TOM ALLEN: Our offensive player of the game was Whop Philyor. I thought that he set the tone for us in both that first third-down catch that he made as well as just the tough hard-nosed run that he had that I thought was just a good tone setter.
And then defensive player of the game was James Head. I thought he really played to the level I expected him to and I said that to him, and just proud of him, just getting him to be a more explosive game-changing guy in the backfield and using his burst.
Special teams player of the game was Aaron Casey with the blocked punt and also being sound and fundamental on what he needs to do on special teams as one of our young linebackers. Got some good reps on the defense, as well, did some good things.
As far as our preparation, offensive scout of the week was Davion Ervin-Poindexter, running back. Did a great job giving the defense a great look during the week.
Defensive scout team player of the week was CJ Person, who continues to develop and grow for us as a freshman.
And then the special teams scout player of the week was Ryan Barnes. So he does a great job at tight end for us, an in-state product here out of Noblesville.
Very important for us to come out of the game healthy, which we did, and trying to have an excellent week of preparation as the Ohio State Buckeyes come to town. We begin Big Ten play here at home. So very, very important home game for us, and had a meeting with our guys, good lift, good opportunity on the field to get the week started off in the right way and put the last game behind us and focus everything now upon Ohio State.
Looking forward to this match-up, Coach Day in his first year there as head coach. Excellent football coach. I have a lot of respect for him as a person and as a coach and the job that he’s already doing. They’re typical Ohio State: Very, very big, physical, and explosive on both sides of the football, very dominant up front and have really overwhelmed their first two opponents, very dynamic quarterback in Justin Fields and a lot of playmakers on both sides of the ball in their skill positions.
Very, very good football team that we have to play our very, very best on game day.
Q. Kind of accelerating into Big Ten play with a pretty high level opponent to begin with. I know guys will always try to take every week one at a time in the same way, but I imagine there will be at least some level of sort of a heightened sense of urgency because it’s a top 10 team, it’s Ohio State. How do you maybe balance with especially some of the young guys who have been stepping into bigger positions, a guy like Michael, wanting them to be sharp but not overthink it or be too overwhelmed?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, I think it’s a good question because that’s really the reality of what you have to handle and deal with, and we’ve played them earlier. My first year as head coach, it was our first game. This year it’s our third game. But first conference game.
To me, as we started our — we’re on the field today, as I talked to our team, it’s the most important game of the season, and I asked the question why? And their response was, because it’s the next one. That’s where I think it begins, the mindset of, yes, this is obviously a huge game for us because it’s the first conference game, it’s a home game, and it’s the Ohio State Buckeyes. But at the same time, as you mentioned, you can’t make it bigger than it is. But there’s no question there’s a heightened sense of intensity and focus and urgency that’s created because of who it is and the fact that it’s a conference game.
I think everybody understands that, and our older guys have to help our younger guys realize that in how we prepare. To me it’s just about getting in those habits of how you prepare to be at your best on game day. So that’s why even playing whoever we would have played last week, it really didn’t matter, our objective was to play to our standard and to get better in the areas that we addressed.
But you know, I get it. When you play a different team of this caliber, you’re going to have a different result in regards to how you approach it. But the process you go through has to be consistent, so that’s how you train your younger guys and how they watch film and how they practice and how they’re locked in. That can’t change.
But yes, there’s no question that this game is going to bring out — has to bring out our very, very best, and that’s what we’re looking forward to, and that’s what we expect.
Q. Just looking at their last game, some of the drives they had, the first three I think were 131, 149 and 40 seconds. How much is stopping explosive plays going to be an important part?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, I think it’s always kind of been that way. This will be — played these guys several times now, and it’s always — it’s the same, different guys. Some of these guys — I was going back and looking at a lot of our previous games, like you always do — and some familiar faces that have been there for a while. But new faces, as well. But same type of explosiveness that you’re used to seeing.
