Virginia takes on the Indiana Hoosiers tomorrow evening in Bloomington for their first road game of this young football season. In order to fully understand who the Cavaliers would be facing Saturday, we reached out to our friends over at Crimson Quarry to get the low down.
Check out their answers below!
Streaking the Lawn: Peyton Ramsey was picked as the starter and tossed three touchdowns, threw for 156 yards, and had one interception week one against FIU. How happy are you with Ramsey getting the starting nod? Is there a chance that the backup Penix Jr. gets significant reps this week?
Crimson Quarry: Meh. I’m back and forth. Ramsey’s got all those intangibles – grit, determination, leadership – what have you. He takes care of the ball. Accurate on short throws. Says and does the right things. He started games last year as a redshirt freshman, so he’s the “grizzled vet” here. It’s kinda the embodiment of what you’d expect a defensive-coordinator-turned-head-coach to love in a quarterback. Ramsey, though, isn’t quite what Indiana fans have become used to under-center: he’s got limited arm strength & doesn’t do much to open up big plays in the pass game. You’ll rarely see a throw more than 20 yards downfield.
But, man, Penix seems to be the real deal. I’ve already had people close to the Indiana program tell me the 4-star true freshman is the most talented quarterback they’ve seen in 15 years at Indiana. Great athlete, NFL-type arm talent. He’s still got to get used to the college game a bit, and will likely make some mistakes this season. But early returns at FIU were strong: he really looked a bit better than Ramsey & opened up the offense. There’s no question Indiana’s ceiling is higher with Penix at quarterback, but Ramsey provides the higher floor. Expect to see both in some form Saturday.
STL: There have been some injuries and suspensions for the Hoosiers in the running game. Who is going to get the brunt of the carries, and how big of a blow is this to the offense?
CQ: Yeah, what could’ve started as a position of depth for Indiana dropped off quickly in the past couple of weeks. Morgan Ellison, a would-be sophomore who impressed as a freshman last season, is suspended indefinitely for an undisclosed reason. There’s been no comment on what’s going on, but it’s prompted speculation that he’s played his last down at Indiana. Beyond that, Cole Gest, who was the planned second-head of a strong planned backfield duo with Ellison, tore his ACL last week at FIU. He’s done for the year.
Stevie Scott, another true freshman, looks to be best primed to fill in – along with Virginia native Mike Majette. Scott’s a bigger, run-through-you type back that reminds some of Indiana of Jordan Howard already – he led Indiana in rush yards down in South Florida. Majette was Indiana’s opening day 2017 starter, but struggled with injuries & to find holes with last season’s less-than-consistent O-Line. He’s much more of a slighter-build, speed guy, and Indiana’s never exactly figured out how to use him correctly after a strong freshman season in 2016. UVA fans might remember the name Ronnie Walker from last year’s recruiting battle, who may factor in as a true freshman as well.
STL: Virginia got 146 yards rushing from Jordan Ellis last week, and 108 from QB Bryce Perkins (and each had two touchdowns). How susceptible is the IU defense to the running game, and what concerns you about the Virginia offense (if anything)?
CQ: It’s certainly not ideal. Indiana lost a lot along the front seven last year – Tegray Scales & Chris Covington anchored the defense in the linebacking corps, and guys like Rob McCray are gone up front. It has left a lot of holes for a young defense to adjust to. That showed at times last week against FIU, with some simple missed alignments and unfilled gaps leading to larger-than-necessary runs.
Good news for IU fans? Indiana’s been excellent schematically ever since Tom Allen took over as first the defensive coordinator in 2016. And FIU’s a rather fast team, according to Indiana’s staff. And, you know, first game of the year, Florida humidity – maybe some of that factored in.
But, yeah, if the front seven look as they did last week? Could be a long evening for fans in Bloomington.
STL: Who is a player to watch on each side of the ball?
CQ: There’s a few usuals for Indiana – the receiving corps is deep and excellent. Nick Westbrook is healthy again after leading the Big Ten in receiving in 2016, Donovan Hale dominated at FIU, Luke Timian is as strong of a slot guy as you’ll find in the conference. But one name to watch on both sides? Reese Taylor.
Yet another true freshman, Taylor’s a high school legend already here in Indiana. He led Ben Davis High in Indianapolis to a couple of dominant state titles, threw for a bajillion yards as a quarterback, and is a freak athlete. Recruited to Indiana as an athlete, he’s now seeing time at wideout and cornerback during games – while filling as QB3 on the depth chart. He ripped off a cathartic, huge run last week early at FIU. If Indiana gets him involved, he’s an X factor
Jon Crawford’s going to anchor the defense in the secondary at safety. He’s been a big play guy for Indiana his entire career, and created two turnovers last week in Florida – including a pick six. He anchors Indiana’s secondary, which miiiiight actually end up being Indiana’s best defensive unit .
STL: What part of the Hoosiers’ game are you most and least confident in?
CQ: It’s hard to say: I’ve been pretty skeptical on this particular Indiana team all leading up to the season. It’s hard to get a feel for this team: they’re very young at very critical positions: quarterback, running back, linebacker, corner. The upshot to that? Most of that talent is better than has previously ever come through Indiana’s pipeline before thanks to the past five years of improvement. It’s just, well, young. There are going to be moments.
I’m most concerned that Indiana’s going to have to outscore folks in 2018. That’s never been a problem for any past iteration of Indiana Football, but this is the Tom Allen era. It’s no longer a program archtected for track meets, Allen wants to protect the ball and win games with defense. That doesn’t work when, you know, the defense is young and bad.
So, outscoring folks, well, that’s going to depend on Mike DeBord calling an aggressive game and a true freshman or redshirt executing to perfection. I’m concerned this year maaay have some growing pains in Bloomington.
STL: Prediction time...who ya got?
CQ: I’ll admit: Haven’t followed UVA super closely coming into this season, but I’m a believer that good coaches make the Year Two jump. Bronco should do that it feels like, so I’ve fully expected y’all to be better early than you were last season – even replacing Kurt Benkert. I’m concerned about this one. Let’s go UVA 34, Indiana 26.