Tom Allen thought back to what his father advised him when it came to building a coaching staff.
“He said you’d better make sure you have the best defensive back coach you can find and the best offensive line coach you can find because those are the two areas that are the hardest for kids to play, and they’ll get you beat if you don’t get them right,” the Hoosiers’ head coach said. “And I believe it.”
Two days after falling in the final moments to then-No. 25 Michigan State, Allen looked back at the film and saw an offensive line that was able to make adjustments against one of the best fronts in the nation without its rock left tackle.
Allen wasn’t sure true freshman Matthew Bedford was going to be able to handle the workload and opponent. But Bedford started, and played every snap as IU put up the best offensive performance any team has against Michigan State this season.
But as Allen looked back at the film he was reminded of his secondary, and the extent to which it was lacking.
Allen as three goals for the current bye week. First, Allen wants to create a physical and mental break for his team. The Hoosiers will only practice three times this week before coaches, including Allen, head off on recruiting trips this weekend.
That leads Allen into his second goal: Getting healthy. The bye week and limited practices give a chance to for IU to get players with minor injuries back to full health. Among that group is Reese Taylor, who was certainly missed as Brian Lewerke passed for 300 yards against IU’s secondary. Without Taylor, the secondary lacked depth to be able to take out struggling veterans such as Raheem Layne and Andre Brown.
Allen’s third goal is to use the extended time to improve technically and fundamentally — again, something especially needed on the defensive side of the ball.
It’s a hard job working as Allen’s defensive coordinator, the former IU defensive coordinator himself. That’s where Kane Wommack is now.
As IU failed to close out the half on defense, Allen ripped into Wommack on the sidelines. Frankly, that’s part of who Allen is, an amped-up coach unafraid to let his emotions show.
And when something needs to be corrected, he isn’t letting that slide.
“I’m a pretty fiery guy,” Allen said. “I love Kane, and we’re really close. I’m going to rip his tail when his tail needs to be ripped.
Tom Allen is not happy with Kane Wommack pic.twitter.com/Sba30HbFzv
— Dustin Schutte (@SchutteCFB) September 28, 2019
“But at the same time, that’s my area. That’s where I do feel for Kane because you really don’t want to be the DC for the former DC, when he’s the head coach now. It’s a tough job, just tell it like it is because of every little thing. I’m hard on him in meetings, and I’m hard on him during the game.”
Allen streaks up and down the sidelines throughout every game. As the first half came to a close, and the Spartans scored a late touchdown to grab the lead and momentum, Allen went after his neon-clad defensive coordinator. He has high standards for his defense, and Wommack is treated differently than offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer.
That’s why Allen is so focused on fixing his defense.
And Wommack has work to do with his young group. Against Michigan State, there was one reliable cornerback, and it was a true freshman: Tiawan Mullen. Spartan wideout Darrell Stewart had five catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns, but none of that came with Mullen guarding him.
It was that type of overall underperformance in the secondary that led to IU’s failure to close out either half, both quite costly.
Allen will be working with Wommack to clean up the back end; he has to. But it’s still Wommack’s defense, as much as Allen wants to, and maybe should, put his hands on it.
“When we took the lead early in the fourth quarter, got on a headset, guys seemed excited — which you want energy, there’s no question about it,” Allen said. “But I said to our guys specifically, I said, ‘Fellas, we have a young football team. Teach them how to handle where we are. We have to finish.'”
They didn’t finish, IU lost the lead, and later lost the game. It’s a group that doesn’t yet know how to finish Allen said, and it has to experience finishing to learn. It isn’t there yet, and that’s where IU continues to build.
“We have to put ourselves in the position to be able to execute at the high level in those moments,” Allen said. “Part of it is talent. That’s where recruiting comes in. Part of it is depth because when you don’t have enough depth the fatigue sets in, you make a mental mistake because you’re mentally tired.
“To me we’re addressing those things but we’ve got to get it done on the football field. All right. There’s a lot of little things to go into it, but to say how — to me, sometimes, a really good player makes a really good play, all right. Well, those really good plays need to be made by the Hoosiers, not by the opponent.”