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October 22, 2018

Tom Allen

Bloomington, Indiana

COACH ALLEN: Back here again on a shortened week for us, really accelerated weekend, work and preparation for a Friday night game.

Just continue to start here by commenting about the game on Saturday. Just a gut-wrenching loss to our guys. Just so proud of how hard they played. I really challenged them with some things after the Iowa game and really encouraged by the way they responded and how hard they played and how they prepared for a very, very good football team and did a lot of good things, and just really hated to see us fall short there at the end.

But we have to continue to address the little things of finishing and executing at critical times, both sides of the football there at the end and then throughout the game. And as well as special teams let us down and really disappointed in that. And spent a lot of time over the weekend addressing our kickoff cover unit and different things there, adjusting personnel, and making corrections and changes we have to do to be at the level we need to be at in special teams to win those kind of games.

And then we really challenged our defense in the secondary and our linebackers and D lines to be able to do a better job against the pass and did not give up any touchdown passes which broke their quarterback 34-game streak of having touchdown passes.

Knew it was going to be a tremendous challenge. Obviously, his legs for us also, part of the equation, and so he hurt us sometimes with that. But proud of the guys for -- we made some adjustments. We addressed it, schematically, and some things, and obviously challenged our guys and they responded.

Offensively running the football the way we did with Stevie getting 138 yards, two TDs. He leads the nation now in carries for true freshman. And he's second in the country in yards for true freshman, second 100-yard games in fourth and TDs. So he continues to play at a high level.

And the offensive line did a great job blocking for him. But just even then we've got to hold up in the end. They know we've got to throw the football at the last drive and struggled to be able to protect our quarterback there, and we have to be able to do that.

So as we wrap up that game, offensively Stevie Scott was our offensive player of the game. And defensively Marcelino Ball was our defensive player of the game. He probably played his best football game of his career here, I believe. And holistically the way he prepared that way and excited for him and for his maturity and his growth. John Crawford, Raheem Layne, Micah McFadden are the guys I wanted to mention as well, played extremely well. Rose up.

And a lot of our guys did. I thought Dameon Willis played his heart out and tail off. And Raekwon the same thing and Allen Stallings up front and Jerome. And just thought the kids played hard and just didn't quite get the job done. And special teams. Chris Gajcak, special teams player of the game. A role guy, one of those young men you just love having on your team, receiver for us that doesn't get a lot of snaps but when called upon will be ready to go.

Does a great job on special teams and is very consistent and love his heart and effort and everything he brings to our program.

And you think about our offense, we had 100 snaps, which I think is second all time, and 554 yards which they hadn't given up that in a couple years. And just really saw a lot of great things but have to keep working gotta continue focusing on doing the little things right and keep getting better as a football team.

So in wrapping up the game as well we have our scout team guys that I really always want to recognize and appreciate everything that they give our program. And Josh Brown and Jordan Jusevitch on defensive scout team players of the week. And offensive scout team players of the week Johnnie Pabst, Jacolby Hewitt, Luke Shayotovich and scout team player of the week for special teams was a couple guys, Luke Shayotovich and Justin Berry. So all those guys working hard consistently and want to recognize them for their hard work.

And as we close up the game just want to say that unfortunately we've lost Michael Penix with an ACL tear, which is a very tough thing for him to have to go through and my heart breaks for him. But it's part of this game and we have obviously experienced those with Cole in the season and with what J-Shun Harris has done in our program.

So I'm pretty up front about things like that that and that's part of where we are. And he'll have surgery here in a few weeks once that's appropriate. And then he'll begin the process of getting back and had a great talk with him yesterday. And I know he's hurting and discouraged and down, but it's one of those things you've got to deal with. He has a great mentor in J-Shun Harris to help him through.

But tough blow for us and tough blow for him, but it's part of this tough game that we play. So thoughts and prayers with him through his recovery and we'll move forward.

That's all I have for the game. We obviously play a team up in Minnesota, first Friday night game we've had here for a long time. I think the last time we had was against Minnesota and it's been a few years ago. That was due to the, might have been World Series or some type of baseball conflict with the schedule and played in there and I think in the 80s, and so heading back up there for Friday night game and Coach Fleck has a young team. He's a new coach there that has an amazing amount of energy and passion, what he's built there. So they're going to be a tremendously hard-fought, physical game and they've got a lot of playmakers on offense coming together and playing better every single week and defense that flies around, one of the top in Big Ten in tackles for loss and has the sack leader for Big Ten right now. And has several good players and they do a great job of playing really, really hard and playing together.

