One week into the season, Indiana football has already learned a lot.
Plenty of questions still persist after IU’s 23-3 loss to Ohio State. But the Hoosiers also learned a lot, whether good or bad, about themselves and what they need to improve going forward.
IU head coach Tom Allen, co-defensive coordinator Matt Guerrieri, and offensive coordinator Walt Bell met with local media Monday for their weekly press conference. They discussed some of those things they learned, and looked ahead to Friday’s game against Indiana State.
Here are some of the key things that came out of Monday’s availability.
The takeaway belt
Indiana’s defense played well on Saturday. Phillip Dunnam made the biggest play of the day, with his fourth-down interception early in the second quarter.
Cornerback Kobee Minor said the defense is aiming for three takeaways per game, so the unit fell short of that goal against Ohio State. But Dunnam opening his account for the season is an encouraging sign — and not surprising. Players and coaches say he was the team’s top interception threat in fall camp and that’s continued into the regular season.
“Phillip Dunnam, that play that he made, I can show you 50 times (he’s done it) already on the practice field,” Gurrieri said. “He’s become more consistent. He’s matured. He’s bought in, he’s doing a good job.”
And by recording Indiana’s first takeaway, Dunnam was the first player to break out the team’s newest celebration: the takeaway belt.
Redshirt freshman running back Declan McMahon is the grandson of WWE executive chairman Vince McMahon. During fall camp, the family gifted the team a wrestling-style belt brandished with IU logo stickers and decals. And it soon became the defense’s way of celebrating takeaways.
“We got it a couple weeks ago. But we had been talking about the offseason, just to have something to hold and build energy off of,” linebacker Jacob Mangum-Farrar said. “I was happy for (Dunnam). He does it so much in practice. He gets picks all the time in practice. So I was happy to see that translate to the game.”
Mangum-Farrar clarified that if the refs called his near-forced fumble late in the first half in his favor, he would’ve held up the belt — not Aaron Casey, who recovered the fumble. If Casey had broken off a big return, they would’ve held it up together.
After Saturday’s game, Allen said his offense was more conservative than he would’ve liked, even given the opponent and game scenario.
The Hoosiers attempted just 21 passes compared to 33 rushes, and 12 of the pass attempts came in the second half. Indiana was playing two young, inexperienced quarterbacks, and going up against a top-five team in Ohio State. But Indiana’s offense, at times, looked like it was playing to keep things close instead of taking chances to try and win — when it was a one-score game at halftime.
“We really felt like, coming in, you’re going to have to take about, you know, seven or eight shots. And a couple of those we had and then got pressured,” Allen said Saturday. “But at the same time, there’s no question we’ve got talented receivers on the perimeter and got to do a better job of getting those guys the football.”
Bell talked about this on Monday, and expressed some regret about not taking more of those shots. He did say the plan was to extend the game make the Buckeyes play it out and earn it, but that he should’ve been more aggressive earlier.
“I think I told Tom when we walked off the field. No. 1 goal is to stay in the fight. We want to make it a 60-minute game. And especially with the history of this rivalry and how it’s transpired. We accomplished that, but we played pitter-pat too long. I played pitter-pat too long. At some point, you’ve got to go be aggressive,” Bell said. “If we execute a little bit better on the fourth and two, we had the ball down there tight, you’re probably going into halftime, it’s 10-7, maybe we have a lead, or it’s 7-6, it’s a one-point game. A little bit of an execution deal there that we can clean up. And then the two third downs to start the second half. We got what we want. We’re in a good spot. We just don’t do the job.”
Offensive line improvement
This was the first game for Indiana’s offensive line after coach Bob Bostad came to the program. And the early returns are positive.
The unit performed markedly better Saturday than it did for the whole of last season. And it’s largely the same group of players as last year.
Allen said Ohio State’s defense got just two hits on Indiana’s quarterbacks, with only one of them being a sack.
Obviously, Indiana’s offense struggled as a whole on Saturday, and the line was not entirely immune from that. IU averaged just 2.2 yards per carry and didn’t have any run play longer than 11 yards. Some of that falls on the offensive line for the big lanes not being there.
But compared to the rough efforts IU’s offensive line turned in last year, this was a real improvement.
“I felt like we got movement. I felt like the guys were targeting their guys accurately throughout the game, and I thought they did a lot of positive things,” Allen said. “We did not sustain our blocks to the level that we know we have to moving forward. This, to me, is the next component to that. But step one is targeting the right guy, getting on the right people and creating movement. To me, definitely much to build off of. We made some adjustments and we have flexibility to move guys in and out a little bit, which is good. But you know, Coach Bostad’s done a really good job with the group. And expectations just keep getting better every week.”
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