Hoosiers harp on tackling ahead of EIU

Having reviewed the Ball State game film, Indiana coach Tom Allen could confirm.

His team’s tackling looked as bad on tape as it did live.

Defensive coordinator Kane Wommack certified that point statistically. By his count, the Hoosiers missed 23 tackles this past Saturday, leading to 181 yards after contact. That’s out of 298 total yards the Cardinals gained.

Both coordinator and head coach know where the defense has to go from here. “Fits” versus the run weren’t bad. IU’s defenders were in position. Too often, they just whiffed.

“There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it, it wasn’t even close to the standard we have set for ourselves,” Wommack said.

While the play of redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and the offense remains at the forefront for most fans heading into the home opener with Eastern Illinois, the defense may have the most to prove this week.

In an era where offseason conditioning is maximized but hitting not so much, some tackling woes are to be expected early in the season. On top of that, the Hoosier defense isn’t overly experienced. But from Week 1 to Week 2 is where IU’s defense should show the most improvement.

Wommack didn’t expect much to change in practice, outside of maybe a drill to shore up the Hoosiers’ approach when ballcarriers are moving away from the defender. At times, his players weren’t taking enough steps to drive through their target in those situations.

Otherwise, the message is simple.

“You just have to continue to harp on the things we are harping on. But now you have evidence to show them, when you don’t do it properly, this is what happens,” Wommack said. “I know this isn’t the flashy answer, but the simple and real answer is sometimes you just have to feel 220 pounds coming down on you and feel like ‘Oh, that’s what it feels like to tackle.’”

Sophomore linebacker Micah McFadden learned the hard way what it means to not wrap up. His missed tackle led to a 45-yard catch and run for a touchdown by Ball State running back Walter Fletcher — on a second-and-17, no less.

McFadden played in all 12 games last season, collecting 20 tackles. But he didn’t play as many snaps. As one of the top linebackers on the depth chart in 2019, there is less time to settle in, which means his fundamentals, wrapping and driving and squeezing through a tackle, have to be in tune from the very first snap.

“There’s a lot of plays we read it correctly, we closed space, got there, but it’s just that finishing point and driving your feet through the tackle,” McFadden said. “You don’t get to focus on it a lot, like you guys said, throughout fall camp. But once it gets to the game you start realizing these guys are coming, they are running hard, you have to play to win.”

Players of the week

IU had two players recognized by the Big Ten conference as players of the week, kicker Logan Justus as the top specialist and Penix as the conference’s standout freshman.

Justus was 4-of-4 on field goal attempts in the Hoosiers’ 34-24 win over Ball State, including career-long makes of 48, 49, and 50 yards. That tied a program record for field goals in a game.

Penix, the first IU freshman to start a season opener at quarterback since Antwaan Randle El in 1998, produced 326 passing yards as well as another 67 on the ground. That’s second only to Randle El’s opener, which amounted to 467 total yards versus Western Michigan.

The reviews of Penix’s performance continued to be positive Monday.

“The country got to see what I saw in practice and what I talked about when I said it wasn’t so much about what Peyton (Ramsey) didn’t do as what I thought Mike could become,” Allen said. “I thought that was on display. Still, he’s got more room to keep growing and learning.

“But I think he has that ability with his legs to extend plays and make you account for him in both the run game as well as the pass game and how you pressure him and drop into coverage.”

Ball State’s defense did stack the box to limit the Hoosier ground game, bringing a safety closer to the line of scrimmage. Allen said it will be on Penix and the offense to “make ’em pay” if defenses continue to offer one-on-one matchups on the outside

At the same time, offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer believes there is growth to be had for the IU run game, even if defenses bring numbers to the line. Sophomore Stevie Scott was limited to 52 yards on 19 carries Saturday.

“That shouldn’t stop us,” DeBoer said. “We have a good enough offensive line, we have good enough running backs to be able to run the ball better than we did.”

Penix also has the flexibility to counter those stacked boxes with run-pass option plays.“I thought our guys did a pretty good job of adjusting to it once we showed them what they were doing,”

DeBoer said. “There were still some more opportunities where we have run-pass options, where we could have thrown the ball instead of run the ball.

“Some of that’s on Mike, seeing the full picture and understanding things. And as the game went along, he did a nice job of figuring that out.”

If Penix was going to be critical of himself for anything Monday, it’s the choices he made in those run-pass option scenarios.

“It wasn’t as good as it looked,” Penix said. “Coach got on me this morning, I missed a lot of reads. I wish I could have got them back. But just continue to play, 1-0 mindset, and just focus on the next game and do better.”

