BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Call it the calm before the storm. We’re a week out from a huge matchup with Ohio State, but before then, there’s this matter of the Hoosiers taking on Eastern Illinois on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. (Game time 3:30 p.m. ET. TV: Big Ten Network)
Indiana coach Tom Allen has vowed that his team will not be looking ahead, and that the Eastern Illinois matchup is the most important game of the season “because it’s the one we’re playing this week.’’
Indiana has this 1-0 philosophy where it’s all about winning the moment at hand. It’s a play at a time, a day at a time, a game at a time. We can believe that, too, even if Indiana is a 35-point favorite against their FCS opponent from Charleston, Ill.
Here are five things I want to see in the opener:
1. A dramatic improvement in tackling
Indiana won last week’s season opener against Ball State 34-24, but no one was happy with the sloppy tacklling, Including Allen, defensive coordinator Kane Wommack and all of their players. Allen counted 25 missed tackles that accounted for 181 yards after contact, and that’s totally unacceptable.
A lot of that can be blamed on first-game mistakes, but there’s been plenty of emphasis on it all week in practice, so asking for dramatic improvement in this area isn’t a big ask. There were tackling issues at all three levels, so hopefully much of that gets cleared up on Saturday.
2. Opportunities for all four running backs
Indiana struggled to run the ball last week because Ball State loaded the box with defenders to stop Stevie Scott. Things were a bit better in the second half, but what was strange was that Scott basically got all the work. He had 18 carries, and backups Cole Gest, Ronnie Walker Jr., and Sampson James only had one carry each.
It would be nice to see those guys get some work in on Saturday because they all had good fall camps and they all can help this team. This should be a game where everyone gets to play a lot, but even if it’s tight for a while, they all need to be in the mix. I can’t imagine a repeat of last week’s carries, and I also don't want to see QB Michael Penix Jr., be the leading rusher
3. Continued development of QB Michael Penix Jr.
Michael Penix Jr., got his first college start last week and performed well, completing 24 of 40 passes for 326 yards, the second-highest total in school history (Antwaan Randle-El, 1998) for a freshman making his debut. He was sharp most of the day, but did have two interceptions in the second quarter and missed a few reads.
Allen was pleased with Penix’s film work all week and his grasp of the offense and what he can do better. It will be nice to see more crispness from him against Eastern Illinois. Another 300 yards-plus day would be nice, especially if no interceptions are attached.
4. Stay healthy on the eve of the Ohio State game
Since everyone is doing their level best to not look ahead to next week’s home game with No. 5-ranked Ohio State, I’ll try to do the same. But what would be nice is if the Hoosiers can get through this game unscathed with no major injuries. It would be nice to play Ohio State and full strength next week.
The Hoosiers got through their opener just fine from an injury standpoint, and should get defensive back Reese Taylor back this week. He didn't play in the opener. "I expect him to play. He's been here, back all week,’’ Allen said on Thursday. “It was 50/50 last week and we probably could have played him, but chose not to and I'm glad we were able to keep him for another week to keep him healthy."
5. Fans enjoy their first Bloomington Saturday
Bloomington is a wonderful place to be in the fall and the weather should be perfect on game day, with sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s in the forecast. Attendance has always been an issue for IU football, and Saturday may be no different considering the opponent. The first sellout will have to wait a week.
Here’s to hoping, though, that the fans come out to support this team — and stick around for four quarters. It’s just makes the environment so much better with a raucous crowd. More people might stick around longer now that beer is being sold inside Memorial Stadium for the first time. So, all, enjoy the game.