The Journal Gazette
Thursday, September 12, 2019 1:00 am

Hoosiers try to get minds right to face Buckeyes

Cameron Drummond | For The Journal Gazette

BLOOMINGTON – Even inside his own home, Reakwon Jones knows there's a chance Tom Allen is watching him.

Actually, it's something the fifth-year Indiana linebacker expects from the Hoosiers' head coach.

Allen's attempted cultural overhaul of the Indiana program has extended into the behind-the-scenes operations of the team, something Jones has witnessed firsthand.

The biggest change hasn't come via new practice schedules or film studies, but rather the mental approach Allen hopes to install in his players.

“They definitely have taken the preparation to a new level,” Jones said. “Coach sends out a video now of him giving feedback from the previous game, moving onto the next game. He makes cut-ups and stuff like that for us to watch. He checks to make sure we're watching. He quizzes us continuously.

“They make sure they're getting their message across and we're preparing like we need to do.”

On the field, Indiana's matchup with No. 6 Ohio State on Saturday is possibly the marquee game of the season. It's a chance for the Hoosiers to snap a 23-game losing streak against the Buckeyes that dates back to 1991.

Saturday is also the latest test of Allen's adjustments when it comes to getting the Hoosiers mentally ready to play each week.

Offseason preparations included bringing in sport psychologists to speak to the team, while in-season work is all about preaching mental toughness in the weight room. Indiana ends certain workouts with a drill known as a “finisher” designed to further aid with mental preparation.

“My mantra is that nothing can break us unless we let it,” Allen said. “We are the ones that allow it to happen. But no person, no situation, no environment and no set of circumstances can break this football team.”

Allen hasn't yet been able to truly test this theory in 2019 because of the relatively comfortable wins Indiana enjoyed against Ball State and Eastern Illinois. But results from the 2017 and 2018 seasons aren't promising.

When push came to shove, Indiana went 3-7 in those seasons in games decided by eight points or fewer.

Perhaps it's that record fueling Indiana's off-field focus.

Freshman linebacker Cameron Williams points to Saturday's game as a moment when being in the right frame of mind can pay dividends.

“Playing in front of that many people in that big of a stadium and having all that noise, you've got to know signals, all that,” Williams said. “If you're over here nervous, and you go against (Ohio State quarterback) Justin Fields, you know, he's going to mess you up.”

Motivational videos sent out by coaches, along with “words of the week” and access to counselors, are part of the package players like Williams can benefit from each game week.

The word designated for the Ohio State game may be “grit” but it's the word from the Eastern Illinois game week, “consistency,” which has been repeated by offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer and defensive coordinator Kane Wommack.

They want their units focused on the fundamentals, whether it's redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. or Indiana's youthful defense.

Allen hopes for the same and is banking on Indiana's intellect to keep his team grounded.

“You can't make it bigger than it is,” Allen said. “But there's no question there's a heightened sense of intensity and focus and urgency that's created because of who it is.”

Indiana vs. Ohio State

When: Noon Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium, Bloomington

Records: Indiana 2-0 (0-0 Big Ten); Ohio State 2-0 (0-0 Big Ten)

TV: Fox

Radio: 1250 AM

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