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‘New Wave’ of youth brings optimism, and tries not to overlook Rutgers

Tom Allen doesn’t often get to watch football on Saturday.

But once he returned from his recruiting trips on Thursday and Friday, Allen got to sit in front of his TV and watch, taking advantage of his bye week.

“I was going back and forth with several,” Allen said. “Had them on, trying to flow through from noon until throughout most of the day. Just trying to watch as much as I can. And you learn things and you go through, I watched situational things that teams put themselves in and how they answer those as coaches and evaluate things.”

But he watched one game with a particular focus: Maryland vs. Rutgers, IU’s next two opponents.

Allen watched Rutgers — a team without the head coach, quarterback or running back it led with to start the season — fall 48-7 to Maryland.

IU opened as a 25-point favorite against Rutgers, one of the largest, if not the largest opening line IU has ever been favored by in a conference game.

And it’s for that reason Allen isn’t treating this game any differently than he did Ball State, Eastern Illinois or UConn.

“I think that the challenge is you’ve got to be a mature football team to understand it’s a Big Ten opportunity for teams,” Allen said. “They’ve got a unique situation they’re in right now, but we have no control over that. And all we can control is how we prepare. And I know that we’re playing a Big Ten football team all Saturday. We’ll have to be at our very best. That’s the absolute truth.”

Tiawan Mullen dives at the feet of Michigan State running back Elijah Collins during Indiana’s 41-30 loss in East Lansing. Mullen is doing his part as one of the faces of Tom Allen’s ‘new wave.’ (Jared Rigdon/HN)

Though the line for IU against Rutgers may only be that large from the ignition provided by youth, the group Tiawan Mullen dubbed as the “New Wave.”

“You show everybody it’s not the same Indiana that everybody can just run over,” Mullen said. “We’re not just coming to compete. We want to show everybody that we can win those games.”

The experienced members of the IU team see the potential in the young group, and the impact they’ve already brought.

“Most of the guys on this team lost to those teams and seen what we can improve,” junior wideout Whop Philyor said. “The young guys with us, Tiawan, come on, look at this guy, he’s a freshman, he’s doing what he’s doing. We just bring the younger guys, we tell them, ‘We can really do this. Y’all just come on, just get on the boat.'”

Mullen hasn’t taken long to make an adjustment from high school to college. Pro Football Focus graded Mullen as one of the top five cornerbacks in the nation following his performance against Michigan State. It hasn’t done much to change Mullen’s confidence, he’s had that since high school and carried that with him into college.

“I thought he had a lot of natural ball savvy to him,” Allen said. “Some guys have a knack for that. There was a moxie and swagger that he brought.”

Mullen comes from a football family. His brother, Trayvon, was drafted in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft by the Oakland Raiders. His cousin is former Heisman trophy winner and current Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. He’s played against Trayvon since they were both little kids in the backyard. They talk daily, and Trayvon always looks out to help find ways for his younger brother to get better.

But at the core of the young group is Michael Penix. Philyor walked behind Penix as he began his Monday press conference. He cheered on his teammate, shouting him out as he began to answer a question. He, like many of the more experienced members of the IU team, has quickly bought in and trusts his young quarterback.

“The only thing that surprised me about Mike is how fast he learned the offense,” Philyor said. “I knew he could throw the football. I saw him in high school so I knew he could throw the football.”

Penix has talked about a “1-0 mindset” during all of his media sessions, no matter who the team has played, even if he hasn’t yet had a media session ahead of a game against the elite tier Big Ten teams.

Penix said that he and DeBoer watch film with a very detailed eye. They always push each other to be better.

And like his head coach, he watched football all day on Saturday. Football is his life too.

Just like Allen, he focused on the Rutgers game, and had a clear takeaway.

“Don’t underestimate them, that’s one thing that coach definitely puts in our ear all the time,” Penix said. “You have to play your game every single down no matter who we’re playing. We have to come out and execute because you never know what can happen.”

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