“New and improved” is a time-honored advertising slogan.
Indiana football showed plenty of “new” last Saturday. And perhaps some “improved.”
Saturday’s 34-24 win over Ball State at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis wasn’t just the start of a new season.
A slew of Hoosiers played their first college game.
“I know, even on just special teams, we played 12 guys that never played in a college game before.” IU head coach Tom Allen said during his regular Monday meeting with the media. “Had, I think, eight guys for their first starts combined on offense and defense:”
That included redshirt-freshman quarterback Michael Penix, whose 326 yards passing were the second-most ever for an IU rookie behind only a name long-time Hoosier fans know well – Antwaan Randle El.
But while much of the new look for the Hoosiers came from new personnel on the field, the biggest change visible was perhaps due to the new faces in coaching headsets.
A pair of new coordinators, Kalen DeBoer on offense and Kane Wommack on defense, made their IU debuts.
Wommack, a protégé of Allen’s as a graduate assistant at Mississippi in 2012 and 2013, came to Indiana in 2018 to coach linebackers and was elevated to defensive coordinator last December. Both served under Wommack’s father Dave who was the defensive coordinator at Ole Miss.
DeBoer was announced a month later as offensive coordinator, replacing the retiring Mike DeBord, after having previously ignited offenses at Fresno State, Eastern Michigan and Southern Illinois.
What did Allen, who came to IU as defensive coordinator in 2016 before becoming Hoosier head honcho, see from his new coordinators last Saturday?
“With Kalen and Kane, I just think that they did a good job (of) in-game adjusting,” Allen said. “ … And it’s always tough to be the coordinator for the side of the ball that the head coach is most familiar with. So I’m probably going to be harder on Kane.
“But he and I know each other well and so, if I don’t like something, then he might get an earful from me. That’s just kind of part of it. We sometimes laugh about it after the fact.”
There maybe wasn’t a lot of hilarity about Indiana’s secondary, expected to be a team strength, getting shredded at times – especially in zone looks – and allowing 298 passing yards (and 63.4 percent completions).
Or, on offense, about IU standout sophomore back Stevie Scott averaging just 2.5 yards per carry in what was otherwise a pretty impressive day for the Hoosier attack.
But while neither the offense or defense put in a perfect performance, both coordinators showed the ability to manage their respective units through 60 minutes and finish strongly.
“I thought they both did a good job.” Allen said. “You know, had a good plan … we didn’t execute it as times as well on either side perfectly, but I think we knew what we wanted to do.
“I thought the adjustments at halftime were what they needed to be and I sat in on both of those. Then they go back and meet with their guys and go and finish.
“That’s one thing — we finish the half and we finish the game and that’s very, very important. Very important part of growing as a team and playing winning football. And that, at end of the day, is what the objective is.”
Allen’s evaluation of his coordinators began before kickoff and continued into this week, and will naturally continue apace. But he appreciated the opportunities for evaluation that Saturday afforded him.
“Just an opportunity to have two new coordinators, new quarterback and some new things,” Allen said. “To be able to be in a new setting on the road and being able to do some positive things.
“It’s not just game day. It’s everything leading up to it. I’m very involved in all those meetings and really feel very comfortable with what I knew we were planning to do … I felt like both guys had a good debut. We just have to keep getting better.”
The new part is over with now. The improved part is on-going.
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