BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana welcomes Iowa on Saturday, Oct. 13, for a 12 p.m. ET kickoff. The game will be televised on ESPN 2.
Head coach Tom Allen and selected players met with the media on Monday to preview the matchup with the Hawkeyes. Below is Allen’s transcript.
TOM ALLEN: Good afternoon. I just want to begin by stating I am still very disappointed by the outcome from Saturday. But proud of our players and how hard they competed and played. Seeing growth continually on both sides of the ball and special teams. Just as we reminded our team today as we discussed the game, talked about situations and opportunities and just the critical nature of playing a team of that caliber in that setting and being able to maximize execution on both sides of the ball at critical times. That became apparent, giving up big plays on defense and had to get stops, and then offensively, when we have opportunities to change the momentum and take the game, and be able to do those things, we have to capitalize. And we talked about those and want our team to grow and learn and understand what we need to do.
So like the mindset of our team. Had a great practice today. Very, very good workout with Coach Ballou and his staff, and continuing to grow and move forward.
So, players of the game Nick Westbrook was the offensive player of the game, five catches 109 yards. Really felt like this was kind of his coming-out game, after he’s been back. He’s played well, but very much more productive in this game than he’s been. Just making big catches and just playing the way I know he can, and that’s just great for his confidence and really excited for him. Many of the guys in that receiving corps continue to make plays. And I thought also Peyton Ramsey continues to play with tremendous grit and toughness and execution.
So defensively, Dameon Willis, really encouraged by his growth. He had led our team in tackles, and I just thought his leadership and preparation all week, and the way he rallied the team and on the sideline, and those are the things I look for in the way he talks to his teammates just him growing. And Reakwon did some good things as well, and his leadership is definitely being celebrated. And as I tell those linebackers, boy, it’s about production and leadership at that position. So, seeing that growth.
Special teams, really encouraged, but the missed field goal was a big miss on our part and hurt us. But overall, very dangerous team in the return games, and so the kickoff coverage, the kickoffs themselves, the quality of those kicks was excellent. Then the punts, pinning them down inside the five was huge.
So we really went with the three guys, Isaac James, Raheem Layne and Jaylin Williams. They’re our corners, we call them, on our cover units, on punt and our score team, which is the punt return unit. The controllers we call those guys. So just being able to block their speed and athleticism on the perimeter, on the score team, down in the punt there inside. Isaac James did a tremendous job of that.
Micah McFadden was the one that recovered it and downed it officially. But Isaac’s the one that did his job. So that set up a great opportunity for our defense, and the defense took advantage of it, and forced a muffed punt, and we got the ball with — on the 33-yard line with 38 seconds to go in the third quarter. Really felt like that was a game-changing opportunity for us, down by 9, and did not execute offensively in order for us to take advantage of that. Then missed a long field goal.
So just things like that in the course of a game, as we know there are intervals in a game when games shift and opportunities arise and you have to be able to take advantage of those, and that’s what we need to do to move forward and to be able to find ourselves in a different outcome in games like that.
In terms of our preparation, the offensive scout team player of the week, we had two of them. Ryan Smith and a guy by the name of Tater, that’s his nickname, that’s what we call him and what he goes by, so put that down because that’s what everyone knows him as. Tater Tot is his nickname, but he’s a big old guy, and we love him. You can figure out his name. You can look it up. Just ask our players, they’ll tell you.
Special teams player of the week, Aaron Casey, a linebacker that’s developing and working extremely hard. And another true freshman in that group that’s growing every single day.
So love our class that we brought in here as freshmen. They’re working extremely hard. The one that’s aren’t getting to play on Saturdays are doing a great job preparing our team, working harder in the weight room, getting bigger, faster, stronger each and every day. And that’s a huge part of our future.
So bottom line, no matter what happens on game day, you have to, in this league, you have the next one coming. So we have a great opportunity, great challenge ahead of us with the Iowa Hawkeyes coming to Bloomington this weekend. They’re a very well-coached football team. Very big, physical, everything you’d expect from an Iowa football team. Great defense, especially in the box. Gives us long, big, strong, and they really are very stingy, don’t give up a lot of plays.
