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Idaho has Indiana’s attention as Tom Allen looks to shake off play-calling rust

Indiana (1-0) is set to take on Idaho (0-1) Saturday at Memorial Stadium at 8 p.m.

Idaho was originally an FCS program, before moving up to the FBS by joining the Big West Conference in 1996. The Vandals bounced around several conferences from there, and eventually returned to the FCS in 2018.

The Vandals are coming off a 24-17 loss at Washington State, in Jason Eck’s first game as Idaho’s head coach. Eck was previously the offensive coordinator at South Dakota State, where he was named the 2019 America Football Coaches’ Association FCS Coach of the Year. He led the Jackrabbits’ offense for three years, including their national runner-up season in 2020.

Indiana had to study some South Dakota State tape in addition to Idaho tape in preparation for Saturday’s game. IU head coach Tom Allen praised the Vandals’ weapons.

“They’ve got some dynamic receivers that caught our attention, some dynamic running backs that I think are really talented, and a really talented young quarterback,” Allen said. “I saw athletes on defense flying around, they created a lot of trouble for Washington State’s offense, caused three fumbles, one they scooped-and-scored for a touchdown.”

Senior Jermaine Jackson is certainly one of the wide receivers Allen referred to. He caught five passes against Washington State for 110 yards. Allen said Idaho is a disciplined team that was able to push their power-five opponent last week in some key spots in the game.

He isn’t overlooking this game. He knows his team will have to show up. But this will also be an opportunity for the Hoosiers to work on some fundamentals they may not have been able to focus on in last week’s tight Big Ten game against Illinois.

“As a team, we’ve got to be able to play our best, and that’s what we are going to focus on is being fundamentally sound. We’ve got to get better, we’ve got to improve ourselves on offense, defense, and special teams as well. The areas we’ve talked about and addressed as a team,” Allen said. “That’s going to be critical for us to come out the way we want to go out Saturday.”

The Illinois game marked Allen’s return to defensive play-calling. He did that for IU while he was defensive coordinator under Kevin Wilson in 2016, and during his first two years as head coach in 2017-18. But then he ceded those duties to Kane Wommack for the next two seasons, and then to Charlton Warren last year.

Warren left IU for North Carolina in the offseason, and Allen brought in Chad Wilt as defensive coordinator. But Allen opted to take back the play-calling role for this year.

It’s been an adjustment for Allen in doing that. He had to get his defensive staff used to his process for creating the game plans — the last time he did this, he was working with some different defensive coaches.

Allen felt that — like his players — he has room to improve as a play-caller.

“I need to do a better job of calling plays. There were two or three calls I wish I could have back. I didn’t like the calls I made [in some] situations. I thought that I was a little rusty in that regard. But I’ll get better,” Allen said. “Overall, (I) wasn’t pleased with how we stopped the run, but I was very pleased with our takeaways and our red zone defense. And that’s where we were able to win the game.”

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