Allen wants Hoosiers to be known for running game

Tom Allen spent his offseason rewatching every Indiana game from the 2017 season, charting every play on offense and defense and evaluating his program from top to bottom.

But he didn’t need to do all that to recognize one of the most critical shortcomings of last year’s team.

IU’s running game was one of the worst in the country.

“When you dive into the numbers, it really makes it painfully obvious that that was an area that we had to address,” Allen said. “We did it right away in spring football, both schematically and in terms of our development of our offensive line.”

A year after ranking No. 106 nationally with 130 rushing yards per game, Allen is confident the Hoosiers’ ground attack will improve in 2018. He points to an offensive line that returned every player, a backfield that returns its top three rushers and a stable of quarterbacks that all possess dual-threat capabilities.

It all adds up to an offensive combination that Allen believes will bring the necessary results on the ground.

“I just feel like we’re absolutely making that a focus,” Allen said. “We’ve got to run the football.”

The lack of a reliable rushing attack last fall led to a largely inefficient offense, one that produced two big rushing days — a combined 549 yards against Georgia Southern and Rutgers — and failed to even eclipse the century mark on five other occasions.

According to SB Nation’s advanced statistical profile for Indiana, the Hoosiers ranked No. 128 out of 130 teams with a 33.9 percent rushing success rate, which measures a team’s ability to stay on schedule.

As a true freshman, Morgan Ellison led IU with 704 yards, battling injuries all the while. The 6-foot-1, 228-pound underclassman seems poised for a productive sophomore campaign after dropping six percent of his body fat between the beginning of January and the start of spring practice. He’s also been one of the beneficiaries of IU’s new strength and conditioning program, posting a personal-best 22.04 mile-per-hour carry during a touchdown run this spring.

He’ll team with redshirt sophomore Cole Gest (428 yards), redshirt senior Ricky Brookins (88 yards) and true freshman Ronnie Walker to form a promising backfield in 2018.

The key, of course, will be the health and maturation of Indiana’s offensive line, which battled widespread injuries and ineffectiveness last fall.

IU bolstered that unit with the addition of Miami graduate transfer Nick Linder, a center who also has experience at guard. Allen’s new strength staff has also praised the offensive line for their collective gains in the weight room this offseason, and the Hoosiers hope a year of growth leads to more complete — and healthier — results.

“I know they struggled at times last year,” Allen said. “We played three or four guys that probably weren’t quite ready to play, but had to because of injuries. That was tough at the time, but it’s gonna help us now. We didn’t graduate any offensive linemen. That’s another plus, so they’re all bigger, faster and stronger a year later. And hopefully a lot better, technically, with just another year to develop.”

Allen is also optimistic about quarterback contributions to the running game, with three players who profile as dual-threat options — Arizona graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins, redshirt sophomore Peyton Ramsey and true freshman Michael Penix.

Dawkins, the presumed starter, rushed for 1,582 yards on 232 carries with 20 touchdowns during his three seasons with the Wildcats. Two seasons ago, his 94.4 rushing yards per game ranked fifth amongst all Football Bowl Subdivision quarterbacks.

But no matter who starts — or plays — the Hoosiers will have a quarterback that can run.

“They don’t all have the ability to just run,” Allen said, “they’re all fast. Even Peyton has gotten a lot faster and a lot stronger.”

It all aligns with what Allen wants from his offense. A year after IU struggled to move the ball on the ground, Allen wants 2018 to be the year that the Hoosiers’ ground attack becomes their signature.

“When I think about the culture I want, football-wise, of how we play, how we’re identified and what people think of when they think of Indiana, to me it’s run the football,” Allen said. “That’s running it on offense and stopping it on defense.”

13 comments

  1. Yes, wanting to be known for running game is par for most teams. Significant improvement needed not to be known for running game but just reach the norm of somewhat average. Even when Coleman and Howard were at IU, they still had difficulty running ball with game on line or trying to put game away. So, much improvement is needed not to be known for running game but just get to level of average. Is a big jump over average to superior in the works? It will be known in late November.

  2. It will be a big job getting IU to be a tough running team as many of the OL were recruited for athletic ability instead of their power. The change in the strength program should help but it may take getting in more players that are power blockers. Otherwise it will take changing the offense to get blockers to fire off the ball and add players in the backfield to get more blockers on the field. Knocking people off the LOS with just the front seven is tough.

    It will be nice when IU can pick up 1 or 2 yds when needed instead of coming up short like it has been for a while.

