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October 14, 2019

Tom Allen

Bloomington, Indiana

TOM ALLEN: Just want a little bit of a recap from the weekend. After a chance to watch the film, just proud of our players for the way they prepared and stayed locked in. Thought we had a good, productive bye week, and I think that it proved itself to be that way with how we performed. Guys were sharp.

We started fast. That was the whole objective leading up to the game was for us to be able to be at our best early and set the tone early and did exactly that. And the sack caused fumble -- I don't know if I've ever had one of those -- but the first play of the game was that kind of situation. Really excited for Kwon, kind of the one-year anniversary almost of his major setback and struggle with his home in Florida and with the hurricane, so it was pretty fitting for him to be rewarded with that. He's done so many awesome things for us.

And D-Mac, and we just were talking about him and how well he's playing, and he's done a great job. Just set the tone right away, and offense did take care of business.

It did feel like we had -- 8:40 mark, we scored our first touchdown in the first quarter, and then kind of a lull from there until halftime. Still moved the ball, had a lot of yards, didn't score enough points. We talked about that as a staff and as a team and addressing that with our offense, just thought we got a little -- we lost our focus a little bit. Didn't execute at the level I thought we should have, but I thought the defense continued to play at a high level throughout the game. So I was encouraged by that.

Just going through, I just felt like we ran the football the way we needed to run the football and for 260 yards and 6.8 yards a carry, and obviously, Stevie did some good things, but the O-line was not perfect. Still things to clean up and work on, but did a good job. Even with Hunter going down, and Charlie came in there and did a really good job playing center. So just continue to build depth, get guys to be able to step in when 24th need to step in, rise up, and be able to perform when called upon.

11 explosive plays, second week in a row for that, last two games. Those are big. We talked about creating those explosive plays and how important that is, and had the 99-yard drive. To me, that was the most impressive thing that our guys did. Over seven minutes, 13 plays, and just kind of was the final dagger to kind of put an exclamation point on the day. So really encouraged by that.

Just got to keep on the details. Still got some young guys in there, how they prepare, how they get ready to handle early success. Defensively, very proud of Coach Wommack and our defensive staff. Shutouts are hard to get. We know that. That's our fourth one since I've been a head coach.

Just being able to execute a lot of little things, going through and watching on both sides of the ball, this growth from our team, and communication and being able to execute at those important times in the game and the situational times and third downs and all that. So, just holding them 0 for 11 on third downs is excellent.

Just still we challenged, hey, we've got to get more take-aways. We got a big one, but we want got to get more of those. We had two defensive scores, which is huge. Still we need to get more of those.

I just thought that our special teams had a couple penalties that still hurt us. That was really disappointing. We have to get that -- that has to be fixed. So we will be addressing that very consistently and trying to get to where we can eliminate those because those are momentum changing, field position changing opportunities there.

But just thought our guys played really hard, and that to me is really what stuck out. It's very important. I want our guys to really show their appreciation for all of our former players that donated to make our locker room what it is and just a special weekend to have a bunch of former players back, alumni from the university, and it's important to be able to play at a certain level and thank them with how hard you play. That's something I wanted to make sure we did, and I thought our guys responded to that.

In terms of just individual performances, offensive player of the game, Whop, 10 catches, 182 yards. Continues to play at a high level. Stevie Scott, 12 rushes, 165 yards, almost 14 yards a carry. So just thought he ran hard. He had a couple of statement runs, his big run there in the third quarter. And even in the first quarter, when Nick Westbrook scored a touchdown, just the attitude, the toughness, the weight room, the way we run through people. I thought there was just those kinds of plays physically on defense. I think I'm just really encouraged by that.

Defensively, D-Mac, DeMarcus Elliott, was player of the game. So was Khalil Bryant. D-Mac had three tackles, he had the sack, the tackles for loss, several of those, and then the caused fumble. And Khalil Bryant has been playing so consistent. Really encouraged by just his consistent performance. He's so dependable, a guy that makes a lot of checks back there, kind of sets everybody and calms everybody and is just playing hard and tackling well and encouraged by that.

