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Tom Allen Tweaks Practice Structure in Hopes of Generating Fast Start at Nebraska

Slow starts have become a trend for Indiana four weeks into the season. Hoping to combat this before a road trip to Nebraska on Saturday, Indiana coach Tom Allen made a few changes to the way the Hoosiers practiced this week.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Opponents have outscored Indiana 24-9 in the first quarter of games this season. 

Overall, Indiana's first-quarter drives have led to four punts, three field goals, a missed field goal, an interception and two turnovers on downs. Against Cincinnati, Indiana quarterback Connor Bazelak was sacked for a 17-yard loss with 25 seconds left in the first quarter, and the Hoosiers punted on the first play of the second quarter. But most notably, Indiana hasn't scored a touchdown in the first quarter.

The Hoosiers were able to overcome slow starts to win their first three games. In the season opener against Illinois, Bazelak's game-winning two-minute drill created belief Indiana desperately needed after the 2021 season. Against Idaho, Bazelak and the Hoosiers found their rhythm in a 28-point third quarter once the rain died down. And versus Western Kentucky, a combination of takeaways, late-game magic from Bazelak and a blocked field goal allowed Charles Campbell to kick a 51-yard game-winning field goal in overtime. 

Indiana trailed at halftime in each of its first three games, but last weekend, Cincinnati proved how costly an early deficit can be. The Indiana defense shut Cincinnati out until the final minute of the fourth quarter, but a 28-point halftime hole was too much to overcome. Indiana fell 45-24 in its first loss of the season, and coach Tom Allen sensed a dangerous trend.

"It's concerning, there's no doubt, because then you start developing a pattern," Indiana coach Tom Allen said after the Cincinnati game. "At first you have your growing pains, and you have some new guys, but now in week four that needs to be behind us."

Heading into a crucial road trip to Nebraska on Saturday, Allen knows this has to change. In hopes of reversing that pattern and generating a fast start against the 1-3 Cornhuskers, he tweaked Indiana's practice structure.

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This week, once the team is stretched and warmed up, they've started practice with a highly-competitive first drill to emphasize being locked in and focused as soon as they take the field. Allen said the offense mostly practices against the scout team during the season, but he increased the amount of first-team offense versus first-team defense this week. Other days, they started with one-on-one positional drills – running backs against linebackers, or wide receivers against defensive backs, for example – geared towards immediate competition.

"Best on best. Good on good. Right away, right at the start of practice," Allen said.

Whether this translates to improved first-quarter play is to be seen, but in a difficult road environment, a fast start could go a long way for Indiana in 2022. 

Indiana winning at Nebraska for the second time since 2019 would put the Hoosiers at 4-1, and a 2-5 stretch to end the season would still lead to bowl eligibility. But a loss, followed a challenging Big Ten East slate and the Old Oaken Bucket game against Purdue to end the year, means an upset or two could be required for Indiana to qualify for a bowl game.

For Allen, the fast start he wants on Saturday requires steps forward from all areas, not just the offense. 

"It's got to be all three phases," Allen said. "It's been different phases that haven't been as focused in the beginning, and we got to be able to play strong in the first quarter, and that's the goal this week."

  • INDIANA WEEK 5 DEPTH CHART, INJURY NOTES: Indiana football (3-1) travels to Lincoln, Neb. on Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff against the Cornhuskers and interim head coach Mickey Joseph. Here's Indiana's Week 5 depth chart, as well as some quick injury updates. CLICK HERE
  • CAM JONES PODCAST: On this week's Episode 5 of Hoosier Roundtable Podcast, Indiana linebacker Cam Jones was awarded the Terry Tallen Football Leadership Scholarship, and his reaction was caught on camera! Shot at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, take a look at the full podcast video, or read the transcript summary. CLICK HERE
  • HOOSIERS ENTER WEEK 5 AS UNDERDOGS TO NEBRASKA Indiana football heads to Lincoln, Neb. for a Week 5 matchup with the Cornhuskers at 7:30 p.m. ET. Nebraska is favored by 5.5 points, according to the SI Sportsbook. CLICK HERE
  • ALLEN, BELL RESPOND TO OFFENSIVE LINE CONCERNS: Indiana football coach Tom Allen and offensive coordinator Walt Bell addressed concerns surrounding the Hoosiers' offensive line at Monday's press conference. CLICK HERE