Ohio State vs. Indiana preview: It's Tom Allen's defense vs. Kevin Wilson's offense in season opener
It has been 279 days since Indiana last played a football game inside Memorial Stadium.
On that afternoon in late November, Kevin Wilson and Tom Allen stood on the same Indiana sideline, calling the plays that helped the Hoosiers clinch bowl eligibility and a fourth consecutive victory over Purdue.
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Wilson, the man who built Indiana's program into a competitive Big Ten outfit, and Allen, the man charged with making the Hoosiers consistent winners, are now foes set to clash when IU and No. 2 Ohio State kick off the season tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
During the months-long buildup to tonight, Allen, who is entering his first full season as Indiana coach, has been quick to push the spotlight away from he and Wilson, now Ohio State's offensive coordinator following his Dec. 1 ouster.
But of course, Allen understands the significance.
"The good Lord has a sense of humor when you think about the way this has all kind of played out," Allen said. "To be able to have this as our first game — my first game as the head coach and he hired me, and now he's the offensive coordinator there, and I'm the defensive coordinator here, it's an interesting matchup, for sure. But once the game starts, it's not about he and I. It's Indiana vs. Ohio State."
At which point the question becomes: Who will have the advantage?
Will it be Wilson, who spent six seasons as IU coach and recruited nearly every player currently in a Hoosier uniform?
Or will it be the Indiana players, who spent the past few seasons either practicing against his offense or running his plays themselves?
For both coaches, it's not so much about what you know, but how you adjust.
"I'd like to know what I like to do," Wilson joked with reporters in Columbus, Ohio last week, "because I don't know. I don't know. I never had a playbook. You go with what works and what the guys are and the way you attack. You have a game plan and as soon as you get hit in the mouth and things happen, you wad that up and you've got to have the ability to adapt and adjust."
Wilson was hired to spark an Ohio State offense that has recently lacked consistent punch. Yes, the Buckeyes were still racking up big stats — they led the Big Ten with 459.2 yards per games in 2016 — but they were missing the kind of explosive plays and tempo that Wilson majors in.
For example, Indiana led the league in 2015 with 60 passing plays of 20 yards or more while Ohio State had 38. Last fall, IU posted 52 passes of 20-plus yards, while Ohio State recored 33.
A 31-0 loss to Clemson in last season's Fiesta Bowl was ultimately the final straw for Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, who knew he needed to give his offense a jolt.
So he turned to Wilson.
That's led to great debate in Bloomington between Allen and his coaching staff about what, exactly, this Buckeyes offense will look like. So much so that Allen did something he's never had to previously do in his coaching career — conduct film study on his own program to prepare for his opponent.
"I have to say this is a very unique situation," Allen said. "I've never been a part of anything like this before. Bottom line is, yes, we did watch some previous clips of Coach Wilson calling our own offenses here recently and in years past. Obviously, (we're) focusing on the personnel and scheme that Ohio State's been running. It's a combination of both."
On the other hand, Wilson is supplying Ohio State with intimiate knowledge of Indiana's personnel, both offensively and defensively. That includes player strengths, weaknesses and tendencies.
"I'd do that if I were part of that situation," Allen said. "It gives him a little bit of an advantage and I think, just in general, just the fact that we're not really sure what they're gonna do on offense and won't know until kickoff. Defensively, we do what we do. We have some tweaks, but you're not gonna wholesale change and come out in a whole different defense. He probably has a little advantage with that, too.
"But it doesn't really matter. The key is going to be how do you adjust? Once that game starts, they see what we're doing, we see what they're doing. How do you adjust? That's the key."
Pushed out of Bloomington after that Purdue game last November, Wilson will almost certainly have an appetite to pile on points against his former employer.
How does Indiana stop him?
"We don't know what they're gonna do," linebacker Tegray Scales said. "It's the first game. Defense, we just gotta adjust. That's what we've been working on, defense-wise, just getting our checks together and making sure we know what we're doing. We can adjust to anything."
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