A lot of guys. Juwan Burgess continues to elevate his level of play. He's playing hard. Linebackers are playing hard, and defensive line is being aggressive. Mike Ziemba is disrupting and just playing hard. All those guys up front. So just the effort.

Special teams player of the game, Reese Taylor had a unique situation where he had the offsides penalty, went down and made a great play on the kickoff, and then -- we went back and watched it on film. I did not think -- he was ahead of the other guys. They were close to him, which kind of made it look like he was off, but when that ball was kicked, his foot was right there on the line. But they called it. You can't complain about it. So he came back, jogged back and, boom, came back and made the tackle again.

I was really encouraged by the fact, hey, it didn't faze him. We talked about, hey, that's a sugar cookie. Get something, whether you think you did something or not, they move it back five yards, kick it off again, and you go down and make the tackle. Same thing all over again. His confidence is growing. Obviously, we missed him early on with some injuries, but it's great to have him back. He's one of our best players, and I just love his mindset. He's a tough kid and had some very physical plays on defense, and that's what we have to have.

Also for the week, defensive scouts, Jordan Jusevitch and Jeremy Boyd, two guys that continue to work really hard and give us a great look during the week. Offensive scout team player of the week, Luke Shayotovich, just really appreciate his consistency. Got an chance to get some reps during the game, which is great. Connor Thomas and Ryan Barnes were the scout team -- or the special teams scouts of the week. Once again, those two guys continue to give us a great look.

We also talked about in the team, Aaron Casey got a chance -- he was in there for two plays, a sack and a tackle for loss. Just a really young guy in our program that's been on special teams but just working hard, doing everything right. Just neat to see him rewarded for that.

And to continue, Matt Bjorson is tough as nails. Love his mindset and he's battled through. He's getting healthier. He really hasn't missed, but just a guy, I love the toughness he exudes to our whole team.

So just encouraged by the progress. Obviously, it's got to continue to get better each and every week. Do an update. A'Shon Riggins is no longer going to be playing football for us. Just had a lot of injuries that have mounted for him. He's an awesome young man. He and I sat down and had a really heart to heart about it, and he's going to continue to help the program and be with us, but he won't be playing anymore because the medical situation, but he'll graduate and just a guy that I have a really lot of respect for, and we've had a lot of goods times to really connect.

One of my whole goals in what I do is I want to help young men find their purpose in life and pursue it with tremendous passion. He and I have had a lot of talks about that and just that to me is what we're supposed to do. So he's given a lot to our program, and I really thank him for that. He'll continue to be a part of us. He won't be playing, but he'll be with us and helping us in any way he possibly can.

Other than that, excited about Maryland. Big Ten opportunity on the road, and Coach Locksley has done a tremendous job there, a lot of respect for him. Just an unbelievably athletic football team that we're about to play in all phases, and speed everywhere on the field. Got a lot of new faces. They've got some really talented transfers and some really, really good players. So we have to have a great week of preparation. Need to continue this time of year. After Game 6, just keep getting guys healthier and working through that process. Going to have to be on top of our game in all three phases.

So this is a very important game for us, and it's going to demand our full attention and absolute very, very best preparation and execution on game day.

Q. First with a health update. Hunter, how is he doing? You said you didn't think it would be something that lingered.
TOM ALLEN: I don't think so. We obviously watched him limp off the field, so just a lower leg injury, don't think it's serious. But any time with linemen, they don't heal as quickly as skill guys sometimes with lower leg injuries, but just be doing his rehab, and we'll get him out there as much as possible, and he'll get ready, but I expect him to play. He's a toughy.

Q. Coach, can you talk a little bit more in detail in regards to the last two weeks that Whop has had in regards to, A, sort of being open all the time, and then making a lot of yards after the catch when he has had the ball in his hands?
TOM ALLEN: Sure. He continues to execute at a high level in regards to getting open, as you mentioned. I think it's due to Coach Heard does a really good job with our receivers. I have a lot of respect for Grant, and he's the very first person I hired when I was named a head coach there. Just the way that he's tough on our guys, holds them accountable to the details of their splits and how they run routes and the releases.

