In one moment, Tayven Jackson was on the ground, writhing in pain with his left leg lifted. The next, he was leading a touchdown drive.
It was that kind of night for Indiana’s redshirt freshman quarterback in Friday’s 41-7 victory over Indiana State University inside Memorial Stadium, as the Hoosiers found paydirt on five of Jackson’s seven series under center.
Coming off a tough one-for-five passing performance in the season-opening loss to Ohio State, Jackson needed a strong showing against the Sycamores and delivered, finishing the night 18-of-21 for 236 yards while adding a touchdown on the ground — the first of his career.
Brendan Sorsby, Jackson’s closest competition for the starting job, saw considerably less action Friday night, leading only four drives. The redshirt freshman completed nine-of-16 passes for 108 yards, though he played just two possessions in the first three quarters.
During his postgame press conference, Indiana head coach Tom Allen effused praise on both signal callers and noted the battle is very close. The Hoosiers will decide on a starter next week, and Allen said he cares what coaches on both sides of the ball think and will reach a collaborative decision.
“After having two games, you kind of know how it feels,” Allen said. “Our guys believe in both of them, but at the same time, you’ve got to have a guy.”
Jackson’s case to be that guy extends beyond individual performance. Indiana’s offense was collectively more productive with Jackson under center, as 35 of the Hoosiers’ 41 points came when the Greenwood, Indiana, native was leading the charge.
Efficient, confident and commanding, Jackson impressed Allen with the versatility of his performance, making throws inside and outside of the pocket and proving he can challenge defenses both through the air and on the ground.
When considering the strides made from Week 1 to Week 2, it’s important to realize that Jackson had little college experience entering the season, having thrown only four passes last year as a true freshman at the University of Tennessee.
After being thrown into the fire against a Buckeyes team annually ranked in the top five, Jackson had a week to prepare as the starter and turned in an outing that Indiana running back Jaylin Lucas grew to expect after fall camp.
“Tayven played well today,” Lucas said. “I just love being a part of that QB room and the things they bring to the table.”
Indiana’s coaches, be it Allen or offensive coordinator Walt Bell, have said on multiple occasions that Jackson and Sorsby have similar skill sets. Allen noted postgame that each signal caller provided the same relative attributes on Friday night.
“They threw the ball well, ran the ball well, made really good decisions, and got the ball spread around,” Allen said. “You can see the talent, you can see the skill. They’re both young, but they’re talented young players.”
The X-factor in the Hoosiers’ quarterback room is redshirt junior Dexter Williams II, who ascended down the stretch last season but is still recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the season finale against Purdue. Allen stressed the need to have multiple productive quarterbacks to feel safe, and he believes that when Williams II returns, Indiana will have three who fit that bill.
However, with Williams II not expected back for several weeks, the conversation centers fully around Jackson and Sorsby, and what the former put on display against the Sycamores should have him as the favorite entering Indiana’s Sept. 16 matchup against the University of Louisville.
Postgame, Allen singled out decision making as an important factor in he and the staff’s choice, noting they won’t fully know until double-checking the film. Still, there are few qualms with Jackson’s showing: he didn’t put the ball in danger, proved his toughness by missing only one play after injuring his leg and had only three passes fall incomplete.
Sorsby showed well in his two games, and the offense put up field goals on two of his four drives against Indiana State, including a well-orchestrated two-minute drill to end the first half — but Jackson simply showed a different level that hadn’t yet been seen.
Allen and Bell have said there are no concerns about the number of snaps each passer has played or their ability to run the system. The answer is in the film, and after Friday night, it’s difficult to see how Jackson isn’t the solution.
“We’re going to do what we said we were going to do: play two games and make a decision,” Allen said postgame. “A very important decision.”
Indiana — poised to have its man under center — will now turn towards Louisville, with kickoff scheduled for noon inside Lucas Oil Stadium.