Wes Martin and Jacob Robinson beat Indiana coach Tom Allen to the speech Monday.
After contemplating a second straight loss for roughly 36 hours, the two seniors wanted to make this weekend’s challenge perfectly clear to their teammates.
So Allen quickly stepped aside, let Martin and Robinson take center stage and listened to them utter the words he was prepared to use.
“It was awesome,” Allen said. “Once I had a good idea what they wanted to say, it was all very necessary. It was encouraging to see them in their own way, in their own tone, personality, say the things that we’ve kind of been preaching here since I’ve been here.”
He figured it meant even more coming from two respected linemen who have celebrated good times and endured some bad ones over the past several years.
The question now, of course, is will it make a difference with No. 18 Penn State coming to town Saturday?
By virtually any measure, Indiana (4-3, 1-3 Big Ten) has played its two worst games over the past two weeks — just as competition started ratcheting up.
The defense yielded 91 points in losses to No. 2 Ohio State and No. 19 Iowa, allowing quarterbacks Dwayne Haskins Jr. and Nate Stanley each to throw six touchdown passes. Haskins finished with 455 yards while Stanley had 320, and the Hawkeyes averaged 5.0 yards on 32 carries in Saturday’s 26-point victory.
Offensively, things didn’t go much better.
Peyton Ramsey threw two interceptions last weekend, and he’s been sacked five times in the last two games. During the same stretch, the Hoosiers have rushed 46 times for a total of 151 yards.
Allen was so upset with what he saw against Iowa that the coaching staff drew two 15-yard penalties.
Allen blamed himself for last weekend’s performance and almost certainly was going to make the same case to his players until Martin, the left guard, and Robinson, a 291-pound defensive tackle, stepped front and center.
“A bunch of seniors got up and spoke and did a great job of just being leaders, saying what needed to be said in the right way, from the heart. Just really challenging our guys to respond the right way,” Allen said.
Some changes could be coming, too.
After Allen acknowledged Ramsey did not play “very well” last weekend, he was asked what the plan was for highly-touted recruit Michael Penix Jr. The true freshman lost the starting job to Ramsey in preseason camp and has made two appearances this season.
Under a new NCAA rule, he can play two more times without losing his redshirt year.
“Peyton is our starter. Michael is going to play. Exactly when I’m not sure,” Allen said. “I just know it’s not set in stone, we’re not going to map this all out. Definitely a feel, for sure, as the game is unfolding. I want to give us the best chance to be successful on game day.”
Penn State poses a different obstacle, though.
The Nittany Lions (4-2, 1-2) have seen their East Division hopes and playoff aspirations fade with back-to-back home losses against the Buckeyes and Michigan State. The last time Penn State lost three straight came at the end of 2015, and the Hoosiers are 1-20 all-time in this series.
But maybe things are about to change.
“There’s no doubt, getting hit upside the head with a two-by-four doesn’t feel very good, but I promise you it will get your attention,” Allen said. “This is one of those kinds of situations. I think our guys were shook a little bit by it, responded by wanting to say some things. I thought the way we responded today, our energy, focus, effort was excellent.”