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COLUMN: IU's young players grow up during Virginia victory


Freshman running back Stevie Scott looks for a gap during Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium. The Hoosiers held out to defeat the Cavaliers, 20-16. Sam House Buy Photos

For the more than 8,100 freshmen attending IU this year, moments signifying adulthood will come in distinctive ways.

Whether they occur in residence halls or amongst the cubicles of campus libraries, it's a chance for students to mature.

Saturday night, in a driving rainstorm and in front of a half-empty Memorial Stadium, freshmen on the IU football team took their opportunity to come into their own.

When the Hoosiers needed them most, they grew up.

Freshman running back Stevie Scott nearly set a new freshman single-game IU record with his 204 rushing yards on 31 carries. Linebacker Micah McFadden, also a freshman, posted four solo tackles, including one for a loss, and forced a fumble on a kickoff that was recovered by redshirt freshman Bryant Fitzgerald and turned into six IU points.

Defensively, redshirt freshman Thomas Allen, the son of IU Coach Tom Allen, had two tackles and a quarterback hurry of his own, while redshirt freshman defensive back Juwan Burgess and freshman defensive back Devon Matthews combined for six tackles on the slick Memorial Stadium turf.

The 20-16 win against Virginia saw tentative play-calling from IU on offense and no second-half points from the Hoosiers, meaning someone needed to take control of the game.

More specifically, IU needed someone to bulldoze the Cavaliers. 

Scott did just that, averaging 6.6 yards per carry as his downhill running style knocked Virginia defenders backwards.

He finished the game just three yards shy of Anthony Thompson's record for rushing yards in a game by a true freshman, set in 1986.

"Bottom line is you grow up really fast when you're forced to," Allen said. "I think we saw a guy grow up tonight in front of all of us."

Scott's performance was notable not just for what he did against the Cavalier defense, but also for what he didn't do — fumble the ball.

Despite the incessant rain, Scott never came close to losing control of the football.

In his 51 carries this season, Scott is yet to lose the football, which he said he carries as if it were a child.

In the absence of the suspended Morgan Ellison and injured Cole Gest, Scott has established himself as the go-to option for IU in the backfield. He was the only listed running back to be handed the ball on Saturday, and his physical performance should cement him as IU's starter for the rest of the season.

But it wasn't just the effort of Scott that marked the arrival of IU's young playmakers. 

Allen beamed with delight in his postgame press conference when discussing IU's defense, his defense, which limited Virginia to less than 300 total yards.

"How about our young defense?" Allen said. "They just keep coming."

IU's defensive play calls Saturday lacked the intricacies of usual Allen plays because he said he wanted his young defense to get comfortable playing base defense.

Allen's simplification of the playbook was rewarded.

Virginia quarterback Bryce Perkins had his moments running around the corner of the IU defense, but Allen's unit kept him and running back Jordan Ellis under control. 

Perkins finished with 123 yards rushing, 51 yards of which came on Virignia's opening drive, while Ellis had just 63 rushing yards.

"It felt like it was in our hands to take over the game," McFadden said.

Not only did IU emerge victorious in a nonconference game critical to the Hoosiers' bowl hopes, but they now have an established starting running back and several young players on defense with the confidence to take on larger roles.

Those who endured the monsoon-like conditions at Memorial Stadium were able to see it all take shape.

Everyone grows up in different ways, after all.


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