Indiana football head coach Tom Allen and team captains Coy Cronk, Simon Stepaniak, Reakwon Jones, Nick Westbrook and Peyton Ramsey met with the media on Wednesday to preview Thursday’s Gator Bowl.
Indiana (8-4) and Tennessee (7-5) will kick off at 7 p.m. ET in Jacksonville. The game will air on ESPN.
The full transcript of the press conference is below via ASAP Sports Transcripts
HEAD COACH TOM ALLEN: Thank you so much. My voice is a little hoarse from practice the last couple days, but that’s part of it. Just want to say we are just thrilled to be here. Very excited for the opportunity we have been given.
Indiana University is well represented here by our captains that next to me, and I just really want to convey how proud of these young men that I am and the way that they have conducted themselves, not only this week, but as they have led our football team, and so really been a special year for us and an opportunity for us to be able to finish out our season here in Jacksonville in the Gator Bowl is a tremendous honor for our university, for our football program and for what we are building at IU.
I just want to thank the Gator Bowl. I know Rich Thompson has done a tremendous job, his whole staff, and everyone involved with this organization has been first-class from the very beginning to our first trip here. The players have enjoyed the week, a lot of great opportunities and enjoyed the weather. Sunshine has been good the last few days and just appreciate the time that we have together, one last opportunity, as the 2019 Indiana Hoosiers get to spend together preparing. Now we are into 2020 officially, but finishing up our season in a great, great way. Great opportunity for us.
So the young men that we have here with us, introduce these guys. On the far left, Coy Cronk, one of our four-year starters, senior captain, awesome young man, great, great player, for us.
Peyton Ramsey, quarterback, done a tremendous job this season, great players, better young man, high-character guy as all five of these guys are, but appreciate what Peyton has done for this program.
And Nick Westbrook here, one of our wide receivers, tremendous young man as well, in all areas of life, and as I can say for all five of these guys, they are not just good players on the field, but excellent in the classroom and high-character guys representing us all at a high level.
And Simon Stepaniak, one of our offensive linemen, Big Ten player as many of these guys are, special young man, great work ethic and love everything he’s brought to our program, and we appreciate all of these guys, as well.
Reakwon Jones, we got 26 Florida players on our roster, and a couple of them sitting up here and Reakwon has been a special player for us a linebacker that’s just been, as a fifth-year senior such a great leader.
As you go across and talk to these guys and ask them questions, this group represents kind of who we are this year. We have been through some adversity. Coy had a tough, season-ending in injury, Game 4. But matter of fact had somebody at practice the other day commenting about how impressed they were with his leadership the way that he is coaching every single rep and getting these guys ready to play, and that’s how he’s been in responding to this challenge that the good Lord has thrown his way that wasn’t expected, but he’s grown because of it and I really appreciate his leadership.
And you got to like Peyton Ramsey, the way his season started and the way he’s been able to display so much grit and leadership and toughness and character through not being named the starter, and then coming back and being the guy and leading this football team to the Gator Bowl.
Reakwon, as he’s gone through struggles and adversity at home, the hurricane devastating his family in the panhandle there, and just to be able to fight through all that and then in this case having an ACL injury that sidelined him for a while and being able to battle through that.
And then Simon’s had challenges with his health and different things along the way. These guys have all battled. They have tremendous character, tremendous grit and tremendous toughness. I think their stories are unique and special. I’m proud to be their coach and proud to be the representative of Indiana University here today.
Thank you very much and ready for questions.
Q. It’s been a month since you guys have played a game. Just in watching the Bowl games going on, tackling can be sloppy when there’s been a break. How much of a point of emphasis has that been?
REAKWON JONES: Been very strong. We practice tackling every day with circuits, and just make sure we’re finishing properly when we are going against scout team or against the offense, everything. We emphasize tackling and something we are going to continue to emphasize today, tomorrow and through the game.
Q. Like to address this to this Reakwon and Nick. It’s pretty obvious why coaches in the northeast and midwest come down to Florida because of talent down here, but talk about the reasons why you decided to go to Indiana, leave Florida and go up there.
REAKWON JONES: When I came on my official day, I just love the vibe that the players gave. You know, campus is beautiful. The opportunity for education is great, and just you know, really just mesh well with all the players that were already there. They kind of took me in as family. Made me feel really welcomed and like I was part of the team and just show me like kind of how they wanted to change their program.