When you go through and you watch the film, sometimes it’s like, man, I mean, they score so fast, and it’s different guys, and you make one mistake and you give them a crease and they make you pay. But that’s what the great teams do.
When you have elite athletes like they do and so many of them, you have to have great angles, you’ve got to tackle well, you’ve got to fit things right. You make one mistake and they can score in a hurry. So not every team is like that.
But once again, that’s kind of what I’m used to seeing when we prepare for these guys, and they’ve traditionally gotten after folks in the early games in the season, and it’s no different this year.
Q. You’ve been able to hang with Ohio State for two and three quarters the last couple years, but then they kind of got you guys at the end. With your depth getting better and better, this year compared to that, are you hopeful and optimistic at all that that makes a little bit of a difference in a game like this?
TOM ALLEN: That’s the expectation, yes. You can see, you go back from 2017, ’18, watching those games again and I was the head coach then. And what you just said, you get — late in the third quarter, the game was close, and then they pulled away from us both times. Bottom line is that we have to finish. And it’s not about just competing with them and feeling good about that. Certain stages of your program you feel that’s what you want to do. And to me, we’ve been there and we’ve done that, so now we’ve got to finish. So there’s a lot of variables that go into that. It’s obviously executing on the field in those situations, which they have done that and we have not. And also it’s that the depth that you have in your program to be able to keep playing guys and keeping them fresh and being able to play at that high of a level in the fourth quarter. That’s what it’s going to come down to.
So that to me is what — that’s why you recruit, that’s why you develop, and we’ve made progress in that area. I guess this is a test case to see where we are.
But in my mindset and the expectation that I have as the head coach of this program, we’ve been competing with them now for the last few years, and so it’s our objective and expectation to be able to finish the job.
Q. You mentioned getting kind of the mindset right of this team with the next game up mentality. Over your time at Indiana, have you worked on anything kind of off the field to get the team’s mental mindset more correct entering weeks and during the off-season with a sports psychologist or anything like that, trying to make sure guys are sharp off the field?
TOM ALLEN: We have, and we’ve brought various ones in and just did another one here at the end of fall camp. And to be able to address the mental side of your preparation, which I think is very, very important, and also just the way that we train in the weight room, just doing different things and additional things and strategic — either exercises or activities that we do with our guys at critical times of a workout, late in the workout, often at the end of the workout. We call them finishers. Just to get our mental toughness to where we’re able to, no matter what gets thrown at us, it’s just the mindset is that it just doesn’t faze us. That nothing — my mind of mantra is that nothing can break us unless we let it. We are the ones that allow it to happen. But no person, no situation, no environment and no set of circumstances can break this football team. So that’s what you want.
Now, we’ve got to work hard to get there, and to me you’re changing a mindset, you’re changing a culture, you’re changing expectation, and I guess at the end of the day, you’re just changing belief. So that to me is what gets tested in these games.
I know the history. I know where we’re at. I know what’s it been since we’ve beaten this team, and so to me, it’s about being our very, very best on Saturday. And we have to play extremely hard, we have to play extremely well, we have to play extremely physical, and we have to do it for 60 minutes, not 50, not 40. It’s got to be 60. And that to me is the next step for this program and this game.
Tremendous challenge and tremendous opportunity all wrapped up into one.
Q. What do you see on the film of Justin Fields and the challenge of facing a dual-threat quarterback?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, any time you get a young man that can run and throw the ball with equal effectiveness, it always creates a lot of challenges. The style of — Haskins last year was more of a pocket, big-time NFL arm, and he was a very, very special player, created some different challenges. And Justin Fields has a very strong arm, as well, but also he can really run, as the film has shown consistently.
That really does create a lot of problems for the defense, and so we’ve got to do a great job of being able to contain that, and not giving up those explosive plays has already been mentioned a couple times.
They kind of live off of those, and it’s not that that’s all they can do. They can do other things, as well, but they really put pressure on you by scoring fast and often and then trying to utilize that tempo within that realm to really keep you off balance and on your heels as a defense.