Injury update

Allen said he expects sophomore corner Reese Taylor, who missed the Ball State game with a hand injury, to be available for Eastern Illinois.

On the other hand, sophomore linebacker Cam Jones suffered a lower leg injury versus Ball State and will have to be evaluated through the week, Allen said.

Holiday Bowl team

IU will recognize the 1979 Holiday Bowl squad led by former coach Lee Corso during Saturday’s home opener.

“Really excited to have those guys, looking forward to seeing them again,” Allen said. “Just trying to get guys involved and make them understand we are a big family here, we want them to be here, they are welcome here, come to practice, be a part of this, and help us build this day-by-day, step-by-step.” 
 

30 comments

  1. Biggest thing I see is the receivers are going to have to adjust to the velocity of the football being passed to them, especially if any of them have ideas of playing on Sunday. Nothing will change the game dynamic more than a QB picking apart a defense, the defense will have to adjust. The only thing that can derail this is dropped passes. If the air game proves effective enough when the defenses are trying to stack the line, then everything should open up for the running game. Hopefully IUFB will be able to run a very balanced attack consuming large quantities of clock while the defense gets up to speed.

    As for the defense, I can’t think of anything worse than having a HC who pride’s himself as a defensive minded coach being embarrassed by the slipshod tackling witnessed against BSU. Suspect it will be a very intense week for the D this week in practice.

    1. Good news is that the defense was in great position all day to make little to no gain tackles. Just wrapping up would have been the difference. My issue with play calling on Saturday was that a few times on 3rd and long the offense was running plays designed to go 3 or 4 yards. That was frustrating and disappointing.

  2. Sometimes there is more velocity on a pass than needed…which doesn’t give the receiver a chance to catch anything but a perfectly thrown ball. Penix was probably a little over-juiced …making balls sail or blistering out of the reach of a receiver who wasn’t necessarily in blanketed coverage.
    I’d rather have too much on a throw than not enough, but the greatest quarterbacks do have touch and aren’t simply throwing everything intended to break the speed of sound.
    I like the speed in which Penix recognizes and gets rid of the ball….Hopefully, his velocity will begin to be fine tuned and he’ll recognize when to throw a heater and when a bit more touch is required.
    Throws it too hard and he might just snap a bone in his very thin wrist.

  3. It’s not all on the receivers. Penix needs to develop touch. Not every throw requires laser speed. Some passes require that a little air be put under the ball in order for the receiver to run underneath it and catch it. This is something an experienced QB will develop over the course of their college career. Another thing that comes with experience is knowing not to force the ball into coverage. When Penix was in high school he was likely able to throw into tight coverage because the DB’s weren’t that good. In college, and later in the NFL if he gets that opportunity he will discover that the throws he was able to get away with in high school will now be interceptions or broken up.

    Penix has a bright future ahead of him if he can learn to develop an off-speed pitch as well as his fast ball to use a baseball analogy.

    1. Penix had nice touch on those long balls that dropped cleanly into his receivers’ hands. He can only throw them, though.

    2. ^^^Good post. Somebody who knows something about qb’s and isn’t simply a Kool-Aid drinker. Marino threw most of those super-accurate “heaters” on crossing patterns. It was after the reception, speed demons in full stride, which made the plays so difficult to defend.

      Fencik would customarily attempt to time a crossing pattern with his ferocious hits high and often into a helmet. It was intimidating as hell to a vulnerable receiver (and now, rightfully, banned from the game), but if not timed perfectly, it was so long to the speed demon. Was Clayton the name of one of those Dolphin receivers? So long ago, I’m struggling to remember. Mercury Morris…was the rb? That was a hell of a Dolphin team. Isotoners, baby!

      1. My bad…Morris was earlier. Think I was correct on Clayton. If only I had Chet’s spectacular memory.

  4. The big thing this week is how many things get improved in a week. E. ILL won’t prepare IU for OSU but how IU players improve this week will help prepare the team for OSU. I listened to coach Allen about the tackling and how they changed things talking to the NFL coaches. For one game it didn’t work and we will have to see how well the coaches can change the tackling in one week. It was good to see IU clogging up run lanes and pursuing the ball so well. The defense also did a much better job pressuring the QB as the game went along.

    This is a good week to not have much pressure on the team and let them cut loose this week getting better and working to be more physical.

  5. “We have a good enough offensive line,…..” Sounds like damnation by faint praise.