Great challenge for us, get back on the road, get back where we want to be. It's a very important week, both teams on the same schedule. Both teams played on Saturday. Both teams have the same amount of time to prepare so we have to modify our schedule, and we have. Excited about this new opportunity to head to Minnesota and take on the Gophers Friday night.

Q. To circle back to Michael. Who is the backup now, and second of all, as he goes through this process, can you set any targets for him in terms of spring practice and being available for any of that, or is that something you've got to think about once you get through --
COACH ALLEN: Already have. We sat through that, sat down with our head trainer Kyle Blackman, and goal is to have him ready for spring football so he can throw seven on seven for spring. And he would not be -- and our quarterbacks are never alive in the spring anyways. But he would just be -- that would probably be the most he would do. But he'll be ready to go for that. That's the goal, anyways set that as a target goal. Ready to go June 1, 100 percent full bore, ready to go.

These are not what anybody wants. He's never had one before. But his faith and his family and his strength of character and his mindset will help him through this. He'll be a better player, more mentally tough individual, and he'll have a confidence about his ability to overcome things when this is all said and done. Not what he wants to hear right now. He's still struggling.

Hasn't had surgery yet. But I guess you get to the point in some of these injuries where you just have to shoot me the truth and tell me how it's going to be and let's get this thing attacked head on. That's the reality of it. He's got a lot of hard work ahead of him.

But as we know we've got several guys in our program that have overcome these and come back and done some awesome, awesome things, come back stronger than ever be ready to go. Like I said, June 1 would be the goal. That's pretty aggressive on my part. But at the same time we've had those conversations. So I'm just telling you the truth.

In regards to who the backup, Reese Taylor, the backup quarterback which already moved him there, got a lot of work there. So that will be part of it and continue to utilize him and do whatever we have to do to win football games.

Q. You talked about the offensive line. Seemed like -- they had five or six holding penalties. And I think Wes Martin a couple uncharacteristic. When you looked at that on film, what did you see there?
COACH ALLEN: You know, you never want to see those and they got called one time for them, it was 6 to 1 in regards to those. To me, I don't want to get into the officiating and all that, but the bottom line is they were very athletic. And when you are very athletic and the struggle, the strain to try to get away, the move and all that, sometimes creates -- let's just be real here, offensive line, they hold about every play.

Like you say, the defensive coach. But there's a way that you have your hands in place and that's part of our technique and you do that.

But when you create that separation, that's when they get called. That's how it works in that part of the game. So they do a good job of getting that separation. I didn't agree with all the calls. I went back and looked at them. I'm sure you wouldn't be too surprised to hear me say that. But at the same time I'm not going to belly ache about calls.

They hurt us -- we had first downs that were affected by those calls. They were very costly. Then we've got to move our feet. Gotta have better technique.

But to me a lot of that goes on on both sides of the ball and I'd just like to see that stuff called fairly. I told the official during the game I want things called fairly. Where it's interference, holding calls, I want it to be done on both sides. It goes on both ends. That's how I wanted it to be. I think that's not an unfair or unrealistic or inappropriate expectation for a head football coach for his team.

Q. The past few weeks with Reese playing jack-of-all-trades type of role, how much work is he getting as quarterback and how does that change?
COACH ALLEN: Much more work that will increase, he wasn't getting, hey, he's the number two. I will say, we do inset run and last two weeks he would be the quarterback for that and did all that. He was in that position. And so I'd say maybe at certain times. But to say full bore, we had some packages we put him in there, did some things. Now it's obviously intensified. So before it was just more drill work and isolated situations. But he's played that position his whole life. So it was pretty natural at it.

Q. Starting with Reese as the primary backup now, will he get the same use in offensive packages?
COACH ALLEN: Yeah, we'll utilize him. But obviously you've got to have an understanding of his other role that he plays as well. But, yeah, a little bit of a unique situation in that regard. Just gotta do a great job as a staff of preparing him and utilizing his talents as well as having him prepared for that role as well.

So that does create unique challenges for our staff but Coach DeBord did a great job with that and the process has already begun.

