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Shaun Shivers stands in the rain during Indiana's win over Idaho on Sept. 10. (HN photo/Max Wood)
Shaun Shivers stands in the rain during Indiana's win over Idaho on Sept. 10. (HN photo/Max Wood)

Indiana football’s leaders are ensuring woeful start against Idaho doesn’t happen again

Veterans and new players alike are asserting themselves early on

Indiana football knows it got a little lucky to bounce back against Idaho. Tom Allen knows the team needs to focus more headed into Saturday’s matchup against Western Kentucky. 

To do that, the Hoosiers need their leaders.

“That's the way you want your team to respond because those opportunities are a great chance to learn,” Allen said in a Monday press conference. “Yes, (we’re) fortunate to be able to learn after a win, which doesn't always happen. I think that's where your player-led piece comes in. The leadership of this group, challenging those guys and being able to pull those guys aside.”

Allen has noted no shortage of leadership this season, even among players that aren’t captains. Returning vets such as Jaylin Williams, Matthew Bedford and D.J. Matthews Jr. have taken charge to ensure 2021 doesn’t repeat itself. New players, such as Shaun Shivers and Connor Bazelak, have filled in with personalities that differ from each other but sit well within the program.

Allen said it wasn't an effort issue that led to Indiana stumbling out of the gates in the first half against Idaho, but rather a lack of focus against a team that didn’t put up a fight last season. The Hoosiers’ 56-14 rout of the Vandals in 2021 brought in a false sense of confidence that led to an issue with focus ahead of their rematch.

With Western Kentucky, Indiana doesn’t have the same issue. 

“Last year was a dogfight down there at their place,” Allen said. “We were fortunate to come out with a win.”

The Hoosiers, who escaped 33-31 in Bowling Green, Kentucky, last season, know what to expect from the Hilltoppers this year — a high-flying offense that was ranked No. 1 last season and a defense second in the nation in turnovers. 

Western Kentucky brings in a new quarterback in Austin Reed, a graduate student transfer from the University of West Florida. It has a new running back, too, one that will be familiar to Indiana — former Hoosier running back Davion Ervin-Poindexter.

Still, Indiana will see many of the same schemes. 

Indiana’s leaders will have to step up to slow down Western Kentucky, whether by taking a vocal path or leading with their play. 

Allen said it’s vital Indiana has leaders at every position group. Luke Haggard has been an anchor for Indiana’s offensive line with Bedford out. Shivers has brought a fiery attitude Allen said was missing last season, even if it’s led to scuffles within the team at practice. Bazelak’s steadiness has kept the team stable, especially when struggling against Idaho.

“No matter what, good, bad, wrong, right or indifferent, wide open guy we miss, something bad happens, something good happens, he's the exact same guy all the time,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. “There's a million types of leadership… A mistake doesn't rattle him, or something good doesn't change his demeanor. He's even keel and can handle success and failure which is a huge strength for him.”

Indiana quarterback Connor Bazelak prepares for a snap during Indiana's win over Illinois on Sept. 2. (HN photo/Max Wood)

Indiana’s recent struggles, both against Idaho and in 2021 as a whole, have required strong leadership in order to bounce back. Allen said the players chosen as captains and put in leadership roles are important to the success of the Hoosiers moving forward.

“They've been put in those positions for a reason, and we expect them to verbally and physically lead this football team no matter what the situation is,” Allen said. “The good, the bad, the ups, the downs, whatever it happens to be.” 

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