Allen on OSU game: ‘We’re going to fight, man.’

Indiana coach Tom Allen had just been asked about his long and circuitous route to the present moment when his mind took an emotional detour.

Coming off a thought about the 11 different high schools and colleges where he has coached, Allen talked about his guiding principle of being “all in,” and the sacrifices his family has made to allow that passion to be fully realized. His voice started to break slightly, because he felt so blessed.

But then his mind returned to his injured son, Thomas, and the Hoosiers’ upcoming matchup with No. 3 Ohio State. At that point, Allen was barely able to keep his composure.

“I love this place, I love these kids. We’re going to fight, man,” Allen said, fighting back tears. “I don’t care what anybody says about this stinkin’ game. We’re going to compete, we’re going to fight, and good Lord willing, we’re going to find a way, keep proving everybody wrong. That’s all I got to say.”

It was a mix of emotions pouring out all at once. Earlier in the day’s Zoom call, Allen had been asked questions about focusing his team for the biggest game of its season, facing a program that’s considered the Big Ten’s standard-bearer. Allen was asked twice, in fact, about the initial lines out of Las Vegas, which had No. 9 IU as a 21-point underdog.

A coach who has been known to wear his emotions on his sleeve held back initially. After being asked about his usual mantra of “earmuffs and blinders,” focusing on the task at hand, he was pressed on whether those Vegas lines were bulletin-board material. Allen hinted that such disrespect has been noted.

“We do talk about earmuffs, but I also understand reality,” Allen said. “So, yes, it will be addressed.”

He was more descriptive when asked about the three-touchdown spread again, saying, “We’ll use that to our advantage when it’s appropriate. But this football team is highly motivated, this team has worked extremely hard, and we’re used to being told we don’t measure up.”

The very next question brought Allen to a more nostalgic tract, reminiscing about what he learned spending the first 15 years of his coaching career in the high school ranks. All at once, Allen was feeling blessed and thankful. But he was also hurting.

Just minutes earlier, Allen announced his son Thomas, a redshirt junior linebacker, had suffered a second season-ending injury in as many seasons. Last year, it was a shoulder injury at Nebraska. This time, it was a hip injury at Michigan State, similar to the fracture Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered in 2019.

“My kids have sacrificed, my wife,” Allen said. He then became visibly shaken.

“So it hurts so much for Thomas, because …,” he said, pausing, rubbing his chin, and taking a deep breath to collect himself, “ … I know what he’s been through to be here. So he’s a tough sucker.”

Allen eventually composed himself, returning to questions about football. But Monday was a reminder of the man the Hoosiers have leading them into Saturday’s noon kick with the Buckeyes. He’s passionate, and he genuinely believes IU can achieve things that others wouldn’t dare imagine.

It’s happened in droves early this season, as the Hoosiers started 4-0 in conference play for the first time since 1987. And they did it by beating Penn State and Michigan, two programs they’ve never beaten in the same season. And then they defeated Michigan State in East Lansing, which IU hadn’t done since 2001.

IU hasn’t beaten OSU since 1988, period. But Allen and his team aren’t backing down. Following Monday’s show of emotion, the “earmuffs and blinders’ are going back on.

“They just need to be a little bit thicker,” Allen said. “As that noise grows louder, we have to continue to stay focused on what got us here and the process of improving. We’re still not where we need to be, all three areas. So, to me, any level of complacency that settles in, or anything that prevents you from continuing to improve, or prevents you from staying locked in and focused, is detrimental to what we are trying to accomplish.”

OSU (3-0) did not play this past weekend because of a COVID-19 shutdown at Maryland, but the Buckeyes have proven to be, again, one of the best teams in the conference, if not the country. Justin Fields, the reigning Big Ten offensive player of the year, has completed a league-best 86.7 percent of his passes and 11 touchdowns. The Buckeyes’ offense is averaging 46.3 points per game, second only to Wisconsin’s 47.7.