Q. Have your thoughts changed any on Friday night games in the Big Ten?
COACH ALLEN: No, I believe in what I said in the past. I stand by it. I believe Friday nights are for high school football. And I stand by that very strongly. It's not my decision. We'll go play, be ready to play wherever we're asked to play, whether it's Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, I just like to protect that for -- and no matter what state it's in -- for those guys to be able to enjoy that night of the week for them. So that's how I feel.

Q. Going back to the kickoff coverage, looking at the film, figuring out what went wrong. Is it a case of changing the way you guys cover kicks, changing personnel, changing who calls the packages?
COACH ALLEN: I would say, number one -- this is kind of how I said it to our staff: I said, okay, first of all, the first thing we have to address is the quality of the kick. So the way that we want to be able to cover kicks, the kick has to be set a certain spot, to a certain spot and that didn't happen at all in the first one. Then the second one they ran back was, the hang time was very, very low.

So those were -- so the kick itself is step number one. Step number two is personnel. So we adjust in personnel, made some changes and to get guys that we feel like will do a better job. Obviously the guys we had in there we thought were going to do a good job, did not get the job done.

So that was addressed and then you look at once again the placement of the ball. We're trying to do a better job of that and also who can do the best job of placing the ball. So it's a critical part of the game and it's the first play of defense.

So that series that's going to be taking place next, it's the first play of that series is the kickoff team. And so that was emphasized once again in our meetings today and trying to put some more guys on there that maybe you can starter type guys we've got to have great coverage. So it will be addressed.

Q. Stevie had a lot more carries than the previous two or maybe even, I think, three games, but he's still third in the conference in carries so far this season. As he's a freshman, where is kind of his workload sort of strike zone in your mind going now into the last five games?
COACH ALLEN: You just try -- he's a big, strong kid, he really is. I think he's one of those -- I know he is. He gets better as the game wears on and he gets more carries, which is typical for my experience with the really good running backs. And so you try to -- I think that you're kind of in that road, the range of you get him in the upper teens, low 20s and you just be able to -- there's no -- it can be changed and obviously has been changed. I think that's a reasonable amount, you know, not too much, not too little. He's got the strength and the stamina to be able to take those hits and because of the way he's built and I just think that he's got the frame for it and can handle that workload.

But every game's a little different and obviously that played out this past week and he did some great things and he protected the football, which was very important.

Q. You haven't talked much about Minnesota. What kind of challenges do they present Friday?
COACH ALLEN: I think, first of all, their defensive front, like you said, with tackles for loss and sacks they create, that's always a big concern. And bottom line is we have got to do a great job up front once again, challenge our guys today, talked about it today, about protecting our quarterbacks and running the football and that's the huge emphasis we have because that's what they present. That's what they do really, really well.

And offensively they've just gotten better and better every single week. They started fast and won their first three and got into Big Ten play and played some really good football teams, but have consistently moved the football. Haven't always scored in the red zone. They've talked about that.

But at the same time they've got themselves down there, and they pin people down. Their special teams are excellent. And really impressed with their kickers. Their cover units are really, really strong. The return units are strong. So well-coached football team, very well-coached. And the coach did a great job in that regard in terms of how the team plays and techniques they play with and special teams is something that sticks out to me for them for sure.

And you go on the road, play our best football. And one day shorter, other than that everything else is the same. And very, very important football game for our program. We have to have our best week of preparation for this one and that's my expectation and we'll have a good day today.

Q. They have quarterback injuries of their own. What's the challenge of preparing for two?
COACH ALLEN: Yeah, we don't really know what's going to happen with that. And the backup came in and played the whole second half and did a lot of good things. So similar. So it's not like you're dramatically different styles. I don't see their scheme changing a lot.

But very, very RPO-driven and have ran the ball well and throw off the runs and do a good job with that. They're built for that. And they do a good job with that and have really one of the more talented receivers we've faced and saw them in the spring. We watched all our opponents in the spring and their spring game and he did some great things there. Got my attention real fast in that game and he hasn't disappointed since in regards to his production and how well he's played.

So the team that we have to play our best football.

