BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana continues its homestand when Ball State comes to Memorial Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 14, with a Noon ET kickoff. The game will be televised on BTN.
Head coach Tom Allen and selected players met with the media on Monday to preview the matchup with the Cardinals. Below is Allen’s transcript.
TOM ALLEN: Good afternoon. Saw a lot of young guys grow up and we talk about finishing a lot and it’s been a major emphasis in our program all off season and then the last week the game ended where the offense had the opportunity to finish and they did that and never came off the field. And then this week the defense had their opportunity to finish and they were the last ones on the field to win the game. You can talk about that, but you have to go out and do it and you have to experience it. Obviously that last drive was a lot of drama and tested a lot of people’s blood pressure, but, myself included, but bottom line was our guys when the final buzzer sounded found a way to be on top. So Coach Mendenhall’s got a really good football team that fought to the bitter end and it was a great, great game back and forth and they will have a really good season and wish them nothing but the best. But just really happy for our guys and still as always a lot of mistakes, but the opportunity to learn from those after a win is a good thing. So just really want to commend a few guys and talk about them a little bit as you go through and have a chance to watch the film and meet as a staff and evaluate how you performed two areas kind of jumped out to me, I really challenged our offensive line a week ago after our first week performance and about finishing blocks and finishing the plays off and really being the strength of our team and they did, they were good week one, but they weren’t great, and I felt like they responded. Rushing for 243 yards and 237 was the net, but just being able to run the football in those conditions against a team that was really stout against the run and that was their strength and they knew we had to run the ball with the weather the way it was and to be able to do that in those circumstances is really awesome. So we actually gave the entire offensive line the honor of being the players of the game for offense and that would be Coy Cronk, Wes Martin, Hunter Littlejohn, Simon Stepaniak, Brandon Knight, Nick Linder, Delroy Baker. All those guys played on the O line during the game and as a group did an awesome job. They were the reason why that Stevie Scott got all those yards rushing. And, yeah, it was great that he did what he did, but he knows that as well as all of us do that the O line was the reason why he was able to get those yards. So he was honored with being co-Big-Ten Freshman Of The Week for his production and his the game that he had, but that whole group there obviously worked well together and made that happen. And just also the way we finished the half really as the score played out ended up being the difference in the game but just really being able to finish the half with a couple big passes there and get the ball in the end zone in tough circumstances throwing the ball and just Peyton doing a great job and those receivers going and getting the ball was awesome. Then defensively Reakwon Jones talked about him in the press conference and how well he played and how hard he played and that’s the thing that stuck out to me, we’re still making mistakes on defense, played much better than we did in week one in the area of execution, but still not where we want to be, but the effort was awesome. And that make I make such a big deal about that because that’s the one thing that those guys control. And they played so, so hard and he was the leader of that group. And Khalil Bryant is another one I thought really just played his tail off on special teams and just flying around. And so Reakwon Jones was our defensive player of the game and had some critical tackles for loss, really had him on that quarterback and chasing him around and harassing him. We never sacked him once, but we sure harassed him and he was throwing under duress and a lot of pressures and making him run laterally and hitting him as he was throwing and just making him not comfortable. So he did a great job. And special teams player of the game in that area was Micah McFadden he caused fumble on the kick off that set up the score, which was the huge game-changing play, it’s one of the things that we challenge our special teams units to is to be able to do three things and that is to be at your best when it counts the most and we want to make sure that we create game changing plays and our guys are doing that I’m really excited about that production. Didn’t do a great job in some other areas, got a couple kicks blocked that has to be corrected immediately and it will be and then had the big penalty on the punt return. But just as a group did some good things and in bad conditions. Also want to recognize our scouts of the week those guys play a huge role in our preparation and defensively Owen Streeter, Madison Morris were the scout players of the week. Owen is from Laport and Madison is from Hamilton Southeaster. Also scout of the week is Ryan Barnes and Luke Shianovich from Avon High School. So all four of those guys are Indiana kids and doing a great job and giving us a great look each day. And then the special teams scout of the week is James Miller, linebacker from Florida. So guys are just doing a great job of working hard, preparing us and allowing us to be special. Just really want to continue to grow as a team build off the things that we gain confidence from an then create more negative plays defensively, had nine tackles for loss which is what we want to be in that area get double digits each week and want to get more sacks and more pressures and just keep attacking on defense. So excited about that game, that one’s in the books and now moving on to Ball State, team that really I think was impressive against Notre Dame at Notre Dame and Coach Neu’s done a great job there. Know him well, respect him a ton and has a great, great job. Kids play really hard, they have gotten a lot better, they struggled last year when they lost their two best players on offense their quarterback and their tailback that are back now and healthy and they really were not the same without them but with them they’re a really good football team. Riley Neal’s the best quarterback overall in terms of passing and everything, he can run, he’s athletic and a big old guy and he’s the best most complete one we played yet. Throws the ball extremely well. Got a talented group of receivers and a very good set of running backs. So James Gilbert, kid out of Indianapolis runs extremely hard, tough. Offensive line is big and physical like they always are for there and we know that they have been a tough out for Indiana the last several years and we beat them the last time we played them, my second game here, my first year, and we had a tough time putting them away and they have had a lot of success against us in the past. So they have our full attention and they have done a great job to be able to win their first game and then go to Notre Dame and play within a one score, one possession game against a very talented Notre Dame team. So that opponent coming to town defensively has improved dramatically in a year’s time. Dave Elson, I know him well, I know a lot of their coaches and a lot of respect for them and the job that they do and their kids are well coached, they play really hard, so we know how they’re going to come here and they’re going to play their tails off. So we have to match that and play our best. We have to be having our best week of preparation and continue to clean things up, get better in all three areas and play our best football on Saturday. Questions?
