As July quickly nears its end, Indiana’s quarterback competition is also accelerating towards the finish. Indiana graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins figures to be the favorite — but he’ll have to beat incumbent Peyton Ramsey and heralded true freshman Michael Penix Jr. Regardless of how the dominoes fall under center, Dawkins will be an importance piece for the Hoosiers in 2018. He hasn’t been in Bloomington for more than two months, however — so we caught up with Justin Spears of The Arizona Daily Star to discuss Dawkins’ career at Arizona and his ability at quarterback:
Hoosier Network: From an Arizona perspective, how would you summarize Dawkins’ career in Tucson? In the big picture, it seemed rather volatile, with a constant competition between Dawkins, Tate, and Solomon until there was one man standing.
Justin Spears: It was one helluva rollercoaster ride. Brandon Dawkins’ size and ability to run the football gave Arizona some pep to its step at first, because after the original starting quarterback, Anu Solomon, battled several injuries over the course of a year, Dawkins was slotted in as the guy for UA. Dawkins first came on the scene, in 2015 when Arizona trailed Arizona State 31-10 on the road. Solomon was out with a concussion and second-stringer Jerrard Randall couldn’t move the ball past the 50-yard line. Dawkins carried UA to within one touchdown while throwing 301 yards, but ultimately fell after he threw back-to-back interceptions late in the fourth quarter. That’s kind of how Dawkins’ career has been in Tucson. It’s close, but it’s not all put together. He struggled passing the ball and often missed reads, but he flashed potential to be a great quarterback if he just polished a few tools to his game. And even when Khalil Tate took over as the starter, Dawkins maintained the comedic and charismatic personality. Nobody enjoyed being Arizona’s quarterback more than Dawkins. His personality, leadership in the locker room and style of play should be interesting to see in the Big Ten.
HN: Dawkins appeared in 22 games over the course of three seasons at Arizona. The Wildcats went 17-21 in those three seasons. What was the general fan opinion of Dawkins at quarterback, when he was healthy and starting?
JS: A solid chunk of fans always had hope for him. When he first took over the starting job, students in the Zona Zoo (UA’s student section) were spotted wearing shirts that had “I Feel Like BDawks” shirts with the font as an off-the-wall olde english, mimicking Kanye West’s “I Feel Like Pablo” shirts. But attendance at Arizona Stadium during the Dawkins era was at an all-time low, and that’s not just on him. The announced attendance would be 45,000, but in reality, it was 20,000, if that. Arizona wasn’t winning, and when you’re not winning in Tucson, fans don’t want to wait up for an 8 p.m. kickoff to watch their team lose. Late kickoffs, a hungry fan base and a mediocre football team is a bad mix.
HN: Obviously, Dawkins is known for his ability to stretch the defense with his running ability. How much do his legs change the capabilities of an offense, and in your mind, where does he rank among dual-threat quarterbacks that you’ve seen?
JS: It wasn’t surprising that Dawkins went to Indiana. He’s going to play in a conference known for its great rushing offenses. Two words that will make Dawkins a lethal quarterback at IU: zone read. If the Hoosiers have a sound and healthy offensive line as well as productive running backs, Dawkins’ ability to either pull or give the ball in zone read situations is what made him the starter at Arizona in the first place. In terms of dual-threat quarterbacks that I’ve seen? That’s tough. In terms of quarterbacks that I’ve seen play for or against Arizona, here’s a list of dual-threat quarterbacks that are better than Dawkins: Marcus Mariota, Khalil Tate and Trevon Cherry (Grambling State).
HN: With such a focus of zone reads at Arizona, there have been questions with his presence in the pocket. How is Dawkins’ arm, not only in the pocket but on the run?
JS: He’s most dangerous when he rolls to his right. In the pocket, he’s inconsistent. Like I said in the first note, there would be times where a tight end or some receiver would be wide open 40 yards down the field, but Dawkins would miss the read and try to create with his feet. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a cannon, though. Dawkins has arm strength, he just has to improve on accuracy.
HN: Eventually, Dawkins loses the Arizona job to a potential Heisman candidate in Khalil Tate. At Indiana, even as the favorite, he’ll have to win the job against the incumbent and a heralded freshman. How was Dawkins as a competitor, and what do you expect from him in his final year of eligibility?
JS: Dawkins’ coach at Arizona, Rich Rodriguez, always said Dawkins was the better quarterback during the summer when him and Tate battled for the job. Tate is projected to be mentioned in the same sentence as Heisman Trophy so if Dawkins appeared to be the better quarterback during preseason camp, then maybe he’ll do it again. The only knock on Tate during the competition was that he was young and Dawkins has experience. Expect to see that again at Indiana.
* With seven weeks remaining before Indiana opens its 2018 season at Florida International, The Hoosier Network will be releasing its position previews on a weekly basis every Friday until kickoff. *
Week 1: Quarterbacks
Week 2: Running Backs