Just as it came together, it fell apart.
For a little more than 24 hours, the IU football program had returning starters set to feature at quarterback, running back and across the offensive line for 2018’s season-opening game at Florida International University.
Coach Tom Allen’s announcement Thursday of redshirt sophomore Peyton Ramsey as the starting quarterback confirmed IU’s commitment to offensive stability. A 2017 season which saw shuffling at quarterback between Ramsey and Richard Lagow, at running back between various players, and along the offensive line due to injuries, was set to change in 2018.
Ramsey would be the full-time starter after an impressive 2017 season, sophomore Morgan Ellison would be back as IU’s bruising yet agile feature back, and the offensive line would have not only experience and familiarity, but also increased athleticism, thanks to IU’s new strength and conditioning program.
Then on Friday afternoon, IU announced Ellison had been “indefinitely suspended from all football activities,” and all those plans for stability went out the window.
No further reason was given for the suspension of Ellison, or the additional one-game suspension issued to redshirt freshman linebacker Mo Burnam, but when indefinite suspensions are announced, it’s not because anything good happened.
Now, with less than a week until the Hoosiers take the field at Riccardo Silva Stadium in Miami, major question marks hover around IU’s offensive capabilities.
IU was going to have a mobile quarterback regardless of who won the starting job between Ramsey, graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins and freshman Michael Penix Jr., but what was going to be the defining aspect of this year’s IU team was its ability to have a consistent and effective rushing attack.
Several IU coaches, including Allen, DeBord and Running Backs Coach Mike Hart, have emphasized their desire to improve running the ball this season, and for good reason.
IU’s go-to move on offense last season was to attempt to run the ball, find little to no success doing that, and then revert to having Ramsey or Lagow throw the ball a lot, usually in a losing effort.
The defining statistic for IU on offense in 2017 was 105 rushing yards gained. Last season, the Hoosiers had 105 or less rushing yards gained in five games.
In those five games, IU averaged 48.2 passing attempts per game. IU went 0-5 in those games, which were all Big Ten Conference matchups.
Furthermore, four of those games happened consecutively from Oct. 14 to Nov. 4, as IU lost to Michigan, Michigan State, Maryland and Wisconsin.
There is perhaps no better statistic to encapsulate the 2017 IU football season.
So it’s no wonder why IU was determined to get better at running the ball during the offseason, and Ellison was set to be the star of the IU backfield. He had highlight-reel performances against Georgia Southern and Rutgers, and was named IU’s offensive newcomer of the year as a true freshman.
Ellison scored six touchdowns and averaged nearly five rushing yards per carry in 2017, which is remarkable considering how underwhelming IU was when rushing the ball. The Hoosiers ranked 12th out of the Big Ten’s 14 teams in total rushing yards and rushing yards per game, while tying for last in the Big Ten in rushing touchdowns with 11.
Simply put, Ellison was vital to IU’s chances of running the ball well this season. He accounted for more than half of IU’s rushing scores last season and averaged 1.4 yards per carry more than IU’s team average.
Now, the Hoosiers will turn to their stable of running backs for a solution while Ellison is suspended. The options range from talented freshmen like Stevie Scott and Ronnie Walker Jr. to veterans in their final seasons with IU, like Mike Majette and Ricky Brookins.
As he was set to enter his sophomore season, Ellison was basically the only IU running back who had proven himself as a reliable in-game option. Others found success in flashes on the field, but not to the extent of Ellison as an almost every down running back.
With Ellison unavailable, the entire IU offense has been thrown into limbo right before the start of the new season. The welcomed offensive stability is gone, the success of IU’s rushing game is in jeopardy and only time will tell to see if the Hoosiers fall back into their old habits.
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