Well, the offensive players do.
So here is senior receiver Mitchell Paige, early in the practice process for Wednesday’s Foster Farms Bowl matchup with Utah in California. The Hoosiers are more about themselves at this point, and near the end of a practice, they go into competitive drill mode.
This can vary from a red-zone sequence to a two-minute session to third-down situations to whatever is on Allen’s agenda. It’s all about competition and Paige fully embraces it, even if it means good naturedly ribbing his new head coach.
He is asked what Allen, Indiana’s former defensive coordinator until last month’s unexpected promotion in the wake of Kevin Wilson’s unexpected resignation, has done with the offense?
Paige smiles like a blackjack dealer about to blow up your hand.
“What he’s done with the offense is, we have this two-minute drill at the end of practice, and so far he’s 1-2. That’s what he’s done. The offense has won twice. He’s only won once. You can ask him about that. What he has done is watch us score touchdowns.”
Paige laughs. It is not the warm laugh of, say, a father seeing his newborn son for the first time. It has the kind of edge you need to win football games, this upcoming game in particular.
“In the first practice,” Paige says, “the offense went right down the field and scored, and he was like, AARG!
“But you know what? He has to be happy, too.”
Allen is happy, in a manner of speaking, because IU needs better offense than it delivered for most of the regular season if it is to beat an 8-4 Utah team that was once ranked in the top 10 until a late-season tumble.
One ingredient is ratcheting up the competitive spirit, and nothing works better than win-or-suffer-the-consequences drills.
“We want to create competition,” Allen says. “We have a different topic each day. We keep track of the score. Whoever loses has to do extra gassers.
“Even today it came down to a controversial call. It was reviewed and the offense got the edge, so the defensive guys told me I was a traitor. I did not make the decision. I deferred to one of the recruiting guys and he gave them the touchdown. I said, ‘Hey, it wasn’t my call, but it will be under further review.’
“We have fun with that. It’s been back and forth. That’s what you want.”
What Allen wants most is a 1-0 record to begin his college head coaching career, not so much for himself as for the players and the program. The Hoosiers (6-6) have had just one winning record since 1994, and that came in 2007. Losing close against good teams long ago lost its luster.
IU is likely not as talented as Utah, but that was the norm for its run through the brutal Big Ten East, and the Hoosiers were competitive in every game. They stayed close because of surprisingly solid defense and plenty of tough-minded play.
Allen wants to accentuate that in bowl preparations, and it means pitting the offense against the defense. Who has the upper hand depends on perspective as much as truth.
“Me being an offensive guy, I’ll say the offense is killing it,” receiver Ricky Jones says.
Perhaps, but that’s not what is getting defensive back Jonathan Crawford’s attention.
“It’s kind of weird having Coach Allen go to both sides. If the offense scores he cheers a little bit, but you know deep down, he doesn’t like it.”
The bottom line, linebacker Marcus Oliver says, is “Competitive plays don’t just come. You need to have the competitive nature all the time, that attitude that you do not want to be beat. Any time you step on the field you should have that. Do it in practice and it will carry over to the game.”
The carryover continues in Santa Clara. The Hoosiers arrived there on Friday with non-stop activities planned until Wednesday.
“Coach Allen is happy as long as we’re competing,” Jones says. “That’s his big thing. His (defensive players) might not make the play, but he’s excited somebody is making it. As long as somebody comes down with the ball and it doesn’t hit the ground, he’s happy.”
Competitiveness doesn’t mean nastiness toward thy fellow Hoosier, adds offensive lineman Dan Feeney.
“You want to keep that competitive edge,” he says. “That’s what Coach Allen is going for at the end of practice. Competing, but staying united as brothers.”
And so Allen keeps pushing, keeps demanding and, yes, keeps emphasizing the have-fun mantra.
“We know the type of guy Tom Allen is,” Jones says. “He’s bringing that juice every day. We’re having a great time in practice. There’s a lot of competition. I love it.”
As for the difference between Allen and Wilson, Paige says, “Coach Wilson did a fantastic job with us. We play as tough as anybody, and it shows on Saturdays. Sometimes we didn’t get it done, but we can go toe to toe with anybody. We play as tough as anybody.
“Coach Allen has been preaching that. Practices have been just as physical and fast as they’ve always been, and that’s the way it’s going to be.
“Coach Allen is a great person. If there was anybody we wanted to lead us, it would be him. We’re 100 percent behind him. Whatever he needs us to do, we’re going to do.”
UP NEXT: Indiana vs. Utah, Foster Farms Bowl, Santa Clara, Calif.
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m., Wednesday
ONLINE: For more on sports, follow Pete DiPrimio via Twitter at www.twitter.com/pdiprimio