    “In an era where offseason conditioning is maximized but hitting not so much, some tackling woes are to be expected early in the season.” Well than change it! Spend more time hitting in practice, more time tackling and learning how to get off blocks. About six more hours spent tackling through fall camp could have made a huge difference in Saturday’s game. BSU didn’t miss that many tackles! What did they do that IU didn’t? BSU’s players weren’t better athletes. They weren’t bigger or faster or stronger! But it appears they received more or better coaching on some key fundamentals, like tackling. Spend your limited practice time building strong fundamentals, then you can spend time creating an array of schemes and plays as the season progresses.

  6. Don’t mean to be argumentative, but I don’t agree that the defense was in good position all game. BSU completed numerous passes on 3rd or 4th and long. On that 4th and 14 pass in the 4th quarter, there was not an IU defender in the picture when the tight end caught the pass for a huge first down.

  7. Agree with majority of the analysis. I agree completely the D was in good position to initiate contact to tackle the ball carriers. No complaint. I also agree with Po some pass coverage was inopportune at the most opportunistic distance and down. But I hold a ton of confidence with this staff. The facts don’t change about the game circumstances; seasons 1st game for players-staff, new OC and DC, QB 1st start. Maybe all that was needed was an additional week of practice. Which they’ll get this week and it will be focused and targeted to the needs from game 1. We’ll know way more after E. I’ll. than we do now.

  8. I am all For the Glory of Old IU, but it worries me that we are talking about tackling techniques in the Big Ten conference. I assume we weren’t the only school that lightened up on contact drills in the summer. High schools in some states now are limiting scrimmage time. But that’s high school. Also, maybe there’s all this concern about helmet-to-helmet contact, too. But sometimes being too cautious is detrimental. It’s similar to playing not to lose.

    As for quarterbacks, I wouldn’t allow full contact on them at all in the summer; I agree with that. But everyone else, well, that’s why you have a depth chart. Also, about missing tackles, I think it’s more a lack of concentration than technique. You have to finish the job, almost like a rugby tackle. Anyone who’s played knows that you can’t be certain the runner is stopped until you wrap him up and drive him to the turf. There’s no halfway or diving in tackling unless you’re chasing a wide receiver down the sideline. Sure, there are some exceptional backs who will run you over despite your technique, but that wasn’t the case Saturday. The focus needs to be there. I think missed tackles is probably one of the sorest points for longtime watchers of IU defenses. Anyway, let’s get to 2-0.

  9. It’s become common for a Tom Allen team to play like they weren’t allowed to practice during the week. There’s no question the talent has increased, but the quality of play hasn’t. They played sloppy against FIU last year and then still played sloppy against Purdue to end the season. Saying ‘it’s just one game’ or ‘it’s the first game of the season’ would be more reassuring if the same pattern wasn’t so consistent for the past 2 years.

    1. Well FS,

      Assuming IUFB will lose some games before the end of season, I suspect the West Lafayette crowd will get even more vocal than they already are now.

      1. Think: I think you know what I mean. All of the negativity from people all of the time gets old. Was I losing my mind while watching all of the missed tackles Saturday? YES. Tackling can certainly get better and you’d have to think that was an emphasis this week at practice.

        The WRs cannot have that many drops. It’s not all on the WRs but a lot of it was. Penix was high on some deliveries but his also threw a lot of catchable balls that were dropped. WRs should use the damn jugs machine this week while defense works on tackling. At the end of the day IU won the game and that’s what matters most.

        1. FS,

          There is nothing wrong with constructive criticism, but knowing the line between what is and is not can become an issue. I was as critical of PR as anybody, but I always was careful to confine my concerns to mainly his arm strength. As for PR as a person, I still feel like he is a great kid and a very hard worker getting the most out of the talent he has. I always tried to make sure this came through in whatever criticism I might have voiced regarding his capabilities. I think everyone is pretty aware he probably doesn’t have the necessary capabilities to play professionally, but if he wants a career in football beyond college, I think he would make an outstanding coaching candidate.

          The problem with some is they want to make harsh blanket statements without any concern that there might be another side to the debate. Sometimes that other side might be the right side and sometimes the answer might be somewhere in the middle. For me, most of the time when I say something provocative, it is just the keep the discussion going and hopefully lively. Not to mention a well place comment just might help someone think about it from a different perspective.

  10. I watched a great many games this first week of college football, and I didn’t notice many of the teams that won struggling to tackle. IU was the only team that apparently suffered this issue.