But the Hoosiers are currently a top-10 team, too. Saturday will be a chance for redshirt sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to get his first start versus OSU, while a defense that just shut out Michigan State gets a crack at the best in the conference.

“When you come to Indiana, you play in this conference, you want to be at a program that has a chance to win championships, and it’s gone through Columbus here for a long, long time. No different this year,” Allen said. “So (Penix) has a chance to play against some of the best players in America.”

Allen just believes he has some of the best athletes in America, too. He brought them to Bloomington, hoping they would have a chance to play in big games like this.

“We’re putting ourselves in that position, week after week, and we have to continue to build towards that. And when you get those opportunities, you have to seize them, and that’s what this is about,” Allen said. “They understand this is something we’ve wanted to create ever since I became the head coach here, and this is the next step towards building this program.”

11 comments

  1. Combined records of the five conference teams IU & OSU have both faced is 4-15 (.211).
    Obviously, OSU & IU account for 7 of those 15 losses, but the five opponents are still only 4-8 (.333) against other BigTen opponents.

    More confidence would be in order if Michigan and PSU were actually showing any signs of life beyond 1-7 combined.

    Unusual year to say the least. Asterisk.

  2. Wow, Sports Talk Radio is openly discussing whether Michigan should fire Harbaugh. One prominent opinion is that he might be saved because the cost of buying out Harbaugh’s contract during a year when FB revenue has been minimized might put too big of a dent in Michigan’s cash reserves.

    Regardless, I hope IU’s coaching staff is trying to flip every single Michigan recruit. And we should also be looking at the kids from the Southeast who committed to South Carolina. Get em while the gettin’s good.

  3. I have little doubt IU will have any trouble getting ready to play OSU. Getting the job done this week will set IU to really have a great season. IU will have a very good season anyway but this game could be what really kicks off IU’s season.

    1. v for sure they’ll have themselves ready and Coach Allen will be certain they’re ready. The Bucks have had 2 weeks to make the LOS their domain. Big challenge for some of the IU guys who haven’t shown the love of a scrap up front. Hiller needs a fresh whip for each quarter.

    2. IU’s “kick off” is well underway, not waiting for the OSU game! If we beat OSU, IU has the inside track to B1G East Champs. Then MD, WI and Purdue. Each game is important!

  4. As a former player (baseball) who at least played at the JC level and coach for 30+ years I don’t see how, as a player, you can’t believe in this guy. Fundamentals obviously matter, X’s and O’s obviously matter, but when you smother all that with passion and love for your players, your team, and your school special things happen. This has been fun to watch unfold. Very impressed.
    Cue cards.

  5. Not going to predict IU win. Does R.T. return one for a TD in this one? punt return, pass interception or both?
    Though outlandish thought…Lou Holtz, ND, and the rocket. Rocket faster than R.T. but I was thinking team set up effort in blocking to assist R.T.

  6. Having watched OSU, Wisconsin and IU, I have to say OSU looks like the best team. But that doesn’t mean IU can’t be the best for 1 afternoon. TA and this team will keep fighting until the end. Our interior O line has to hold up against OSU’s defensive front. If they do, and Penix plays the game he is capable of playing, IU CAN WIN! Theyalso have to stop Chris Olave- former HS teammate of IU’s Jack Tuttle. That kid has another gear that no one else on the field will have.

  7. Going 8 – 0 is a dream season. Going 7 – 1 would be huge. But all the remaining games will be tough challenges. Maryland is playing well. Wisconsin demolished MI, and Purdue is always motivated to re-capture the Old Oaken Bucket. So regardless of the outcome of Saturday’s game, it is essential that IU leaves Columbus healthy and ready to “finish” the season against teams that have had more rest. It’s going to be tough, but this team has something special, and it comes from Tom Allen’s leadership. His players are responding to his LEO philosophy, and as a result, even though they may not be, on paper, as talented as some of their opponents, they play together like few teams ever have.

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