That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to come help and be a part of the change. You know, change something. I didn’t want to go to a school that was already having success and I was just going to be there. I wanted to go there and be a part of the change; that was important to me and just the family atmosphere was important.
NICK WESTBROOK: Pretty much same thing as Reakwon just said. Biggest thing when I came to IU on my visit, it felt like family. Felt like home. It was like a gut feeling that felt like it was the right place for me to be at.
And also like he said, great education opportunities, and the opportunity to change a program, it all just meshed well and ended up with me choosing IU.
Q. Peyton, I saw where you were named after Peyton Manning. Have you ever talked to your parents about why specifically of all the quarterbacks out there that you were named after Peyton Manning?
PEYTON RAMSEY: Kind of funny, when I was about to be born, Peyton Manning was still at Tennessee and my parents were just sitting down watching the game. They just liked the name. Wasn’t really because they wanted me to grow up and gain the skill-set after Peyton Manning. It was just kind of my mom liked the name. My dad liked the quarterback, so I guess those two things kind of went together, and here I am.
Q. Following up earlier on Reakwon and Nick, you’re back home now for your final game in your home state. In the hours leading up to the game, what’s it been like? Has it hit you that you’re back home for your final college game?
REAKWON JONES: Just full of excitement and thankful for this opportunity. It’s been such a blessing and it’s such a great opportunity for us kids from Florida who really can’t get family to come all the way to Indiana every weekend or whatever the situation may be.
Just an opportunity to be able to get as much family and watch us play in our game as Hoosiers, it’s a blessing and a great opportunity.
NICK WESTBROOK: Yeah, you know it feels like I’m back at home. We’re practicing at a local high school field. Just took me back to playing in high school here in Florida. The air is different, and just you know, nothing but excitement. Can’t way to play tomorrow.
Q. We’ve asked you this in different ways over the last few weeks, but following up on the questions for tackling, what’s the balance you’ve tried to strike in terms of the intensity and preparation this last month or so. Have you wanted your guys full pads, longer practices?
HEAD COACH TOM ALLEN: It’s a good question because it’s such a delicate balance that you go through to try to decide how much to do, how often to do it, how soon to do it. You find out when you’re going to play, and that really kind of determined our calendar.
Playing a late Bowl game here in January, allowed us to be able to give our guys some time away initially and so the first couple weeks, we mostly spent time in the weight room, getting our bodies rested and recovered from a long season and coaches out recruiting. Did a couple practices where we did some seven-on-sevens and things like that, but no pads the first couple weeks.
We came back the first Friday when the coach came off the road and we went Friday, Saturday, Sunday and went full pads, at least the shells all three of those days and tackling and hitting and trying to be physical and just trying to balance that out to what we just did.
The way I explained to our team and talked to our coaches was the way we would handle a bye-week-type of schedule in terms of how can we practiced and focused on technique and fundamentals, not really getting into scheme; we did the first six practices. We did a three-day cycle. We go three days on, and then two days off, and then three days on and a day off.
And after we got those six practices in of full pads, tight mindset where there weren’t quite as long of practices, there was a lot of technique and fundamentals. And we didn’t do any scout team at all, and then we got into the full prep for Tennessee where you go through and do your scouting reports and you have scout teams and you divide them up that way, and you become more specific to schemes that you’re going to install and things you want to do against your opponent.
So that’s the way we handled it and to try and balance it out to give us a great chance to get 12 really solid padded practices in, and you have a couple walk-through practices, as well, to be able to lead up to kickoff.
I don’t think there’s any perfect way to do it. You have to trust your gut. I reached out to previous Big Ten programs that played in this Bowl game because of the calendar that it affects and other places that I’ve been and where we’ve had similar types of schedules to try to come up with the best one for our guys.
You want them to be fresh, but at the same time you want to maximize the physicality piece, so you can recover, yet still sharp and crisp to be able to tackle and block and execute at a high level on game day.
Q. For any of the players. I know the goal was set kind of with the leadership council over the summer not just to get to a Bowl game but to win one. How would you describe the sense of urgency in practice this week? Is there a sense of not just happy to be here, but focused in?
REAKWON JONES: Definitely there’s been a great sense of urgency in practice. We know what our No. 1 objective is and our goal is, and all the guys from young to old know what their objective is.