Very disciplined offensively. They really expanded their passing game. Stanley is a great quarterback, big, physical, 6’4, 245 pound guy, physical backs, big offensive line. Best tight end corps we’ve gone against. A very, very talented tight ends and receivers that are making ask more and more plays each week. So they got a big win last week on the road and did a lot of different things to get that win. So going to be a great challenge for us, and welcome Coach Ferentz and his staff to Bloomington. I know they always do a great job. So that’s where we’re at.
Q. Sorry to open with something so direct. But who is Tater?
TOM ALLEN: Yes, Dominique Dominic Altimari, a.k.a., Tater. As a matter of fact, when I announced him today to the team, I just said Tater. I said you’ve got to be a special guy when you have a one-name nickname and that’s all that has to be said. I don’t even have a one name nickname that they know me as. I got two names. But Tater’s just got one. He’s from St. Xavier in Cincinnati.
Q. What’s your nickname?
TOM ALLEN: Mine? Coach Allen. There you go (laughing) .
Q. You talked a lot about J-Shun’s done as a punt returner coming back from the injury. But the last two weeks without Whop and Luke, I think he’s had his career high receptions in the last two weeks. How big has he been to fill that void with those two guys out as a receiver in that slot position?
TOM ALLEN: I don’t think I can say — I can put enough emphasis on how big he has been in that role. You know, when you tell me you’re not going to have Whop and Luke against two Big Ten opponents on the road, that’s tough. Then you think about the role that those guys play and how many catches they make, and shoot, when you talk to Coach Myer, he’s the one guy that you mentioned, besides our quarterback, was number 22.
So I just think that for J-Shun to come in there and do such a great job in that role because I think it’s one thing to say, hey, you’re going to return punts and be able to get ready for that and what that means, it’s huge for our team. But the pounding, and the constant hits, all the things you take as a receiver. So, just for him to be able to do that, and to be so productive and make so many big plays, it’s been big. But that’s just the kind of guy he is. He’s rallied and stepped up.
I just think that he’s really helped our team, you know, and we needed him. Other receivers have as well, but hoping to get those guys back as soon as possible. But really proud of him, and the way he’s just doing everything he can do to help this team win.
Q. You’re at, I think, 13 turnovers overall. I know at least one of those have come on special teams, but that’s as many as you’ve had last year, and it’s tracking to be more than you’ve had in your first year as defensive coordinator. I know you talked so much about that. But are there things that you can identify? Specifically I think it’s eight in the three Big Ten games so far, that you can say these are the keys that are allowing us to be this prolific, creating those takeaways.
TOM ALLEN: It starts back into — one thing we really did, and it’s on me for not making it as much a priority. We didn’t emphasize it any different in the past, but I do think this fall camp I got back to really attacking the ball in practice. This is what you run into. When you try to emphasize those, especially when you’re going against your own team as fall camp is unfolding, you don’t want it to injure your offensive guys as you’re raking at the ball, punching at the ball, especially if you’re in shells or whatever tempo you’re going. Sometimes it results in guys getting in fights.
I was at a pro practice — well, I was watching the Bears practice when I was up there for media day, and same thing happened there because the guy was trying to rake at the ball, threw the receiver on the ground, and it turned up. So you get that kind of dynamic where you’re trying to emphasize one thing on one side of the ball, and not doing anything negative to your own team. But we just said, we’ve got to get back to doing that.
So we were much more aggressive with that in fall camp with our guys because we just feel like we didn’t get enough takeaways the year before. So I know the first takeaway we got of the year was Jonathan Crawford down there at FIU raking at the football. So to me it was just a direct reflection of that emphasis.
To me, the second step of it is providing pressure, hitting quarterbacks, you know. I think we have a more athletic defense as a group. And I said that going in, I felt like we were going to be. I think when you have a more athletic group, you create more takeaways. Because number one, you get to the ball quicker to force them, and you’re around the ball more to recover them.
And lot of times I felt like last year it was just balls that were right there that we just didn’t quite, you know, whether it was a fumble we didn’t quite get or a pick we didn’t secure, whatever. So we worked really, really hard on catching balls. We’ve got to keep doing that. We dropped one a week ago that I thought was a pick-six opportunity. We can’t do that. Caught the ones we were supposed to Saturday.
