When it comes to Indiana football, we have been hearing about “breaking through” for decades. To head football coach Tom Allen’s credit, he didn’t shy away from it — he embraced it, making it the team’s rallying cry in a public way for all to see.
Of course breaking through is what any historically downtrodden program wants to do. Indiana’s seemingly IU-obsessed rivals to the north even adapted the motto in a way only Purdue could have — making it clear that once again the Hoosiers were on their minds. Purdue literally had an unlimited number of different possibilities to use as its team slogan — but we digress.
Despite a somewhat disappointing 5-7 first season as the head coach at Indiana, Allen is doubling down on breaking through. In his opening remarks at the 2018 Big Ten Media Day he said that the goal remains the same — “I want the Hoosiers to break through.”
Candidly, anything else from the second year head coach would be a disappointment. Breaking through has to be the goal. This program has already been walking the tightrope of bowl eligibility for several seasons in a row. Expecting something short of a breakthrough would be settling for the status quo.
Breaking through has to be more than a motto, or slogan or whatever you want to call it. You are trying to change what is at this point more than 100 years of college football history — and you are trying to do it against some of the teams that have been central to that history. There has to be a plan with defined objectives.
The Big Ten Network’s Dave Revsine put Allen on the spot on that very topic yesterday live on the air from the media day event in Chicago. He asked the IU coach this question: What is Indiana’s niche? How does Indiana put together a program that competes at the very top of the East?
After acknowledging that everything starts with recruiting, Coach Allen broke his response down into three components.
Of course every football coach wants his team to be tough, but Allen distilled the term down to something more tangible. For Allen, toughness is defined as “how you run the football on the offense, and how you stop the run on the defensive side.”
Indiana had a letdown running the football last year, but it has shown us the blueprint in recent years. It starts with the offensive line. IU has three former offensive linemen in the NFL right now, and we’ve seen the impact that a high caliber O-line can have, even in the Big Ten East.
A recent game illustrates just how game-changing a potent running attack can be for a team like IU. With starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld out for the season with an injury, Zander Diamont led Indiana went to Ohio State to play the No. 6 Buckeyes in 2014. With Diamont at quarterback, Ohio State and their 100,000 fans knew exactly what Indiana was going to do. Run. The. Ball.
Tevin Coleman finished that game with 27 carries for 228 yards and three touchdowns. IU led the game midway through the third quarter. It can be done.
Allen also defined toughness as how you stop the run on the defensive side. While IU’s running defense under Allen hasn’t made headlines in the same way that other aspects have on that side of the ball, he has a track record against the run as a defensive coordinator.
At Drake in 2010 Allen’s defense ranked 6th nationally in the FCS against the run, giving up just 94.2 yards per game. As the defensive coordinator at South Florida in 2015, his unit finished 31st nationally against the run. Few would doubt Allen’s defensive chops at this point.
“A Speed Football Team”
The second component of a break through involves something that is an emerging trend in the game. Speed trumps size. What’s the first thing you think of when it comes to the recent run of dominance by the Seattle Seahawk defense? Speed.
Allen wants to recruit speed, and develop it on both sides on the ball. He wants it to become a defining characteristic of the program”
“I want us to be a Speed University, in terms of how we develop it, and how we attract it”, Allen said yesterday on BTN.
If you listen to just about any interview involving an IU player or coach since the Spring, the topic comes up over and over. It is truly unusual to hear so much discussion about speed — so there must be something to it. The name you keep hearing is Dr. Matt Rhea. You can see him talking about how the program is developing speed here.
Of course we have to see how it translates when the team takes the field on September 1, but it is difficult to not be enthusiastic about what we will see at this point.
Much like the ball control on both sides of the field, turnover margin is a time tested core tenet of successful football. Allen put it this way on BTN yesterday —
“I want us to be a turnover creating machine on defense, and I want us to be a ball security, protect the football (team) on offense.”
Sounds simple enough. More than anything else, this may have been what kept last year’s team out of the postseason. Indiana was minus seven in turnover margin, good for a tie for 106th in the FBS last year. The Hoosiers weren’t much better in 2016, at minus six.
The margin for error competing in the Big Ten East is next to nothing. Tom Allen is right to make turnover margin a point of emphasis. Of course it is easier said than done. Whoever gives him the most comfort with ball protection might just win a quarterback competition that Allen said yesterday was still an open at this point.
It sounds like it probably wouldn’t hurt if a quarterback could show the ability to run the football too — with speed of course.
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