Talking to each other in our room, we’re going to win this game, we’re going to win this game, that’s our goal. It’s been very clear what our mission is, and the guys have locked in, came to work in practice, when it’s time to work, and when it’s time to have fun, have fun. The guys are really handling this trip well and keeping that urgency level high.
Q. 75th anniversary of this game. What have you told your players about the history of this game. And any other player want to comment about playing in the 75th game?
HEAD COACH TOM ALLEN: Well, we have talked about it. I kind of mentioned and went through some of the names of some of the players that we recognize in the anniversary group, the 22 players on that list of guys, talk about it even more tonight.
Just let them understand the type of talent that has played in this game in the last 75 years is very impressive, some of the very best future Hall of Famers in the NFL, collegiate Hall of Famers, All-Americans and some of the best that have ever played the game.
It’s a tremendous honor to be in that group and as I shared with them, you go through and you get a player MVP that’s going to be selected tomorrow night, the challenge is to be able to play to a level where somebody from our program gets an opportunity to get that and be distinctly recognized for all the history of football as the guy that came here and played and performed at a high level.
As I talk all the time, when the team plays at a high level, the individuals all get recognized, but the team comes first. I think the guys are really understanding that it’s a special Bowl, it’s a great venue, and we are very, very blessed and excited to be here.
Q. Peyton or Nick, have you had a chance to look at the film and what stands out to you guys?
PEYTON RAMSEY: The biggest thing, they are a good, physical defense. They are big up front and kind of throw a bunch of different things at you to try to keep you on your toes. Just kind of trusting our game plan. You know, just continuing to do what we do best because they are good at what we do.
They are big and physical like I said. So sticking to our game plan. Just continuing to push forward and trying to execute the next play is kind of our biggest thing against them.
NICK WESTBROOK: Yeah, piggyback off Peyton, they are big, physical. They play sound defense and have a lot of different looks that we just have to be prepared for.
So biggest thing is get prepared, watch as much film as we can so we know what to expect whenever we get these different looks, and just keep chugging along and play our game, because we know it’s going to work for us.
Q. Simon, how is your health. And how optimistic are you about your ability to play?
SIMON STEPANIAK: Yeah, it’s definitely tough, being such a highly touted game and being a game-time decision. That’s where I am right now. Just really working through the things. Helping the guys as much as I can, and just trying to get healthy and be back for this game, is my main priority right now.
Q. When you first meet Peyton, and find out and he’s got brothers named Montana and Drew, what’s your thought as a coach?
HEAD COACH TOM ALLEN: Well, definitely a coach’s kid family, when you think that way.
But matter of fact, the only thing that I’ve really heard that’s topped that, I have a buddy of mine with three children. He was always a defensive coordinator, and he named them Mike, Sam and Will are his three children, so if you know football, that’s the three linebacker positions.
My dad was my high school coach and so he didn’t go to that extreme, but I think it’s pretty cool to have them named after guys that play and the sport that you love. Obviously from mom’s perspective, names you just like and after going through that process with my wife.
But I think it just kind of exudes the family that he comes from. They love football. It’s a big part of their family. They obviously talk about it a lot and watch it a lot and it’s been manifested in the names that they have for their kids. That’s pretty cool.
Q. Reakwon and Peyton, what is it like to have a chance to be one of the very few Indiana teams to win nine games?
REAKWON JONES: It’s a blessing and just it’s a testament to all the work that the people in this facility and this program put in from the players to the coaches to the training staff to the strength and conditioning. It’s just a true blessing and we want to take full advantage of this opportunity.
We know what’s at stake here and what we can do, so we just going to keep our heads down and go to work.
PEYTON RAMSEY: I think it says a lot about the guys that are sitting up front here and the older guys that are in that locker room that have gone through the growing pains, and continue to fight and push forward, even though it was hard and tough, and the leaders kind of stepped up and pushed us forward, kind of propelled us forward.
So many guys that came before us allowed us to be in this position. It’s kind of something that we saw coming because of the guys in the locker room and the guys that came before us.
Q. Now that you’ve had time to look at film of this Tennessee team, was there something in particular that jumped out between the start of the season and the way they ended the season, one thing that jumped and caught your eye?
HEAD COACH TOM ALLEN: I think overall, just a high level of execution, more consistent play. They were turning the ball over early, which is never a good thing for a team, and started eliminating those mistakes and protecting the football better.
