BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Indiana welcomes No. 24 Michigan State on Saturday, Sept. 22, for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff. The game will be televised on Big Ten Network.
Head coach Tom Allen and selected players met with the media on Monday to preview the matchup with the Spartans. Below is Allen’s transcript.
TOM ALLEN: Good afternoon. Appreciate y’all being here.
Just want to begin by saying that I’m proud of our team for a solid overall team performance on Saturday. All three phases I thought did a good job. None of the three were perfect, but all three showed progress in areas we’ve been trying to address.
Encouraged by the growth. To be able to conclude our non-conference slate at 3-0 is what your goal is. We took care of business with that. Now we have to move forward into conference play.
Would like to rehash the game a little bit, be able to recognize some guys that I feel like have earned that opportunity.
Each week we recognize our scout guys. That group continues to be critical for us. James Miller is a young man that’s come here and really worked extremely hard. Weight room coaches comment about him. Offensive coaches, down with the scout team. Defensive Player of the Week. Attitude, work ethic has been tremendous. Is going to be a really good player here. Excited for him.
Offensively on the scout team, Mike Fiacable, Johnny Pabst, two guys that play quarterback for us. Give us a tremendous look, give us pride in doing that. Sets the whole tone with that group. Can’t get ready without those guys.
Special teams is Andrew Stamm, another guy that’s a complete player in terms of on the field, off the field. Always get compliments for him. Does a great job as a linebacker for us.
As far as the game goes, on the field, Peyton Ramsey was our offensive player of the game, 74% completion percentage, runs very efficiently, offensively distributing the football. Our guys recognized him for that.
Defensively Raekwon Jones and Jonathan Crawford were our co-defensive players of the game. Just both of them had tackles for loss, both of them had a sack. One thing that stood out on or defense, we played 33 guys in our three non-conference games on defense. I think we had 26 guys that had tackles on Saturday, different ones. A whole bunch of guys involved. That was the goal from the beginning. Seven tackles for loss on Saturday. Five guys got those. Three sacks. Three different guys got those. That’s how we want to play defensively as a team.
Special teams J-Shun Harris and Haydon Whitehead were the players of the game for us. J-Shun was also the Big Ten special teams player of the week for an 85-yard punt return. Just continue to be impressed by him. So happy for him and proud of him, all that he’s accomplished. Haydon continues to do a great job punting the football, creating field position. Haven’t used him as much. That’s a good thing. But when called upon. Also saw Jared Smolard do a great job on kickoffs, good hang time and distance. Thought our specialists overall performed well. Logan did a good job hitting his extra points and one field goal.
As a team, I think with Stevie Scott, he’s the Big Ten freshman of the week again, this time by himself. Continues to play well. Has to learn to hold onto the football. But has done a good job except for that one time. He will continue to work hard. Played well.
Receivers caught some big balls. Thought it was a total team win for us that you have to have in those situations. Have a lot of respect for Ball State, what they had done earlier this season, at Notre Dame especially. Really felt like our guys needed to be focused and ready to compete, and they were.
A little bit of a lull in the third quarter, but fought through that. Our guys were able to just finish well.
Proud of our team. As I said before, we have to learn from the things we’ve done well as well as those mistakes, take that into conference play now, continue to improve.
Ronnie Walker is a guy that sticks out to me when I think about our freshmen. Scored his first touchdown, showed balance and explosion. His confidence continues to rise each and every week since he’s been here. An awesome young man. Does everything right on and off the field.
James Head, another guy that really got his first chance to play. A few snaps earlier in Virginia, but this was his real chance. Showed some real burst that we saw. Had an injury that kept him out the first week. James is back now, get his feet wet a little bit. Going to continue.
I also thought that Ja’Marez Bowen was a guy up front that play well defensively. Have to have those guys continue to grow. Dameon Willis flashed. A lot of different guys involved. Safety position, Bryant Fitzgerald and Juwan Burgess played with confidence and more physicality. That needs to grow each and every week.
Offensively didn’t give up any sacks either. Rushed for 255. Just a complete all around performance. Got a chance to pull the starters there early in the fourth and give a chance to a lot of these guys to play, which helps develop your team, those guys be rewarded for their hard work.
Encouraged by that, ready to move forward and focus on Michigan State. Coach Dantonio, a coach I have a tremendous amount of respect for. Does a great job there with his team. They had a bye week last week, so only two games to look at for this season.
When I watch the film, it’s the same team we played last year. One of the youngest teams in the country, in the Big Ten last year. Pretty much all the same guys that we played last year are back. Bigger, faster, stronger. They’re a year older.
They come into this season, are projected to be one of the best teams in our conference. That’s what they are. We’re going to have to continue to elevate our preparation and focus as we are excited to welcome into Memorial Stadium to play at 7:30 kickoff.
