NOTEBOOK: Allen giving game ball from 1st victory to his father

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — It was impossible for Tom Allen to focus solely on football this week.

His father was the reason why.

Tom Allen Sr. underwent open heart surgery on Tuesday, leaving his son, the coach of Indiana’s football team, concerned. There were practices to preside over and a game plan to hone, but Allen’s mind was understandably elsewhere.

“He’s my hero,” Allen said.

After Saturday’s 34-17 win over Virginia, Indiana athletic director Fred Glass stood inside the visitor’s locker room at Scott Stadium and delivered two game balls. The first ball was symbolic. Glass awarded it to the entire program — players, coaches, support staffers — for the way they rallied together after Kevin Wilson’s departure on Dec. 1.

The second one went to Allen as a nod to his first victory as a college head coach. Allen accepted the ball with a smile, then began to visibly choke up.

“Take this to your dad,” Glass instructed.

After soaking in the applause inside the locker room, Allen walked around the corner to meet with reporters in the bowels of the stadium. During his introductory comments, Allen, normally an intense and gravel-voiced man, broke down as he spoke about his father.

Shortly after the team’s return to Hoosier soil, this game ball would be going to Tom Allen Sr.

“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him,” Allen said. “He deserved this one and I love him dearly. Lot of emotion this week. Lot of things going on. I’m just so proud of this team. I love our guys.”

Allen is the third coach in program history to get his first career IU victory on the road. Terry Hoeppner won at Central Michigan in 2005 and Clyde Smith won at Wisconsin in 1948.

Oakes tops the list

Griffin Oakes struggled throughout the 2016 season, missing 10 field goals one year after earning Bakken-Andersen Big Ten Kicker of the Year honors.

His first attempt of 2017 was much sweeter.

Oakes’ 51-yard field goal to close the first half was the 54th make of his career, the most all-time for a Hoosier. Mitch Ewald, who played from 2010 through 2013, held the previous record.

It was the third time in his career Oakes hit from 50 yards or more.

“I felt very calm,” Oakes said. “We have trained for this. We have put in hours. It is something that we have done over and over again during camp and the offseason. I felt more nervous for the two PATs to start the game than I did for that kick. Taking my steps, I knew I had it. I promise you that.”

Oakes, who later added a 48-yard field goal in the third quarter, recorded his 17th career multi-field goal game.

Gooch called for targeting

It looked like a football play — a clean, albeit physical, hit.

But Indiana defensive end Greg Gooch paid the price for getting to Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert early in the fourth quarter. The Hoosiers paid, too.

Gooch’s hit knocked the ball loose, allowing fellow end Robert McCray to run to the house for a touchdown. Only, the touchdown didn’t stand once officials went to replay and deemed Gooch’s hit a dirty one.

At the time, Allen was under the impression that officials were checking to review the fumble until a staffer mentioned that it could be a targeting review.

“My stomach sank,” Allen said. “I was like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I went up and down our sideline and said, ‘Hey guys, defense get ready. You don’t know what’s gonna happen.’ We studied this concept in the offseason from the Navy Seals where they call it a sugar cookie, where (something happens) for basically no fault of your own. You get penalized and you gotta do some penalty.

“We’ve been trying to do that to our team to get them mentally tougher. Sugar cookies is all it is. Life’s not fair sometimes. I’m not gonna sit here and debate the call. They made the call, but we gotta deal with it and we gotta respond. Our kids did. Sometimes you hate to have those things happen, but they can be the best thing to happen because they teach you to be a mentally tough football team.”

Because Gooch’s ejection came during the second half, he will receive an automatic NCAA suspension for the first half of next week’s game against Florida International.

Harris makes his return

J-Shun Harris saw his first action in two years last week against Ohio State.

But his presence was most notably felt on Saturday at Virginia.

Harris returned a punt 44 yards for a touchdown to cap Indiana’s scoring against the Cavaliers, looking like the dynamic and shifty freshman that took the field in 2014 before back-to-back ACL injuries robbed him of the past two seasons.

“It does your heart good to see a kid like that be able to come back,” Allen said. “There is not a coach on our team that would not say he is one of the finest young men that we’ve got. We want to see him succeed in life and on the field.”

Harris did so Saturday, returning five punts for a total of 109 yards. One of his first returns of the day, a 43-yard scamper to the Virginia 30, set up quarterback Peyton Ramsey’s 26-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Harris’ touchdown return was Indiana’s first on a punt since Mitchell Paige ran 51 yards for a score against Michigan in 2015.

“For him to be able to come up big today, we’re so proud of him,” Allen said.