Q. With Bryant Fitzgerald, what's the learning curve for him after the year off last year getting into the swing of things getting into the routine of this year?
COACH ALLEN: You can't really overstate what a big deal that is to have a whole several months where you don't play ball and how that sets you back a little bit. So he's continued to get better and better. Showed good spurts on Saturday night playing good football, making big plays. He's a physical player. He has a high care factor. He's one of those guys that everybody loves and respects because he does everything that you ask him, works extremely hard. He's an in-state -- I've watched him play and I thought he was the best player in the state when he came out of high school. Because of his ability to make plays on all three phases, offense, defense, special teams. He was a running back. He was a return guy. And obviously played defense. And so just thought he was a really, really talented guy and he is. He just kept continuing to get better and better and to me it's just about learning to -- with these young guys we have I think the big challenge is we're the only Big Ten team that hasn't had a bye yet.

So this whole week after week after week with a young group of guys and just keeping them staying the course and working through the fatigue and the mental fatigue and physical fatigue and you get some injuries and you don't feel good all the time. And you've got classes and study table and you've got this and that and you've got papers due and all those things that these guys haven't gone through in the past.

And so I just think that that's -- and he's another guy. Even though he was here last year, he wasn't going through any of this before. And so because he didn't practice at all. So it's a little bit different than even your typical guy that redshirts and practices with us.

I just think that he's had to go through all of that and -- we treat him like a true freshman both him and Juwan Burgess are like true freshmen to us in terms of on the field and everything else. I think we have to continue to understand that and that's part of our team and even we call our hammer team kickoff team we had nine freshmen on that unit during the game. And last year at this time we were playing walk-ons and guys that were just kind of helping us piece it together at the end.

We have talented guys on there, they're on scholarship. They're going to be really good players but they're freshmen. So I just think he's one of those guys and so we've just got to continue to stay the course with them and I tell our coaches just keep mentoring them. Keep teaching them, you don't know, you have to teach them about how this works and what's it like to be a Big Ten football player and handle everything that you have to do.

I just think that's something our coaches are really working hard at and trying to be a very good father figure to them as a coach and as a student-athlete I'll wrapped up into one as a young guy. That's what Bryant, we call him Fitz. He keeps doing a good job of and keep getting better and better.

Q. I know there are older guys who haven't had the issue this year how have you seen, Raekwon and Dameon gel in those linebacker spots? Feel like Dameon in particular was around the ball a lot Saturday.
COACH ALLEN: He really was. He played so hard. He was in tears afterwards. I grabbed him in the locker room because I knew how hard he played. And I know how much this means to him. And I just grabbed him and I said, man, you just keep fighting. I said, you've done amazing things and this team, this defense is coming together and we're young and we're just trying to fight and played a great offense. And I said you just keep these guys together and just keep fighting.

And he didn't flinch. He understands it. He does it. He's been here. He's seen the ups and downs he sees teams get to this point where they get frustrated when you've got another close one. So just to be able to see him step up and have great energy today and the same with Raekwon. Raekwon's gone through a lot with the hurricane and with his family's experience and the loss they had with their home and his mom got to be here. We were able to get her here through special funds we can use for situations like this with a natural disaster and get her up here and he was just so, to be able to have her here with him, his younger brother, just his family with him, was critical.

He's been through a lot through these last several days with all that. So you think about our guys and what they go -- it's not just football. There's a lot of other things that go into this, the same with Dameon and the things he's gone through to get to this point as a fifth-year guy and all the injuries he's had and there's a lot of emotion in this and they care a bunch. Those are two quality guys that I'm seeing grow in their leadership role and really embrace the opportunity to be able to be a leader on this defense and really -- and more intense way than they ever have since they've been here. So that has to continue.

We've got our final four games of the regular season and this is a very, very critical stretch for us and we need guys like Raekwon and Dameon to continue to lead and practice extremely hard and prepare and watch film and get all these other young guys to buy into that which they're doing. That's why we played the way we did on Saturday.

Q. Could you elaborate at all whether Michael had a partial or a full tear?
COACH ALLEN: You know, as far as I know, they just tell me it's a torn ACL. So I'm assuming -- I don't get all the degrees of that. It's enough that he's having full surgery. He's out for the rest of the season.

Q. Did you get the sense that he was stretching the field with some of his deep throws?
COACH ALLEN: Yeah, he did. He did. He played well. So yep. He's a good quarterback. Even better kid. So I'm glad he's a Hoosier.

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