The Indiana football quarterback carousel is rotating rapidly. It’s turning so fast, and the seats are so greased up, that nobody can hang on.
After IU rotated between redshirt freshmen Brendan Sorsby and Tayven Jackson against Michigan last week, head coach Tom Allen acknowledged the constant back-and-forth has made things harder for both players and said the team would pick one as the starter moving forward. This was after the preseason quarterback battle extended into the first two weeks of the regular season, after which point Jackson was named the starter.
The Hoosiers went with Sorsby on Saturday against Rutgers (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten). They lost, 31-14. IU (2-5, 0-4) recorded just 138 yards of total offense outside of the opening drive and its final possession, when the game was out of reach.
Allen, on Monday, said whichever player the team went with at quarterback would be “the guy.” Evidently, that didn’t mean they’d be the starter for the rest of the season.
“I said it was going to be the guy for the rest of the game. We weren’t going to rotate them back and forth in the game,” Allen said after the game. “But at the same time, obviously he (Sorsby) did some good things. Obviously got to continue to grow and develop. But they’re both young, so obviously continue to allow them to play and continue to get better is the key, and I just feel like he had earned the right to have that opportunity.”
Sorsby completed 15 of 31 pass attempts for 126 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 49 yards and a touchdown on 11 attempts.
He did, as Allen said, have some positive moments. His touchdown pass, on the opening drive of the game, was a great play — he faced immediate pressure from multiple pass rushers on fourth and eight from the Rutgers 35, rolled out to his left to extend the play, spotted Omar Cooper Jr. wide open in the end zone, and made the throw. And although he took some unnecessary hits that could’ve been avoided, Sorsby showed some spark as a runner.
And, to be fair, the overall offensive woes weren’t entirely his fault. But Sorsby made a lot of mistakes that shortened drives, resulted in three-and-outs, and forced Indiana’s defense back on the field quickly. He lacked the right touch on deep balls for pretty much the rest of the game after the touchdown pass — he had some receivers open on those routes multiple times, but missed either short or long.
The mistakes weren’t limited to incompletions, either. He threw short of the line to gain on so many third downs, a big reason for IU’s abysmal 2-for-11 conversion rate. Sorsby completed two of six pass attempts on third downs, but neither of the completions resulted in a first down.
Early in the fourth quarter, on a third and six, he lobbed a pass over the middle to Jaylin Lucas — short of the sticks — and Lucas got crushed by a linebacker. The dynamic running back was hurt on the play, and didn’t return — and on throws like that, IU may be fortunate if he avoids anything serious.
Sorsby, to his credit, took ownership of his mistakes and
“From the get-go today, I felt pretty good,” Sorsby said. “Missed a couple throws that I’m going to want back. But overall, I felt like the offense executed, just a couple miscues that stalled some drives.”
And so, the carousel spins on. Sorsby didn’t run away with the job Saturday, so Allen and the Hoosiers once again have ambiguity at quarterback. This was Indiana’s seventh game of the season, and only two of those Saturdays have not ended with uncertainty over who would play quarterback in the next game or how the rotation would work.
Both Sorsby and Jackson have shown some good things that could form a nice skill base to build on going forward in their college careers. But like many freshmen, whether redshirt or not, they’re both raw and still learning and growing. And as Allen and his staff’s desperation level has grown the last several weeks, they’ve shown less patience with their young quarterbacks’ inevitable mistakes.
But, like Allen said after the Michigan game, that’s put both players in worse situations. It’s only natural, with the constant flip-flopping, to start looking over your shoulder whenever you make a mistake. Sorsby said it’s tough not to, though he knows he has to focus on the next plays instead of fixating on mistakes.
And to further complicate the situation, Dexter Williams II’s continued progress has become an added factor the last few weeks. Williams was upgraded to questionable on the injury report for both the Michigan and Rutgers games. And Allen — without being prompted, while answering a question about Sorsby — mentioned Williams’ looming presence after the game.
“Obviously Dexter continues to be a guy that’s in the periphery as far as his development and his physical recovery from where he’s at,” Allen said. “Just want to continue to help give our team the best chance we have to have success on game day.”
Perhaps that’s a sign that Williams could be ready to play next week. He played in four games last season, before suffering his gruesome leg injury in the season finale against Purdue. Williams was raw as a passer last season, but he was a dynamic runner and gave the offense a real spark over IU’s other quarterback options at the time. But he missed a crucial spring camp — and fall camp as well — to develop his throwing, and is coming off an injury. For all the questions already present at quarterback for IU, it would be doubled with Williams.
But given the constant change Indiana’s had this season, and the continually increasing desperation, there’s a real chance Williams could be next in line for this precarious carousel. Or maybe Jackson will get another chance, or Sorsby could start again.
But — most likely — no matter who gets the nod, this carousel will keep spinning.
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