BLOOMINGTON — In what had been a long and puzzling quarterback competition, there is now clarity. Indiana has chosen Peyton Ramsey as its starting quarterback to begin 2018.
It is a decision that is safe. It is also rather smart. Ramsey is the only quarterback on Tom Allen’s roster with experience in Bloomington. He was thrown into the fire in 2017 as a redshirt freshman and played valiantly despite battling through injuries and a rather odd competition with Richard Lagow. The Hoosiers rode the hot hand, and there wasn’t much rhythm at quarterback for the majority of the year.
Choosing Ramsey to start Week 1 in Miami against Florida International may not be the flashiest pick, or even the decision resulting in the highest upside. After all, Michael Penix is a former Tennessee commit that tossed 61 touchdowns to six interceptions at Tampa Bay Tech. And Brandon Dawkins was, at least on the ground, a proven commodity at Arizona before injuries and Heisman candidate Khalil Tate prematurely ended his career in Tucson.
But in terms of winning games in 2018, it appears Ramsey is the most logical option. At media availability on Thursday morning, Allen shared the three characteristics that IU’s staff was looking for in its starting quarterback:
“There’s three things that our staff wants from this position,” Allen said. “A quarterback that protects the football in his decision-making, the ability to move the team down the field consistently, and a young man that the team believes in.”
Ramsey checks all three boxes, with ease. His accuracy might be his best quality, completing 65.4 percent of his passes as a redshirt freshman in 2017 — good for 13th nationally, second in the Big Ten, and first in IU single-season history. Ramsey can move the ball down the field in a variety of ways: through efficient routes, read options, and scampers following a flushed pocket. While he may not possess the arm strength of a Penix, or a Dawkins, Ramsey is arguably more versatile, and certainly more safe. And lastly, there’s his leadership and belief amongst his teammates. And while that didn’t necessarily show on the field last season as a freshman, Ramsey was the top vote-getter for IU’s leadership council, and has been consistently praised by Allen for his leadership.
“He’s a competitor,” Allen said of Ramsey. “He’s not a real emotional guy, even when I told him, he didn’t fist pump or anything. He was pretty calm. I think competition makes everyone better. He knew that he had to improve, and he worked his tail off all summer long knowing that Michael Penix was chasing him, and knowing that we were bringing in Brandon Dawkins with a lot of experience.”
There are things Ramsey cannot do. Or, at least, did not do last season. His longest completion of 2017 was 45 yards against a lowly Charleston Southern team (long of 34 vs. Big Ten opponents). He averaged just over nine yards per completion, compared to Dawkins’ 13.8 as a junior at Arizona. Defenses last season were aware that Ramsey rarely stretched the field, and defended accordingly.
But Ramsey has worked on his arm strength this offseason, and with nine games under his belt from last year, there is indeed a level of upside heading into 2018. Indiana likely doesn’t win against Virginia without Peyton Ramsey, and maybe had a better chance against Maryland had he avoided injury. There’s a layer of trust, efficiency, and instinct about Ramsey that makes him a worthy choice. And, he’s a redshirt sophomore. There is ample time for him to continue his development.
It is rather interesting to examine the roles of Penix and Dawkins now that Indiana has decided its starting quarterback. Both are complicated. Dawkins transferred here to play. He’s an experienced player with one last chance at college football. While Dawkins’ addition was probably just another layer of competition for Penix and Ramsey, his name alone could have satisfied the quarterback competition at some places. But not at Indiana, and that’s because of the improvement Ramsey showed during spring and summer camp. Allen and the Hoosiers are extremely high on Ramsey’s toughness, another factor in the decision.
Thus, it appears Dawkins will settle for a possible package in offensive coordinator Mike DeBord’s offense. It’s a wrinkle that could work to perfection, given his proven explosiveness in run-pass options and on the ground. He arrived mid-summer after graduating from Arizona and starting classes at Indiana, appearing to shake off rust and embrace the challenge of learning a new offense. There are also concerns with Dawkins’ accuracy, throwing 15 touchdowns to 12 interceptions at Arizona.
“I see that. I do,” Allen said of a Dawkins package. “We talked about it with him yesterday. It’s not a rotational type thing, but I could see a package for him in the future. We’ll see how that plays out. But yeah, he’s got some things to bring to the table that puts pressure on the defense, for sure.
IU’s depth chart is not finalized, but if Ramsey either struggles mightily or becomes injured, it could be Dawkins who replaces him. It could also be Penix, although there’s a complication with that: the new redshirt rule. The plan is for all three quarterbacks to play. But if Penix plays four games or less this season, he retains his redshirt for 2019. That rule, however frustrating for Penix, may limit his usage depending on Allen’s strategy. Penix has the arm strength of a star, but as Allen said, he’s young.
The Hoosiers begin September 1st with three games that, in all actuality, should be wins. Although on the road, FIU is an inferior opponent and defeated twice by Kevin Wilson in recent memory. Although a power conference opponent, Virginia was handled by Indiana in Charlottesville last season and picked to finish 13th in the ACC Preseason Media Poll. And then there’s Ball State at home, a program Indiana can’t afford to struggle with as Michigan State comes to Bloomington the following week. Allen chose Ramsey as the best chance for Indiana to start 3-0.