Really excited about having a great crowd and having a great support. I thought our crowd on Saturday was really good. Beautiful weather. Just appreciate our fans supporting us, being here for us, cheering loud, helping us be successful on game day. We want to always be appreciative of that.
Excited about the week. Excited about Big Ten Conference play beginning. We got to get ready.
Q. Injury update, I don’t think I saw Gavin Everett play Saturday, and Mackenzie Nworah.
TOM ALLEN: McKenzie is a guy we’re hoping to get him back. Getting better and better all the time. He should be back soon. I don’t know how soon it is. Hopefully within the next week or two. He’s progressing very well.
Gavin is a guy that could have gone if we needed him. Kind of a game time decision. Wasn’t really sure. As the game unfolded, we felt like it was best to keep him rested. Should be ready to roll this week. If he continues to progress. Mackenzie will not be playing again this week, but hopefully he’ll be ready to go very soon.
Q. You mentioned Stevie Scott and ball security. Is that rule still in place, that if you put the ball on the ground, you don’t play the next series? He didn’t play the next series.
TOM ALLEN: If you make that kind of mistake, we’re going to pull you out. The length of that, we don’t have a hard and fast rule where you don’t go back in the game. Some staffs do that. In practice if you do that, you have to start running until the coach tells you to stop.
He didn’t do it at all the previous week under really, really bad conditions. Then a beautiful, sunny day, no inclement weather, he puts it on the ground before he has a chance to score.
We got to learn from that. Basically if you put the ball on the ground, we’re going to take you out, let you think about it a little bit. That ball is precious. We want to keep it on offense and take it away from you on defense.
Q. You mentioned Ronnie Walker. Stevie has had the numbers he had. It’s a little bit of a loaded question. If push comes to shove, are you comfortable with the rotation, where you have two freshmen playing in the backfield?
TOM ALLEN: You would like to spread it out. There are two different types of backs in terms of skill set, sides, what they bring to the table. We definitely have the objective of trying to bring Ronnie along, to get him ready. It was really glad to be able to see him out there, do some good things.
It’s amazing how our coaches do a great job, then when a guy kind of has a feel for a guy being closer and closer to being ready, we’ve been saying that about Ronnie for the last couple weeks, his growth throughout fall camp, just kind of seeing him really figure some things out.
I think I expected to get him in there, hoped we could. Glad it worked out. We’d like to be able to get as many guys. You can never have enough runningbacks. They always seem to get hit a lot, for sure. That’s part of the position. The more we can have the better.
Michael will continue be a part of it, all the guys in that group. Love to see Ronnie continue to develop, share that load with a whole group of guys so they can’t key on any one of them.
Q. One of the goals with the new strength and conditioning guys was to see if they could help limit soft tissue injuries, whatnot. You seem pretty healthy. Is this as healthy as you’ve been going into the Big Ten season since you’ve been here?
TOM ALLEN: Absolutely. I’ve not been here very long. In the few years I’ve been here, this is the healthiest we’ve been going in. Last year we started the opening game against Ohio State. Most years you don’t play your first game against a conference opponent.
I do think it’s a variable. I know injuries are always that age-old question of how do you prevent them, nobody wants them. They’re always going to be there in some form or fashion. We definitely focused on doing things in our preparation that would limit soft tissue injuries. Purchased different mechanisms for that. The guys have bought into it. Even part of their diet, as well, some things we try to emphasize, their hydration. Those all go into that part of your body.
Injuries can’t be prevented completely. But there’s no question that we are currently experiencing less than we had a year ago, and that’s a good thing. Hurt us last year. Got to continue to have.
Today was a big lifting day for us. We’ve changed our entire schedule of the week. We changed the day we have off, the day we lift, changed a lot of things under the direction and advice that I followed from Dr. Ray and Coach Ballou, all their studies.
The objective is that we are at peak performance at kickoff each week, then also peak performance week eight, week nine, week 10, 11, 12, the bowl game. That’s the objective, that’s the goal, that’s what we’re trying to get to.
So far we’ve seen definitely some positive results of that.
Q. With Whop, has he been a guy who has been involved as you like to see so far? Some things you’d like to see him get involved with?
TOM ALLEN: I think he’ll continue. It’s a good challenge to have. We have more play-makers on offense than we had I feel a year ago. So there will be I think different games where different guys, based on how they’re playing. Sometimes you don’t even know that till the game starts. You can scheme a certain way, and there will be gains where he’ll get a whole bunch of catches.
He’s going to touch the ball. We have different guys we can get the ball to. He’s extremely explosive. You saw when he got the ball in his hands Saturday what he can do with it. Each week it varies. That will be something, whatever, we’re going to take what they’re giving us. That maybe run game-wise, pass game-wise. I believe we have the scheme and personnel to take advantage of it.
