INDIANAPOLIS — In five of Indiana football head coach Tom Allen’s seven seasons at the helm, the Hoosiers have opened the season against a Big Ten foe. This year, Ohio State comes to Bloomington Sept. 2 to commence the 2023 season.
At Big Ten Media Days in Indianapolis Thursday afternoon, Allen expressed an appreciation for the challenge.
“It forces you to grow up real fast,” Allen said regarding facing a team of the Buckeyes’ caliber in week one. “It helps you grow. Everybody’s excited about the start of the season, but I think when it’s that kind of opponent it all gets raised to another level.”
The Hoosiers compiled a 4-8 overall record last season, going 2-7 within the Big Ten. Despite rattling off a trio of wins to begin the year, including a promising 23-20 victory over Illinois, Indiana gradually unraveled over the final two months.
Among a team that finished second to last in the conference in rushing and total yards per game — and dead last in scoring defense — Allen has unsurprisingly fostered significant change in personnel. It hasn’t just been the influx of one of the nation’s most exhaustive transfer portal classes, though.
Matt Guerrieri, a former Ohio State defensive assistant, is taking over play-calling duties this season as safeties coach and co-defensive coordinator. Hired this February, Guerrieri spent nearly the last decade at Duke University before spending this past season with the Buckeyes.
Allen made a difficult decision delegating play calling to Guerrieri, but he believes it was in his best interest as a head coach.
“I’m really excited about Matt. I think [he] makes us better,” Allen said. “I feel like it’s important — for me to become the best head coach I can be, the best game-day manager of the entire game on both sides of the football and special teams — for me not to be focused on calling the defense.”
Bob Bostad, a longtime offensive line coach at the NFL and college level, takes over a unit starving for consistency and improvement. Bostad boasts an impressive resume, including time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans and two successful stints at Wisconsin.
Last season, the Hoosiers’ offensive line endured immense struggles. Redshirt senior right tackle Matthew Bedford was absent for 11 games after suffering a knee injury against Illinois. Redshirt junior right guard Tim Weaver was benched midseason and Allen fired offensive line coach Darren Hiller after the group surrendered seven sacks against Michigan in week six.
Stalwart left tackle Luke Haggard utilized his final year of eligibility in 2022, leaving a massive question mark at the position this season. But with redshirt senior starters Mike Katic and Zach Carpenter returning on the interior, and Bedford back at 100 percent, Allen believes Bostad can spearhead improvement up front.
“It’s a huge part of our team. We know that,” Allen said. "It’s been something we addressed and those [players] have to step up. Bob has a tremendous track record in our conference. I already feel like we’ve gotten better.”
Perhaps the most burning question Hoosier fans have lies in the quarterback position. The group has been a revolving door since Michael Penix Jr. transferred to the University of Washington, as four different signal callers took snaps last season.
Allen wasn’t expected to name a starter at Big Ten Media Days. Notoriously keeping those decisions under wraps, Allen instead explained the advantage of a dual-threat quarterback, something he has a bit of in redshirt sophomores Brendan Sorsby and Tayven Jackson.
“I’m a defensive coach by trade and I know what gives us trouble — anytime a quarterback can extend plays,” Allen said. “You have to account for him in your pressure, whether you’ve got a spy, or whatever you need to do. Moving forward that’s what we want to have at that position.”
Allen likely won’t name his starter until near week one. With an “urgency” in the offseason building up toward the Buckeyes, Allen is more concerned with preparing both players and ensuring the rest of the position groups are sharp.
Despite the array of new faces in Bloomington, both in terms of players and staff, Allen maintains the same mindset.
“Our word for 2023 is toughness,” Allen said. “We define that as a mental and physical strength to persevere.”