We have no idea what Indiana is going to look like under Tom Allen.
As the Hoosiers prepare for their Dec. 28 game against No. 19 Utah in the Foster Farms Bowl, all we really know is that Allen is the head coach and he’s got an opportunity to end a 25-year rut in which the program hasn’t won a postseason game.
It’s probably also safe to say that Indiana’s focus as a program will shift slightly, too. When Kevin Wilson resigned for philosophical differences with the University’s administration and Allen was promoted and signed to a lengthy contract – a risk move IU AD Fred Glass had to make – the Hoosiers were replacing an offensive genius with a defensive guru.
Other than those few concrete truths, we’re not going to know much about the direction Indiana is headed. Indiana’s bowl game isn’t going to provide much insight as to how Allen wants to handle things moving forward. We won’t really know what this program is going to look like until next fall, maybe even later.
His climb to the top of the totem pole likely means an improvement for the program defensively, but whether or not he’ll mock Wilson’s game plan offensively remains unknown.
But even if Allen is intending to scrap the pass-heavy scheme that’s become so recognizable in Bloomington, he’d be wise to keep that approach for one more game. It’s the best chance the new head coach has at snapping a 25-year streak and bringing that Foster Farms Bowl trophy back to Indiana.
Utah had trouble defending the pass this season, ranking 102nd nationally. The Utes allowed 256.8 yards per game through the air, a high total even for the Pac-12, which is known for those proficient air attacks.
If Indiana takes its same offensive mentality into the Foster Farms Bowl, it might match up surprisingly well with Utah.
The Hoosiers have more than just one weapon in the passing game. Nick Westbrook led the team in receiving with 915 yards and five TDs on 49 catches, but Mitchell Paige and Ricky Jones each caught 50-plus passes this season and are both capable of creating problems in the secondary. Against a defense that was susceptible to big plays this year – Utah gave up 23 pass plays that netted 30 yards or more – each of those guys can be a big-play threat.
The question for Indiana, though, is which version of Richard Lagow will show up.
As dominant as the quarterback has looked at times this season, he’s looked equally as dreadful at points. Lagow didn’t throw a single interception against Penn State or Michigan in back-to-back weeks, a major reason why the Hoosiers were within striking distance of upsetting two of the nation’s top teams.
Mistakes against Wake Forest, Nebraska and Northwestern were costly, though. Lagow threw five interceptions in the home loss to the Demon Deacons and tossed a pair of picks in each game against the Huskers and the Wildcats. Those type of errors can’t occur in the Foster Farms Bowl.
As poorly as Utah has defended the pass this season, the Utes did intercept 17 passes, tied for the tenth-highest total in the country.
Lagow isn’t going to just be able to loft the ball into the air and expect his receivers to make plays. That hasn’t worked all season. But if he’s able to make throws like this, guys like Westbrook, Paige and Jones can turn it into a game-changing moment:
That’s the type of offense that’s going to give Indiana a chance to pull off an upset and notch its first bowl victory since 1991.
Indiana does have another major concern entering the Foster Farms Bowl, this one coming on the front lines.
Utah’s defensive line was one of the best at pressuring the quarterback this year. The Utes were No. 9 nationally in sacks, ending the year with 40. Hunter Dimick was the leader of that bunch with 14.5, the third-highest total in the country.
How will the Hoosiers offensive line – which has been pretty good through most of the year – handle one of the most aggressive defensive fronts its faced all year?
Certainly Lagow and the receivers are going to have to help those guys out.
Receivers are going to have to get open quickly and Lagow is going to have to strike fast. If that doesn’t happen, the Hoosiers are going to spend more time picking their quarterback up off the field than dancing in the end zone.
That’s not going to end a 25-year drought without a bowl win.
Bowl wins aren’t suppose to come easy. It’s not going to be any different for the Hoosiers, either. To knock off Utah, it’s going to take a mistake-free effort.
Indiana has the tools, though. And if Allen sticks with Wilson’s offensive scheming – at least one more time – the Hoosiers will have the right game plan, as well.