He's been hard on Whop, but he's made Whop a lot better. Whop has accepted his coaching, and that's a tribute to Whop and Coach Heard being consistent and relentless in his approach. So known Whop for a long time. Played with Thomas in high school, so I saw him play junior and senior year. The energy he had back then hasn't changed at all. He just goes and goes and goes and always just made plays back then, and he continues to do that.

So it hurt us last year losing him, but just to be able to see him rewarded for just having a great off-season. He came into fall camp as big as he's ever since he's been here and as fast as he's ever been and just feeling really good and worked extremely hard. Just neat to see him rewarded for that by getting a chance to make plays. And he's blocking his tail off. That's just the part I love. Works in the run game, on the perimeter game, and he's not very big, but there's a toughness to him and a competitive spirit to him. He just wants to win, and he wants to help this program do great things.

So just really proud of him for that, but he's really grown up in a lot of ways, and I think that's another big part of it. As we all challenge our guys to grow and develop in leadership and the different things, and as he continues to make those plays.

He's doing a great job. I think Mike does a really good job getting the ball out in front of him, so when he catches it, he's moving and running away from the defenders. I think you kind of saw that on the first catch of the game and the way he was able to separate from the defender and affect the defender's angle by where the ball, the placement of the football and how quickly it comes out. But he's a beneficiary of that. He's got great hands, good focus, catches it with his eyes first and then be able to be consistent in that.

He's played well. He's got to continue.

Q. Coach, you mentioned Reese Taylor. As the season goes on, progresses, gets tougher, gets further in, what do you envision from him being able to add to this defense and help it grow?
TOM ALLEN: Well, first of all, just he's going to play a whole lot more. That's a big part of that. It really hurt him, and he was frustrated, and I totally understand that frustration because he moved position, and then fall camp is such a critical time to get all those valuable reps, and he missed a lot of those because of his injury. So then getting back, had another small setback.

But I just think that what he gives us is an extremely talented athlete that is very, very quick and fast and tough, and I think the toughness piece is the part that, when he's come here as a high school quarterback, yeah, there's no doubt that he's a tough guy, but he didn't have to go tackle anybody, especially guys that are all bigger than you are.

But he continues to -- whether it's taking on O-linemen coming around the perimeter or tackling on kickoff coverage or tackling running backs or receivers. He brings a quickness and a toughness to us that we have to have. Just a really good athlete on the field that can make plays and we can bring pressure with and he can cover, and his man coverage skills are excellent and will only continue to get better the more he works at it and gets a chance to learn to play the position because he hasn't played it very long.

So I just think he makes us a more dangerous defense to continue to play the way we want to play and create take-aways and be more involved on special teams. I see his role growing on that as he continues to get more reps and gets comfortable with the different things he's learning there too. So still a young player that adds a lot of value to our team.

Q. Coach, at this point in the season, it's kind of been a little bit of a roller coaster in the beginning facing teams like Ohio State and then going on to play Connecticut and play Michigan State, a bye, and then you play Rutgers. Is there a message to the team this week that you're going to try to tell them to kind of spark or maintain momentum as the level of competition begins to kind of level out here in the Big Ten season?
TOM ALLEN: We talked today about it's so critical to be consistent in your preparation, and that to me is the message because that allows you to do the little things right at critical times, and that's how you perform at a high level. When the chips are down and the game's on the line, which is what we have to do.

As you said, we get into consistent Big Ten play, playing teams that it's going to be four quarter games and coming down to the final series of the game. It's the consistency in your preparation. It's the consistency in your execution that's going to allow us to get a consistent result. And that to me is really the very strong message that we talked about today and we'll continue to talk about. That's what I want to see.

