BLOOMINGTON – Through two games, Indiana has been among the most penalized teams in the Big Ten, with 15 penalties for 155 yards.
Indiana coach Tom Allen has made cutting down on those penalties a priority this week after the No. 13 Hoosiers were flagged 11 times for 119 yards in their 37-21 win last Saturday against Rutgers.
Many of those penalties came in big chunks, as senior wide receiver Whop Philyor was penalized 15 yards for a facemask and 15 yards for an unsportsmanlike penalty after failing to come up with an onside kick. In addition, linebacker Micah McFadden and defensive lineman Jovan Swann were both whistled for 15-yard roughing the passer penalties. McFadden’s penalty extended a drive in which Rutgers scored in the first quarter on a 23-yard TD pass from quarterback Noah Vedral to receiver Bo Melton.
Allen said the goal is to maintain the defense’s aggressiveness while playing smarter.
“That is the challenge because you don’t want to lose your intensity. You don’t want to lose your toughness and how physical we play,” Allen said, “I don’t want to lose that at all.”
On his radio show Wednesday, Allen said the unsportsmanlike penalties were addressed by having the players involved do extra running. To deal with the roughing-the-passer penalties, Allen had IU’s defensive players work on drills of raking down in front of quarterbacks without hitting their heads. Swann was whistled for roughing the passer when he inadvertently hit Vedral’s head on a rake down move while trying to deflect a pass.
“You are just trying to get your hands up and rake down through to be able to affect his vision, but you just can’t hit him in the head with your hands,” Allen said. “That’s really a point of emphasis — trying to protect the quarterbacks — and I respect that, just want it called both ways and want our quarterback protected as well with that.
“But we did some drills on that, very specific drills on how to do that from a technical perspective. So we’re not just talking about it, we’re instilling drills to get it corrected.”
Allen expects continued improvement from an offensive line breaking in a pair of new starters in redshirt freshman Mike Katic at left guard and senior Mackenzie Nworah at right guard. In addition, senior Harry Crider has shifted over from left guard to center this season.
Starting right tackle Matthew Bedford, who took himself out of the Rutgers game in the second half, has practiced all week without issues and should be fine for Michigan, Allen said.
Allen was pleased with the performance of Bedford’s replacement, junior Luke Haggard, a 6-foot-7, 275-pound JUCO transfer from Petaluma, California.
“Luke did a good job,” Allen said. “I have a lot of confidence in Luke, and I’m glad he had a chance to get in there. And he’s a guy we’ve been very impressed with in his development here since he came this past January.”
With the potential of losing players due to positive COVID-19 tests, Allen said developing depth on the offensive line remains critical. Allen mentioned redshirt sophomore Aidan Rafferty and junior Britt Beery as two more players on the offensive linemen who saw action against Rutgers and are continuing to develop.
“Those guys have got to rise up, and they’ve got to make plays when they are called upon, and they’ve got to do a great job of being ready at all times,” Allen said.
ANOTHER DEFENSIVE TEST
Allen expects the defense to get another test from a No. 23 Michigan team that ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rushing offense at 204 yards per game.
But Allen has been pleased with the development of IU’s defense under second-year defensive coordinator Kane Wommack. IU’s defense has generated its share of big plays this season, forcing six turnovers while recording five sacks and 14 tackles for loss.
Allen said Wommack deserves credit for getting the defense to play at a higher level early this season.
“I appreciate how hard he’s worked, and I appreciate the time he’s put in and how much he cares,” Allen said. “He loves his players, he’s a very smart guy, very sharp, very bright and those are all the things he brings to us.”
The 33-year old Wommack, already a candidate for the head coaching search at Southern Mississippi, hasn’t let that distract from his job piloting the Hoosiers’ defense.
“I really do believe that he’s bought into the culture that we have here, and that’s what makes our staff special,” Allen said. “I want a group of guys that really believe it’s not about them, and I know he has goals for himself, and I want him to achieve his goals for himself professionally.
“But what I’ve learned is when a coaching staff comes together, no matter who it is, and they truly believe if they buy in, just like the players are asked to do, to LEO (love each other), and to put this team first, and don’t care who gets the credit because it’s not about me, when coaches do that, and they model that, it’s a powerful thing.”