I just think that they — you know, when you look at them on both sides of the football, they have been sound defensively throughout the entire season. As the players mentioned, big, physical guys.
But you know, they are young, new staff, a couple years in there and they are trying to put in their new system and just kind of like how we experienced this year, you start to find ways to win some of these close games and then the confidence grows and it builds and that’s what you see on film is a team that’s playing their best football at the end.
They are able to run the football offensively, stop the run defensively, and not give up big plays defensively, and then force you to put you in a lot of binds in terms of their receiver core. It’s just really — if you say something that jumps out at you, it’s their receivers, when I first watched them.
We’re an aggressive style of defense and we play a lot of man coverage and we have to win those won one-on-ones. That’s what we do and that’s how we’re going to play. We’re not bashful about that, but look at those matchups and how it’s going to play itself out and they win a lot of 50/50 balls. The guys jump up and go get it, and the quarterback is doing a better job of getting the ball to those guys.
When you do that, you eliminate those mistakes, you play more consistent, you start winning those close games, which is what they have done, they have won six out of the last seven. It’s been impressive how they have finished.
Q. You previously mentioned that Tennessee closely reminded you to Penn State in your conference. Could you elaborate on that and what some of those things you see in common with them?
HEAD COACH TOM ALLEN: We went through a new coordinators meeting on Thursday, and once again kind of confirmed — I thought that when we watched on film and when we go through, everybody is, hey, who do you compare them to.
It starts with the line of scrimmage, offensive line is where — because as a defensive guy, that’s the first thing I want is their offensive line, and then you start watching their defensive line and just seeing high-level guys, physical guys, guys that have good burst on defense and guys that are big and strong on offense and then you look at their skill guys from there.
I just think the way they run to the football defensively, the multiplicity of their defense, as well, and just the talent level. They have a lot of good football players, and a lot of guys highly regarded out of high school that those — whoever decides who those players are, they figure out, they rank them and such and give them stars and all that; then when they go to college they have to prove that they are worthy of those things, and so they have got a lot of guys that have been highly regarded for sure and they are playing good football.
I just think it’s about speed, size and to me that’s what we felt like as a staff that they were probably closest to is Penn State.
Q. We’ve mentioned that Tennessee has won six of the last seven, five straight. Defensively for you guys, what are you going to do to slow down that red-hot Tennessee team?
REAKWON JONES: I think first thing’s first. We got to stop the run. That’s what they good at. That’s what they have executed at all season and that’s going to be the key for us, to top the run and eliminate big plays. They have big-play receivers. They have got a quarterback who can sling it down there. They have some O-Line that can protect.
So we have to give pressure and win one-on-one matchups like Coach said and stop the run. That’s our mindset going into this game. We have to be physical, nasty and strong, because that’s what they are going to bring to the table, so we have to bring it right back.
Q. When you are looking at film going into a Bowl game, there’s about a month off, so schematically a lot of things could change in that time. At that point does it become more about personnel and you just doing what you do going into a game?
PEYTON RAMSEY: I think that is the biggest thing. I think the biggest thing, it comes down to execution. When you have this big month and a huge gap of time where you have the opportunity to watch so much film and they have thrown so many different looks, and have so many different schemes, it comes down to us and what we have been good at all year and continuing to execute that, and that’s been a point of emphasis for us, just running the plays that we’re good at.
Maybe a different look here or a different look there, but more than anything, just continuing to execute and do what we do best.
Q. When you think about all the defenses you’ve prepared for, how does Tennessee compare when it comes to identifying coverages and locating pressure?
PEYTON RAMSEY: Yeah, I think that’s also Penn State. A bunch of different multiple — personnel-wise it’s similar like Coach Allen just mentioned.
But schematically, Penn State did a bunch of different things. They were good. Their D-Line was good. Very multiple in the things that they did and some good linebackers, long, tall, lanky, rangy guys that are really athletic. I would say schematically they also line up to Penn State pretty similarly.
Q. Through all the ups and downs you’ve been through this year, what do you think you’ve learned about yourself?
PEYTON RAMSEY: I think I’ve learned that I’m a fighter and that just continuing to fight through adversity is the biggest thing. I didn’t really know how I was going to respond. It was hard initially. It was a roller coaster ride of emotions, but I just learned that I’m a fighter and that tough guys win, and as long as you’re a tough guy and you keep fighting, then good things are going to happen.