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COLUMN: Tom Allen and Mike DeBord failed IU football this season


Redshirt Junior defensive lineman Brandon WIlson sacks Purdue quarterback David Blough on Nov. 24 at Memorial Stadium. IU was unable to overcome Purdue’s halftime lead, losing 21-28. Sam House Buy Photos

They all reacted in different ways to a familiar end result.

Nick Westbrook was on the brink of tears following the loss. 

Luke Timian said he was blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of the IU football program.

Peyton Ramsey remained calm and composed while lamenting missed scoring opportunities.

Stevie Scott carried an optimistic, upbeat vibe following another 100-yard rushing performance.

Tom Allen's voice barely rose above a gruff whisper.

The postgame scene Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium following IU's 28-21 loss to Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game mirrored the one from a season ago in West Lafayette, Indiana.

IU's senior players took a moment to reflect on their playing careers and give thanks for the people they've met and the places they've gone thanks to football. Younger Hoosiers vowed to remember the pain they saw their teammates in, and to use it as motivation for seasons to come.

For his part, Allen said he was really disappointed in the way things ended.

It's a shame then, that the actions of Allen and members of the coaching staff like offensive coordinator Mike DeBord were to blame for the failures of this year's IU football team.

The Hoosiers finished the season with a 5-7 overall record, a 2-7 mark in Big Ten Conference play and a loss in the season finale, a winner-take-all meeting with the Boilermakers.

An IU fan holds up a sign Nov. 24 at Memorial Stadium. Purdue scored first, and had the lead going into halftime. Sam House Buy Photos

It's the exact same way the 2017 season ended, but with a different cast of characters overseen by Allen and DeBord.

Optimism arrived by the bucketload in nonconference play as IU got off to a 3-0 start. It even beat a Virginia team that spent time ranked among the College Football Playoff committee's top 25 teams.

But a rain-soaked, four-point win against the Cavaliers will stand out as the best win of the Hoosiers' season, once again, because the Hoosiers can't figure it out in conference play.

Wins against Rutgers and Maryland shouldn't be celebrated because those wins are the bare minimum Allen needs to retain his job. But even that, Allen's position as head coach, is a discussion worth having this offseason. 

Despite promising to "Breakthrough" in 2017 before vowing to "Finish" in 2018, IU's teams have done neither and regressed under his leadership.

An adequately talented team last season underachieved, including by losing possession of the Old Oaken Bucket for the first time since 2012.

Sophomore defensive back Marcelino Ball makes a tackle on Purdue’s Terry Wright Jr. on Nov. 24 at Memorial Stadium. Purdue won the game, 28-21. Sam House Buy Photos

While this year's group of Hoosiers didn't have the same on-field ability, it was the infuriating nature of IU's play calling that made the team frustrating to watch in the best of times and unbearable to observe in the worst of times.

Conservatism was rampant in IU's coaching decisions. 

These included deciding to fair catch virtually every kickoff, a lack of aggression going for it on fourth downs and the "bend but don't break" philosophy used by IU's defense.

It's one thing for IU to not have players talented enough to compete on the field with top-tier Big Ten teams. It's another thing for players on the IU roster to not be given an adequate chance to match up against those on the opposite line of scrimmage.

Some say Allen needs to utilize these strategies for IU to have a chance to win games against better Big Ten teams, but the evidence for this assertion doesn't exist. Allen's conference wins have come against Illinois and Rutgers last season, and Rutgers and Maryland this season.

To his credit, Allen did say he would evaluate giving up the title of defensive coordinator this offseason to dedicate more time to being the head coach, but the damage has been done.

The combined records of the teams IU has beaten for its four conference wins under Allen is 12-36, signifying just how bad a team has to be to lose to IU.

Meanwhile, IU's 14 Big Ten losses under Allen have come by an average of nearly 15 points.

A significant chunk of the responsibility for this also falls on DeBord and the plays he has called. The refusal to attempt to throw the ball downfield consistently drives Hoosier fans to the point of insanity.

Checkdown passes from Ramsey short of the first down marker are as much a product of the plays diagramed by DeBord as they are Ramsey's in-game choices.

The balance between running and passing plays was abandoned at times this season, just like in 2017, and given how effective freshman running back Stevie Scott became by the end of the season, that's inexcusable.

Players on the field can only dictate so much. 

Coaches are expected to put players in the best positions possible to win.

Allen and DeBord didn't do that this season, and because of their actions, they won't have the chance to do so again in a bowl game.


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