Photo via 247Sports (OM Spirit)

With Kane Wommack, Tom Allen Had His Ace in the Hole

We should have known better.

Last month, when Indiana football head coach Tom Allen addressed the media after a season ending loss to Purdue, he said this in response to a question about potentially giving up the reins as the defensive coordinator —

“That’s definitely something I’ve been thinking about because of all the responsibilities that fall into this position,’’ Allen said. “Now that I’ve done it for a couple years, I feel like I understand the time demands. There’s no question about it, as I’ve talked about, even last year saying there’s going to come a time when I need to do that so I can (just) be the head coach of the team.”

In response, we wrote this, in effect stating that it would be foolish of Allen to give up the one thing that he without question had clearly demonstrated that he could do at a high level.

As it turns out, we were the foolish ones.  We should have done our homework.

You see, Allen had his man all along.  There will be no lack of continuity when Allen hands off the defense to new defensive coordinator Kane Wommack.  The new leader of the Hoosier defense was raised on Allen’s scheme — literally.

In 2011 Ole Miss finished dead last in the SEC in total defense.  Meanwhile at Indiana, the Hoosiers’ defense was slumbering along at a similar clip, giving up more than 50 points three times in Kevin Wilson’s first season at the helm.

In a move that no one in Bloomington thought anything of at the time, the Rebels hired Dave Wommack as their new defensive coordinator following that dreadful 2011 performance.

Joining Wommack on that 2012 Rebel defensive staff were linebacker coach Tom Allen, and graduate assistant, and Dave’s son, Kane Wommack.

Collectively, the newly assembled Ole Miss defensive staff would completely overhaul the Rebels’ attack, and turn it into one of the country’s best units.

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Former Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack. Photo Credit – John Bowen 247Sports

The turnaround in Oxford was immediate, and would foretell things to come at Indiana.  After ranking last in the SEC in total defense in 2011, Ole Miss improved to seventh in Dave Wommack’s first year in Oxford.

As a unit, the Ole Miss defense continued its improvement in 2013, allowing four fewer points per game (23.7) than it did the previous year, and ranking in the top 40 nationally in scoring defense, total defense and pass defense.

People began to take notice of the burgeoning Rebel defense, and as is typically the case, other schools came calling for assistants from the staff.  Kane was the first to go.  At just 26 years old, the younger Wommack would become the defensive coordinator at Eastern Illinois.

The road to Bloomington was being blazed — although not much had changed at Indiana.  Not yet.  The Hoosiers would continue to have a historically bad defense under Wilson, culminating with a 2015 season that saw IU finish last in the Big Ten in pass defense, total defense and scoring defense, and second-to-last in rushing defense.

With the senior Wommack and Allen continuing in Oxford, Ole Miss finished the 2014 season with the No. 1 scoring defense in the country, holding opponents to 208 total points (16.0 per game).  Led by its dominant defense, the Rebels “broke through” that year, starting the season 7-0 with stunning wins over No. 3 Alabama and No. 14 Texas A&M.

Once again, new paths would be forged that would ultimately lead to southern Indiana.  Allen became the defensive coordinator at South Florida in 2015.  In his lone season at USF, Allen engineered the American Athletic Conference’s top scoring defense, allowing just 19.6 points per game in league play.

That defense tied for 13th nationally in tackles for loss (7.5 per game), tied for 14th in interceptions (17), tied for 24th in takeaways (25), tied for 26th in sacks (2.62 per game), 31st in rushing defense (141.4 ypg), 34th in passing efficiency defense (118.76) and 35th in scoring defense (22.9 ppg).

That one year in Tampa would help Allen create relationships that would carve-out more paths to Bloomington — this time in the form of a Florida recruiting pipeline that has served him well at IU.

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Kane Wommack as the defensive coordinator for South Alabama. ( photo by Mike Kittrell)

An all too familiar story was also unfolding at Eastern Illinois, and later at South Alabama.  Under Kane’s guidance, the 2015 EIU defense ranked second in the nation in interceptions (19), third in takeaways (31), fourth in pass efficiency defense (103.0), eighth in red zone defense (67.3 percent) and 10th in tackles for loss (98).

In the same 2016 season that saw Allen lead a stunning defensive turnaround at IU, Wommack engineered one of the top turnarounds in the country at South Alabama. The unit was the fifth-most improved nationally in scoring defense (-10.3), one spot behind IU, and ranked in the top 10 nationally in passing defense.

The 2017 South Alabama defense surrendered 22 points or fewer in regulation seven times in eight conference games.

The common denominator for Allen and Kane’s success was the scheme that they took with them to their new defensive coordinator jobs.  It was the system that Dave Wommack had mastered.

Under the senior Wommack, the Rebels’ ran what is called a 4-2-5 defensive scheme, also known as a nickel defense. The formation is designed to have four down linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs.

The 4-2-5 defense is widely believed to have been originated by Philadelphia Eagles defensive coach Jerry Williams in 1960.  At the time it was more of a solution for obvious passing downs.

But in today’s era of spread offenses, the formation has proven to be successful as a base defense.

While Dave Wommack didn’t invent the scheme, he became somewhat of a mastermind behind implementing the concept in today’s era of college football.

Dave honed his craft during nearly 20 years of experience as a defensive coordinator including tenures at Georgia Tech, Arkansas State, Southern Miss and UNLV.  He retired following the 2016 season with more than 35 years of experience coaching at the collegiate level, coaching teams to 22 bowl games during 32 winning seasons.

Beginning at Ole Miss and repeated several times since, we’ve seen the senior Wommack and his progeny successfully orchestrate the 4-2-5 scheme at multiple stops along the way.

And now the gang is back together again (sans Dave), leading the defense in Bloomington.

No, Tom Allen didn’t stray from what he knows best.  In fact, you could say he doubled down.

The Indiana defense is going to be just fine.  Just like it was at Ole Miss, South Florida, Eastern Illinois and South Alabama.

We should have known better.

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