Stallings, IU look to finish at Maryland

In the weeks leading up to the 2019 season, senior Allen Stallings was having concerns about his ability to finish it off.

The 6-foot-2, 246-pound defensive end had just sat out the spring, trying to recover from all of the bumps and bruises that come with being an undersized defensive end in the Big Ten. Stallings couldn’t possibly report every ache and pain to the training staff, but after a hard summer workout, a handful of weeks before fall camp, he had to say something.

He was in too much pain.

“Normally, I work through things. To report everything that hurts my body is impossible,” Stallings said. “But yeah, this time, I felt like something wasn’t right.”

An MRI revealed a very real issue: a sports hernia, with damage to hip flexor muscles on both sides of his body. He needed surgery, just a month and a week before his senior season.

“I was worried, man,” Stallings said. “I didn’t know how I was going to come back, or how long it was going to take me to come back.

“I wasn’t redshirting. I didn’t have an extra year or anything.”

Stallings can breathe a small sigh of relief now, because he made the trek back from an operating table in Philadelphia to the playing field. But it’s been a slow build. When he first returned to practice, after missing most of fall camp, he was catching his breath. His edge-rushing technique was rusty.

But in recent games, it seems as if Stallings is building some momentum. He has three sacks in his last four outings, tied for the team lead in that department. The reemergence of Stallings — and the Hoosiers’ six sacks as a team against Rutgers last week — bodes well for a defensive front that needs to be at its peak versus an explosive Maryland squad.

“It takes time, especially at this level when there is such little margin for error,” IU coach Tom Allen said of Stallings’ road back. “He’s an effort guy, plays extremely hard, makes plays because of his effort and toughness. You have to get him back in the flow of just your technique and getting your feel for the game.”

With junior Michael Ziemba and Stallings rotating at the weak-side “bull “position, defensive line coach Mark Hagen has plenty of motor running at one end. It’s just important for IU to get pressure from both ends — and that his players finish.

IU had 10 sacks coming into last weekend’s contest with Rutgers, but Hagen said he counted a dozen would-be sacks the Hoosiers didn’t finish off in the first five games. Michigan State, in particular, could have been a four-sack game. Hagen points to a Ziemba effort negated by a penalty, Jerome Johnson failing to corral Brian Lewerke on a scramble, Stallings losing contain on another, and Alfred “Lance” Bryant coming up short due to faulty technique.

Against Rutgers, many of the Hoosiers’ sacks were a result of blitzes cooked up by defensive coordinator Kane Wommack, but Hagen sees his linemen making progress.

“I know our guys are anxious to make plays and finish plays,” Hagen said. “It’s constant evaluation in the film room. It’s not always your opponent. You have to be self-critical of yourself and how you can do things better. That’s why you are seeing our guys taking some steps right now.”

Hagen and the coaching staff were confident in giving Stallings the spring off because of the hours he had already put into the film room. A former state champion wrestler in Illinois, he also has the scrappiness and an innate sense of leverage to get the most out of his frame.

They just wanted Stallings’ body fresh in October and November. The sports hernia threw a wrench into that plan.

“Just have to stay positive. You can’t let the doubt creep in,” Stallings said. “There were definitely some days I was down and I was thinking about my future. I had to pull through for my family and my team. Just keep my head straight and stay strong.”

Stallings is still wondering how he missed his sack opportunity versus Michigan State, but it’s only motivation as the Hoosiers move into a critical back-to-back of road games at Maryland and then Nebraska.

Stallings was a sophomore when IU traveled out to College Park, Md., in 2017, holding a 33-28 lead late in the third. The Hoosiers just didn’t finish in a 42-39 loss.

“Everyone’s spirits are all high, we are jumping around, yelling, losing focus. That’s something you can’t do,” Stallings said. “In this league, you can be up … and you can still lose. There’s a lot of time on the clock. You have to stay focused.”

Through a delay to the start of his senior season, Stallings remained focused on finishing what he started.

IU just has to do that, as a team.

“That’s one of the most important things we preach, because of the things that have happened to us in the past of not finishing,” Stallings said. “Michigan State this year, we didn’t finish. After that, we preached it even more. We gotta finish.”

4 STORYLINES

1. Which team shows up?

There seem to be two Maryland teams: one that wins and one that doesn’t. In the Terrapins’ victories, they score an average of 63 points per game. When they lose, it’s a measly 10 points per contest. Granted, much of this has to do with the strength of their opponents, such as a not-so-surprising imbalance between Maryland and No. 7 Penn State in a 59-0 result. But the Terrapins’ 40-14 loss to a previously struggling Purdue squad confused matters more. How do the Hoosiers stack up? It may be hard to know until shortly after kickoff, especially with running back Anthony McFarland Jr. (who rushed for 210 yards on IU last year) dealing with an injury.

2. Another track meet?

The last two IU-Maryland matchups have been decided by five total points but have combined for 81 and 66 points, respectively. With the Terrapins boasting the worst pass defense in the Big Ten (279.7 ypg), the Hoosiers could have plenty available through the air. At the same time, IU wouldn’t want to give the Hoosiers too much time to operate. A defense can get exhausted chasing the Terrapins up and down the field. Establishing the ground game as a means for longer, more sustained drives will be crucial to give the Hoosier defense a breather. IU got that established last week (260 yards) against Rutgers, grinding out a 98-yard, 7-minute drive near the tail end of the game. IU is stepping up from the conference’s worst rush defense to the fifth-best with Maryland, though.