Q. You talked about it a little bit Saturday and even before, but what did it look like specifically when you kind of sat Reakwon down and really sort of challenged him in the off-season to step up from where he had been the last couple of seasons?
TOM ALLEN: Well at that point there was a lot of question marks when we first started talking and you meet with each guy and he was one that I knew had to rise and had to elevate his expectations for himself, how hard he worked, he’s always been a great kid, he’s always done everything right, he’s always been a guy that knew what he was supposed to do, he had to get his body changed in terms of staying healthy, he had to get to the point — kind of a similar conversation I had with Chris Covington the year before, he kind of took off and in regards to he had a history of injuries and just inconsistencies and as far as on field performance and Reakwon was that way physically an and so just getting him right in the weight room and responding to coach Ballou and our new staff in there and just challenging him, it’s a confidence thing too. Kind of similar with Donavan Hale, just the confidence to be able to believe that you’re the man when you take the field and run the defense and take that ownership of — Tegray is gone now, you’ve been sitting in his shadows for a couple seasons and now you got to rise up and meet that challenge and he’s responded. He had a great great spring as we have said and really gained a lot of confidence and but didn’t really play well week one. We challenged him about that. I thought he was a much better player in week two than he was week one. The kind of player that I saw this spring. Need him to continue to develop and grow and play with that confidence and be able to play with that — he’s a very, very strong individual and just really can finish plays because of his strength and he’s gotten quicker and faster and but I think a lot of it has to do with just confidence and knowing that we believe in you and we expect certain things from you and I think when you feel that from your coaches and you feel that from your teammates, that there’s an expectation to run the defense, there’s expectation to be a playmaker, I tell our guys that in that position, that that position demands leadership and production at that position. And that’s what you have to have. And the thing I love about that now is as I said many times how young they are and inexperienced they are but there’s a whole bunch of them and we played several on Saturday and they all made tackles and they all made plays a the key times whether it was on special teams or on defense and I think the future’s really bright for that group. They’re just young. Just got to continue to bring them along and learn and teach and he’s the kind of one of the leaders of that group of these young guys and he’s only a junior and hasn’t played a ton of football here. So really excited for him and encouraged by his growth and just got to keep moving forward. Keep working hard and keep studying film and keep getting better.
Q. In that vein you mentioned the younger guys growing up, do you feel like that Reakwon also is kind of growing up even though he’s kind of been in the program it for a couple years?
TOM ALLEN: Sure. He’s not a freshman or a red shirt freshman or a sophomore, but when you haven’t played you haven’t played. So he just doesn’t have the game reps to just sit there and say, hey you got this body of work and as a matter of fact I went back and re-watched our game against Ball State two years ago and he was in there just a little bit, but it might have been four, five snaps. He changed his number. At first I was like who is number 40? And I remember it was him. But just didn’t play a whole lot that first year and then did not play a ton more last year. So he’s kind of in that same pool, Dameon Willis is really the only one that really played the last two seasons and so really kind of put him in the mix of all those guys that haven’t played much.
Q. Talk about young guys growing up, I mean Stevie for a young back looked like he’s already developed patience and vision in terms of seeing holes at the line. Talk about that a little bit.
