The past year in Indiana athletics gave us a little bit of everything. This summer, the HN staff is recounting the best from the year. Each week, we’re revealing a new game, moment, or memory which stood out to us as worthy of a spot in our #HNTop10. It all culminates in August with our best moment from the year.
Up first: Stevie Scott’s breakout performance in Indiana’s super-soaked home opener against Virginia.
When the news emerged last fall that Morgan Ellison wouldn’t begin the season as a part of Indiana’s football team, the message was simple. Someone else in the Hoosiers’ running back room would need to answer the call. That sentiment became even more clear following week one when hopeful redshirt sophomore Cole Gest went down with a season-ending ACL tear against Florida International. As soon as it appeared that Indiana’s backfield might hold some resemblance of consistency in 2018, there were once again more question marks than answers available.
Enter Tom Allen’s first recruiting class.
In a season where Indiana returned its entire backfield, with as many as five plausible ball carriers, it was Allen’s most underrated and underappreciated talent in that freshman class who quickly emerged as the leader. (So underappreciated, in fact, that he didn’t even appear in our 2018 running backs season preview.)
Stevie Scott, who carried the ball 31 times for 204 yards in the Hoosiers’ home opener on September 8th, grew up fast that night against Virginia, to quote both Allen and quarterback Peyton Ramsey.
“We had talked about that all week,” Ramsey said. “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.’”
It didn’t take long for Scott to capitalize on his opportunity, which, in retrospect, isn’t much of a surprise, considering how long he waited. Scott signed to Indiana as a six-foot-two, 236-pound recruit that previously played both sides of the ball at Christian Brothers Academy in Syracuse. For the vast majority of his senior season, he was sidelined with injury, appearing in just three games. When recruiting Scott, Allen and his staff had limited film as a point of reference; to a certain degree, they took a shot in the dark.
Still, most figured Scott would eventually have some sort of role in the program; if Indiana found better options at running back, they would have experimented with him at linebacker. Even as he came to Bloomington, exactly what Scott’s role would be remained up in the air — that is of course, until the Hoosiers played Virginia.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) September 9, 2018
Almost instantaneously, it was clear to see who would be Indiana’s workhorse for the time being, when on the Hoosiers’ first possession of the game, Scott took a 40-yard run to the house to tie it at seven apiece. It would only continue from there, as he pushed his way through rain to punish the UVA front seven.
“I just came in wanting to play any position I could to help my team win,” Scott said that night. “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.”
That surprisingly mature approach was exemplified and carried out with success through the remainder of the night. Though he wouldn’t find the end zone again, Scott played an immense role in keeping the ball (and momentum) moving in Indiana’s favor, on a night where conditions were anything but ideal. On the turf of Memorial Stadium which more closely resembled a swimming pool than a football field, Scott still made it look easy, making the debut all the more impressive.
Stevie Scott has eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark this season and has set a new true freshman running back record for rushing yards in a season (Mark Harkrader, 1976). pic.twitter.com/SDEMkX9fTF
— Indiana Football (@IndianaFootball) November 17, 2018
“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.”
With Ellison and Gest both absent for the foreseeable future, it was perhaps the most unlikely of sources in Scott who would answer that call, capitalizing on an opportunity and (literally) running away with the starting job in the IU backfield.
Scott unsurprisingly went on to win Big Ten Freshman of The Week honors following his performance against the Cavaliers, and received the honor again the following week after scoring twice against Ball State, rushing for 114 yards on 18 carries.
🗣 @Steviescott8_ on the RB Room…
“I love the competition because it allows us to push each other and allows us to come to our best ability to play.” pic.twitter.com/TaKekIQ3ll
— Indiana Football (@IndianaFootball) March 29, 2019
It was an impressive start to one of the most impressive seasons ever for a first-year Hoosier.
Averaging just under 100 yards per game and five yards per carry, Scott set true freshman records with 1,137 yards and 10 scores. Quantifying his impact on and importance to the Indiana offense in 2018, Scott finished second nationally in rushing yardage amongst other true freshmen.
Most important of all, that sort of effort and result is only expected to continue and expand into Scott’s second year. The arrivals of new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, along with highly touted recruit Sampson James, will only add to the intrigue. For the first time in a long time, Stevie Scott has brought stability and reliability to Indiana’s backfield. It’s why his debut performance against Virginia is plenty worthy of a spot in the #HNTop10 from this past year.
The Hoosier Network will pick back up with Indiana Football later this summer, breaking the 2019 team down by position, along with a robust podcast lineup previewing Tom Allen’s third season at the helm. Stay tuned.