  3. With three dual-threat quarterbacks on the roster and an improved offensive line, it should not be difficult for IU to significantly improve the rushing stats in 2018. Lagow was unable to run, and every defense IU played knew that and schemed accordingly. With the QBs IU now has, every defense will have to account for IU’s quarterback. That should open things up for IU’s running backs and receivers. I just hope DeBord is watching a lot of film on Arizona’s 2016 offense. They were potent at both running and passing, even though they did not have a very good offensive line. Fast tempo, really quick-hitting running backs, and a triple-option quarterback who could outrun most defenders while passing the ball with fairly good (not great) accuracy. If AZ had had any type of defense in the last two seasons, RichRod would still be the coach and AZ would have won back-to-back PAC-12 Championships.

  4. Po, Rich Rod was let go for sexual harrassment so I don’t think he would have survived just having a better defense. The run should open up with real threats at QB to run the ball when defenses collapse on our RBs. I don’t see IU running Rich Rod’s offense as the QBs are expected to escape pressure not be primary runners. I see them being more in line with the MSU QB that was a passer first but could punish defense with his scrambles.

  5. “He points to an offensive line that returned every player, a backfield that returns its top three rushers . . . .” So basically we’ve got the same guys who were 106th last year.

  6. That is not good. Maybe, qb position will significantly help and a year older may help a little (not a lot if ability is limited).

  7. Maybe I am off base on this, but I had the feeling all last year that TA & the Offense were not totally comfortable with the personnel inherited. No knock on Wilson, just that TA had a different vision of how he wanted to play offense. Felt like they were making do with what they had, but with more time would bring in the players they wanted to match their style.

    1. That was my point all last season. You’ve claimed part of the right base. DeBord had no clue how to get quality results from a team of lower level talent. He had 0 experience to draw on with that level of talent. Even with a year past that initiation I seriously question he can adapt with proficiency.

      1. HC,
        I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but I am not to the point of dismissing DeBord. I want to see what happens this season before coming to that point. I am not so sure the Offense problem last year was as much lower level talent as it was ill fitting parts to the scheme TA & DeBord want to run. Lagow definitely wasn’t suited to it and I’m not so sure about Ramsey yet. Let’s also remember last year’s offense was missing key receivers for most of the season. I think this is why TA is sticking with DeBord for another year at least.

        If we see a repeat of last year, I don’t think the fan base will have long to complain. TA doesn’t seem to have a problem with making staff changes as needed.

        1. I sure hope they can better recognize who the playmakers are this season. Because last year made me wonder if offensive coaches even observed a scrimmage in practice. Not offering much on the play calling of low return when it counted. They were far off the mark more than a little bit in more than a couple of areas. DeBord and his boys have a lot of ground to make up before they’ve proved to me they’re meateaters.

  8. If Dawkins is the qb, they will be a run first offense. Just like when Diamont was the qb. Dawkins is a really good runner with a bigger body able to absorb hits. He has nice arm strength but isn’t all that accurate. He doesn’t make the head scratching throws that Lagow used to try but he over/under shoots receivers. That said, if he was on the roster the last 2 years, he would have started. He’ll be an upgrade but don’t expect the second coming of Russell Wilson.

    1. You are aware he and Ramsey are so close to the same size that I would hate to live on the difference. They are the same weight with Dawkins being a smidge taller.

  9. v13;
    RichRod was fired “without cause.” He was accused of creating a hostile work environment (i.e., he yelled at employees. Imagine that!). After his firing, his former Assistant accused him of sexual harassment. But the accusation included in the complaint are pretty weak and it was generally seen as a money grab after Rich Rod received a $6 million buy-out from AZ. You may have confused the fact that while all this was going on, Rich Rod confessed to previously having had an extramarital affair with another women, but she was not an employee of the University of Arizona. If Arizona had any evidence that Rich Rod had been guilty of sexual harassment against his former Assistant, RichRod would have been fired “for cause” and AZ would have saved themselves the $6 million they spent on buying out his contract. Furthermore, they would have insulated themselves against the civil lawsuit filed by his former Assistant. Bottom line was that AZ was not happy with the direction of the football program, thought they could upgrade their coach and took the steps necessary to get rid of RichRod. He was not fired for sexual harassment.

    But back to my point. RichRod had a very effective offense in spite of an undersized Offensive line. His AZ teams chalked up gaudy offensive stats and scored a lot of points. If he’d have been able to field a defense during those last two seasons, AZ would have won a lot more games and RichRod would still be the head coach, accusations of a hostile work environment notwithstanding. I’m not saying RichRod was a saint, but he did produce productive offenses with less than excellent talent on the O-line.

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