Yeah, he’s a tremendous quarterback, great, great player, and a lot of respect for his skill set and talent. Don’t know him as a person, but what he’s put on film has been very impressive so far.
Q. Peyton is a guy that I know you worked really hard to kind of keep in that recruiting class when he was committed to Indiana and he kind of did the redshirt thing and kind of came on in spurts last year. He’s been heavily involved the first couple of weeks. How have you seen him grow both over the last kind of two and a half years but specifically within the framework of Kalen’s offense, which seems to really emphasize tight ends?
TOM ALLEN: You know, he was an important recruit for us, being an in-state guy. When I was here early on and just trying to be able to find those body types, they’re hard to find. And he’s a high school basketball player and went and watched him play, and it was very important for us to keep him as a part of what we were doing. Just knowing Kalen’s offense, as you’ve said, and the way he utilizes tight ends, I think he’s a valuable, valuable part of what we wanted to do. And with all the weapons we have around him, to be able to get him the football consistently well is a high priority for us, and then also his just blocking and all the things he gives to our program.
To me it’s always important to have guys that can make plays and those guys in the run-pass conflict areas of the defense where he can really be effective. And so, yeah, just to me — and I think it’s exciting for him, and it should be exciting for future tight ends that we recruit to be able to know that you’re going to get a chance to maximize your talents. You had conversations with someone recently about their high school son that plays that position and all he is is a glorified blocker in that system, and that sometimes can happen.
So most guys want to catch the football. They don’t mind blocking, they’ll do all those things that they’re supposed to do to be a complete player, but they dream about catching touchdown passes and making big plays and that’s fun. So I just think that’s part of us showing what we’re building here and the way our offense is designed and how we do it.
So I think Peyton is going to be the beneficiary of that, and you’ve seen that already, and I think that needs to continue. He’s a big body. He’s made some tough catches. He’s a tough kid. From Tri-West High School here in Indiana, and just love what he brings. I really do. I just want to continue to see him improve and keep getting better and keep working hard. And he has high expectations for himself, as well, so his confidence continues to grow, and he’s an important part of our offense, and we’ve got to continue to recruit well at that position.
Q. You’ve had a couple years of game planning against J.K. Dobbins. When you talk about game planning against a system as a running game, how much does he demand your attention to his individual ability, as well?
TOM ALLEN: Oh, he demands a lot of our attention. I remember he started as a true freshman there in 2017. Didn’t know much about him. Had to go back and watch his high school film to kind of figure out — I think going into that game, we weren’t even really sure. I think Weber had had some hamstring issues. We weren’t really sure who was going to start, and then they put in Dobbins, and it was like, whoa. So he made a couple jump catches that were pretty elite for a true freshman. Just really strong. He’s got great balance and vision and he’s just another great running back from Ohio State. They’ve got a bunch of them and had a bunch of them. You’ve got to swarm him. Not one guy around him, you’ve got to get a lot of hats to the ball. And that creates challenges. You’ve got to be able to do that.
And then you’ve got a quarterback that can run and throw. But that’s kind of been the mantra of that’s what they create for people. He’s a very, very talented player, and they’ve got a really good one behind him, as well, and another good one behind him. So it really doesn’t matter who’s in there. You’re going to have to respect the run. Defensively you want that part of the game to be under control. You want to be able to stop the run game and then force them to be one-dimensional. Because if they can run it, then they’ve got both options usually, and that’s not good for the defense.
But yeah, very, very good football player, and we’ve got to get a lot of hats to him. That’s why the tackling has been such a big deal for me. I knew what was coming. I knew that when this was going to be here, so we’ve got to have our best game of tackling on Saturday, yes.
Q. Obviously playing in the Big Ten East, you get the opportunity to play games that are — whether it’s perception by the fans — but are just considered bigger than others. What would a win over a team like Ohio State do for this program?
