With his team trailing 10-0 to FCS foe Idaho, Shaun Shivers took the handoff on IU’s first offensive play of the second half, saw an opening to his left, and turned on the jets.
Then the first defender he encountered, 11 yards past the line of scrimmage, felt Shivers’ rage. The fifth-year senior back lowered his left shoulder and blasted through Vandals safety Tommy McCormick, who went along for the ride for about four yards before falling helplessly to the turf.
By the time Idaho got Shivers down 31 yards later, the tone had been set for the second half. In the third quarter, IU outgained Idaho 239 yards to 10, and outscored them 23-0.
It wasn’t the first time Shivers, who transferred from Auburn during the offseason, found his own way to ignite his teammates.
The official IU roster lists Shivers at 5-foot-7, and that seems like a stretch — no pun intended. But Tom Allen wasn’t embellishing when he talked on Saturday night about the energy his starting running back is bringing to the locker room.
And it isn’t the kind of rah rah stuff you might expect. Shivers is making things uncomfortable.
“We were doing a perimeter drill (at practice), and he about had his guys into a brawl, which was a good thing from his perspective,” Allen said. “He has an edge about him. He practices with that edge. He has a lot of, I would say, South Florida confidence. Sometimes that brings a little chippiness and a little bit of chirpiness to the situation, if you know what I’m talking about.”
Shivers is the shortest player on Indiana’s roster, and that’s probably been his story at every stop during his football career. But the Fort Lauderdale, Fla. product has never been deficient when it comes to the passion he brings to the field.
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The message seems clear — I might not be the biggest player — but I’m dangerous.
“That’s something I’ve always had since I was a kid. Since I was four years old,” Shivers said on Saturday after IU’s 35-22 win over Idaho. “That was when I first started playing sports. I always kind of had that edge about me.”
A year ago when Indiana lost its playmakers to injury, the offense fell flat. But in 2020 the Hoosiers had another energetic and undersized Floridian who had a knack for making sure his teammates stayed sharp, and he helped will that team to one of the program’s best seasons ever.
Allen sees a commonality between what Shivers is bringing to his team this year, and what wide receiver Whop Philyor brought to IU from 2017 to 2020.
“Whop had that about him. He wasn’t here last year. We lost that edge on the offensive side of the football, and Shaun Shivers has that. To me that’s what you got to have,” Allen said.
“He likes to talk a lot, but at the same time there’s an edge about him. I say there’s a reason why he is this tall (motions to his chest), and he thinks he is this tall (motions over his head).”
Shivers’ edge this year extends beyond just bringing juice to his teammates. This is his last year of college football, his last audition for the NFL. He transferred to IU for a chance to be a featured back, and on Saturday against Idaho it all came together. He rushed for a career-high 155 yards on a career-best 20 carries.
The chip on Shivers’ shoulder on Saturday was no doubt even larger than normal after in inauspicious start to his season. He was blasted literally off his feet on the first play against Illinois a week ago, and in the end he ran for just 28 yards on 15 carries.
“You saw that shot he took last week,” Allen said. “I mean, that was like, holy smokes. He just had a sore chest, and that was it. He came back and played.”
Against Idaho, Shivers did more than just play, he sparked his whole team.
For quarterback Connor Bazelak, who had a miserable first half throwing a wet football, seeing Shivers erupt into Idaho territory on the first play of the second half put his mind at ease.
“It takes pressure off of me, obviously, in the throw game,” Bazelak said.
But taking the pressure off isn’t necessarily Shivers’ thing, it was more of a byproduct on Saturday. He plays with an edge, and he doesn’t mind taking the whole team with him, right there to the brink.
It’s a delicate tightrope to walk, but Allen isn’t complaining.
“In that practice, as a matter of fact, it’s one of those where I had to stop the whole thing and bring everybody together, but at the same time I was, like, ‘Okay, I like this.'” Allen said. “We didn’t have this last year. We didn’t have anybody on offense like that last year. That’s the truth.
“It’s a fine line. We talk about just having that controlled rage that you should be able to be under control but have an intensity and toughness to you and edge about you, and Shaun brings that on our team.”
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