(AJ Mast/AP)

Peyton Ramsey Isn’t the Safe Choice, He’s the Right Choice

We all should have known better when this whole quarterback competition started.  To understand, you have to go back to last season.

Peyton Ramsey didn’t have any reason to expect a big role on the road against Virginia.  The thought was that he might see some action for a change of pace, but starting quarterback Richard Lagow was coming off a 420 yard performance against Ohio State.  He was the man.  Until he wasn’t.

Lagow started that game against the Cavaliers 3 of 10 with an interception.  The change of pace was inserted.  And he never left.

It wasn’t that Ramsey completed 16 of 20 passes for 173 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Hoosiers to a 34-17 victory over Virginia at Scott Stadium.  It wasn’t that he also ran for a 26-yard touchdown.  It wasn’t just that the game was on the road against a power-five opponent.

What was more impressive than any of that?  With his team down 3-0 midway through the second quarter, Ramsey saw his first snaps as a college quarterback.  With his team floundering, all he did was connect on his first eleven passes.  By the time that first half ended, the Hoosiers went to the locker room up 17-3.

Seriously, who does that as a redshirt freshman in their first collegiate action? A young man with moxie.  We should have known.

After the game, Ramsey was asked about his opening act.

“The game really just slowed down for me and I just had fun, that’s really what it came down to.” (emphasis added)

Say what now?  Your first college snaps, on the road, with your team in trouble — and the game just slowed down?  We should have known.

Much has been made about Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh seeking out Ramsey after a hard fought Wolverine overtime win last year in Bloomington.  The young IU quarterback had won the admiration of Harbaugh, who likely saw a bit of himself from his own playing days.

But let’s go back to why Harbaugh was won over.

Indiana trailed in that game 20-10 in the fourth quarter.  Ramsey, facing one of the best defenses in the country, proceeded to lead the Hoosiers on two scoring drives to force overtime.

Sure he had help after J-Shun Harris’ big punt return.  This is a team after all.  But Ramsey found the end zone on that drive, and then got the Hoosiers in field goal position at the end of regulation.  How many redshirt freshmen are making those plays?  We should have known.

At least one Indianapolis media member is calling Ramsey the “safe choice.”  He even says we should have known that choice was coming.  He’s half right.  We should have known, but there is nothing “safe” about Ramsey.

Maybe Michael Penix has a better arm.  Some think he does.  Maybe Brandon Dawkins has better legs.  The film certainly shows that.  But a group of coaches, whose jobs are on the line, watched these three quarterbacks every day for a month, and they chose Ramsey.  A leadership committee of his teammates chose him in a landslide according to Allen.

I don’t know about you, but I suspect when those coaches sat down and discussed the decision, the central theme was winning — not safety.  And oh by the way, the concepts aren’t mutually exclusive.  Ramsey could be the safest choice, whatever that means, that also gives IU the best chance to win.  Who really has a problem with that?

The common critique on the now redshirt sophomore is that he doesn’t have a strong arm.  Okay, let’s assume that’s true.  It isn’t by the way.  Ramsey showed versatility with his throws last year, and Allen told reporters today that the Ohio native is bigger — and his arm is stronger.  We have no reason to doubt that.  People really do get better when they are just 20 years old.

But this is college football anyway.  A quarterback just needs to be Peyton Ramsey — not Peyton Manning.  Would it be nice if Ramsey could throw precision darts down the seam, or snap those out routes before corners could even get off their heels?  Sure.  It certainly helps when you are trying to bridge the gap between Indiana and the top of the Big Ten East.

But look around the Big Ten.  Look at last year’s Big Ten championship game teams.  Ohio State vs. Wisconsin.  J.T. Barrett vs. Alex Hornibrook.  Peyton Manning they are not.  Sure, they were not the centerpiece of thier teams, but guess what — that’s college football.  You don’t have to have an elite-armed quarterback to win in college.

IU’s main strengths in 2018 are its offensive line and running backs.  Unless Peyton Manning shows up, this was going to be a run first offense, irrespective of the quarterback choice.

And when they decide to throw it?  IU has a cadre of talented receivers including Nick Westbook, Luke Timian and Whop Philyor.

Oh, and a quarterback named Peyton Ramsey, that just set the school record last season with a more than 65% completion percentage last year.  Accurate, safe, or whatever you want to call it, one thing is for sure.

We should have known.