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Big Ten Media Days Notebook: Takeaways from Indiana football head coach Tom Allen



A breakdown of the key takeaways from Indiana football head coach Tom Allen at Big Ten Media Days on Thursday. (Robert Goddin-USA TODAY Sports)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind – Big Ten Media Days is upon us and the Indiana football program took to the stage on Thursday on day two. Indiana was headlined by head coach Tom Allen and its trio of players including Jaylin Lucas, Aaron Casey and Noah Pierre.

Tom Allen was first to the podium on Thursday discussing everything from the critical offseason for the Hoosiers to the numerous newcomers on the roster and of course, discussing the ever-important quarterback battle.

Here are some of the major takeaways from Allen’s podium session.

Week 1 vs Big Ten opponent ‘forces you to grow up real fast’: Indiana gets its season started against Ohio State, a matchup no team likely has a strong desire to get their season started with. Indiana has opened against a Big Ten opponent in five of Tom Allen’s seven seasons with Indiana. This will be the second time since 2017 it will be Ohio State. Last year it was Illinois and the year before was Iowa. 

“The urgency that the offseason is impacted by this reality of who you play September 2nd to open the season, I think it helps you. It helps you grow. It helps you have that attention to detail at a high level … just fast-forwards everything. It just causes you — I get it, certain opportunities you have a chance to slowly build up to a game like that … once you get through that and you have that opportunity, man, it really allows you, I think, to have an advantage weeks two, three and four.”

Indiana’s priority to bring in ‘explosive’ wide receivers: There is no hiding the fact that Indiana football did not have an explosive, or even efficient, offense last season. IU’s passing attack ranked 14th in yards per attempts (5.4) last season. With the health of Cam Camper and development of Donaven McCulley, Indiana also brought in notable players like DeQuece Carter and E.J. Williams through the transfer portal. Indiana has weapons on the outside that can now be utilized with size, strength and desired explosiveness. 

“I think that it was something that we as a staff collectively identified trying to create explosive plays. .. We’re not creating enough on offense, and it’s hard to drive a football 75 yards on the defenses in the Big Ten. So wanted to get some more receiver body types to help create more explosive plays. That was by design, and even in the portal mindset, to go after that as well even as we’re recruiting guys in our current roster. So definitely by design as the staff to be able to try to create more explosion by our offense.”

Tom Allen focused on being the ‘best head coach I can be’, given more flexibility with Matt Guerrieri to calling the defense: Guerrieri was brought in this offseason to take over the defensive play calling duties after Allen was focused on that role last year and still had a role in previous years. After back-to-back seasons with disappointing defensive performances, Guerrieri looks to improve that unit and the secondary — an area he’ll focus on as well. While Chad Wilt will be co-defensive coordinator and focus on the front seven, Guerrieri will call the plays and work with the defensive backs. Last season, Indiana ranked 14th in the Big Ten in passing defense. It gave up a league-high in passing yards (3,290), yards per attempt (8.0) and touchdowns (30). On the flip side, it ranked 12th in interceptions (7).

“I feel like it’s important for me to become the best head coach I can be, the best game-day manager of the entire game, both sides of the football and special teams, for me not to be focused on calling the defense … But I also want the ability and flexibility to be in that offensive meeting time as well, making sure all three phases is being where we need to be to be our best on game day.”

‘Toughness’ a point of emphasis for Indiana: There’s no hiding it, the Indiana football program regressed in a big way over the last two years. A main reason for the shift was the inability to close out games and the inability to stay mentally and physically ‘tough’ every quarter and every play. That’s what separates below average teams and average teams and average teams to good teams. Indiana’s 6-18 record in 2021 and 2022 reflect that. Tom Allen is preaching ‘toughness’ as Indiana’s 2023 word and knows it needs to be more than just a message this year. It needs to show on the field.

“I’m extremely excited for the upcoming season. Our word for 2023 is “toughness.” We define that as a mental and physical strength to persevere. We had eight games last season that were decided in the fourth quarter. So for the past seven months we’ve been building our toughness and developing this football team to be able to finish in those opportunities.”

Indiana football and Tom Allen still unsure on starting quarterback, but need him to be dual-threat: To nobody’s surprise, there is still no starting quarterback and there likely won’t be until kickoff on Sept. 2 against Ohio State. Redshirt freshmen Tayven Jackson and Brendan Sorsby continue to battle it out for the starting spot. The main topic to come from the quarterback conversation was the importance of a dual-threat player under center. Dexter Williams showed the ability to make something out of nothing last year and was a threat whenever the ball was in his hands. The offense showcased an ability to move the ball, even with a very run-dominant quarterback. Look no further than the Indiana win over Michigan State. Williams was 2-of-7 passing for 31 yards and Indiana won the game in double-OT scoring 39 points. That was thanks to 257 yards on the ground, with 16 carries and 86 yards coming from Williams. While that is on the extreme of what Indiana wants, having a running quarterback is definitely the way Indiana wants to move forward.

“Anytime a quarterback can extend plays. It’s usually those when it’s not scripted, when they can be able to create, elongate, put pressure on your secondary, be able to beat you with his legs. You have to account for him in your pressure, whether you’ve got a spy, or whatever you need to do. Moving forward that’s what we want to have at that position to be able to extend those plays … once you pick who that individual is, you’ve got to make sure you’re building everything around them so they can be at their best and be able to be comfortable. Obviously whoever is going to be is going to be a younger guy that’s going to have to grow up really fast.”

SEE ALSO: Full Q&A from Indiana football head coach Tom Allen

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Alec Lasley is the owner of Hoosier Illustrated, a comprehensive site covering news, updates and recruiting for Indiana University athletics. Alec has covered Indiana for six years and is a credentialed media member. He has previously worked for both Rivals and 247Sports.