TOM ALLEN: Well, you know, I think I learned this a long time ago, that the good lord decides who the good running backs are. You have a gift to know how to run. I worked for a guy that made that exact quote to me and I’m telling you and that was a long time ago and it is so true. He used to tell me all you got to do is this, you put your best young athletes back there in kick off, kick the ball to them on a live kick off cover and see who can make people miss and see who can advance the ball and go score. Because kids have that natural talent. It’s really there’s no question, you develop skills, the thing that they struggle with when they’re young when they come to college is the physical part of playing running back in this league and the mental part of the protections and just knowing what to do. But as far as being a running back and just what do you do with the ball in your hand, sometimes if you think too much you’re going to be infective, you just got to do what the good lord gave you the skills to do. There’s no question that you got a to technique this and teach that and everything but I’m just telling you, it’s kind of like middle will linebackers you either got a knack to get to the football or you don’t and it’s hard to teach that. It’s hard to create that. And that’s why you got to go recruit it. And so to me you’re you try and recruit the best players you can find that fit what you do and then see who rises up. I challenged that group too like hey who is going to rise, that was our one word for last week and said hey we got a situation that at the running back position that got a couple guys down and so who is going to step up, who is going to be the one to fill the void. And obviously Stevie stepped up and answered the call, but the patience and the vision and the ability to cut and just that knack to run and he’s big, he’s 240 pounds and so that helps and he’s got good speed, he’s not a blazer, but he’s got good speed he pulled away on that one long run to end the score but it’s the vision and patience and knowing how. Sometimes guys are almost too, they cut too quickly, but the really good ones have that ability to kind of just feel it. He’s going to have to, like every player in this league, you have a big game, so the expectations are raised and he’s just got to keep doing it week after week after week, but that was a special performance for sure and there’s not many guys that have done that in the past and there’s a reason for that but at the same time I think there’s no reason why he can’t expect himself to be a really good football player here and he just needs to stay humble and hungry and keep working really hard and he’s got a lot of work to do to get better and coach heart has done a great job and I commend Coach Hart for getting him ready to play. I think we all saw the growth from week one to week two and that’s the coaching that comes into play and how to handle him mentally and I didn’t sit him down and have some talk with him, I know Coach Hart is invested in all of his guys to get them ready to go and we had I mean I couldn’t sit hear and told you he’s going to have great night tonight, you know, I wasn’t sure who was going to step up. I knew which guys were going to get opportunities to and then see what they do with it, but I just think that once again it’s, there’s a natural talent to running the football and you got to go recruit it.
Q. Obviously with Stevie he’s a big strong physical guy, but how important is it going tore ward to maybe try to find a second guy so he doesn’t have to care radio he it 30 times every week and keep him fresher for the second half late part of the season?
TOM ALLEN: I think that you always have to have depth at every position and we got to get more guys ready to go. I know Rod Lloyd’s a guy that helped us in the spring and really kind of came into his own there and he is coming back from being out for a few weeks and he was back practicing today, which is a good sign for us and Ronnie Walker is a guy that we have, came here early, so he has a chance to learn the system and kind of see what he can do and obviously Mike Majette we want to get him more carries and Ricky Brookins is another guy that’s in the mix there and I just think that that whole group of guys there has to continue to develop and grow and get better. I just, I think that you can never have enough of them and obviously we don’t want one guy carrying the majority of carries each night, obviously he was running the ball extremely well and being very effective so with all the weather conditions and the way he was protecting the football, I thought we were comfortable coming in here and he and Mike would rotate a little bit and trying to get everybody, Craig Nelson is another guy that I expect to step up and rise up and he’s had a little bit of hamstring throughout fall camp and it’s kind of hindered him quite a bit but he’s getting healthier and so those guys as you look at the whole group we got to be by committee, it’s kind of like the linebacker, we had all those tackles all spread out on Saturday night, but they all together played well. Same at running back it may be different guys that have different roles each week and we’ll see who steps up but bottom line is Coach Hart will have those guys ready to go and we’ll have, we got to run the football. We know that, we said that and that’s a huge priority for us and that’s what we did.
Q. We talked a couple different coach he’s including Coach Hart about sort of the push and pull of where guys were going to play back in fall camp. Did you want Stevie at linebacker? Was there kind of a point where you said okay he’s going to stay at running back or were you always kind look hey wherever he performs best that’s where we’re going to keep him?