TOM ALLEN: Well, those are program-changing opportunities and program-changing wins when they occur, and they don’t happen as often as you want them to, but that’s what makes them special. And so there’s no question that they’re who this whole conference has been chasing and they have performed at that level. So yeah, playing in this league creates those opportunities. Coached in the SEC West, now the Big Ten East, I think the two best divisions in all of college football. That’s obviously up for debate, but I’ve been in both, seen both, and know how hard they are playing against teams of this caliber so frequently and having so many in your own division.
But it also creates tremendous opportunity, and that’s how I look at it. Yeah, it’s tough, there’s no doubt. Your margin for error against these guys, teams like this, is right there. Every mistake you make gets magnified. They expose you in a lot of ways. That’s why you have to play so hard and so well together and have a complete offense, defense, special teams game.
But that’s what you have, and so to me, I’ve been some places where you don’t have an opportunity to play many of those places and those teams. And it is a great chance for us to be able to take that next step as a program, as we always like to say, and those are definitely program-changing, program-defining wins that affect recruiting and affect the trajectory of your program.
Q. When you see what Ohio State has been able to do to some of their past opponents, like a 40-something-point shutout against Cincinnati, how do you learn from the other team’s mistakes to help you build your own game plan against these guys?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, I think the Cincinnati game was one. I think some people might have thought that was going to be a closer outcome, especially Cincinnati had played well against UCLA the week before. Just you never know how it’s going to play out, but they were — it was pretty lopsided in that game. It just shows you how good Ohio State truly is, because I think Cincinnati is a good football team. But at the same time, you go through and evaluate. Not everybody does the exact same thing as you do, but you look for similarities in scheme and fronts and how you play things, and you communicate with people that you know on those staffs, like everybody does across the country, and get their input and their thoughts about what they kind of thought before and then what was different after those kind of conversations. So yeah, those are helpful.
But at the same time, you’ve got to trust the film. It’s early in the year. You only have two games to go off of, so it’s not a really large test case, but at the same time it’s a lot of good, valuable information. It’s a lot better than having zero film to start the year. So it gives us a chance to see their personnel for this year and what they like to do, what they feel they’re good at and what we need to attack on one side of the football and exploit on the other, so that’s the challenge we have.
Q. You talked about their physicality up front; with their offensive line you have three seniors there. How far do you think Harry and Caleb have come along the first two games and then also how much are you leaning on the experience of those three seniors?
TOM ALLEN: Well, you know, I think Harry and Caleb, we’ve just got to get — just keep getting better. I mean, there’s a level of intensity and toughness and just — it’s every little step you take and working with the guys around you. Caleb is obviously a big individual, but he’s starting for the first time. And Harry has played even more than he has. But just being able to go against these defensive ends they’re going to play against on the perimeter is different than the first couple weeks, a lot different. And then the two guys on the inside they’re going to be facing, that Harry will be matched up with is more physical, more explosive, bigger guys. It’s a heightened sense of technical precision you have to have in everything that you do, whether it’s the communication piece or whether it’s the footwork, your hand placement, the line calls, and checks and adjustments, all the stuff that they do.
He will be — one thing about — Caleb was able to play last year against Iowa, so that was a good chance for him to be in the fray of this type of competition that he’s going to be seeing. Obviously those three seniors are huge. Those guys, they’ve been there, they’ve done that, multi-year starters and been in these games, played in these games, love these games.
Two of those three guys are Ohio guys, as far as our three seniors. So to me that’s just that whole mindset that you bring as a senior leader to our program and how you prepare and what the game means and just all that goes into it. So I think those are — you lean on those guys this week for sure, especially early in the season when we’re still — got a lot of young guys that are going to be several guys first time playing against Ohio State, and some guys just maybe did a little bit last year, but didn’t play a lot, that were either there or got some snaps.
But I think you definitely lean on those older guys to step up and show the new guys how it’s done.
Q. Why do you think Reakwon has been so productive so far this year, and what do you like most about what he brings to a team?
