IU head coach Tom Allen had watched the same jerseys press against each other for weeks, the same helmets on both sides of the line of scrimmage.
He had an idea of how he believed his team would look, but he hadn’t seen it face an opponent.
A week ago against Ball State, Allen finally saw something new. He saw helmets without the IU trident on the side.
Teams often make the biggest improvements from week one to two. It’s the first week after playing a real game. For the first time, coaches have film to look at from a 2019 game.
“When you’re playing another opponent, it always exposes things,” Allen said. “You really don’t know. Was one side of the ball stronger than you thought, not as strong as you thought?”
On offense, Allen saw the emergence of a quarterback learning how to be a starter. Michael Penix had his mental mistakes. He had moments where he still was trying to learn Kalen DeBoer’s offense. But so was the rest of his team. Heading into the second game, Allen feels his offense is more comfortable.
An area Allen certainly expected to be one his best coming into the season was his running backs. It is a group led by a returning 1,000-yard rusher who now has become the focal point for defenses. But it’s a group that also contains explosive backs such as Cole Gest and Ronnie Walker along with highly touted freshman Sampson James.
But against Ball State, the leading rusher wasn’t any of those four. It was Penix.
The running game got almost nothing going against Ball State, something that the offensive line took personally.
“They took it personally, and I called them out on it in regards to be able to run the football better,” Allen said. “Load the box or not, you’ve got to be able to run the football.”
IU’s week two opponent is Eastern Illinois, a FCS team that won just three games last season. Eastern Illinois did allow just 94 rushing yards against Chattanooga in its first game of the year, and should be expected to stack the box again given the success Ball State had.
It’s on Stevie Scott and the running backs. That group is going to get the attention. It’s the group Eastern Illinois and defenses all year are going to try to stop.
Sure, Eastern Illinois didn’t allow 100 rushing yards in week one, but it’s still a defense where the running game should be able to bounce back.
On the other side of the ball, Eastern Illinois put up just 10 points last week, though it did amass 370 total yards. It’s an offense that played two quarterbacks nearly equally against Chattanooga and is going through a rebuild. It’s not the days of Tony Romo or Jimmy Garoppolo.
And it’s an offense facing an IU defense needing to take big strides. The IU offense is starting to feel more comfortable and the running game needs to get better. But the defense is the group is most need of improvement.
Against Ball State, IU missed 25 tackles for 181 yards, according to Allen. It was missed tackles that kept Ball State within striking distance of IU late in the game.
In a game where IU is favored by nearly 36 points, this is the opportunity for the defense to bounce back.
On paper, Eastern Illinois is the weakest team on IU’s schedule. And with Ohio State looming a week away, those improvements have to happen now.
- DB Reese Taylor (hand) is expected to play after missing the opener against Ball State.
- LB Cam Jones (lower leg) will be a game-time decision Saturday. “If he’s not 100%, he isn’t going to play,” Allen said.