The punishment was a set of push-ups. Twenty-five, to be exact.
It was the summer of 2016 and Tom Allen, then the Hoosiers’ first-year defensive coordinator, was eager to change the mentality of IU’s unproductive defense. So he started with a threat. Say the word “turnover,” Allen warned, and there would be push-ups to pay. Instead, call those moments — fumble recoveries and interceptions, especially — takeaways. To Allen, the former word felt too reactive, while the latter signaled an act of aggression. Quickly, the idea caught on.
Five years later, Allen has remade IU’s defense to his liking, with takeaways a central part of the Hoosiers’ identity. A year after Indiana led the Big Ten in interceptions (17) and total takeaways (20), the Hoosiers are aiming to answer Allen’s annual call once again.
“You get what you emphasize,” Allen said Monday. “We emphasize so much about takeaways. We have three (main points of emphasis) — we call it our DNA on defense. We have a DNA for offense, defense and special teams. The DNA on defense is takeaways, tackling and effort. And takeaways is the very first one. It’s been that way since I’ve been here and I believe in that.”
It’s not just that Allen believes in takeaways. He’s made it so that IU has lived — and thrived — off of them. The Hoosiers posted at least one in all but one (Outback Bowl) of their eight games in 2020. Entering the new campaign, the team has recorded at least a single takeaway in 36 of the past 39 games dating to the middle of the 2017 season.
“We just work on it,” Allen said. “If you come to our practice, they’re going to be doing something with takeaways every single day. We install that mindset every single day, and there’s multiple layers to it. There’s the pressure up front that you have to use to create those opportunities. Quarterbacks, if they have time to throw and they get in rhythm and they can step up into their throws and do that on time, they’re hard to get. But if you can get them off their spot — get them to move around, make them feel uncomfortable mentally and physically so it’s affecting (them), that’s a big variable.
“So it’s the pressure up front, which affects the quarterback, and then the mental affecting of the quarterback is how you can disguise your coverages; the things that you’re doing in the back end. And then there’s ball skills. You got to catch the ball. So we work on ball skills every day. We tell them they’re not on defense because they can’t catch. They’re on defense because they’re great athletes and they can create the takeaway. We say they are created. They don’t just happen by chance.”
For Allen, the hope is to create three per game. In five of the eight games the Hoosiers played last season, they met that objective. And this year, like every other under Allen, the goal will be to seize the ball — and seize it often.
“I’ll take them any way we can get them, whether they’re fumbles or interceptions,” Allen said. “We just want to get the ball from the (opposing) offense and give it to our offense.”
Monitoring injuries ahead of the opener
Running back David Ellis and defensive tackle Sio Nofoagatoto’a each came down with minor injuries early in fall camp. With the season merely days away, Allen says his medical staff is continuing to monitor the progress of both players.
In the case of Nofoagatoto’a, things seem to be trending in the right direction. Although the injury to Nofoagatoto’a has not been specified (to the best of my knowledge), Allen says he’s already been cleared to resume practicing with the team on Tuesday. That signals that Nofoagatoto’a is on track to be in the defensive line rotation on Saturday.
With Ellis, things are a little less clear after he suffered what Allen reportedly called a minor leg issue earlier this month.
“David Ellis is still progressing,” Allen said, “so I would say just continuing to monitor that every day. We’ve got several days now to get him it in that position, so hopeful, but you never know.”
Six Hoosiers to share captaincy
With a veteran team returning in 2021, Allen couldn’t simply pick one offensive captain and one defensive captain. So he picked three of each.
The IU coach announced Monday that quarterback Michael Penix, receiver Ty Fryfogle, tight end Peyton Hendershot, linebackers Micah McFadden and Cam Jones and hybrid safety Marcelino Ball will each share roles as captains this season.
“It’s a great group of young men that have been here for a while and have bought in,” Allen said. “As I went through and challenged our team when they were about to vote, (I) just gave three things we were looking for ... guys that you trust, guys that live out LEO — not perfect, nobody is — (and) guys that hold themselves accountable and hold their teammates accountable. So, obviously, a strong group of guys that this team has voted as the captains for 2021.”
A personal note
I’m very much an Irish Goodbye kind of guy, but I thought I should give you all a heads up: I’m leaving SB Nation effective tomorrow, the 31st. I deeply, deeply appreciate SB Nation giving me the opportunity to reenter the world of IU Athletics after leaving the Bloomington Herald-Times in 2019. It’s been a fun time here, particularly because it allowed me to reconnect with awesome folks like Andy Wittry and Auston Matricardi — a couple of IU alums who’ve done great work both here and elsewhere. I’ve enjoyed this. And enjoyed you — regulars like vesuvius1313, 87 Rides A Surfboard, HotTakeAhoy!, bill645, nothsa, KBHoosier30, and TheChicagoWay, among others. You all carry the place. Thanks for being cool. Thanks for being kind. And thanks for reading. I sincerely appreciate it.
Next week, I’ll be starting a new full-time job in local journalism. Unfortunately, I won’t have the bandwidth to continue here. The good folks at SB Nation should have a replacement lined up in short order, though I’m sorry to have to leave during such a momentous week. It’s not ideal. (Seriously, sorry.) But I’ll still be watching and following along all fall — and into the future. If you want to toss a Gameday Beer in my general direction, I’ll try to catch it. Otherwise, thanks again for reading. Catch you later.