With just under 90 minutes before Saturday’s kickoff against then-No. 3 Ohio State, Indiana football freshmen quarterbacks Tayven Jackson and Brendan Sorsby trotted onto the field together before splitting their separate ways.
Jackson marched to midfield and took a moment on the Hoosiers’ logo. Sorsby went into the stands, taking pictures with family. Minutes later, they were back together, high-fiving and throwing passes into the North endzone at Memorial Stadium.
From the outside looking in, the situation Jackson and Sorsby find themselves in – battling to be Indiana’s starting quarterback – isn’t conducive for a close relationship. Unlike other positions, only one can be the guy, which creates natural tension between those vying for the job, Hoosiers’ head coach Tom Allen said Monday – but you wouldn’t know it if you saw the way the duo interacts.
“There's no animosity or anything,” senior center Zach Carpenter said at Monday’s press conference.
Instead, there’s a tight friendship that extends beyond football. Allen noted that Jackson and Sorsby have spent time together away from the field, golfing with one another this summer.
The Hoosiers have had several quarterback competitions during Allen’s time at the helm, including last year’s fight between Connor Bazelak and Jack Tuttle. The seventh-year coach has seen relationships go both ways, but the bond that Jackson and Sorsby developed this summer stands out when expanding on past battles.
“I think it’s been one of the better ones that I've been a part of in regards to the two guys getting along,” Allen said in Monday’s presser.
Still, Jackson and Sorsby are competitive. Both were four-star recruits in 2022 and now stand as redshirt freshmen. The opportunity to start early and build a legacy during their college careers is staring them in the eyes.
As a result, the tension Allen referred to can arise, but how they handle that will be an important aspect for the Hoosiers’ coaching staff when making the decision of who gets the nod for the remainder of the season. Jackson will start Friday night’s game against Indiana State University while Sorsby will rotate in, essentially the reverse of how things played out versus the Buckeyes.
The competition was close all summer. Indiana offensive coordinator Walt Bell said the two passers often traded good practices and each completed around 70% of their attempts. Bell declared Monday he thinks both Jackson and Sorsby are capable of playing in the NFL.
Thus, the deciding factor may come down to something as simple as handling this tension, per Allen, who singled out communication on the sideline and helping each other out, for the betterment of the team.
“At the end of the day it's about this team being successful,” Allen said. “That's encouraging because that shows their character. I know they both want to play, but when you have this quality of young men, they're going to be able to handle it the right way and help you continue to build your team because that locker room is very important.”
Indiana’s passing game struggled to get going against the Buckeyes’ talented defense, as the two passers completed only nine of 21 attempts for 82 yards. Sorsby led the way, going eight-of-16 for 58 yards.
Afterwards, both players touched on the challenges of getting into a rhythm due to their rotating snaps.
The loss was only compounded in frustration by the Hoosiers’ defense, which held Ohio State to just 23 points, its lowest mark in the head-to-head matchup since 1993.
Still, Jackson and Sorsby remain close. The former, a native of Greenwood, Indiana, transferred in from the University of Tennessee this spring with immense outside expectations, spearheaded by his status as the younger brother of ex-Indiana men’s basketball star Trayce Jackson-Davis. The latter hails from Denton, Texas, and arrived with hope as Bell’s first quarterback recruit, but didn’t receive much buzz this summer.
Pitted against each other from the moment Jackson announced his commitment, it would be easy for the duo’s relationship to go sour – but the actual result has been the complete opposite.
“He's one of my best friends,” Sorsby said. “We hang out pretty much every day, we're always doing stuff together. He's my guy.”
Jackson added the same sentiments.
“I think me and Sorsby have done a phenomenal job of keeping close,” Jackson said. “Our friendship off the field is like no other.”
Decision day is fast approaching for the Hoosiers’ coaches, with Friday night’s game against Indiana State, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium, set to be the final live audition before the Hoosiers move forward with either Sorsby or Jackson, Allen announced Saturday.
The situation may create tension, or it may strengthen the bond that’s already proven to be quite tight – and if the past is any indication, the latter feels much more likely.
“I'm rooting for him when he's out there, he's rooting for me when I'm out there, so there's no bad blood,” Sorsby said. “Whatever is best for the team is what we want to happen.”