Zander Diamont provided a much-needed spark on Saturday. Indiana was trailing Nebraska 17-2 in the second quarter, Kevin Wilson sent Diamont in on a 3rd and 2 at midfield. The offense was already 1-for-4 on 3rd down (and 0-for-2 on 4th down) and while struggling to run the ball without All-American Dan Feeney and Dimitric Camiel, something non-traditional needed to be done.
Diamont promptly ran for nine yards and the first down. He’d done his job. Then more was asked of him. Too much was asked of him.
On that drive, Diamont would run again for nine yards on the very nexst play, complete an 18-yard pass (on a bubble), hand the ball off once, run for two yards, and get sacked for a three yard loss. Griffin Oakes kicked a field goal and it was 17-5.
On the next Indiana drive, Richard Lagow came back in and completed a short pass on first down, and handed the ball off to make it 3rd and 3. Diamont came in a gain and completed another dink and dunk pass that went for 13 yards, followed by another on first down that went for six yards. When the next play lost one and the Hosiers were off schedule with a 3rd and 5, Lagow came back in.
These two drives were the perfect way to use Diamont. When Indiana is on schedule — 1st and 10, 2nd and 5, 3rd and 2 or 3 — Diamont is a nice change of pace who (theoretically) could make you less predictable in running situations. (I say theoretically because an important part of the read-option is the quarterback making the right read and the right decision to either tuck it and run or hand it off. Diamont, though, does not hand the ball off on the read-option. Maybe it’s a matter of making bad reads, maybe it’s a selfish decision that in limited playing time, he’s going to tuck it and run no matter what and get his. But whatever it is, it makes a guy who should be one of the most effective running quarterbacks in the country rely solely on his speed because he has to beat an end or a linebacker to the corner when they stay home waiting on him.)
But the times to not use Diamont is when the offense off schedule or for entire drives. And the reason why is the same for both of those situations: Diamont’s arm is a noodle.
This is not something that I write flippantly about a kid who has generally played in nothing but bad situations. Diamont has never been the “real” QB1. All of his substantial playing time before Saturday was a result of Nate Sudfeld’s injuries. (And if you recall, he was actually 3rd string behind Sudfeld in 2014, also sitting behind now-linebacker Chris Covington.) And in those bad situations, Diamont has given Indiana a lot of opportunities to win, including the 2014 Old Oaken Bucket Game and against Ohio State last year.
Additionally, by all accounts, Diamont has been a great teammate, working hard and waiting for another opportunity. In fact, the ABC broadcasting crew noted on Saturday that Diamont worked so hard and was so good as the scout team quarterback last week, mimicking Tommy Armstrong, the coaching staff felt that it had no choice but to get him involved against the Huskers.
But unfortunately, it does not change the fact that he cannot throw the ball effectively. Those who only read the box scores (as so many seem to do with Indiana football) might look and say, “He was 5-for-7 for 49 yards against Nebraska. Can’t throw?” Well, of those 49 yards, 30-35 came off of swings or bubbles and all 49 came off of that or slants. Never once did Indiana stretch the field with Diamont, because they can’t.
The entire Diamont experiment really highlights a more fundamental problem, which is that Wilson doesn’t have a single quarterback on the roster who fits what he wants to do with his offense. Lagow can’t run the read-option because he’s apparently stuck in molasses at all times. And Diamont can’t chuck it. If you could combine the two abilities, Wilson would have his dream. (Before you say that Sudfeld didn’t do both of those, let me add that Sudfeld was a much more effective runner than Lagow is and he was a much better passer, alleviating Wilson’s need to run the read-option.) Instead of using the revolving door, Wilson needs to recruit and sign a real dual-threat. But I digress...
Will Diamont play more this season? It certainly appears that way. And he may have some success. It’s not impossible or even improbable that Indiana will run up against a team somewhere down the road that won’t respect Diamont’s running ability or, with Rutgers and Purdue still lying ahead, won’t be able to match his athleticism. But don’t expect anything more, anything sustained.
The Indiana offense is clearly struggling. They can’t run the ball. They can’t get things going in the redzone. And Wilson and Kevin Johns don’t seem to trust Richard Lagow, and perhaps they shouldn’t given the poor vision and awareness he’s shown in throwing an alarming number of interceptions underneath and in the flats.
As I’ve noted for weeks now, I am a firm believer that a lot of their ills will be cured when Feeney comes back. But make no mistake, as the Hoosiers look for ways to alleviate some of the problems until that happens, Diamont isn’t the long-term or even a single-game answer. He’s a bandaid.