Late changes forcing Hoosiers to adapt with backup plans
Indiana coach Tom Allen just keeps adapting on the fly.
When he announced top rusher Morgan Ellison was suspended indefinitely last week, Allen installed a ready-made backup plan. When Allen announced Monday that second-string quarterback Brandon Dawkins left the program after failing to beat out Peyton Ramsey for the starting job, Allen simply asked last year’s state Mr. Football Award winner, Reese Taylor, to move back to his old spot.
And if any more unexpected changes take place before Saturday’s opener at Florida International, the Hoosiers coach undoubtedly will be ready to make a switch.
Allen has no choice other than to be ready for anything.
“It’s game week,” he said Monday. “We’re ready to roll.”
Such a strange flurry of late-summer activity could be disconcerting for other programs.
Here, though, it seems to be the norm.
Last year, Indiana lost its leading receiver, Nick Westbrook, with a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff of Week 1. The previous season, top receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. was suspended for the opener then suffered a season-ending knee injury on Indiana’s first offensive series in Week 2.
Somehow, the Hoosiers overcame the losses and found themselves back in bowl contention.
This summer’s changes present a potentially more challenging obstacle.
Just a week ago, it seemed the running game would revolve around Ellison and a deep backfield that included sophomore Cole Gest, senior Mike Majette, redshirt senior Ricky Brookins and Stevie Scott, a 236-pound true freshman who missed all but three games of his senior season because of an injury.
Since losing Ellison, who rushed for 704 yards, six touchdowns and was twice named the Big Ten’s freshman of the week, it appears Allen may be content to go with a backfield by committee. It’s also unclear when, or if, Ellison might return.
“That’s totally out of my hands,” Allen sad. “I have no comment.”
Allen, however, has more answers about what’s going on with his quarterbacks.
Ramsey, a redshirt sophomore, will make his first opening-day start after beating out Dawkins, the grad transfer from Arizona, and highly-touted freshman Michael Penix Jr., who originally committed to Tennessee.
Allen said he told all three players of the decision before making the announcement Aug. 24. Dawkins then took a couple of days to contemplate his future before notifying Allen of his intentions Sunday.
“You go through and you have an intense competition, so you always talk to the young men the day before you announce it, which is what we did,” Allen said. “From that point on, he was obviously making some decisions and thoughts for himself. A couple days after that, he and I met. Then yesterday he let us know where he’s at.
“He’s just going in a different direction with his life, so he kind of wanted to sort some things out, figure out what’s next for him for him,” he added.
Allen then made the decision to move Taylor, a 5-foot-11, 184-pound true freshman, back to quarterback.
How exactly things play out hasn’t been determined but the NCAA’s new redshirt rule allows Penix and Taylor to participate in up to four games each without losing their redshirt eligibility.
The only other quarterbacks currently on the roster are redshirt junior Mike Fiacable and redshirt freshman Johnny Pabst, both of whom made the team as walk-ons.
For now, Allen seems to have his plans ready to go.
But at some point, he knows circumstances are likely to dictate he’ll have to rely on contingency plans — and he’ll be ready then, too.
“Obviously, like anything else still a new group that has to mesh together completely,” Allen said, referring to his offense. “I just think they seem to work well as a unit. Now they have to go out and execute on game day, that’s obviously what matters most. That’s what everything you do is built around.”