Tom Allen and his Indiana University football team need to flip the script. In back-to-back seasons, the Hoosiers have won all three nonconference games and inched to the brink of bowl eligibility, needing to defeat Purdue in the season finale to complete the deal.
And then whiffed. The Hoosiers finished 5–7 during both seasons Allen has been in charge. Indiana has endured 27 seasons without a bowl victory.
Credit Allen with refusing to embrace mediocrity. IU signed its highest-ranked recruiting class ever — No. 39 nationally and No. 8 in the Big Ten. The Hoosiers added redshirt freshman quarterback Jack Tuttle, a four-star signee who left Utah after one season and was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. Athletic director Fred Glass invested in staff by clearing Allen to add former Fresno State offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer on a two-year deal worth $800,000 per season, a $300,000 jump over what IU paid DeBoer's predecessor.
Blend those additions to 15 returning starters (led by top halfback Stevie Scott) as well as a user-friendly nonconference schedule, and the Hoosiers should be positioned to have five wins when they enter the regular-season finale at Purdue Nov. 30.
Previewing Indiana's Offense for 2019
Peyton Ramsey has passed with accuracy while starting 16 games the last two seasons, but his inconsistency throwing deep makes quarterback the most competitive position. Michael Penix Jr. was primed to overtake Ramsey until he suffered a knee injury against Penn State in October. If healthy, Penix is a better runner with a stronger arm. The competition stiffened when Tuttle, the son of a former IU kicker, transferred from Utah. Ranked the fifth-best pro-style quarterback prospect in the 2018 class by one service, Tuttle threw for 3,171 yards and 41 touchdowns at Mission Hills High School in suburban San Diego.
Considering that DeBoer's offense at Fresno State threw for 3,740 yards last season, look for IU to pick the guy who can get the ball to receivers Nick Westbrook, Donavan Hale, Whop Philyor, Miles Marshall and Ty Fryfogle as well as tight end Peyton Hendershot. In other words, a thrower more than a runner.
The Hoosiers have runners. What they need are more blockers. Stevie Scott was a late addition to the 2018 recruiting class but rolled for 204 yards against Virginia in the second game and averaged 5.0 yards per carry while gaining 1,137 on the ground. Ronnie Walker Jr. was a higher-ranked recruit, but he’ll have to outperform freshman Sampson James, a four-star prospect from suburban Indianapolis who de-committed from Ohio State.
Two starters — tackle Coy Cronk and guard Simon Stepaniak — return on the offensive line. Two guys who stood out in spring ball were jumbo-sized Caleb Jones (6'8", 360) and Matthew Bedford, an intriguing and athletic freshman who enrolled early and picked the Hoosiers over Mississippi State and South Carolina.
Previewing Indiana's Defense for 2019
Allen came to Indiana as Mr. Fix-It for Indiana's defense, and the Hoosiers' total defense numbers improved during his first season (2016) as the coordinator as well as his first year as head coach. But in 2018, IU allowed 423.8 yards per game, an increase of 83.7 yards. Allen has elevated linebackers coach Kane Wommack to coordinator and entrusted him with organizing the defense and making in-game calls.
The Hoosiers have concentrated on improving their defensive team speed as well as the athleticism of the front in the last three recruiting classes. Defensive end James Head looks primed to emerge as an outside pass rusher with tackles Jerome Johnson and junior college transfer Juan Harris assigned run-stopping duties.
Marcelino Ball is a rugged, experienced leader at the hybrid Husky position, serving as a linebacker or safety depending upon the offensive formation. Linebackers James Miller, Micah McFadden, Reakwon Jones and Thomas Allen, son of the head coach, will enable Wommack to rotate fresh players at that spot.
With three returning starters, the defensive backfield boasts talent and experience. Safety Bryant Fitzgerald led the team with three interceptions, while corners A'Shon Riggins and Andre Brown Jr. were trusted with one-on-one situations.
Previewing Indiana's Specialists for 2019
Logan Justus emerged as one of the most dependable placekickers in the Big Ten, making all 11 attempts from 40 yards and in and 15-of-18 overall. Haydon Whitehead averaged 40 yards per punt but concentrated more on placement than distance, and opponents were held under four yards per return. Fitzgerald and speedy Reese Taylor should return kickoffs, while Philyor, another speedball, handles punt returns.
The Hoosiers have the backs and receivers to make things interesting. But to become more than merely interesting, DeBoer must develop a quarterback who can stretch the field as well as an offensive line that can protect him. Line play is a similar concern for a defense that has ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten in rushing defense in 10 consecutive seasons. IU has improved its depth, speed and athleticism, but there’s still a gap between the Hoosiers and the big four in the Big Ten East.