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Indiana head coach Tom Allen walks the sideline during IU's loss to Nebraska on Oct. 1. (HN photo/Max Wood)
Indiana head coach Tom Allen walks the sideline during IU's loss to Nebraska on Oct. 1. (HN photo/Max Wood)

Hoosiers hope offseason additions and changes will propel them to bounceback season

New faces on the coaching staff, in the quarterback room and elsewhere are cause for optimism at Big Ten Media Day

INDIANAPOLIS – Toughness. 

That is the word that head coach Tom Allen and his Indiana Hoosiers are embracing this upcoming season. A trait that will be essential for all members of this program to fight the narrative that has developed around this team over the past few years. 

“I'm extremely excited for the upcoming season. Our word for 2023 is ‘toughness.’ We define that as a mental and physical strength to persevere,” Allen said at Big Ten Media Day. 

Persevere is exactly what this team will need to do. The Hoosiers have spent the offseason trying to fill in the holes in the program, and there is no telling how successful their efforts will be until the season begins. There is no doubt trial and error will play a part. Last season, there were a lot of error. But don’t forget, this is a team that has surprised people in the past. 

For a second season in a row one of those holes is in the quarterback room. The front runners for the job are Tayven Jackson, former four-star recruit and Tennessee transfer, and Brendan Sorsby. Allen said the starter will not be named until Week 1. 

“It’s going to come down to fall camp,” running back Jaylin Lucas said. “They showed me, they all have something similar to each other. They’re all kind of the same right now.”

While finding the right fit for the position is critical for Indiana, Allen’s focus is on maximizing the strengths of those around to help the young quarterback, whoever it may be.

“Once you pick who that individual is, you've got to make sure you're building everything around them so they can be at their best and be able to be comfortable. Obviously whoever is going to be is going to be a younger guy that's going to have to grow up really fast,” Allen said. 

The Hoosiers are already handicapped by a plague that is all too familiar with Indiana quarterbacks: injuries. Dexter Williams was the biggest glimmer of hope for Indiana. He showed promise in being able to extend plays and spearheaded the cold, miraculous win over Michigan State in November. The future of Indiana football was here, but not for long. Williams suffered a devastating knee injury and will not be available until later in the season. 

Whenever Indiana finds its man, keeping him healthy will be a must. That starts with the offensive line. Bob Bostad was another addition in the offseason as an offensive line coach to try and combat this chronic issue. 

“[Bostad]’s been with them all spring,” Allen said, “being able to bring in his thoughts and ideas, the toughness he brings, the attention to detail, the way he coaches them, and just the relentlessness of the way he approaches offensive line play. It's a huge part of our team.”

Another area Allen addressed in the offseason was the defense. As a notorious defensive guy, Allen has gone back and forth on calling the defense himself. This season he is bringing on some more help, hiring Matt Guerrieri as a co-defensive coordinator alongside Chad Wilt.  

Indiana defensive back Noah Pierre is pictured during IU's loss to Nebraska on Oct. 1. (HN photo/Max Wood)

“I feel like it's important for me to become the best head coach I can be, the best gameday manager of the entire game, both sides of the football and special teams, for me not to be focused on calling the defense,” Allen said.

“It’s been an easy adjustment to his play calling style,” defensive back Noah Pierre said. “He tells me exactly what he wants and I’m able to put that on film.”

Pierre and linebacker Aaron Casey are some of the few players on this year’s roster who are familiar with the success of the program a few years ago and who know what a good Indiana team looks like. 

“It was all about our preparation,” Casey said. “I feel like this summer we’ve been through a lot of preparation, a lot of shared adversity, going through a lot of different situations to get more connected to build our relationships with each other and to trust the guy to your left and your right.”

Indiana linebacker Aaron Casey looks up during warmups before Indiana's overtime win over Western Kentucky on Sept. 17. (HN photo/Max Wood)

A lot of the offseason focus has revolved around establishing leaders and finding those guys to take command on both sides of the ball. Casey said that Navy SEALs came in and the team had to work together to complete “missions.” Leaders were appointed and essential in completing the mission, while keeping consistent with the theme of mental and physical toughness. 

However, the true testament to the Hoosiers’ toughness will come Week 1 as they face Ohio State. 

“Challenging, yes, but I would say it forces you to grow up real fast,” Allen said. “Everybody's excited about the start of the season, but I think when it's that kind of opponent it all gets raised to another level. Our team knows that. We understand that. There's an urgency that our staff has because of it, and fall camp is affected by that in a very positive way. So it's a challenge we embrace, without question.”

Indiana is spending time during camp and preseason to prepare for its powerhouse opponent, while Ohio State head coach Ryan Day said that he considered auctioning off the first play of the game but ultimately decided against it in fear of a violation of some sort. 

Everything feels rather uncertain in Bloomington, but there are some positives for the Hoosiers. 

“We have a strong nucleus returning, and we had great success in the portal,” Allen said. “We've been very focused on identifying young men across this country that were the best football players that fit our culture, that wanted to be at Indiana.”

Lucas echoed Allen’s thoughts, saying the additions from the transfer portal have made the Hoosiers stronger.

“I can say it, it's going to be some real good football played here at Indiana,” Lucas said. 

As one of those strong returners, the All-American Lucas made headlines last year, shocking everyone with his speed and agility. Lucas quickly became someone Indiana relied on as a playmaker. This year, expect to see Lucas being utilized in different positions across the offense, and wherever he is, expect a play to happen.

“I can play slot, I can play anywhere on the field, it doesn't matter where you put me. You can put me outside, I’m going to make something happen,” Lucas said. 

Lucas was not guaranteed to return. A true freshman earning titles such as First Team All-American and Big Ten Kick Returner of the Year was bound to draw the attention of bigger programs. 

“As soon as we were done, I made a home visit to his house because I knew how special he was,” Allen said. “I never sat down and said, ‘Have you gotten an offer from someone else?’ I knew he had.”

“I decided to stay because I felt like there was something here that needed to be built. It’s some unfinished business here,” Lucas said. “I want to win a Big Ten championship.” 

Lucas is not alone. 

“We’ve been turning things around this year,” Casey said. “All the preparation, all the work, and all the dedication we’ve put into the summer, I believe we’re going to turn it around.”

“We want to win all of our trophy games,” Pierre said. “We have the Spittoon, we want to keep that. We want to go get the Bucket, and we want to win a bowl game.”

Toughness will certainly be crucial in attempting to achieve those goals.

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