Allen using Ball’s targeting penalty as teachable moment

In two-plus seasons at Indiana, Tom Allen has had only one player flagged for targeting.

It happened on Saturday night with Marcelino Ball

So when IU’s team reconvened Monday morning, Allen used Ball’s third-quarter penalty as a teachable moment for his defense.

“There’s two things,” Allen said. “No. 1, we say never lead with your head, ever. Don’t lead with your head. If you put your head down, you put yourself in position to be called for that. And No. 2, you’ve got to understand it’s a quarterback. It’s a different position. They’re going to treat that guy different, and when he slides, he’s to be protected. And he should be.”

Ball was flagged for targeting after trying to stop Michigan State quarterback Brian Lewerke, who dropped to slide as Ball approached at the end of a seven-year gain midway through the third period.

The IU hybrid safety led with his head, but didn’t make helmet-to-helmet contact with Lewerke. Instead, Ball’s helmet appeared to make contact with Lewerke’s shoulder as he slid. Still, simply leading with the crown of the helmet is enough to warrant the penalty — and the automatic ejection that comes with it.

“It’s very hard,” safety Jonathan Crawford said. “Initially, we can’t go high, anyway. So our target is already low. Then when they slide, they’re sliding right into our shoulder or head. It’s just a tough situation. … That’s something Coach Allen actually preached on this morning. It’s a learning experience.”

Allen supports the spirit of the rule, but not necessarily the automatic ejection. Because the Ball’s penalty came in the second half, he’ll also have to sit for the first half of Saturday’s game at Rutgers.

That could make things tricky for Indiana, which also lost Ball’s backup, freshman Cam Jones, to an unspecified injury late in regulation.

Allen said Monday that he wasn’t sure if Jones will be available this weekend, classifying him as a gametime decision. That means redshirt freshman Bryant Fitzgerald and true freshman Jamar Johnson could see the bulk of the work at hybrid safety during Saturday’s first half.

“Fitz is a guy that played that position in the spring,” Allen said. “I think he’s a very natural guy there, so he’ll be getting a lot of reps. Then Jamar Johnson, as well, is a young man that I feel has (that) skill set. He can play all five spots in our secondary. So those will be the top two guys working that position outside of Cam, as he works to get back. Then Marcelino will be not available until the second half.”

In the meantime, Allen says Ball is taking the first-half suspension in stride.

After hitting Lewerke on Saturday, Ball approached the Michigan State quarterback and slapped hands to convey there was no malicious intent. Lewerke appeared to appreciate that gesture.

Before Ball was escorted to the IU locker room, he lingered on the sideline to fire up his teammates as play resumed. It was a frustrating ending for Ball, who had authored one of his better performances until that point.

“I thought Marcelino handled it like a man,” Allen said. “He was torn because he thought he let his team down by not being in there. But he said, ‘Coach, I understand, and I’ll make sure I get these other guys ready for next week’s first half, and I’ll be ready to go in the second half.’ It was just a teachable moment for our whole team on how you handle those kind of situations on the field.”