BLOOMINGTON — Noting the number of upsets around the country in week one, Indiana coach Tom Allen was pleased to come away with a 34-24 win Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium against Ball State.
“You look across the country and it’s tough to win,” Allen said. “You know, you’d better show up every single week when you play at this level, and everybody works really hard.”
But Allen saw plenty of issues the Hoosiers need to clean up as they prepare for their home opener Saturday against Eastern Illinois (3:30 p.m., Big Ten Network).
First and foremost, Allen said, is tackling. Allen counted 25 missed tackles on film that accounted for 181 yards. Defensive coordinator Kane Wommack counted 23 missed tackles for the same yardage. Whatever the number, Allen and Wommack both agreed it is not to the standard the IU defense has set since Allen took over as coach three years ago.
“That’s significant and something that I take personally,” Allen said.
Wommack said due to limited contact in camp, sometimes there’s only so much players can absorb through drills and film study, particularly younger players appearing in their first live action of the season.
“Now you have evidence to show them when you don’t do it properly, this is what happens,” Wommack said. “Sometimes, I know this isn’t the flashy answer, but the simple and real answer is, sometimes you’ve just got to feel 220 pounds coming down on you and feel like, oh, that’s what it feels like to tackle.”
Wommack will tweak some tackling drills this week to simulate ballcarriers moving away from defenders. IU defensive players plan to take accountability to improve tackling this week in practice.
“Throughout the week we’re going to work on it, emphasize the wrapping and driving and squeezing through the tackle,” said sophomore linebacker Micah McFadden, whose missed tackle resulted in a 45-yard touchdown for Ball State running back Walter Fletcher on a catch-and-run play.
Wommack also felt the secondary was timid at times in coverage, particularly on third down. Ball State finished the game 7-of-16 (43.8 percent) on third-down conversions.
“We had an opportunity to be dominant on the situational downs,” Wommack said.
As for takeaways, Wommack said there were some missed opportunities early in the game, but he was pleased sophomore cornerback Jaylin Williams came through with an interception with 1:14 left to seal the win. That extended IU’s takeaway streak to 19 games, which is the longest in FBS.
Offensively, Allen would like to see the Hoosiers establish the run better after finishing with 148 yards on 4.5 yards per carry against Ball State. There also were a number of dropped passes by receivers throughout the game. Redshirt freshman Michael Penix passed for 326 yards in his starting debut but threw two interceptions.
“The first pick was really on him,” Allen said. “He forced it in there. The second one was really a poorly run route, and then he stumbled to make it worse, so that was really kind of not as much on him.”
DeBoer has confidence in his receivers despite the Week 1 drops. Nick Westbrook caught a 75-yard touchdown pass earlier in the game but dropped a second potential long touchdown throw that was slightly under thrown by Penix. Junior receiver Whop Philyor had a drop in the end zone and a drop in the red zone in the second quarter but came back to make a big 10-yard catch in traffic during IU’s field goal drive in the fourth quarter to put the Hoosiers up 34-24 with 2:15 left.
“There’s no question we missed a lot of opportunities,” DeBoer said. “I look at the guys that it happened to, and I believe in those guys. So I’ve seen them in practice make a lot of catches. You maybe make the throw a little bit better but even that being said, the guys that are going to have those opportunities are going to make those plays.”
PENIX, JUSTUS HONORED
Penix was honored as Big Ten freshman of the week for his performance against Ball State, while senior place-kicker Logan Justus was named Big Ten special teams player of the week.
Penix passed for 326 yards and a touchdown and added a team-high 67 yards rushing in the Ball State win.
“The country got to see what I saw in practice,” Allen said.
Penix didn’t find out about the honor until after practice Monday.
“It’s a blessing, but there’s still always room for improvement,” Penix said.
Justus made four of four field goals against Ball State, including kicks from 48, 49 and 50 yards.
“I look at it as more of a team award,” said Justus, who improved to 19-for-22 in field goal attempts in his IU career.
Allen said sophomore defensive back Reese Taylor will be back for the Eastern Illinois game. The 2017 Indiana Mr. Football has been dealing with a hand injury throughout camp and only recently returned to practice.
“He was out there (Monday), which was great,” Allen said. “He was one that could have gone, but we just want to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy, and so we expect to have him back.”
Allen said sophomore linebacker Cam Jones is dealing with a lower leg injury that will be evaluated during the week and is questionable for Eastern Illinois.
Indiana will honor the 40th anniversary of its 1979 Holiday Bowl-winning team during the Eastern Illinois game. The Lee Corso-coached Hoosiers went 8-4, knocking off BYU 38-37 for the first bowl win in school history. … After studying film, Allen named tight end Peyton Hendershot and running back Ronnie Walker Jr. as offensive players of the game, senior linebacker Reakwon Jones as defensive player of the game and Justus as special teams player of the game. Hendershot had a career-high 69 yards receiving on four catches, while Jones had a team-high 11 tackles. Walker had just 14 yards rushing and three yards receiving but received the honor for his blocking on blitz pickups. … Wommack, a former defensive coordinator at Eastern Illinois from 2014-15, will be facing some old friends Saturday. “Still get a group text from some of those EIU guys, and the trash talking has already begun,” Wommack said. “So I have to have my game ready for them. It was a fun group.”