It’s no secret the IU football program is searching for its next starting quarterback. As soon as the Hoosiers lost the Old Oaken Bucket game at Purdue last November, talk began regarding who would take over the starting quarterback role from departing senior Richard Lagow.
Nearly nine months removed from the final game of the 2017 season, IU’s next starting quarterback is still unknown. What is known is the three candidates for the vacancy: freshman Michael Penix Jr., redshirt sophomore Peyton Ramsey and graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins.
With IU’s season-opening game at Florida International on Sept. 1 quickly approaching, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each quarterback, as well as who should be starting for IU in Miami.
GRADUATE TRANSFER BRANDON DAWKINS
More than anyone else in this quarterback competition, Dawkins is a proven commodity playing college football in a Power Five conference. During his time at Arizona, Dawkins averaged a completion percentage of 56. He played most of the 2016 season for the Wildcats and some of the 2017 season before he was injured.
Despite not being the most accurate quarterback, Dawkins can be considered a dual-threat quarterback based on his ability to run. He’s eclipsed the 70-yard rushing mark in a game on 12 different occasions while scoring a total of 20 rushing touchdowns in 23 games played.
“Having live experience under my belt, playing in the Pac-12 for a few years and starting for a couple years, you learn a lot in the game,” Dawkins said. “You see a lot of things. I think that’s one thing I can maximize.”
Dawkins would likely still be at Arizona if it weren’t for the emergence of current Heisman Trophy candidate Khalil Tate at quarterback following Dawkins' 2017 injury.
All three men in the IU quarterback room are mobile. They can run with the football and use their feet to escape the pocket and make spontaneous plays. But, the advantage Dawkins has over Penix and Ramsey is the fact he’s consistently done it before at the college level, although of the three, his accuracy appears to suffer the most because of it.
Additionally, Dawkins’ late arrival to Bloomington means he’s had the least amount of time to adjust to DeBord and Sheridan’s playbooks. However, the offensive system Dawkins used under then-Coach Rich Rodriguez at Arizona utilized speed and run-pass options, which was similar to IU’s offense in 2017 when Ramsey played quarterback.
One would hope as a veteran this wouldn’t be too much of a roadblock, but with Ramsey playing within IU’s system last season and Penix arriving on campus earlier this spring to get ready, Dawkins’ lack of familiarity with IU’s offense is a legitimate concern.
FRESHMAN MICHAEL PENIX JR.
The left-handed Penix is the wild card of the group, given the fact he’s unproven at the collegiate level. Securing the arrival of Penix in Bloomington was the high point for IU from last December’s National Signing Day. He started for two years at Tampa Bay Tech High School in Tampa, Florida, where he threw for 61 touchdowns and only six interceptions.
Previously committed to Tennessee before having his scholarship offer rescinded after a coaching change there, Penix picked IU on signing day and said he always planned to enroll in school early. He did just that in January and took part in IU’s spring practices.
This allowed him to participate in IU’s spring game inside Mellencamp Pavilion in April. He looked comfortable operating out of the shotgun formation and running read-option plays during the spring game, and also showed a stronger arm than Ramsey.
Similarly to Dawkins, Penix struggled a bit with his accuracy in the spring game, although he appears to have adapted well to IU’s offensive system considering he’s a true freshman.
Given the circumstances, it appears Penix is the quarterback of the future for IU. He’s a mobile quarterback with a strong arm who can work with IU’s running backs to form a deceptive read-option tandem. But it will still take time for Penix to become comfortable playing quarterback in the Big Ten Conference, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Hoosiers take advantage of a new NCAA rule allowing players to feature in up to four games in a season without losing a year of eligibility.
This would give Penix the opportunity to gain a bit of experience, potentially in specific game situations with his own offensive package, while also allowing him to learn from the sidelines and keep his full eligibility for the future.
“It’s a competition, but we’re all pushing each other to do great because we want what’s best for the team at the end of the day,” Penix said.
SOPHOMORE PEYTON RAMSEY
The Hoosiers should know what they have in Peyton Ramsey. He split time at quarterback in 2017 with Lagow, completing 65.4 percent of his passes to go with 1,252 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions in nine games.
Ramsey was a steady presence at quarterback during the season, with notable moments coming in the form of a 26-yard rushing touchdown to help IU to its first win of the season at Virginia and a late-game drive against Michigan to force overtime during the Homecoming game. His tenure behind center in 2017 effectively came to an end in IU’s road loss at Maryland, when he suffered a knee injury in the second half which forced him to miss IU’s final four games.
During the offseason, Ramsey said he’s focused on improving his arm strength and has also worked on anticipating when receivers will get open.
“I kind of pride myself on the film room and knowing what’s going to happen before it happens,” Ramsey said. “That helps me play a little bit faster.”
While he was consistent and extraordinarily accurate for a redshirt freshman, Ramsey was hit-or-miss when it came to making standout plays. This could be attributed to several things, including his inexperience and the hits he took, but he was never able to pose the kind of explosive threat a player like Dawkins poses.
Ramsey’s consistency is something to be admired and valued, but he lacks the ability to completely take over a game in the way someone like Dawkins can. As the most experienced quarterback within the IU system, Ramsey has a familiarity with the playbook the other two quarterbacks may not have, so the IU coaching staff will have to weigh the value of that experience against the in-game tools he brings to this version of the Hoosier offense.
THE DECISION : BRANDON DAWKINS
Allen has said he wants to decide who IU’s starting quarterback will be prior to the week of the FIU game, and that selection should be Brandon Dawkins.
Penix is the man of the future for IU at quarterback, and whether or not he plays the four allotted games, Allen and company will not want to burn his redshirt unless they must do so due to other circumstances. Being able to let him sit for a season to observe and continue to adjust to the college game is too important an opportunity to pass up given his talent.
The choice between Dawkins and Ramsey is a difficult one, partially because Ramsey played well enough last season to earn the starting job this season under normal conditions. He was the obvious pick for the starting role, until Dawkins made the move to IU.
Dawkins has all the same assets as Ramsey, but with a higher ceiling and a greater potential to have a breakout season and put the IU offense on his back. If IU’s coaches are to be believed when they have repeatedly said the Hoosiers have put an increased focus on running the ball this season, then it would make sense to go with a starting quarterback who has proven he can excel in an offense featuring a significant amount of run-pass options.
Ramsey was decent at it last season, but IU’s run game was often nonexistent.
It’s time to give Dawkins the keys to the car and see if he can navigate IU back to college football’s postseason.
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