On Monday afternoon, Indiana football head coach Tom Allen, defensive coordinator and linebacker coach Chad Wilt and offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Walt Bell took the podium to answer questions for the media ahead of Indiana’s season opener at 8 p.m. Friday night against Illinois.
In back-to-back years, Indiana will open up the season against a Big Ten opponent. Last year, Indiana opened the season against Iowa at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. The Hoosiers lost that game 34-6, but this year they’ll kick off the season in Bloomington.
Allen said he is thankful his team gets to start the season at home since the familiarity of playing in Memorial Stadium plays a big factor in the team's comfort levels. Along with that, the guys love playing at home in front of the fans, Allen said.
Indiana’s strength of schedule is tougher than many other teams’, as they have the ninth-toughest schedule in the nation, according to ESPN. Still, Allen looks to embrace the competition.
“Big Ten football, it's what you expect,” Allen said. “Really good football teams every single week and a tremendous challenge, great opportunity. Excited for our players to open our season.”
The Indiana coaches said there was no surprise from their staff when Syracuse University transfer Tommy DeVito was named the Fighting Illini’s starting quarterback last week.
“I think there are obvious reasons why he won the job, and I think he's really talented,” Allen said.
While Allen will be doing the defensive play calling for the Hoosiers, defensive coordinator Chad Wilt will be on the field managing personnel, sideline adjustments and digest feedback. Wilt will also alert Allen of trends and tendencies throughout the game.
Indiana plays its first game against Illinois this Friday, but the Fighting Illini already had their first game last weekend against the University of Wyoming. Illinois won 38-6, and Allen, Wilt and the rest of the coaching staff said they will use the extra film to their advantage.
“They're going to run the football," Wilt said. "They’re a Big Ten football team. They believe in that. They also do a good job managing the game and distributing the ball.”
Wilt believes Illinois is a “solid, balanced Big Ten football team” but is confident in the ability of the Hoosiers’ defensive leadership from senior defensive back Taiwan Mullen and fifth-year senior defensive back Jaylin Williams to combat Devito and the Fighting Illini.
Offensively, Walt Bell said he is optimistic about the current state of Indiana’s offense after making great progress during the offseason. Bell understands there will be growing pains for the Hoosiers as they adjust to new coaching and quarterback leadership, but he knows that goes along with learning a new system.
“We feel very prepared, and we’re ready to go play,” Bell said.
Bell is aware of Illinois' defensive strengths. He spoke highly of the Fighting Illini’s defense and said they have very talented athletes and play with great confidence. They show patience letting the game come to them and don’t allow freebies on the perimeter and run game, Bell said.
The wide receiver room will look to be the most unpredictable position group for Indiana this season. Bell said he is confident there will be eight different players getting snaps at the position throughout the regular season and suggested it’s very possible for there to be nine.
“We have a great group of kids, guys that want to get better every day,” Bell said. “I'm really proud of that group.”
Allen and his coaching staff are confident about the team’s success this year, and — with many newcomers on the team — Allen said he is most excited about the leadership exhibited by this team.
“There's a lot of things about this team that excite me,” Allen said. “I feel like we have a strong group of leaders that care a whole lot and are going to make sure things are done the right way.”