First cousins Jonathan Crawford and Donavan Hale had followed the same path since they were infants. They’ve been teammates and the stars of their teams all the way through high school. While they have continued on together at Indiana University, while in Bloomington they have charted different courses, at least on the football field.
One has been a starter virtually his entire career. The other has struggled to reach his potential.
But both burst onto the scene to begin the 2018 Indiana football season, and each did it with a new wrinkle.
For the first time in a career in which he has made 39 starts, the senior safety Crawford found the end zone after intercepting a first quarter FIU pass. Hale, a redshirt junior wide receiver, caught two touchdown passes in a game for the first time in his career. In fact, it was the first time he has had two scores in a season at IU.
Indiana found themselves down 7-0 in the first quarter after a turnover led to an FIU score in Miami. Thoughts of “here we go again” surely crept into the minds of more than a few Hoosier fans. IU needed to stem the tide before things got sideways.
Enter Hale. And then :58 seconds later on the game clock, Crawford. Was it cousin’s intuition? The Largo, Florida natives orchestrated a quick strike combination that changed the course of Saturday night’s game.
First Hale caught a beautifully thrown ball down the seam for an 18 yard scoring grab that required him to make the catch, anticipate contact and navigate the back of the end zone — all in a split second. It was a moment that the IU coaches knew the 6-foot-4, 225 pound Hale had in him, but had only seen in brief glimpses until Saturday.
Less than a minute later, Crawford perfectly timed his move to step in front of a hurried throw and raced untouched to the end zone for a 33 yard interception return touchdown. The Florida Cousins 14. FIU 7.
The duo hasn’t had such a closely orchestrated impact on the IU football program since they both committed to Indiana on the same night back in 2014.
If that’s all they did, it would have been noteworthy. Crawford also forced a fumble on FIU’s first drive of the game. You can’t get through a Tom Allen interview without a mention of takeaways, and his senior safety delivered two. In the first quarter. Apparently Crawford has been paying attention. He also had three solo tackles on the night.
After the game, Allen called Crawford’s pick-six “the play that Indiana didn’t make last year.” Crawford’s cousin was also busy doing something he hadn’t done previously.
Hale added a second touchdown on an even more impressive catch — this time he snagged a ball in the end zone thrown behind him off his hip, again while expecting contact. On a fourth-and-two gamble by Allen, a drop by Hale would have surely shifted the momentum of the game. Instead it was 28-14 Indiana late in the 2nd quarter.
A third memorable catch off Hale’s back shoulder perfectly illustrated his dangerous combination of size and athleticism, as he turned and grabbed the ball over a helpless FIU defensive back. Once thought of as potentially playing for the IU basketball team as well, Hale showed why with an impressive mid-air catch.
For Hale, we know about the potential, but the question remains whether he will turn this into the dominant season that he appears fully capable of putting together. For starters, he needs his body to cooperate. Hale is still on a pitch count as he continues to recover from a prior injury. You read that right. He’s still not 100 percent.
Hale has the ability to take over games, and free up the other talented receivers on this offense. He spoke yesterday about what he needs to do to continue to progress.
With his cousin back on the same path, the question for Crawford will be whether his rediscovered propensity to force turnovers was a flash in the pan, or sign of things to come. Crawford had four interceptions and a forced fumble as a freshman, and four fumble recoveries and three interceptions as a sophomore. While still highly impactful on the field as a junior, his takeaway numbers took a step back.
Crawford also spoke yesterday about looking forward.
As Allen’s defensive and offensive players of the week, Jonathan Crawford and Donavan Hale are back where they’ve always been — on the same path. Right now that path involves splash plays and realizing potential. If they can keep it going, its a path towards more winning football at Indiana in 2018.
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