West Lafayette, Ind.– Last year after the Old Oaken Bucket game, Tom Allen walked into the Team Room in Memorial Stadium to face questions from the media after finishing a second-consecutive season 5-7.
The 28-21 loss to Purdue was the second loss in as many tries to its arch-rival and once again left Indiana on the outside looking in during bowl season.
During his postgame presser, a subdued Allen talked about the tears he saw in the locker room from both the veterans and young players who had to step up over the course of the season.
He vowed to take a deeper look at his program and to continue developing as a coach to best serve the team in front of him.
It wasn’t an overnight fix for a program that hadn’t seen a winning season since 2007 and hasn’t won a bowl game since 1991. And it still has a long way to go in what Allen is trying to build in Bloomington.
But instead of heading into the visitor’s locker room at Ross-Ade Stadium in West Lafayette to face a distraught team, Allen stormed across the field after Peyton Ramsey ran a quarterback sneak to beat Purdue 44-41 in double overtime.
It marked the first time IU raised the Old Oaken Bucket since 2016 and secured IU’s first eight-win season since 1993.
“This team had high expectations for this season and they expected to be in this situation,” Allen said. “You’ve got to earn it and obviously it’s not easy. That’s what they believe. It’s humbling. We don’t take anything for granted.”
There’s no denying how far Indiana has come in just the past season. It was the third with Allen at the helm but it was the first time that IU felt like any credible threat to the Big Ten.
Much of that can be accredited to the personnel changes made by Allen in the offseason. It started with the retirement of offensive coordinator Mike DeBord, a figure widely controversial in the ranks of IU fans.
His replacement: Kalen DeBoer.
In his first season as the offensive coordinator in Bloomington, IU has become the conference’s leading passing offense behind the combination of Peyton Ramsey and Michael Penix.
He’s turned Ramsey into a dual-threat at quarterback and has revolutionized an Indiana offense that under Allen, couldn’t find explosive plays and couldn’t move the ball down the field.
Saturday, that improvement was in full-force. Even without the services of Stevie Scott, Donavan Hale, Matthew Bedford, Coy Cronk and Penix, Indiana consistently carved up the Purdue defense.
"Initially, I wanted to go sprintin' down there and jump on the pile."
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) November 30, 2019
Sampson James ran for 118 yards and a touchdown in place of Scott. Whop Philyor returned from a concussion suffered against Penn State to catch eight passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns.
On top of that, Ramsey once again looked like an elite-level quarterback. It would’ve simply been foolish to think that a season ago when IU’s offense was stuck in its own backfield.
This was IU’s ninth time this season scoring more than 30 points, tied for a program record. It’s no coincidence that DeBoer’s performance this season hasn’t gone without recognition. He’s a semi-finalist for the Broyles Award, which honors the top assistant in College Football.
And the whole season, Allen has looked like a genius.
Building this program was as much about making the right decisions off-the-field as it was on-the-field. It was also about reiterating to the powers that be, that Allen was the right guy as head coach.
“When somebody puts their confidence in you and gives you an opportunity, you want to do everything to make them understand that they made a great decision,” Allen said. “You don’t know the future. I want them to know they made the right decision because I love this place. I worked my tail off to make sure they’re successful. I’m not guaranteed anything and I know that. They’re always going to get my very best no matter what it is.”
Allen checked the box with the hiring of DeBoer. He checked it again when he handed the reigns of the defense to Kane Wommack to focus on being a full-time head coach.
The defense has been inconsistent over portions of the season, allowing 30-plus points four times. But it’s found strides of success as IU has fought its way to eight wins.
A season ago, Allen struggled to admit the difficulty of balancing the head coaching duties with that of the defensive coordinator. But handing over the reigns to Wommack has changed the way Allen attacks ballgames.
It’s more time on game film or in the locker room. It’s more time recruiting top-level talent IU needs to compete with the best teams in the conference.
It’s why just a year later, IU is 8-4 and has spent time in the Top 25 of both the Coaches Poll and the AP Poll.
The decisions that Allen has made over the course of the last year and the things he’s been able to admit have helped change the trajectory of the program in Bloomington.
"I'm living the dream. It's been pretty awesome."
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) November 30, 2019
Just one year after putting up a measly 21 points against Purdue, it was Ramsey diving into the endzone for his fifth overall touchdown and the 44th point of the game.
“Those are the kinds of things you dream about, making big plays in big games,” Ramsey said. “It was nerve wracking in overtime. But to have the opportunity to celebrate with those guys, it was awesome.”
Over this past season, IU has rekindled its offensive power, started to overhaul its defense and has built the most momentum this program has had in 20 years.
The emotion could be seen as the team darted to the end zone to celebrate with Ramsey and grab the Bucket. It could be seen as Jaylin Williams and Reese Taylor danced around on the Purdue logo at midfield. Or as Philyor jumped on Allen’s back as they left the field.
“It means a lot especially after not winning this game the last two seasons and being so close,” Ramsey said. “Finally getting the win here is awesome. You can see it with the celebration in the locker room, the emotion, it’s awesome.”
What Allen has built in Bloomington in just three seasons can’t be undermined. And how far he’s come personally and as a coach in the past year can’t be either. He’s building something special in Bloomington.
It’s why this year was so different. There were tears again in his post-game press conference. But only because he’s so thankful of where he started and how far he’s brought this team in his time as head coach.
“Living the dream has been pretty awesome,” Allen said. “I’m proud of this team and I appreciate the opportunity we’ve been given. I wanted this so bad for our university, alumni and for everyone that supported us and invested in this program.”