually, is a IU tradition.
    QUESTION: For 2020 who would have won? IU vs Northwestern? NW and Fitz in of course the weaker division proves themselves during season plus bowl game. (And the OSU game comparison IU fell far behind and OSU took their foot off the gas and IU accelerated making it another teaser game).

  14. t- All games were silent scrimmages….not just OSU. Foot off the gas? Gas takes fuel. I would contend that the horsepower that comes with the sight of overflowing crowds, the atmosphere, the unbridled massive amounts of screams and noise, the pep bands, the fight songs, the flags, the cheerleaders, the coming out of the tunnel before kickoff while gazing up upon all present to watch and support with every ounce of fervor in the blood to watch you play a game… the flood to the senses and the fuel absent during pandemic football. There was no “fuel” of college football. Whatever fuel there was was watered down. Ferraris sputtered like a Ford Pinto fed pinto beans..Carburetors were gasping on silent dead air absent the fuel dispersed out the jets. A center squatting into a stance could barely disguise the slippage noise of a whispering fart slapping against the glove of a quarterback anxiously awaiting the snap. There was some gas on the palm…but there was never foot on the gas. This was not college football. But, oddly enough, it worked.
    It was who can play a game as if playing in a test tube is important. And speaking of cutting cheese, even laboratory mice need an occasional cheer followed up with a nibble of processed cheese…before they leave the hut-hut inside the wall.
    The pandemic proved we can program athletes to function in a morgue-like vacuum of silence and to do as told with less fuel than we’d give a laboratory mouse. The experiment was Nobel Prize worthy. Total success. No foot on gas required (the “gas”…the fun…the noise…being us).
    Robots programmed to move to recordings of scripture and love mantras …. None of the 300 lb. mice in helmets needed crowds. The DNA of perfectly engineered narcissism replaced our fuel. It has been proven that only they, the new and improved lab mice, and the entity that gives them their “god-given ability” regularly thanked out loud to empty stands and empty skies (also known as their robot developer) is all that matters. We suck. And let those empty stands remind you of just how much you suck and are no longer a necessary fuel. You were never the fuel for the gas…for the foot hitting the enthusiasm nerve attached to the pedal. You aren’t even fossil fuel.
    The money machine and the mice will work with or without you. We’ve gone totally green. Football fields with no carbon, no hot dog farts or beer belches in the seats. No cars and RV’s pumping pollution in parking lots and tailgate parties.
    It was all a waste of energy the mice do not require. It may have even been hampering the mice….It will soon be proven they find the cheese and the goal line much faster without the noise. The air is cleaner and the climate so very quiet and friendly. You can hear the birds who have taken up the seats chirp again. Stadiums now used for step farming. Mountain goats roam the upper decks…

  15. “Prudential College Football Scoreboard”
    reporting on the game of Electric Football…a few memorable moments setting in the front room/living room or at a friends house clicking the green clean energy switch…and the crowd roars usually of two and sometimes three or four watching supernatural plays by supermen.

  16. This is for those who believe that IU football will never be able to compete for top high school talent. Before Mark Few arrived at Gonzaga, arguably the 2nd most dominant basketball program over the past 15 or so years, only behind Duke,..most people thought ‘gonzaga’,..instead of a small Jesuit university in the hinterlands of Oregon, was something offered at a salad bar.

    1. Gonzaga is in Spokane, Washington, not Oregon. And Few hasn’t built his program by competing for top high school talent. Rather, he’s found kids who maybe were under appreciated or overlooked, tossed in some transfers for good measure, and also added some international flavor to the mix. But he’s never chested up and recruited against the elites. In a way, that’s why they’re so easy to cheer for and appreciate. I agree that TA will probably need to find those next tier guys in order to build and sustain a successful program, and I think he has a chance to do it. But toe to toe with the elites is going to be a struggle. Let’s see if we can compete and win some of those battles for Indiana kids first (we haven’t yet) and then we’ll know.

      1. Yes, competing with the elites in recruiting is a ways off. A long hard slog away.

        In the meantime, the goal should simply be to recruit better every year.

  17. I might add to my own observation..that Butler was poised to be just like Gonzaga. The condemning difference? Few doesn’t want to leave. Butler on the other hand was ambushed with multimillion dollar enticements starting with Matta, then Stevens…then Holtman. I feel as though CTA is more in the Few mould. Let’s hope so. He has yet to fire anyone..only to watch coaches be hired away. That will be his next challenge.

  18. Not much college FB news these days, but I found this interesting: “Another Michigan scholarship quarterback has entered the transfer portal under Jim Harbaugh. Joe Milton became the sixth when he announced Thursday”

    4-star QBs are transferring out of Michigan like rats off a sinking ship! I guess playing for a very strange man is not very fun or rewarding!

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