BLOOMINGTON — Officials nit-picked, coaches yelled and players worked. Here on Indiana’s practice field it was time to get serious about this penalty plague.
If you follow Hoosier football you know how serious the issue is. IU is the most penalized team in the Big Ten — 21 penalties for 149 yards against competition (Eastern Kentucky, Western Michigan) that does not remind anyone of, say, Penn State.
So coach Bill Lynch broke out an old strategy this week. He brought in officials to practice. Their job was to call every mistake, no matter how slight, focusing on pre-snap penalties such as false starts and illegal procedures.
“It’s a point of emphasis,” he said, “and if you’re going to emphasize something, you’ve got to do everything you can to emphasize it.”
There is a perception that Lynch and his staff are too nice, too lacking in the rump-chewing vigor that turns undisciplined play into winning football.
That perception got squashed in practice. Players who messed up heard about it. Vigorously.
“We have to get those penalties eliminated,” Lynch said.
Yes, receiver Damarlo Belcher said, the message hit home.
“Everybody concentrated way more because they didn’t want to get chewed out by the coaches,” the former North Side standout said. “It made us focus more.”
Focus is crucial if IU (2-0) is to win at Akron (1-1) in its first road trip of the season.
“Penalties are an area we’ve struggled at,” Belcher said. “Having officials out here helped.
“We have to sharpen up our play. We have to be more consistent. We had some unnecessary calls and we can’t make them in games. If we limit them, we’ll be all right.”
Lynch said he’s more understanding with “effort” penalties such pass interference or face mask because “the kids are trying.” Lack of effort, bad fundamentals or failure to do what coaches are taught won’t be accepted.
“Those are issues we have to correct,” he said.
That’s especially important on the road. Adding to Saturday’s difficulty is playing in Akron’s new InfoCision Stadium. IU coaches, anticipating a loud, hostile crowd, had the offense practice inside the Mellencamp Pavilion while pumping in loud crowd noise to mimic the conditions they’ll face Saturday.
“It’s supposed to be noisy,” Belcher said, “but as a player you have to like those kinds of environments. We’re trying to get used to using hand signals because we won’t be able to hear anything.”
Akron hasn’t beaten a Big Ten school since 1894. That is not a typo. It was in 1894 that the Zips (then called Buchtel College), led by head coach and quarterback John Heisman (yes, the Heisman who now has a trophy named after him), beat Ohio State 12-6.
Akron lost at Penn State 31-7 in the season opener before bouncing back to beat Morgan State 41-0. The Zips have not allowed a point in six straight quarters.
Quarterback Chris Jacquemain has thrown for 4,691 yards and 35 touchdowns in his career. This season he’s thrown for 320 yards and four touchdowns. His main target is Deryn Bowser who has 11 catches for 149 yards and four touchdowns.
“Akron’s quarterback is very productive and experienced,” Lynch said. “They run the spread and have good skill on the outside with receivers who can make players. Their offensive line is big with everyone being 300-plus pounds. The environment will be very difficult with a beautiful new stadium.”