TOM ALLEN: I think that the first question, the reason why is confidence and just knowing the system. I think when you — he’s not second-guessing himself. You can tell when a guy — when I watch practice and even walk-throughs, he’s making checks and adjustments and he’s barking it out loud. When you’re loud and confident as you speak, you in your heart, you know what you’re doing, and you don’t speak that way if you’re not sure. And he’s — that’s something that I think he’s grown in a lot. It’s a major change for him. I thought he kind of struggled with that early on, a year ago. That’s where it’s been one of his strengths now. So that allows you to be almost a step — you’re kind of anticipating things and you’re a step quicker and you finish things better, so it makes you more physical. And it just makes you a better football player.
And then I just think that that’s what I like, the decisiveness of how he’s been playing. You pull that trigger when you make your reads and you make those checks and adjustments, you run the defense you grab defensive linemen and you move them around. That’s what I want to see because it gives everybody else confidence around you. Hey, this guy knows what he’s doing. And that elevates their confidence and it gets people right and gets them lined up, and with all the no-huddle tempo that you see with most people, at least at times in games, you’ve got to have that leadership at that position. That’s what I really appreciate about him and respect about him, and that’s caused him to play — he’s making lots of plays and his confidence just continues to grow. So I’d expect that just to flow into the big, big game against Ohio State.
Q. Cam Jones was obviously held out this week. Where is he at from a health perspective and what do you expect from him in practice?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, going through progression today even, had him out on the field working and doing things, and so that was very positive. So we’ll make an evaluation again tomorrow and then look at it again. So I’ll probably know more for sure on Thursday. Usually that’s the day we kind of know, once Wednesday is kind of in the books and you have a chance to see where he’s at. So we’ll know more. But yeah, obviously trying to get him back.
Q. Your special teams have been so good the first couple weeks, and usually in games like this that involve an upset, special teams can often turn the table on that. Are you pleased with where you’re at heading into this as to what you’re getting from that and some of the boost from guys like David Ellis and such?
TOM ALLEN: Yeah, I would say pleased for sure. Don’t know everything yet. We will be tested in that area on Saturday. So we’ll know more at the end of that game where we’re at. But yeah, you obviously want to get off to a great start. You want to do things the right way in your first two games, and we’ve been able to do that in both our coverage units as well as our return units. But, yeah, who you’re kicking it to now is a different opponent than we’ve had, and their guys kicking it the way they do, their special teams. And they’ve been really, really good on special teams in the last several years.
You’re exactly right. In these kind of games — obviously they’re the favorite team, and so in order to be able to beat a team that is on paper supposed to be better than you, then you’ve got to find ways to maximize all three parts of it. You should always have to do that to win at this level, but in order to beat a team like Ohio State that rarely beats themselves and has such elite players and great coaching staff. So to me, special teams is going to have to play a huge role in that, yes. It’s field position, it’s points, it’s being able to eliminate big plays that have occurred and can occur in those areas of the game, because of the amount of space involved with special teams play.
We have to be at our very, very best on special teams, and our guys are fully aware of that.
Q. Going back to injuries, Reese played some Saturday. How did he come through that? Was everything kind of normal? And was A’Shon out Saturday?
TOM ALLEN: He was, and we weren’t really sure on him and just decided it wasn’t worth risking with him, so he should be — I think he should be good to go this week. It was kind of precautionary for him. A’Shon Riggins, you were addressing. But I thought Reese — the thing that really hurt Reese was he missed a lot of practice in fall camp, and for playing a newer position for him, that kind of set him back. So that game was important to get him in quite a few reps this past Saturday because we need him this week to be full bore, and so he just hasn’t played that position a lot.
So I thought he did some good things but definitely was a little rusty, which you expect him to be. But, yeah, he’s back now and didn’t do anything to set him back any further with that, so he’ll have a thing on his thumb and his hand. So he’ll be good to go.