When IU football dropped a heartbreaker against Ohio State last week, everyone’s evaluation of the team was the same; the Hoosiers couldn’t run the ball, so the Buckeyes simply adjusted to a more blitz-friendly defense and forced Hoosiers quarterback Richard Lagow to make impossible throws under pressure. For the first quarter and a half of this week’s contest against Virginia, it looked like it was going to be the same story. IU’s struggle to average a yard per carry had the Cavaliers’ defense keyed in on Lagow, holding him to just three completions on 10 attempts, with 30 yards and an interception.
That’s when Hoosiers head coach Tom Allen made the call to send a pair of freshmen into the game, and once quarterback Peyton Ramsey and running back Morgan Ellison got involved, everything turned around.
Ramsey’s dual-threat style allowed him to rack up 173 passing yards and two scores on an astonishing 80% competion rate, while adding 42 yards and another score on the ground. Ellison picked up 48 yards on 12 carries; that might not sound like much, but it made him the first IU player this year to average four yards per carry in a game. As a result, the passing lanes began to open up; once the Hoosiers put points on the board, the defense was free to get more aggressive in attacking Virginia quarterback Kurt Benkert. Returners Devante Williams and J-Shun Harris started taking more chances getting the ball up the field, leading to a 44-yard punt return TD for Harris.
It was all the evidence Allen should need to make Ramsey and Ellison permanent fixtures in the starting lineup moving forward. Yes, there’s a gulf in talent between Ohio State and Virginia, but that’s not as important as the fact that Allen and his staff made necessary mid-game adjustments against the Cavaliers that weren’t there against the Buckeyes. They realized that neither Lagow nor starting running back Mike Majette were executing the play calls of offensive coordinator Mike DeBord well enough, and went with players who could.
DeBord’s system thrives with a dual-threat QB and a big, one-cut running back. Last year–when DeBord was running the offense at Tennessee–was a perfect example, as he had Josh Dobbs under center and Alvin Kamara in the backfield. The problem with Lagow is that he lacks the mobility to run the option plays and designed carries that Ramsey was breaking off so smoothly yesterday, and Majette is not strong enough to endure the type of punishing runs up the middle that Ellison–who is 15 pounds heavier–is more ideally built for. With those circumstances in mind, it just makes more sense to change gears at this point in the season.
Lagow is still a player with a lot of potential; he’s aware of his flaws, and constantly working to fix them. He deserves a lot of credit for that. That said, he’s still very much the guy we saw last year who will turn the ball over under too much pressure, because he can’t run well enough to just escape would-be blitzers. Sadly, you can’t turn Blake Bortles into Michael Vick overnight, so as long as the Hoosiers’ offense is under DeBord’s command, it functions best with the more fleet-footed Ramsey taking snaps.
Inserting Ellison into the lineup should be even more obvious. Majette has 19 carries on the season for an eye-poppingly low 21 yards; that’s only 1.1 yards per carry. Ellison, meanwhile, has 71 yards this year on the exact same amount of carries. While it should be mentioned that IU’s offensive line has yet to truly come together as a cohesive unit this year, the fact that Ellison is pulling an extra 2.6 yards per carry in spite of those struggles shows that there’s way more potential for development there. With a frame that’s similar to former IU stars Tevin Coleman and Jordan Howard, Ellison can make those tough, one-cut runs up the middle that will allow Ramsey to stretch the edges with his mobility, granting him more time to find the open receiver.
A first-year QB-RB duo under a first-year head coach usually means a “rebuilding year,” but a 34-17 road win against a Power 5 opponent is just scratching the surface of what this team is capable of, it’s in their best interest to stick with it and see what these kids are capable of with more snaps under their belts. The Hoosiers have made two straight bowl appearances for the first time in decades; perhaps now they’ve found some guys who can actually win one.
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