With a dash toward the student section, a parade of leaping high-fives to rain-soaked students and the impulsive kick of a trash can, Tom Allen encapsulated the current mood of the IU football program.
His celebration following IU’s win against Virginia was full of appreciation, improvisation and maybe a bit of hubris.
It fit the moment, and his team, perfectly.
IU is 2-0 following victories against Florida International and Virginia, wins that are critical to IU’s postseason hopes.
The Hoosiers haven’t been overly dominant in either game. Both the Golden Panthers and Cavaliers had opportunities to mount fourth-quarter comebacks, but first using its offense, then its defense, IU shut the door on those opponents.
Nonconference play for IU is nearly complete. IU is a two-touchdown home favorite against Ball State on Saturday, and there’s every reason to believe the Hoosiers will be 3-0 entering next weekend’s primetime matchup for the Old Brass Spittoon with Michigan State.
Because of this – optimism and fun – have become part of IU's routine.
Freshman Stevie Scott solidified his place as IU’s starting running back last week, a position that was in crisis mode after Cole Gest was injured following Morgan Ellison’s suspension.
With the mentality of a linebacker and the physical shape of a bowling ball, Scott embraced contact during his 204-yard rushing performance against Virginia. Nearly 60-percent of IU’s second-half plays in the game were rushing attempts by Scott, proving he can be IU's feature back.
Offensive coordinator Mike DeBord is still too conservative when calling plays, something that nearly cost IU the win against Virginia as the Hoosiers scored no second-half points.
But balance has returned to the Hoosier offense.
Sophomore Peyton Ramsey has continued his high accuracy numbers to begin the 2018 season, posting completion percentages of 72-percent or higher against FIU and Virginia. Allen said he didn’t want to play freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. in the sloppy conditions last Saturday, but his quarter of play against FIU displayed Penix’s poise in a college game setting.
IU has two quarterbacks it can rely on to play well, and that isn’t a problem for the time being.
After a lethargic game against FIU featuring missed assignments, the IU defense responded to the challenges issued to it by Allen. The secondary was stellar against the Cavaliers, forcing Virginia’s dual-threat quarterback Bryce Perkins into panicked scrambles due to tight coverage from IU’s cornerbacks and safeties.
The linebacking unit in particular impressed through the play of veterans like junior Reakwon Jones and senior Dameon Willis Jr. Regardless of weather conditions, limiting a Power Five conference opponent to less than 300 total yards is a significant achievement, as IU did against Virginia.
Ball State presents a distinct challenge to IU via junior quarterback Riley Neal. A star player at Yorktown High School, he was sidelined for most of the 2017 season with a leg injury, but Allen, along with IU senior safety Jonathan Crawford, have both called Neal the best quarterback IU has faced this season.
Although the Cardinals only lost by one possession to No. 8 Notre Dame last week, there’s no excuse for IU to slip up at home. The Hoosiers should look no further than their in-state, Big Ten rivals for an example of what happens when you take a Mid-American Conference opponent for granted.
But this IU team won’t have a problem with that.
The Hoosiers are playing with a freewheeling spirit at the moment, emblematic of their head coach.
So be appreciative, just like Allen is, because IU football is having fun again.
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