    All teams are subjected to the same NCAA rules regarding practice time, so what is it that this staff is failing to do regarding tackling drills that other programs have seemingly mastered? Will Allen and his staff be able to teach in a week that they weren’t able to teach in a month of preseason practices?

  11. With all the pros and cons banter about CTA, and coaching hires in general, let us all pause a moment and give thanks that Fred Glass was never stupid enough to hire Lane Kiffin. FAU probably played the worst first quarter of football I’ve seen that wasn’t a Purdue bowl game.

    1. But he was brilliant enough to keep the worst X’s and O’s coach in the history of college basketball for a decade. Win some, lose some….30 million, I suppose.

      Did Fred ever notice we couldn’t even draw up an inbounds play that would work..or that Tim Priller was wearing a Hoosier uniform?

      1. We actually have thirteen 5-stars on our basketball team….They are on those waistbands Fred designed.

  12. Just like our kicker on KO team that drilled kicks deep into the end zone while warming up, young players often try too hard to play hard and forget about technique. As coach Allen said in practice they didn’t miss tackles when full contact happen and he was surprised how bad the tackling was. We will see this week if it continues because it will be harder to tackle OSU players but I bet IU does get better at hitting and tackling. I am sure the players are embarrassed how they tried to tackle and not want it to be happening again.

  13. davis, yes there is a difference in hitting and tackling and unfortunately too many players see NFL hits and think they can do the same thing. As talent level changes so do techniques, which I found out coaching an inner city team. Drills I used at a county school didn’t work with the athletes I now dealt with. The defensive couldn’t tackle very good runners by breaking down as they couldn’t touch a runner with moves. I adjusted what we did and the team became very good tacklers. That is why I think the biggest issue with tackling with BSU was coming in too hard and not bringing their arms through. I hope IU can correct it in a week and get better by they get to the OSU game.

  14. V, closing in to hard and fast is exactly right in describing what we saw against BSU. That should be much easier to fix than being out of position. After all you can’t whiff on a tackle if you’re out of position. I wonder if these stronger, more muscled bodies and newly developed speed may have added a mental twist to the tackling rythm a little bit too.

  15. HC, I agree and hope it is just getting used to playing against other teams. If so, it will be easy to make the change for the coaches and players.

  16. I’m afraid I share 123’s thoughts as expressed above. We keep hearing that TA is a great Defensive Coach. And now we’re hearing that our new DC is a younger version of the same. But we continue to see poor tacklers on the field. From my vantage point, it’s an issue born out of too little practice. You practice something over and over and over again until it becomes automatic, like a reflex. It appears TA has not allocated enough time for tackling drills during his summer camps. On top of that, he may not be recruiting players who demonstrate good tackling skills in the first place, assuming instead that his coaches can teach a good athlete how to be a good tackler. Whatever the reasons, 123 is right; bad tackling is not a new problem for IU under TA’s leadership. In fact, it has consistently been rather pour.

    I was not a great athlete in HS. Neither was I big (grew 2.5 inches after graduating HS). But I had above-average speed and my body type was built for football. I played strong safety and was good enough to be recruited by FCS and D-2 schools. I was an excellent tackler. And the reason was because I had been taught good tackling technique from the age of eight (and loved contact). When I got to HS, our coaches were excellent teachers of the fundamentals, especially tackling and shedding blocks. Our varsity head coach used to tell us over and over that a good tackle was when you got the ball carrier on the ground. It didn’t matter how hard the hit was or if you knocked him silly, all that mattered is that the ball carrier was put on the ground. Arrive at the ball carrier in a “break-down” position with your head up (looking at the ball-carrier’s waste), neck bowed, plant your face mask in his chest, drive your legs, and wrap your arms. He would also teach us, if you only get a piece of him (i.e., leg or ankle), hold on and roll until your teammates arrive to finish the job. I see too many great athletes trying to run through the ball carrier in an attempt to make violent hits, only to end up missing the tackle. They’re running forward, not in the “break-down” position, or their heads are down, and they don’t wrap their arms. Therefor one small juke makes them miss or bounce off.

    Our HS team had a All American running back who went on to play for Alabama. He was a freak athlete in HS, and much bigger, strong and faster than any of our team’s defenders. Guess who we went against in most of our tackling drills? If you could tackle our tailback, there was no player we’d face during the season who would be more difficult to tackle. Tackles during games were not always pretty or “wow” inspiring hits, but because we learned practicing against one of the best running backs in the country, by the time the first game arrived, our defensive players were good tacklers.

    1. James Miller needs more snaps. He looked like one of the more sure tacklers last game. And I think Mcfadden will play better as the season progresses.

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