SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Tom Allen was out recruiting as Indiana’s defensive coordinator when everything changed suddenly for him.
He was called back to campus and told that coach Kevin Wilson had suddenly resigned and Allen would now take over the team as head coach. Less than four weeks after getting the job, Allen will coach his first game when the Hoosiers (6-6) take on Utah (8-4) in the Foster Farms Bowl on Wednesday.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind,” Allen said. “It’s been crazy, it’s been awesome, kind of all wrapped into one. It’s not anything you plan for or expect. You just have to react.”
Now after rebuilding the defense in one season at Indiana, Allen is in charge of the whole program. The Hoosiers allowed 136.9 fewer yards per game and gave up 10.3 fewer points per contest in an impressive turnaround.
All-American guard Dan Feeney was impressed by the defensive revival, and after getting to know Allen better as head coach this month he sees why it happened.
“He’s high motor, for sure,” Feeney said. “He’s very energetic. Out at practice he’s still running around like he did with defense. Now he’s doing it for the offense, too.”
Allen will be in for a tough first test against a Utah team that had hopes of making the Rose Bowl last month, only to fall short at the end. But the Utes have physical fronts on both sides and a coach with some understanding of what Allen is going through.
Kyle Whittingham got his start as head coach at Utah in similar fashion. In 2004, coach Urban Meyer took the job at Florida before the Utes went to the Fiesta Bowl. Meyer stayed on as co-coach for that game with Whittingham, but many others on the staff had already left either for Florida or to UNLV, where another assistant at the time, Mike Sanford, had taken the job.
“I can relate to it to a certain degree,” Whittingham said, adding that the bowl preparation proved to be a good launching pad for his first full season in 2005.
SALVAGE THE SEASON: After opening the season with seven wins in eight games, the Utes had hopes of winning the Pac-12 South and going to the Rose Bowl. But three losses in the final four regular-season games ended that and have Utah in a lower-tier bowl. An upset loss to Oregon ended chances at a division title, and a season-ending loss at Colorado only added to the misery.
“I feel like everybody is just hungry to play right now,” quarterback Troy Williams said. “Watching those games we should have been in, builds a little bit more fire in us.”
GIFTED GUARD: Interior linemen don’t usually get a lot of attention, but Feeney will be the focus for many NFL scouts. Projected as one of the top guards in this year’s draft, Indiana’s Feeney was a first-team All-American and his blocking over the years has helped backs such as Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard make it to the NFL.
“He’s just kind of the anchor and the cornerstone,” Allen said. “When your best players are your hardest-practice guys, that’s pretty special.”
SPECIAL TEAMS: The Utes place a high priority on special teams, which Whittingham coaches personally. It has paid off with the Utes leading the nation in net punting (44.9 yards) behind Ray Guy winner Mitch Wishnowsky. Kicker Andy Phillips is a four-time Lou Groza award semifinalist, and Utah has returned one kick and one punt for TDs.
“When we play, we expect the special teams to be advantage Utah every week,” Whittingham said.
RUN TO DAYLIGHT: The Hoosiers have another talented back in Devine Redding, who is the fourth player in school history to post back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. Redding ran for 1,050 yards this season, joining Vaughn Dunbar (1990-91), Anthony Thompson (1987-89) and Courtney Snyder (1974-75) as the only Indiana players to accomplish the feat.