I think it’s a collective group. I emphasize it, since I’ve coached this game on defense, I’ve been such a huge takeaway guy. So I believe in it so strongly. And so sometimes they come more than they do others. I get that. But at the same time we sure make a big deal about it.
We should make a big deal about it, and we make videos about it, and we talk about it. We made a whole video from fall camp, and all the takeaway attempts we’ve had, and all the takeaways that we created. So we’ve got to keep doing it. It’s a big part of being a young defense, and trying to create field position for our offense and those kind of things. And we’ve got to take advantage of it as a team, and that’s what we do as a program.
Q. Coach, you’re at the midway point of the season. What did you learn about your team during the first half of the year, is and what do you hope is the biggest lesson that they took away in the first half that will help them in the second half?
TOM ALLEN: I think when you go through and you break it down in different components and different games, and you have a young team, and your team is trying to figure things out, you go through the first half of your season, and there are certain games and certain sides of the ball draw confidence from, no matter what the outcome is. And I think we’ve seen both of that.
Offensively we’ve had a chance to do some good things at times and draw confidence from that. And defensively, grow and develop, and grow confidence from that, and our special teams continues to get better and better.
I was concerned in the beginning about us stopping the run, you know, defensively, and that’s continued to grow and improve. We played against a very good running offense, and that’s Ohio State’s prime objective is to run the football first. I know they have all these athletes that they try to get the ball within space. I get that. But holding them to 2.2 yards a carry and 48 attempts, you know, is a big step for us.
Then being able to establish the run game and do things we need to do, and throw the ball down the field more offensively, and seen us do things like that. So to me, you kind of get both sides of showing spurts of that. It’s all about coming the last half of the season now is about bringing those two together, and playing your best collective football offensively, defensively, and special teams. All three phases working together to create the kind of outcome that we want.
So to me, what I’ve seen is segments come, segments shine, segments need work, and now let’s get all three of those together, working in unison to create a team win.
Q. You alluded to it after the Ohio State game the other day about Haskins and about making him uncomfortable. Can you just talk about what kind of — what you need to do to get more defensive pressure up front to make these quarterbacks uncomfortable?
TOM ALLEN: That’s the key, I don’t care what quarterback it is or how talented he is, because he’s a great quarterback, but pressure affects everybody. Getting somebody in their face and making them move around. It’s not just it’s even hits. It’s movement, it’s not letting him get his feet set, and being able to have a direct line of sight to his receivers. Getting people in the windows, getting people in his face, move him, tackle him, hit him.
It’s a two-edged sword. You do that with blitzes, and you can’t blitz every snap. So you try to change it up and try to get pressure with four at times, sometimes three with a spy, or however you decide to make that combination work, and we’re working so hard. Because you see it, when we get the pressure, you get a different result.
When you’ve got time, a lot of quarterbacks are really good when they’ve got time at this level, they’re all going to be good when they have time at this level in my opinion. This guy this week is no different. Even the guys that aren’t true runners, they’re athletic enough to get first downs and escape a little bit and make you pay if you don’t stay disciplined in your rush lanes.
It’s ways for us to continue to attack progressions, and continue to, whether it’s with four-man pressures or our blitzes and create overloads and try to do those kind of things, which is what we try to do each week, and get a beat on that.
So it’s a never-ending process. To me, I think for me approximate when I think about defensively, I think, hey, I’m going to score on defense. Get those interceptions and go score. Just create that momentum that that kind of play creates for your team.
Even talking to the guy when he got there, hey, that’s a great job getting the pick, great pressure. Now get that interception. A lot of these guys played running back in high school, receiver in high school. Go be an offensive guy once you make that pick and go score the football.
So we’ll work hard on that as well, how we attack that and everything. So I just think it’s a never-ending process of continuing to create pressure, and you get more sacks and more pressures, and that’s the objective each and every week, and we’ve got to keep working hard at that.
Q. Ohio State is averaging 49 points a game for the season. We saw Iowa put up 48 at Minnesota. You already touched on them expanding their offense passing. If you could expound upon that a little bit? What have you seen from them that’s a little different in past years?
