BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The weather is going to be perfect for the first football Saturday in Bloomington, and the return to normalcy is refreshing. It's the first time Indiana will play a home game in front of fans in 657 days, dating all the way back to a Nov. 23, 2019 loss to Michigan.
COVID-19 isn't in the rear-view mirror, but we're moving forward anyway with a game with fans on a sun-splashed Saturday. Indiana takes on Idaho at 7:30 p.m., and a game under the lights on a comfortable night is going to be great.
On the field, the Hoosiers are looking to bounce back after a wildly disappointing 34-6 loss to Iowa in the opener. For Indiana, which was nationally ranked in the Associated Press preseason poll for the first time since 1969, laying an egg came as a complete surprise.
Idaho, an FCS school that plays in the Big Sky Conference, should get rolled big-time by the Hoosiers, but that's why they play the game. After that clunker a week ago, we need to see major progress from the Hoosiers on Saturday night – and it needs to come quickly.
"We've had a good week of practice, but the key for us now is to transfer what we do in practice and have it show up on Saturday,'' Allen said. "I feel better, but it wasn't that we prepared poorly last week or weren't locked in. But there has been a heightened sense of urgency because of the situation we went through last Saturday and the result that came from that.
"When you face adversity like we have, it tells a lot about what kind of team how have. There's no doubt how we'll be judged with how we respond and how we play on Saturday. You have to be able to fight and have grit and toughness when you get knocked down and adversity strikes. You don't want one game to sidetrack you, and I don't believe it has or will. But at the same time, we have to prove on game day that we have that kind of resilience to handle the ebbs and flows of a game and of a season.''
Here are three things I want to see from Indiana on Saturday night at Memorial Stadium:
1. Have a fast start, obviously
You couldn't have written a more terrible script for how last week's horror show started. There was poor kickoff coverage on the first play of the game, a 56-yard Iowa touchdown run on the fourth play and a Michael Penix Jr. pick-six on the eighth play. Just 2:15 into the game, Indiana was down 14-0.
That can't happen again, of course, not on Saturday night and not in any other game this season. So I want to see the Hoosiers come out flying out right out of the gate against Iowa. I want to see early three-and-outs from the defense, and I want to see Michael Penix Jr. look sharp in hooking up with his receivers and tight ends from the first drive on.
Jump on the Vandals early, and start the blowout right from the get-go. This team needs that, and a fractured fan base needs that, too. Lots of fans were injured jumping off that bandwagon last weekend.
"I feel like the offensive line has been a major focus, and the guys have responded,'' Allen said. "I saw a lot of confidence out of our guys, but it's about how we perform. It's how we're judged on our game day play, and that's how our coaches are judged and how I am evaluated.
"I'll feel even better when we do it on game day.''
2. Break some big plays in the running game
There's been a big point of emphasis on getting Indiana's running game going this season. There were struggles in the opener, with the Hoosiers running for just 77 yards on 31 carries, a 2.5-yard avearge. That needs to be better, and it starts on Saturday night.
Stephen Carr, the five-star transfer from USC, got the bulk of the carries, getting 57 yards on 19 tries. He didn't have many holes and had to fight for yardage, but he showed some things. I can see him breaking a few runs against Idaho, and piling up 150 yards or more will be a nice thing.
"He's a really good back and he runs hard,'' Penix said Tuesday night during his Mike & Micah podcast at Yogi's Bar & Grill in Bloomington. "He's fit right in and we've seen him do a lot all fall. He's explosive, and he can run through tackles. He's going to break a lot of runs for us this year. I know that, for sure.''
It should help a lot that Luke Haggard will be back for the Hoosies. The left tackle who's had a great fall camp missed the opener after getting hurt in practice mid-week. He is one of Indiana's best two or three offensive linemen, so having him back will be great.
He’s back and is good. He’s had a really good week as well and he will be a part of those five so guys will see on offense on game day,'' Allen said of Haggard. "The bottom line is, it’s trying to get our best five guys on the field and unfortunately for last week, the group that is going to be taking the field on Saturday is the ones who we were going to take on the field against Iowa until Luke got injured in practice.
"He’s healthy, back now and we’ve got other guys back as well that are going to be competing to play and will play in the game on Saturday.''
3. Stifle Vandals with suffocating defense
Indiana's defense has taken over games against inferior opponents the past couple of years. They shut out Michigan State last year and held Wisconsin to six points, and in 2019 they shut out Eastern Illinois and Rutgers, and held Connecticut and Northwestern to just three points each.
I'd like to see another performance like that on Saturday night. Outside of that early 56-yard run by Tyler Goodson last Saturday, the Indiana defense actually played pretty well. Goodson, one of the best backs in the Big Ten, had only 39 yards on 17 carries the rest of the way.
Indiana will be without safety Devon Matthews this week, and cornerback Jaylin Williams is doubtful as well, but despite that, I want to see Indiana's defense completely dominate this game. Sure, Idaho won 68-0 last week, but they played a Division II team from Canada that probably couldn't beat some good U.S. high school teams.
A shutout would be nice, and I want to see some more turnovers, too. Indiana forced two fumbles last week, but didn't have any interceptions last week. Since they were No. 1 in the country in picks per game a year ago, I'd like to see that part of the defense come back. It's important, especially with No. 7 Cincinnati coming to town the following week.
Related stories on Indiana football
- INDIANA O-LINE LOOKING TO IMPROVE: Indiana offensive line coach Darren Hiller addressed the media Wednesday, and he expects better play from the Hoosiers' O-line come Saturday. CLICK HERE
- WATCH SECOND MIKE & MICAH PODCAST: Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. threw three interceptions for the first time in his career in the 34-6 loss to Iowa, and he talked about what went wrong during Tuesday night's Mike & Micah podcast live from Yogi's Bar & Grill in Bloomington. CLICK HERE
- HOOSIERS OUT OF TOP 25: Indiana was ranked No. 17 in the Associated Press preseason poll but fell out of the rankings quickly after a 34-6 loss to Iowa. Here are this week's top-25 rankings. CLICK HERE
- BIG TEN POWER RANKINGS: Ohio State remains No. 1 in the Big Ten power rankings, but there was a lot of shuffling right behind them after several interesting and impressive crossover victories. CLICK HERE