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Former Buckeye commit Sampson James prepares for OSU, but he doesn’t know who will hand him the ball

Sampson James made up his mind in the car.

Sampson James reaches the end zone for the first time as a Hoosier last Saturday against Eastern Illinois. (Jared Rigdon/HN)

He was on his way home from Columbus, Ohio after standing on the sidelines to watch Ohio State play. James was in his senior year at Avon High School in Avon, Indiana. He was a four-star running back recruit, and an Ohio State commit.

He went to Columbus to watch Ohio State play IU. He walked on the field to watch the Buckeyes, but he ended up watching the Hoosiers.

He watched Tom Allen and his IU team on the sideline. He watched IU hang with Ohio State for the first three quarters. He saw potential. He saw himself as a Hoosier.

In the three-hour car ride home, James began to think about himself in an IU uniform, think about what his role could be in Bloomington. IU lost the game 49-26, but what he saw that day at Ohio Stadium changed his mind.

The next morning, James was convinced. He decommitted from Ohio State, and a few hours later, committed to IU.

“I saw the potential in IU,” James said. “They played Ohio State very well for three quarters. I felt like me and the rest of my class, we have some good talent in my class. We can help be pushed over that hump to be where we want to be.”

James will get his chance to play against the Buckeyes in his home state Saturday. There won’t be any trash talking. James hasn’t seen most of the Buckeye coaches since that October Saturday, just shy of a year ago.

He still sits behind Stevie Scott on the depth chart, but offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer has worked to get his talented freshman on the field.

Against Eastern Illinois, James had 12 carries, tied with Scott for the most on the team, and found the endzone.

But it he doesn’t know who will hand him the ball.

Following IU’s win against Eastern Illinois, Allen said he wanted to get quarterback Peyton Ramsey involved. He wanted to give Ramsey a chance to play before Big Ten play began, thus guaranteeing Ramsey wouldn’t be thrown into a critical spot in his first appearance of the year.

Allen may have been foreshadowing more than anyone realized.

At Thursday’s media availability, Allen announced Penix will be a game-time decision against Ohio State.

Allen said the injury was not suffered in the game against Eastern Illinois. Penix was pulled from the game due to score, not due to injury.

The specific injury itself was not released, but Allen was clear that it is not a long-term injury.

“He’s working through some things right now,” Allen said. “We’re not 100% sure. It’s going to be a gameday decision. That’s why you have multiple quarterbacks. If he can’t go, then Peyton will be ready. I feel great about Peyton. He’s won a lot of games for us here and he’s a great player.”

Ramsey got his first action of the season against Eastern Illinois, where he completed 13 of 14 passes for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Despite the experience Ramsey has as a starting quarterback in prior seasons, Ramsey is learning a new system just like Penix and Jack Tuttle.

“Didn’t even know at the time, but it’s worked out really good for us, for him,” Allen said. “It’s important. I knew he needed reps regardless. The bottom line is he’s played a lot of football, but it is a new system. That’s why I wanted to get him a lot last week.”

If it is Ramsey under center, Allen is adamant it won’t change anything for IU. It will be the same system. That’s why it was important to for Ramsey to learn it.

The uncertainly at quarterback suddenly clouds a week with momentum building off a record-setting win over Eastern Illinois.

IU cleaned up the mistakes it had on defense, cutting 25 missed tackles against Ball State down to nine. The defense held Eastern Illinois under 100 total yards until midway through the fourth quarter, and to just 116 by game’s end.

The offense put up 52 points, and put out over 500 total yards. Penix threw for nearly 200 yards in less than a half. Ramsey came in late in the second quarter and had a 64-yard touchdown pass on his first play.

But now the strength of opponent ramps up significantly. IU took the jump the coaches expected from week one to week two, but it came against Eastern Illinois. IU is treating this game no differently from any other, with Allen preaching that every game is the most important because it’s the next one.

Now Ohio State is the next one. It’s the first conference game, and it’s against the No. 6 team in the country. The competition spikes quickly, and dramatically.

But with uncertainly at the most important position on the field, that momentum may only mean so much.

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