TOM ALLEN: This is going to be my first time playing against Iowa as a coach. So I don’t have any personal experience. But obviously watch a lot of film and go through. I just think this they utilize their tight ends extremely well. They catch a lot of balls. They look at the stats and they lead their team in catches and really long, athletic, tough. They put you in a lot of conflicts of run pass, and get more play action. They’ll get in the gun and spread out and go empty, and all those kind of things. And they’ve got a big, strong arm quarterback that can make all the throws.
So because of that, they’re still running the football and still establishing that like you’d expect them to. But they have the ability to spread you out. They can do it from both play action and just true, what I would consider spread formations. They have the flexibility and versatility to get into those looks without having to change out, and get into 10 or 11 all the time. They do a lot of it on double tight ends or two tight ends and a fullback or however they choose to do so.
I just think like anybody else that has a very talented quarterback as a passer, it makes you more dangerous, you know. They obviously showed it last week, put up a lot of points, created a lot of takeaways defensively set up some of those scores. But at the same time they faked the field goal on one of their touchdowns.
So doing a lot of different ways of creating that momentum for their team and scoring lots of points. So that’s a ton of points in a big-ten game. So it adds to the challenge of defeating this team.
Q. Now that you’re at the midway point of the season, what is your assessment of the true freshmen that have played? Several of those young guys have been out there for you.
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, as a collective group, you have to be pleased. When you see their production, Cam Jones got another fumble recovery, his second takeaway of the season, and continue to see those young guys be productive. Stevie Scott did some good things.
Just continue to allow them to grow and develop and they’re helping us on special teams and helping us on defense. I still go out there and we freeze our film, and we said yesterday, man, we’re awfully young out there at times, and it’s just part of it. Those guys are growing up and playing a lot of football at this point. I think the assessment is they’re a really good class, they proved that on the field, and there are a lot more players that haven’t even played yet. I think they’re going to be a really, really big part of this program. They may be as soon as next season.
It’s not just a good group athletically, they’re really quality young men taking care of business in the classroom, working hard. Weight room staff loves them, loves their mindset, loves their work ethic, loves the way they handle themselves. Talk to Jeff a lot about how they handle themselves with the media, just being sharp guys. That’s what you want to recruit.
Guys that are going to represent us in a first class way in all they do on and off the field. If you ever have to bring them in and encourage them, because everybody needs that a little bit, and those are things that are part of it. It’s just a really good group of young men, and a lot of really good football players.
Q. You mentioned Cam Jones. Did you expect him to have the role he has now coming into the season?
TOM ALLEN: We hoped he would. We challenged him with that. We knew where we could see him playing when we recruited him. I always saw him as a guy that could play the husky spot, the big athlete. He played wide receiver.
As a matter of fact, you may not know this, but he actually committed to us, decommitted and recommitted. When he committed the first time, he committed as a wide receiver. So that’s how we were recruiting him. He was playing wide receiver on his high school team. He played defensive end as well. Played a little bit of moving around linebacker, played wildcat quarterback. So he was just like one of those guys that, he’s a big athlete that can run.
But I always saw him as hey, man, I saw enough film that he’s going to be a defensive guy. So with his athleticism, his length, and his size, I just thought, hey, he’s going to be a perfect husky for us. So with that being said, what you don’t know is how he’s going to be in man coverage and covering guys at this level? So that’s a part that’s really been encouraging to me.
So to answer your question, yes. I believe he’s going to be a really special player. Does that happen right away? Not always.
So to his credit and to his focus, I think he’s got a great future ahead of him, and really pleased with his progress, and he’s everything we hoped he would be, yes.
Q. I know recruiting-wise you can’t talk specifics. But last night, did you do any celebrating?
TOM ALLEN: Quite a bit. If you had been anywhere near this block, you would have heard me screaming for quite a bit, so…
Q. With that, with where you are now with the guys you got, the final few months of putting this class together, how do you size up the guys you have in the mix, and where do you go from here with the last few remaining spots?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, we tell our team, we tell our coaches, it’s always about recruiting. We can’t talk about players and everything, and names or anything, but that’s a huge part of our program. We talked about it every since I’ve taken over, and we put all our energy in the class we just got done discussing. It’s here now.
Once that class was secured and put a lot of attention on our next class, and that will continue on and on and on. It’s about building relationships and selling the vision of what we’re building on the field. You want them to see it. That’s a thing, I think guys watch games too and they see. They see the progress. They see how hard our kids play. They see how we compete. They see how much we play hard for each other. It’s hard not to notice that. They see where we are against the best of the best.