We're still a young enough team that the struggle is the consistency, and the mindset and the way you do the things you need to do. We're talking about, even with our guys, is the consistency of how you prepare to play. What's your pregame rituals? How do you go through this process? We've got a lot of young guys.

We just challenged our staff yesterday about teaching and making sure, now they got in a groove this year, but what's best for each guy. Everybody is a little bit different. Don't just assume things with your guys. We have a whole process to help our guys get mentally ready, but making sure the young guys, like Matt Bedford, who hasn't been in this situation week after week after week at this level. How is he going to handle it? It's one thing to get thrust in there, played well the first time he got out there. Then you got to do it again, and you got to do it again. And did good things on Saturday, now you got to do it again and you're on the road again.

That to me is the message, and it's very important because that's what we're all striving for. At the end of the day, you played at a high level consistently. You want to create change, you change something you do every day. That's a life principle that I try to live by and challenged our staff with and talked about that very thing with our team this morning.

Q. Coach, early in the season, defenses were trying to take Stevie away. What were your conversations like during that process to kind of keep him upbeat and to see him kind of break through and have his first 100-yard game?
TOM ALLEN: Be patient because there's no doubt, you come into the season, you rush for all those yards as a freshman, kind of come out of nowhere. Everybody talks about you the whole off-season. You come up, and it continues with this part of it, and you've got to learn how to handle it. Then the first few games are harder because everybody is just loading the box, and they were.

So to me, it's about -- he's always been so great. That's the thing I love about Stevie. He's like, Coach, I'm good. It's going to come. He gets that. But then I think he kind of pressed a little bit. We had even Coach Hart about him just being patient in his running. Not trying to create the big runs. Let him come to you. Just do what you're supposed to do and let the system play itself out. So I think you started to see more of that here recently, and that just to me is part of him being patient and our offense getting better as they get more and more comfortable with Coach DeBoer's system and how he's doing and how he calls things.

It's just like anything else. Some guys on defense we have some conversations with. Older guys are the ones we usually have, if they're not having the kind of season they thought they were going to have numbers-wise, you know what, you've just got to do your job. When you try to hit a home run, it's when you don't. When you're smooth and you're doing the thing that you do and you have a consistent swing, that's when it happens.

It's no different in this sport. To me, it's just consistently doing your job, focus on the task at hand, play as hard as you possibly can, do everything you can to help this team win, and those times, just like take-aways. They start coming. They start coming. And you've got to continue to stay with the process of consistently. That word I've used it a bunch, and I'm going to keep saying it.

That's what we have to do. It's a grit piece, a stay the course piece, and perseverance and doing the right things over and over and over again. That's the same thing I said to Stevie. Just keep doing what you're doing. Get better and better. Keep paying attention to the details in your preparation, how you practice, how you play. He just stayed with it, and now he's starting to get some open field.

Q. Coach, you have three out of your four wins. You've given up a total of three points in those games, and they've been blowout wins. The fact that the defense has kept up its intensity through the first string and the second string and the third string and they have the pride to finish off those games so strong, what does it say about the defensive mentality from top to bottom that goes aren't losing focus?
TOM ALLEN: First of all, we've worked really hard here to build a culture. I think that's what you see. There's no doubt. We had a couple games here that we didn't play to our standard defensively, and that was very upsetting to me. I take it personal. Even the first game with our tackling, just all those kinds of things. But it's just trying to stay with it to be able to get -- this is how we're going to play. You step on this football field and you represent our defense, this is how we're going to play, whether you're one, two, or three. We challenge our guys about that all the time.

The film, there's a lot of accountability from that film and make a big deal about the effort and how we're going to fit our gaps and how we're going to tackle and how hard we're going to play and run the football. If you don't do those things, you're not going to play. Now we're getting the depth where, if you don't do it the right way, you are going to sit because the guy behind you is just as good as you are in a lot of spots, and there's not a lot of drop-off.

