It’d be easy for Indiana’s two quarterbacks to resent each other.
Zander Diamont had already been the guy, he’d had the moments. He was the true freshman that filled in after a glut of quarterback injuries. He’d been the somewhat viral meme, cigar in mouth after leading Indiana to a Oaken Bucket win over Purdue. He’d been the one that led an Indiana quarterback that fell five yards short of the program’s biggest win ever over Ohio State last season.
It’d be easy for him to dislike the new guy. To up and leave, to take his talents somewhere else — it’s the thing to do in 2016, and few would fault him for seeking an opportunity where he could start and thrive if that were his desire.
Richard Lagow was that new guy, the JUCO transfer completely new to a system and to a program -- thrust into the uncomfortable situation or replacing the school’s most prolific passer ever in an era of increasing expectations for the Indiana football program. Then he lost the items that were supposed to be his safety blanket for success — his top wide receiver, his All-American guard, his 5th-year senior right tackle to injury. The interceptions mounted, the offense stagnated, and Lagow struggled — coming to a head most notably on the shores of Lake Michigan against Northwestern.
Kevin Wilson stuck by his starter, but fans began calling for the old fan favorite. It’s hard to imagine Lagow didn’t look over his shoulder a bit.
But on a Saturday afternoon where Indiana’s offense returned to the high-octane, run-you-over attack it’s been in past seasons, Kevin Wilson found a perfect blend of his two signal-callers that jumpstarted Indiana’s offense, and helped finish off drives for a unit that had struggled to convert yards to points all season. Richard Lagow stayed in his role as Indiana’s primary quarterback, when not in the red zone & on passing downs. Diamont took the field, often not even at quarterback and alongside quarterback-turned-running-back-turned-maybe-quarterback-again true freshman Tyler Natee.
Both signal callers thrived. Even with three players taking snaps from center, Lagow attempted every pass but one, going 16-of-25 for 207 yards and connecting with receivers on short and intermediate throws when Indiana needed him most. And while the numbers weren’t gaudy, the JUCO transfer turned in his highest completion percentage since the opening night of the season at FIU — and his highest quarterback rating since September 10 against Ball State. In Dan Feeney and Simmie Cobbs absence with the run game struggling, Kevin Wilson was asking a lot of Richard Lagow — and it’s worth wondering if those mounting interception totals shook his confidence. A game where he’s asked to simply throw strikes and not be a super hero? That’s the way to build that confidence back up right again.
Diamont, along with Natee, brought the rushing balance that made Lagow’s life easier in the pocket. The two ran for over 100 yards each, giving Indiana 414 yards on the ground when Devine Redding’s 130 yards plus others were tossed in. The 170-some-pound Diamont lined up at running back. The 280-pound former high school quarterback Natee lined back up at quarterback. Indiana’s offensive line, with its All-American leader healthy again, paved the way with big holes. It was weird. It was a bit zany. It was awesome. It worked. It was the Indiana offense fans have grown used to seeing under Kevin Wilson.
This is not a two-quarterback system. A “two-quarterback system” doesn’t inspire confidence in either, but rather undermines it. Richard Lagow and Zander Diamont now have defined roles in Indiana’s offense, where both can thrive and succeed as stars. Good coaches find a way to get talent on the field -- and that’s exactly what Kevin Wilson and Kevin Johns did to jumpstart Indiana’s offense. Lagow is Indiana’s best passer. Diamont is one of Indiana’s best offensive weapons. Both can succeed. Both can be confident. And believe it or not, both can be happy.
After a tough offseason quarterback battle, that’s not something that’s easy to do. And that’s a credit to Diamont, Lagow, and Wilson. The head coach acknowledged Diamont’s options and credited him for embracing his role on the team and not transferring. But after the game, Diamont said he wasn’t ever going anywhere.
And how was the starter -- who’d had his snap count reduced — feeling after the win?
And now, with four games to go — including two against two of the nation’s 16 worst teams — it’s time for the two quarterbacks to lead the Hoosiers back to a bowl game.