So I just think that that’s — the facilities we’re building, and the things that we’re investing in our program, and the ability for us to get guys on campus and invest in them and grow those relationships. For me to be able to continue to expand on the relationships I have in state here. I know a lot of these coaches extremely well, and they believe in what we’re building here and the way we’re building it.
Then they trust the kind of men that they’re going to be around, that they’re going to be developed first and foremost as a man, and the way that they’re going to be modelled and mentored and loved and cared for, and yet challenged and held accountable and held to a high standard. That combination, that blend is really what makes Tuesday unique and special, and then the chance to get a world class education at Indiana is big time here. Then the chance to play in the best conference in college football on the national stage is all a kid could ask for.
So I want to be able to know that a guy could come here and reach all of his dreams. So that’s the message we’re sending. But that has to be backed up by how you perform and how but show progress, and that’s what we’re doing, and that’s what they’re seeing.
We’ve just got to keep building, keep moving, keep focusing on the task at hand, and don’t look to the left or right, but look straight ahead.
Q. Talk about the freshmen again. We’re halfway through the season. You got the four-game red shirt option for guys. I look at a guy like Michael Penix who has only played twice now through six games. Is that shaking out well for you? I know circumstances can always change. But how is that shaking out for you not just in his case but in general?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, I think in general, there are several guys that we’re still having a lot of conversations about. You get to that window where you say, okay, we’ve got these four opportunities. Some guys are saying they’re starting to physically get to the point now where they’ve got some guys on special teams reps today for that very purpose.
To be able to position them to play here in the last part of the season. A guy like Michael Penix who has played two, and there have been other guys in similar situations. I think we’re going to guard those carefully. It’s very wise on our part to be judicious about those quarters and the times they’re going to play, and to be able to invest a full year in a guy. I want to make it worth it.
So I would say at this point the plan would be you like to be able to maximize unless a guy’s going to be playing the majority of the time and the rest of the half of the season, you’d like to be able to save a full year of eligibility, if at all possible. Doesn’t always work out that way, and you have to make adjustments on the fly, and we will.
But we try to communicate openly and honestly with the guys about the playing. And I think most guys don’t always like everything they hear, but they’ll understand it, and they’ll be more inclined to accept it, if you communicate clearly to them. I think that’s a key thing you have to do, and I think our guys respond to that.
So it’s still an ongoing thing, and we’ll keep working our way towards that end. Still, the bowl game is still the game as the 13th game. That counts as one of those four. Those are all parts of the equation you’re trying to get yourself in position for.
Q. Obviously you had a few guys shaken up going in, Luke, and Whop, and Jacob, and a couple guys in Coy and Devon Matthews, any updates?
TOM ALLEN: You know, none specifically. My hope and intent is that the majority of those guys will be back. I feel good about the progress we’re making from the guys that got dinged up during the game, and then the guys that wore out the week before, to be able to continually work them back into the fold.
They’re just working as much as they possibly can with our training staff and maximizing the rehab time we have and all the resources and facilities we have.
So feel good about several of them. Won’t know for sure for a couple more days, and we’ll have to assess it from there and make adjustments on the hoof.
Q. Any further update to Morgan’s status, I know we found out last week he’s been practicing?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, there is no additional update on him.
Q. Just somebody mentioned Coy, the average left tackle doesn’t make that play. Talk about that a little bit?
TOM ALLEN: No. Well, you know, Coy is not wired like everybody else. So he played defense in high school, played middle linebacker, was a catcher, you know. Was just an athlete playing ball. Has that defensive mentality. I mean, he can play defensive line for us and do really, really well.
So instincts kicked in. So guy headed down the sideline, and he wasn’t going to let them score. So you’ve got to love that. It’s awesome.
Q. If I could double back to recruiting really quick, are there any positions that you’re identifying with the last two spots or body types?
TOM ALLEN: I think you’re always looking for as much length and size that we can get on the offensive and defensive line. The receiver position to me is a big deal. We’re really emphasizing that. You’ve got some guys that will be moving on, and we’ve got to continue to get our numbers right at that position. So I think those will be the two key thoughts there. Awesome. Thank you so much.