TOM ALLEN: Well, we did, when we recruited him literally it went from he was on the linebacker board for awhile and then Coach Hart was the one that recruited him he was in his area he’s from his hometown he’s known him for a long long time and so I think in the back of his mind he always wanted him as a running back. But he did start out as a, hey, this guy is a guy that we weren’t sure so we just said, hey, let’s offer this young man, he can play something, he’s a big physical strong guy that has great film on both sides of the ball, playing linebacker and playing running back and when I saw him when I watched him on film I thought he was a linebacker, but I’m a defensive guy and so I think when he saw him he saw him as a running back. So but which is good, that’s the great problem to have. But, and that’s another thing too you talk about kids and evaluating them, and you watch high school players, who do you give the ball to? You give the ball to your best player. You put him at running back. I always, as a high school coach you go to little leagues and I worked with our feeder programs every place I was at and you got the kindergarten to second grade league and fourth and fifth graders and fifth and sixth graders and you see the kid the best players are playing running back and linebacker. Because it’s toss the ball to the left they toss the ball to the right and they just run and go score. So that’s, those guys you want to get as many big strong running back linebacker guys as you can because they help you on special teams and so when we recruit him we said’s big old strong guy that can run and we’ll figure out where he is and so when we started saying hey he comes to fall computer camp we knew we needed a big back and obviously Morgan’s a bigger guy, but he’s really the only one that I would consider that we have an as big back so we said, hey, let’s start him at running back and let’s just see how he does. And so obviously as it all played out that’s where he’s going to stay, but it wasn’t settled for sure like hey if we get situation and he’s ends up being the guy that’s going to help us at linebacker then we’ll move him to linebacker. If we need to. But you just don’t ever know how things are going to play out sometimes and you just have to I think we just want to continue, I as a matter of fact I had this conversation with our staff after the game talked yesterday that hey just another reminder about why we recruit a guy like Stevie just go through and find big strong guys that have some versatility you can play them at multiple positions and then you just get them on the bus and then you figure out what seat to get them in but the key is to get them on the bus first and then get hem them in the right seats once they get here.
Q. A quarterback, was it by design to not play Michael or was that something that felt out through the game?
TOM ALLEN: We talked about that too yesterday. We really expected to play him, to be honest with you and then as the game just the weather conditions were so bad I just Peyton was doing a good job and was comfortable out there, I know he threw the one pick that was a mistake that he shouldn’t have thrown, but I just I thought that was just a tough situation to put him in and so yeah that really was we were actually planning on playing him and then we just kind of got into it and it was really a one possession game for a lot of the time, especially in the second half and so it’s just circumstances didn’t allow us to do that.
Q. I don’t know if you saw the social media stuff, but you going over to the fans knocking over the trash can high fiving everyone. What was the emotions of that?
TOM ALLEN: Let me clarify, first of all, I don’t know someone asked me, what were you thinking about the trash can? I said I really wasn’t thinking, I don’t know why I did that. My intent was to thank the students for staying. I mean, they were awesome. We got out there to start warm up and they’re all there in the full group it’s just pouring down rain, the whole, their whole section is full and the rest of the stadium is not at that point before the game and they’re all in there. So I’m just so pleased and so appreciative for them and then so then the whole game they never left and they cheered and so as soon as I shook hands with Coach Mendenhall, they caught my eye that they were still there cheering away, so I ran over there to go high five them and everything. Well as I make it through the first round of them and the second tier’s a lot higher, so I started jumping up. Well the trash can is right in my way. So instead of going around it I just kicked it and didn’t really think anything of it and so — but I will say this, so I come back at 6 in the morning and I was hoping it was and it was still, it was still turned over and nobody had touched it. So I went out there and picked up all the trash and put it back in. I really felt bad, I said, someone’s going to have to clean that up and I didn’t think to run back to do it because I was so fired up about the game but that was just total spontaneous. I love our fans, I appreciate them and that was all about it and somebody caught it on video and I guess the Big-Ten network did and it became a bigger issue than it really was I was just really appreciative of our fans, that’s all it was.
Q. Was it heavier than you thought?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, I thought it was going to just tip over it was really heavy because it was full of water, too, so. But yeah, I wasn’t thinking, I just was reacting. I can, I have a little history of being a little emotional, so that’s just me. Fans were awesome. That was no fun to sit through that. Coaching is one thing, but appreciate them braving the conditions.
Q. They said on the broadcast that you still talk to Morgan every once in awhile. Is there any update with that and as much as you’re comfortable sharing what’s that communication like?
TOM ALLEN: I meet with him each week and that’s been going really good and he’s just still suspended from the team activities, so that’s, I don’t have any further up date on that part of it. I just stay with him and meet with him and help him through the process.