3. Contain “Piggy.”

An injury to starter Josh Jackson turned the quarterback reins back to Tyrrell Pigrome, aka “Piggy,” last week against Purdue. Pigrome has been a starter twice before, suffering a season-ending injury in the 2017 opener and assuming control of the Maryland offense for the final two games of ‘18. He threw a couple of picks to the Boilermakers, but Pigrome did also rush for 107 yards. He’s uniquely explosive on the ground, which will pose challenges for the Hoosier defense. Even Michigan State’s Brandon Lewerke was able to gain ground yards on IU. If Pigrome is allowed similar opportunities, it could mean big plays. At the same time, Maryland is the conference’s third-worst squad in pass efficiency. The run game is clearly the dimension to eliminate first.

4. Can’t spring a Leake.

In a game versus a (potentially) potent offense, the Hoosiers can’t do the Terrapins any favors. That includes limiting Javon Leake as a rusher but especially as a returner. Leake, the junior running back, ranks second in the Big Ten with 28.4 yards per kick return. Any yards Leake can pick up in the special-teams phase only makes matters easier for Maryland’s offense. IU’s kickoff team has to lock down on Leake, who returned one 100 yards versus Rutgers.

By the numbers

0: Third downs IU allowed Rutgers (0-of-11) to convert. It’s the first time the Hoosiers haven’t allowed a third-down conversation in a game.

1.3: Sacks the Hoosiers have allowed per game, tied for tops in the Big Ten with Wisconsin.

4: Shutouts for IU since the start of the 2017 season, tied for the second-most with Alabama. Wisconsin has the most with five.

5: Combined margin of victory for IU and Maryland in its last two contests. The Hoosiers lost, 42-39, in ‘17 and won, 34-32, last year.

12: Receivers in college football with a pair of double-digit catch games, including Whop Philyor. He’s one of two in the Big Ten.

38 comments

  1. “Everyone’s spirits are all high, we are jumping around, yelling, losing focus. That’s something you can’t do,” Stallings said. Yep, starting with the head coach.

  2. Indiana in for a dog fight today against Maryland!! Maryland is looking competitive with their starters not playing.

  3. Must win for bowl eligibility and IU playing like typical IU. Ruin a 4th down defensive stop by turning over a certain TD drive. Now Ramsey in. Hope this turns out well.

  4. P.S. – As to the Ramsey substitution, not clear the pick was Penix’s fault. Hendershot had two hands on it. So arguably catchable.

  5. So Penix is apparently hurt. Irrelevant in 1st half as 2 red zone trips = just 3 points. IU D is obviously still the same old D. You have to get TDs every chance you get. We should easily be up 7 – 10 points, but we’ve choked our scoring opportunities and given up some big scoring plays.

  6. This is going to be another Tom Allen special. Came out with opportunities to take the game by the throat hoping to move to 5-2. But reality is we’ll be fighting from behind gasping for our lives.

  7. Tight end has to catch ball. I have seen this scenario about a 100 times.
    In this game: 1. Interception in end zone as IU is driving for score. Couple plays later Maryland scores td. 2. Scott tackled at 3 yard line on a pass play. IU settles for fg. 3. IU defense not handling Maryland speed and quickness on offense.

  8. IU offense doing a lot of good stuff, but then they shoot themselves in foot with stupid mistakes. Penalties are killing drives. Dropped passes in red zone. This IU team is just mentally undisciplined, or as the TV commentator said, they’re “messy.”

  9. The defense has made enough stops to allow IU to be up by two or three scores, but this offense fails to capitalize on too many opportunities.

  10. this is what arm chair quarterbacks – do not understand….Indiana offense has a 2nd and 3 yards and they throw to the wide receiver for a three yard lost instead of giving the football to your 230 lbs running back. A running back that is having a fairly good game….sometimes i do not understand.

    1. I do totally get what you’re saying, but in today’s game, it’s really easy to pass for four yards.

  11. Great scoring drive with Scott running the ball. It is impressive what IU’s Offense can do when it does not commit penalties.

  12. 3rd quarter at 2:27 mark IU…IU’s offense didn’t mess around. Run the ball and less stupid penalties. Offense is starting to wear Maryland defense down. IU should have a good 4th quarter and win by more than 10.

  13. Expect Scott running ball and Ramsey running some too. However, Ramsey and IU are going to have to be willing to pass. Scott is running determined.

  14. 3rd and three and the running play goes nowhere. Then they punt, getting a net 12 yards. Another head-shaker offensive series.

  15. They did, and now the offense must finish this game. Score a TD with less than a minute to play would b nice for a change. Time for these young guys to show they can do it in crunch time.

  16. DeBoer’s play calls the last three series have been horrible. PR completed 12 straight pass attempts and DeBoer stops passing?

  17. Well, the IU fan should really know how good this team really is now. Hopefully now they can get one more win and go bowling…it will be very tough!!

  18. No question that IU has the athletic talent to win a lot of Big Ten games, and they play with great effort. But committing 12 penalties in a game this late in the season, they’re not ready to be considered “a good team.” There’s no such thing as a perfect game, but they could have blown Maryland out today if they’d avoided about eight of those penalties.

    We’re fortunate to have a back-up QB with so much experience. PR did very well today, and he may be the starter throughout the remainder of the season. I fear the Penix is one of those highly talented but extremely fragile QBs. I watched the hit where he apparently got hurt three times, and I didn’t see anything that should have caused him to leave the game. Hope he’s O.K. and can return next week.

    Minnesotta is 7 – 0 for the first time since 1960. They may be playing for the Big Ten Championship, but even if not, they’ll be going to a major bowl game this season. I wonder if MN will be able to keep their coach?

  19. It was nice to win a game that IU typical loses by not making plays at the end of the game. MD came out to play this game but IU withstood the challenge and made plays that created a win. Now it is on to Nebraska and win #6.

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