That, to me, is the whole objective. It's going to get harder. We're going to play better teams coming up here in this long stretch of the rest of the season, and week after week after week, but to me, that's encouraging to see it. You've got to see it first with whoever you're playing, but I think it's a tribute to Coach Wommack and our defensive staff, just the attention to detail all the time and staying on them about the things. It's just to try to continue to get better. We looked at things. We've done a lot of very, very intense meetings about getting some of these things corrected, and the players, just development of confidence too.

I thought Saturday was just a good exhibition of just good, fundamentally sound football defensively and playing with fanatical effort. Just I think it's recruiting, more good players, got more depth, more guys trying to get a lot of those reps so we keep guys fresh throughout the season, and then be able to play. It's all leading up to what we're about to get into. So that's what we're working towards.

Q. You talked about other guys having the numbers down. I think you mentioned Nick Westbrook is one of those. To get him a touchdown and five catches on Saturday, had to be big. Is it just a by-product of Whop doing so well?
TOM ALLEN: I think so. It's like anything else. Once again, Nick's an unselfish guy, and that's why LEO, to me, is the foundation of this whole program. That is it's not about me. I don't care who gets the credit. I just want to win. Nick Westbrook is an unselfish guy. Everyone wants to get catches and make plays, and he got a chance to get several of those Saturday. I love to see him be rewarded because he's such an unselfish guy who's done everything we've asked him to do. He's a captain on our team and a leader on the whole campus.

Yeah, I just think -- you never know which guy is going to be -- D-Hale shows up and had a big game against Michigan State. Ty had a big catch here and several catches. Whop's obviously had a couple of good games here. It might be somebody else coming up the following week. To me that's where you have a lot of different guys. They can't key on one guy. They try to take away one of them, it's going to create one-on-ones and free up somebody else. So we're going to take what the defense is giving us on both the coverages and the run fits.

Right now that's the whole goal. Whatever we've got to do to score points and win football games, that's the objective.

Q. Obviously, you've talked about the consistency in terms of effort in practice. Just being able to string two wins together in conference, how big is that for momentum in terms of where you are in the season?
TOM ALLEN: It's big. It's what you have to do. You have to do it at home. You've got to do it on the road. You've got to do it with all your guys healthy, with some of your guys healthy. Whatever happens, to me, is what we're shooting for. We have a goal here of what we want to accomplish with this program and where we want to take this program, and it's a step-by-step process of getting there. Next step is, obviously, got one Saturday. Got to flush it and go do it again. It's very critical at that we get a second one in conference in a row and try to get a third one. That's just the progression you go through.

Right now you do that by focusing everything you have on the next task at hand, which is Maryland. But, yeah, it's a big deal. It's where we want to be, and we put a lot of hard work into this. So that doesn't change. It's just staying the course. It's all about grit.

Q. Tom, over your three years here, how has your approach as a coach changed toward getting your team ready for Big Ten road games?
TOM ALLEN: I think that, as you get more comfortable with where -- we've been to Maryland before. We've stayed at this hotel. A little more comfortable with the schedule itself. I think I just try to do a really good job of creating routines for our guys, and you have so many -- the comfort level being at home is helpful, and I think it eliminates certain things. I want to be a team that travels well, that we know -- we talk about it being a business trip. From the perspective of we're only here for one reason and one reason only. They know exactly what that reason is.

So everything is geared around that. To be able to have a systematic way of how we practice that day before we leave and check out here, and you always go to the indoor facility, if we're flying, which we usually do. We're going to be flying through this one and the whole process of going through, when we get to the hotel, what do we do and how do we handle it? And the meetings and the flow and the comfort level, to me, it's consistent preparation and making sure our guys are locked in and all the little things you have to do to get yourself ready based on what the kickoff time happens to be and have a schedule based off of that.

That, to me, is kind of what I've learned. It's all about the flow of where you're headed. Any time you go somewhere brand new. It will be different as we go to Nebraska because we've not been there before since I've been here. All that stuff, you just adjust and make it as much to the routine as you possibly can because it's about you've got to play well on the road.

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