We look back at a frustrating performance by IU’s offense against the Nittany Lions, and then dive headlong into the Lagow/Ramsey debate.
- Along the offensive line, Simon Stepaniak returned to action after missing the Georgia Southern game due to injury. Brandon Knight suffered what appears to be a minor injury1 in the 2nd quarter was relieved by Delroy Baker. At center, Hunter Littlejohn handled all the non-garbage time snaps for the first time this season, after splitting time with Harry Crider for the first three games.
- At receiver, Whop Philyor subbed in briefly for Luke Timian in the slot, and seems to be the go-to-guy in terms of jet sweeps. Donovan Hale came back from injury, but his snaps were managed, with Taysir Mack seeing almost half the action. Simmie Cobbs never came out.
- More running-back-by-committee here. Morgan Ellison led the way, but an injury limited him a bit, and he ceded most (if not all) of the 3rd down snaps to Ricky Brookins or Devonte Williams. Cole Gest didn’t see action until late in the 3rd quarter.
- And we’ll get into the quarterback situation later…
Given the matchup against Penn State’s formidable front seven, IU’s run game was decent. 103 yards on 22 carries between the tackles is a sign of progress by the offensive line…and it’s also a sign of Peyton Ramsey racking up yards on QB draws – a play I wouldn’t feel comfortable relying upon more than once or twice a game going forward.
IU’s zone run percentage (74%) is by far the highest this season. It will be interesting to see if the trend towards zone running continues in the Only Ramsey Era. It may be that the coaching staff is coming to the conclusion that gap schemes, which are heavily reliant on pulling lineman, aren’t a great fit for an offensive line with only one lineman who’s a competent puller (Wes Martin).2
In IU’s three games against Power 5 opponents, the Hoosiers have amassed a grand total of 45 yards running outside the tackles on 13 carries (3.5 YPC). That will not get it done. Whether it’s Whop Philyor on jet sweeps or a scheme that leverages Ramsey’s running ability3, IU has to find a way to stretch defenses horizontally.
Whatever problems the passing game had against Penn State, a lack of protection really wasn’t the cause. For an offense that has been forced into as many 2nd and 3rd and longs as this one, it’s a credit to the offensive line that IU’s pressure percentages against OSU, UVA and Penn State have been 21%, 23% and 23%.
Most of the pressure on IU’s QBs was the result of free running blitzers from the edge, which I classify as “Team” pressures. You could pin them on the end man on the line of scrimmage to that side (usually the tackle in IU’s offense because tight ends are normally running routes), but it’s hard to know if the fault really lies with the tackle for not getting out, a back for not sliding over or the QB/coaching staff for not calling the proper protection. If IU cleans that problem up, the pass protection numbers will improve even more.
And now to this week’s the primary topic of conversation for IU football fans: the switch at starting QB from Richard Lagow to Peyton Ramsey. The passing charts above illustrate the current predicament. Neither Lagow or Ramsey completed a “Deep” pass, one that travels more than 20 yards in the air. Ramsey didn’t even complete a pass beyond 10 yards. Through 4 games, neither QB has had much success through the air, especially downfield. Lagow hasn’t completed a deep pass since the first possession against Ohio State (when he completed two). Ramsey’s only deep completion was his TD pass to Donovan Hale against UVA.
The difference is that Lagow absolutely has to have downfield passing success to make the offense go. That’s what he brings to the table…and unfortunately that’s about it. When Lagow is hitting intermediate and deep passes and avoiding interceptions, this offense is maximizing it’s potential by fully utilizing its best weapons – Simmie Cobbs, Donovan Hale and Ian Thomas. The offense’s ceiling is higher with Richard Lagow.
But the floor is undoubtedly lower. When Lagow is turning the ball over or simply missing open receivers, as he did on Saturday and against UVA, the offense has nowhere else to turn. Lagow can’t run, which allows defenses to focus entirely on the running back and makes scrambling largely ineffective. He also struggles with accuracy and touch on short passes, which prevents his receivers, if they even catch the ball, from turning short passes into big plays. It is truly feast-or-famine for the IU offense with Lagow at the helm, and the Hoosiers haven’t feasted since the first half against Ohio State.
Ramsey is better at the very aspects of QB play that limit Lagow: defenses must respect his running ability, which in effect turns him into an extra blocker for the running backs. He can make plays on his own when protection breaks down and he consistently puts short passes in the right spot at the right time, allowing IU’s receivers to run after the catch. He demonstrated both of those attributes against UVA, when he hit Simmie Cobbs in stride on a short in-route, which Simmie turned into a TD, and then later scrambled for a TD after protection broke down. And so far, with the exception of one bad pass against Penn State, he has taken care of the football.
The big question for Mike DeBord and the offensive staff: what happens when defenses crowd the line and dare Ramsey to beat them deep? Do they let him take some shots? If they do, will he hit enough of them to keep defenses honest? We will find out in the next few weeks because you can bet he will be tested by Michigan and Michigan State.
The fact is that through the first third of the season, IU’s offense has been below average among Power 5 teams. IU is currently 72nd in Offensive S&P, which factors in IU’s challenging early schedule. Can a Ramsey-led offense crack the top 40? Probably not, but I don’t think the top 50 is out of reach, which would mean the offense is about average among Power 5 programs. Paired with Tom Allen’s defense and usually-decent special teams, a top 50 offense might win 7 games.