Q. You mentioned this is kind of a similar team to what you saw last year. What is the mindset going into a game against a team that you’ve had a lot of success against?
TOM ALLEN: We didn’t finish last season. It was 9-3 in the fourth quarter, had opportunities to hopefully score touchdowns in the red zone. To their credit defensively, that didn’t happen for us. They were really good on defense.
They’re really good again this year. Haven’t given up hardly any rushing yards all, stingy down in the red zone. Coach Dantonio always has a great defense, big, strong guys that are very well-coached. The expectation is we got to score touchdowns when we get down there. You don’t beat a team like this kicking field goals. That’s the objective there, the expectation.
We got to play great defense. We’re still developing and growing. They have big old backs, big receivers, really good quarterback, big old offensive line. They’re a bona fide, legit Big Ten football team that’s contending for the Big Ten championship.
We are going to have to play our best game of the season, have our best week of preparation, execute at the highest level in all three phases.
Q. Offensively their quarterback is completing almost 70%. What makes him such a threat to you guys?
TOM ALLEN: I tell you what, that’s what makes it hard. He’s an accurate passer. They got big receivers that can be matchup problems. He’s athletic enough to beat you with his legs. He’s tough enough to run over you. That’s kind of always a big challenge with a big quarterback like that because the rules are such to protect him. He comes barreling at you, runs you over, instead of sliding sometimes.
I think he’s a tough old guy that loves to play the game. He’s kind of my kind of guy playing quarterback, to be honest with you. I have a lot of respect for him, how hard and tough he plays.
I think for them when he really started figuring things out, playing really well last year, that’s when they took off. That’s how it is at that position. That position really is about leadership and production. He’s really good at doing both. You can just tell they believe in him. I think that’s kind of the difference. The year that we were able to — my first year here when we beat them in overtime, I don’t think they had the kind of quarterback play they probably were looking for. It was early in the season, just like it is now. But they didn’t have that established guy there they were trying to figure that out.
I think they have that now. O.J. Scott is a tremendously talented runningback with a big old load, has great feet, good speed. They’re really a complete team. They don’t have a weakness. They’re very, very solid in all phases, special teams included. Their defense is maybe the strength of their team.
When you watch them, there’s a lot of similarities. Obviously the scheme always varies, they’ll have wrinkles and things they’re trying to give to us. A typical Michigan State, Coach Dantonio team, physical, fundamental, tough. That’s what they’re going to be.
Q. You played 12 true freshmen to this point. We’re getting close to that four game thing. Do you have a good feel for maybe how many of those 12 guys will go beyond four games? The weekly Morgan Ellison update.
TOM ALLEN: The first part of your question, basically of those 12 guys, I’d say probably eight of them are probably going to just keep on playing. There’s probably three or four in there that kind of based on some of those guys have played a certain amount of games already, if a guy has played three, more than likely if they played him that much at this point, he’s probably going to continue to play. The guys that played maybe one or two at this point, we’re continuing to look at.
Now that you get into conference play, you say who is really going to be the guys you want to invest in for a whole season worth of their experience.
I feel pretty comfortable saying seven or eight of those guys are probably going to keep on rolling. There’s another quarter of them, three or four, we’ll see what they do with them moving forward. There’s some guys we’ve already said, you know what, probably going to be redshirting those guys. That can change. There’s still going to be opportunities.
We have several guys that haven’t played yet in any games that I think before the season is over we’ll play because you have those four games you can use, could be just on the special teams. That’s the beauty of the rule, you can take a guy just for special teams week eight, nine, ten, whatever, get him on there to give us depth. If a guy gets injured, we’re trying to rest a certain position guy that’s playing a lot on offense or defense, to be able to get him on the field.
That’s really where I think you’re going to see the true benefit of the rule is to be able to maximize those guys late in the season. They may not have been ready to help you in the beginning, but they may play on offense, defense, for certain snaps, still be able to keep the redshirt. That to me will play itself out here the next several weeks.
No real update with Morgan in regards to him playing yet. When we know something, we’ll let everybody know. Nothing has changed with that.
Q. Turnover, three sacks on Saturday. Where is your defense in terms of maybe creating the big-time plays that you want, the game-changing plays?
TOM ALLEN: Getting closer. Seven tackles for loss is good. I like to get eight, kind of my goal for a game, eight plus. Three sacks is our goal. Three takeaways is our goal. Didn’t get that. That’s disappointing.
Dropped one pick, I thought was a makable catch. One of those kind of right there. We had the quarterback secure. I thought it could have been a pick-six. Green grass ahead of him. He’s fast. We can’t drop those.
