From the first day Tom Allen arrived in Bloomington as IU’s defensive coordinator in January 2016, he preached the importance of takeaways.
The feisty new coach got everyone involved with IU’s defense to lose the word “turnover” from their vocabulary. Instead, he made them focus on takeaways – a much more assertive and proactive phrase to describe fumbles, interceptions and the like.
Now in his first full season as IU’s head coach, Allen has let turnovers creep back into his terminology when he talks about the IU offense. However, "takeaway" is still one of the most common words you’ll hear from Allen's mouth.
In three of the Hoosiers’ five games this year, the defense has failed to record a takeaway.
So what does a coach who loves wresting the ball from his opponents’ control do to improve that?
He makes his team work harder at it.
“We’re going to take a proactive approach to getting what we want,” Allen said ahead of IU’s game against No. 17 Michigan this week. “We know as we get back into Big Ten play, those takeaways, those turnovers, are going to be huge in each and every game."
After beating Charleston Southern, 27-0, last week, but losing the takeaway battle, 3-0, IU’s season takeaway margin fell to 11-4 in favor of IU’s opponents.
Allen said he and his coaching staff went back over film and found approximately 30 chances for defensive takeaways through the first five games of the season.
To remedy the missed opportunities, Allen said he had defensive players work on catching balls in practice and spend extensive time reviewing how they could have capitalized on potential mistakes.
Likewise, the Hoosiers reviewed their offensive miscues, identifying why and how their 11 turnovers this season wound up in the hands of the opposition.
When the Wolverines bring their stellar defense, one that allows only 213 yards per game, to Bloomington this weekend, there will be even more challenges for freshman quarterback Peyton Ramsey and the rest of the offense to face.
“They create a lot of havoc, a lot of movement, and that's why they create a lot of sacks,” Allen said of Michigan.
Offensive Coordinator Mike DeBord said the Wolverines’ man coverage on receivers will be straightforward, but the defensive line and linebackers are what concern IU.
DeBord said Michigan frequently changes its formation during games, but he pointed out the three-three formation Michigan uses for the front of its defense. In the formation, three linebackers sit behind three defensive linemen and bring pressure on the quarterback.
“Up front is where they’re very complex,” DeBord said. “This is a great challenge not only for our players; it’s a great challenge for us as coaches. And you always like those challenges. I think that’s why you coach this game.”
Michigan’s offense has allowed 12 turnovers this season, one more than IU. So if the Hoosiers’ defense is prepared, this could be the week to rack up takeaways. But the margin of turnovers to takeaways is crucial, so it’ll be on Ramsey to manage the game and exhibit strong ball control.
The freshman threw his first career interception last week, but he otherwise looked efficient and careful with the ball. Ramsey said Tuesday he has faith in his receivers to get open against Michigan’s man coverage.
From there, it’ll be up to him.
DeBord, for his part, noted he even held back on some offensive plays and schemes against Charleston Southern, so Ramsey could show off some new looks this weekend.
Even if the new tricks don’t work and the old ones do, DeBord and company would gladly take the 32 for 41 passing performance and ball control Ramsey showed last week.
“When you complete 78 percent of your throws, that’s pretty good,” DeBord said. “We’ll take that every Saturday.”
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