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Saturday, April 20
The Indiana Daily Student

sports football

COLUMN: Tayven Jackson offers hope he can be Indiana football’s quarterback solution

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INDIANAPOLIS – Tayven Jackson stood in the North endzone, eyes locked on redshirt freshman left tackle Carter Smith, voice booming with excitement. Suddenly, Indiana football’s redshirt freshman quarterback was soaring through the air, lifted off the ground by Smith. 

A few feet away, the rest of the Hoosiers’ offense was swarming fifth-year senior running back Josh Henderson, who put an exclamation point on a 13-play, 97-yard touchdown drive that brought Indiana within a score late in the third quarter. 

Jackson had officially arrived. 

Ultimately, the Hoosiers came up short, suffering a 21-14 defeat to the University of Louisville during Saturday’s contest inside Lucas Oil Stadium – but Indiana will walk away with strong belief that it’s found a long-term answer under center. 

Jackson finished 24-of-34 for 299 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He found his stride in the second half, leading a pair of scoring drives while helping close a 21-0 halftime deficit and giving the Hoosiers a chance late. 

Indiana head coach Tom Allen noted after the game that Jackson has much to improve moving forward, as he made mistakes with clock management and formations, some of the growing pains Allen mentioned the Hoosiers will live with. Jackson added afterwards that he did a poor job with the signals early in the game and has to be better.

[Related: 'Hard pill to swallow': Indiana's fourth down blunder a microcosm of inconsistent offense]

Saturday marked Jackson’s second career start, his first coming Sept. 8. He threw more passes against Louisville (34) than he had in his entire collegiate career combined (30) entering the day. There were plenty of highs and lows, but Indiana is prepared to ride with Jackson – and his strong finish provided conviction that there’s considerable upside still to come. 

“You could see him growing up throughout,” Allen said postgame. “I love the fact that he just makes plays. He’s able to create, extend plays, eyes downfield, find receivers. Those are things you can’t teach. He’s got a lot of confidence, a lot of moxie, and those things are showing up.” 

Another trait Allen said Jackson possesses is pocket presence, which he put on full display against Louisville. The Cardinals failed to record a sack despite generating plenty of pressure, a testament to Jackson’s ability to maneuver within the pocket, which Allen said is hard to teach and another indication of just how talented his young signal caller is. 

“He knows where to step up to,” Allen said. “The guy that has the ability to feel it is pretty special. He has that. He’s a talented quarterback and he’s only going to get better.” 

Belief in Jackson extends far beyond Allen, moving well into the locker room – which is also where one of Jackson’s biggest tests came Saturday. 

At the end of the first half, Indiana was being shutout and couldn’t find an offensive rhythm. Across five drives, the Hoosiers produced four punts, and the other possession ended with an interception. The scoreboard showed a 21-point deficit, but the margin felt even bigger. 

[Related: Indiana football recovers onside kick, comeback comes up short to Louisville]

Inside the locker room, Jackson wasn’t fazed. Allen’s speech consisted of a no-quit mantra, reminding his players the program is built on fight and competition. Jackson espoused positive comments to his teammates, sophomore running back Jaylin Lucas said after the game, and was picking up the team with his energy. 

Less than a week after being named the starter, Jackson has taken hold of a leadership role in the Hoosiers’ offense, and his performance both on and off the field has made a noticeable mark on those around him. 

“It's a big eye opener,” Lucas said. “I love the way he was making the right decisions, but Tayven played his butt off today, like every drive it was hard work. He had a winning mentality.” 

Allen praised Jackson’s poise on Thursday, and his strong closing act in the Hoosiers’ loss proves that he wasn’t rattled when adversity came. 

“He was able to settle into it,” sixth-year senior linebacker Aaron Casey said. “Especially the second half, he was able to come into his own and play calmly. I was just excited to see how he worked.” 

Jackson said that he felt no nerves because of his trust in the coaching staff, and he was able to find his rhythm in large part because the offense began playing faster, which bred a looser feeling in the huddle. 

Nonetheless, it wasn’t enough, as the Hoosiers came up short – 18 inches short, to be precise, as Jackson was ruled down on a diving attempt at a potential game-tying touchdown and Henderson’s fourth down rushing attempt was stopped at the goal line. 

It’s a tough pill to swallow, Jackson said, later accepting blame for the defeat and ruing Indiana’s missed opportunities throughout the game. That’s his ultimate takeaway, but on a broader scale, the leadership, poise and talent Jackson illustrated inspires faith the best is yet to come. 

“You have to take the mistakes and move on from them,” Jackson said. “Unfortunately, the game did not go as planned or how we wanted, but that’s life and that’s football and we have to move on.” 

Follow reporters Matt Press (@MattPress23) and Dalton James (@DaltonMJames) and columnist Daniel Flick (@ByDanielFlick) for updates throughout the Indiana football season.
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