When true freshman Stevie Scott signed his letter of intent to Indiana, Tom Allen figured the Hoosiers could find a place for him to play. Indiana just wasn’t sure where.
Scott signed to IU as a 6-foot-2, 236-pound recruit that played both linebacker and running back in high school. Due to injury, he played only three games as a senior at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse. There weren’t a ton of recent reps of Scott for Allen to watch.
So Allen told Scott this summer that he’d try him out at both linebacker and tailback. If Scott impressed early on offense, he’d play in the backfield. If he didn’t, he’d be a linebacker.
After 31 carries for 204 yards in a gritty 20-16 win against Virginia, Allen saw Scott grow up Saturday night — as the Hoosiers’ starting running back. So did Peyton Ramsey.
“I think it was a little bit unnerving for me because he is a true freshman and he is green,” Allen said postgame. “But I think we saw a guy grow up tonight in front of all of us and I’m really proud of him.”
“He grew up tonight,” Ramsey agreed. “We had talked about that all week. We needed somebody from that room to step up. He kept coming back after a big run and was just like, feed me. I want the ball.”
On a night where the conditions were far from ideal, Scott was Indiana’s workhorse on offense. Morgan Ellison remains suspended indefinitely and Cole Gest tore his ACL in the season opener, so following a 40-yard score on IU’s first offensive possession, it was no secret the Hoosiers would keep it on the ground with Scott. Although postgame, Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall said he didn’t think Indiana would be able to run the ball effectively.
Which is a fair assessment given IU’s struggles in the backfield last season. The Hoosiers had bright games from Ellison, but Allen’s offensive line was rarely consistent enough to string together a rushing attack. That has changed in 2018.
“I just came in wanting to play any position on the field just to help my team win,” Scott said. “I’m a downfield runner, just bulldoze people. I’ve just gotta run low and hard. I can’t leave any yards on the field.”
Through his first two games as a collegiate running back, Scott has taken 51 carries for 274 yards. He hasn’t fumbled once, and almost always falls forward after contact. Amidst turmoil in the backfield, Allen has placed his trust in a true freshman instead of seniors Mike Majette and Ricky Brookins. It’s paid off. Against Virginia, Scott was three yards shy of Indiana’s single-game freshman rushing record.
“I thought he had something different about him,” Allen said of Scott. “And then when he got to camp and we started watching him run I’m like, yeah, this guy is going to be alright.”
Scott is the largest part of an evolved Indiana offense from a season ago. Torrential downpour aside, Saturday’s win yet again showcased the many weapons IU has offensively. Peyton Ramsey was generally accurate despite a slippery ball and daunting winds. Donavan Hale hauled in his third redzone touchdown of 2018. Reese Taylor and Whop Philyor acted as valuable decoys.
Down the stretch Saturday night, Indiana’s defense held in a situation that has resulted differently in years past. The Hoosiers overcame critical special teams mistakes, a poor Ramsey interception, and a run-first Virginia quarterback in Bryce Perkins that could make any defense look foolish.
The Hoosiers are 2-0, despite widespread defensive criticism after FIU and a rather ugly win over Virginia. It turns to Ball State next week — an opponent, that unlike Allen in 2017, will have plenty of recent film from Scott as a tailback. Fortunately for Allen, Scott isn’t satisfied with his 204 yards against Virginia.
“It’s pretty special,” Scott said of his night. “But I know I left a lot of yards on the field that I could’ve actually broke the record. So during this week of practice, I’m just going to go hard and do everything to help myself.”