Hoosiers making takeaways part of the plan

Cam Jones didn’t want to run. Neither did his teammates.

Throughout fall camp, the daily goal for Indiana’s defense was three takeaways per practice. Some days, the Hoosiers reached that mark. On days they didn’t, they ran.

“We’d run until coach said stop,” said Jones, a freshman defensive back. “Coach gets tired, that’s when (we stop). When we do gassers, our whole defensive coaching staff runs with us. When they get tired, that’s when we stop. And they don’t get tired.”

Running during those muggy August days gave the Hoosiers, especially the younger ones, a sense of purpose on defense. If they didn’t already understand coach Tom Allen’s thirst for takeaways, they did this summer.

That’s carried into the regular season, a welcome sight for the defensive-minded Allen. As IU prepares to host Iowa in Saturday’s noon homecoming showdown with Iowa, Allen is pleased to see his Hoosiers atop the conference with 13 takeaways in six games.

“We’ve scored 41 points off those takeaways,” Allen stated proudly during his weekly radio show. “That’s what we want and that’s what we get after every single day. … That’s a huge cornerstone of our defense, and it’s been big for us (this season).”

It is, indeed, an important development for Indiana, which had 13 all of last season. Allen grew frustrated throughout the 2017 campaign as he saw his players miss opportunities to pick off a pass or steal a ball.

Last year’s homecoming game against Michigan served as a microcosm of Allen’s concern. The Hoosiers had a chance to create three takeaways, including two potential interceptions that simply weren’t caught and one that was reversed on a controversial pass interference call.

IU lost that game in overtime, 27-20.

“A lot of times, I felt like last year it was just balls that were right there that we just didn’t quite (capture) … a fumble we didn’t quite get or a pick we didn’t secure, whatever,” Allen said. “So we worked really, really hard on catching balls. We’ve got to keep doing that. We dropped one (at Rutgers) that I thought was a pick-six opportunity. We can’t do that. Caught the ones we were supposed to Saturday.”

IU has created takeaways in every game this season, picking off passes in each contest save for the rainy game against Virginia.

The Hoosiers posted three takeaways last week at No. 3 Ohio State, including interceptions by safeties Bryant Fitzgerald and Devon Matthews.

“We want the ball,” said Jones, who made an athletic play to snag a pick against Michigan State last month. “No matter how we get it, we want the ball. We’re going to take the ball.”

That’s in tune with the mindset Allen has preached since he arrived as defensive coordinator in 2016.

Unsatisfied by last season’s results, Allen added further emphasis to takeaways during off-season workouts. He instructed his defenders to attack the football — rip it, punch it, do whatever you have to do to get it.

“When you’re going against your own team as fall camp is unfolding, you don’t want it to injure your offensive guys as you’re raking at the ball, punching at the ball, especially if you’re in shells or whatever tempo you’re going,” Allen said. “Sometimes it results in guys getting in fights.

“I was at a pro practice — I was watching the Bears practice when I was up there (in Chicago) for media day — and same thing happened there because the guy was trying to rake at the ball, threw the receiver on the ground, and it turned up. So you get that kind of dynamic where you’re trying to emphasize one thing on one side of the ball, and not doing anything negative to your own team. But we just said, we’ve got to get back to doing that.”

Allen was excited to see immediate results, watching as IU posted three takeaways at Florida International in the season opener. IU’s first takeaway of the year came on its first defensive possession, when safety Jonathan Crawford raked at a ball to force a fumble at midfield against the Panthers.

On the season, IU has had six different players recover fumbles and seven different players intercept passes.

“I emphasize it,” Allen said. “Since I’ve coached this game on defense, I’ve been such a huge takeaway guy. I believe in it so strongly. Sometimes they come more than they do others. I get that. But at the same time we sure make a big deal about it. We should make a big deal about it.”

Just as in practice, the goal for each game is three takeaways. During the season, failure to achieve that goal doesn’t result in running.

But Allen is sure to make his players aware of his displeasure.

“You’ll definitely hear about it,” Crawford said. “… During the season, they’re trying to take care of us. But I’m sure that if he could run us, he’d run us.”

2 comments

  1. It is interesting the running is based on when coaches get tired of running. It is good the Hoosiers are back to creaing take-aways as it really helps create scores and stop opposing offenses. B1G teams typically don’t turn the ball over very much so the keeping the take-away train going won’t be easy but important to do.

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