Sometimes you drop a ball, I’m mad. Those are missed opportunities. Those really make me — you know, ticks me off when we drop those. We created a drill in today’s practice, because it’s happened a couple times in practice, where the balls are not even coming at you fast, tipped up in the air, they’re there, hand-eye coordination, focus drills. The backers always seem to be the ones involved in that. Got to get that ball out.
As you continue to be in the better position, you’re closer to the football, you’re more confident, playing faster, that creates takeaways, it creates the opportunity to get those takeaways when the ball is on the ground, tipped or thrown, you’re closer to the ball because you’re more confident in your reads, your fits, all that. I expect that to continue.
We know it’s a big part of creating momentum in games, field position, all those things, helps to set up your offense. But we’re getting there. I just think we have to create a lot of things pressure-wise, which is what we do. We’ve done it ever since I’ve been here. We got to continue to do that.
I thought as I looked at the game kind of unfolding, we’re not doing a great job on first downs early in the half. By the second half, we started doing a better job of getting some third-and-longs, could do some things we want to be able to do. Put pressure, covering. That created some of those sacks.
Felt like we left a couple sacks out there. I know for a fact, called one pressure, and the guy was set up to make the play, and would have based on how that play unfolded. Didn’t blitz. That’s frustrating. Feel like another D-end was able — had he executed the call correctly, would have been right there for an additional sack.
That sometimes happens. At the same time we can’t miss those. Those are big plays that change games. To me it’s just a matter of continuing to grow and develop our defense, develop our depth, our offense, allow us to finish what we want to finish.
Q. How much of a concern with Michigan State having changed a lot of personnel in the first couple games due to injuries, then a bye week in addition to that, how much of a concern is it in your preparation for Michigan State that you’re going to have to make a lot of adjustments?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, I think that’s going to be reality. I’m sure like everybody else, they’re not going to just advertise exactly who’s going to be there, not be there. We don’t know who is back or not, whatever. The way I approach it is, you basically got to be great in game coaching early in the year.
A lot of question marks. They only played two games. Already having their bye week, we don’t have a big body of work to study on them. We have previous seasons. They’re coaching staff has been pretty consistent on that side of the ball. I think it definitely puts you at a disadvantage in some ways.
You have to adjust on the run. You basically build or plan up based on what you know. That’s what I try to do, build on what you know, adjust on what happens that you may not know. You don’t want to chase a bunch of ghosts, what may or may not possibly happen.
The personnel parts of it, they’ll announce certain things, who is in, who is out. To me, whoever they have in that spot is going to be ready to play. They’ll do a great job. There definitely is going to be some unknowns for sure.
Q. You talk about freshmen playing on special teams. Talk about Jamar Johnson on that punt return by Jason.
TOM ALLEN: I tell you, Jamar Johnson is one of the best athletes on our team. I’ve said it already. He can play all five defensive positions. He can be a corner, either side of corner, a free safety, rover, husky. There’s not many guys I can say that about that just shows you the potential we believe he has. He’s a tough kid. He loves to hit, loves to play the game.
As a matter of fact, even a week ago we said I want to get this guy involved more on special teams. He’s too good of a football player to not be. We’re going to even start training him for some third down opportunities defensively to master a certain area of one position on that side of the ball at this point.
Yeah, I mean, I just think it’s his effort, it’s toughness, it’s want to. We didn’t even have a run set up. We were going for a block on the punt return for a touchdown. What happened after we go for the block, it does create some space naturally because they got to protect first, then cover. Then it took flat out effort for guys to get in position. J-Shun was being J-Shun, started seeing the crease, taking it. Our guys got in position. We coach them what to do after they go for a block and don’t get it, we peel back. Bought into that. Guys were getting heads across. Always worry about blocks in the back. You see those even at the NFL level. Every time there’s a punt return, seems like there’s a block in the back in the NFL.
We have to coach really hard for that, eliminate those mistakes. Fortunately no one did that. Just looking for guys to legally hit in the front, do it within the rules, the structure now.
Jamar is just a really good football player that I think has a really bright future here.
Q. Open-ended question. Where do you feel like this team needs to go next? You felt like there’s progress in all three phases last weekend. Where does it need to grow next?
TOM ALLEN: Win Big Ten games, period. That’s what’s next. We got to win Big Ten games. One at a time. That’s the way I approach it. I told our team today, they understand how I think. This is the biggest game of the season, the most important game of the season for one reason: it’s the next one.
We are going to be absolutely focused on Michigan State and everything we have to do to win this game. To me that’s the next step. You take them one at a time. All you do is focus on that next opponent. We try to train a team to think that way, allow them to play their very, very best. We know we play in a great league with a lot of great teams. This is a great opportunity for us to take the next step in our season, which is to be 1-0 at the end of the week.
Thank you. Have a great day.