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Indiana’s quarterback controversy has little to do with quarterbacking

Redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey impressed at Virginia, but Richard Lagow did against Ohio State! Who wins out? It might have little to do with either’s ability.

NCAA Football: Indiana at Virginia Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

Perhaps, if you’d like to term it such, Indiana has a quarterback controversy.

With an Indiana offense stalling early in Charlottesville, there’s no question redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey came in and impressed at the helm of Mike DeBord’s offense on Saturday afternoon in Indiana’s 31-17 win over Virginia. After Richard Lagow sputters with only three completions through his first ten attempts and an interception, Ramsey’s mobility and efficiency as a passer were a welcome reprieve. Completing 80% of one’s passes isn’t easy ever, and certainly not in one’s first ever collegiate road game.

But that performance shouldn’t be all that surprising, really. Ramsey’s long been a favorite of the coaching staff, earning praise from Kevin Wilson & Tom Allen both regarding his ability to lead Indiana’s offense. He’s a cerebral, mobile son-of-a-coach type, seeming to understand Allen’s desire to protect the football offensively. Saturday afternoon’s output has been long brewing on Indiana’s practice fields, and Ramsey’s likely Indiana’s long-term future at the position for years to come.

But, perhaps, there’s no controversy at all. Not yet, at least.

Tom Allen was quick after Saturday’s game to proclaim Lagow still Indiana’s number one heading into next week’s contest against FIU in Bloomington. And there might be good reason for that. At least part of Ramsey’s success might have arisen from Virginia’s lack of preparedness for a mobile quarterback in pre-game scheming, something that likely won’t be a problem for future opponents of Indiana’s moving forward.

To that point, Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall wasn’t exacatly super complimentary of Ramsey. "We just hadn't seen him much," Mendenhall said. "With the productivity of (Lagow) against Ohio State, the thought that we had to prepare for number two in the second quarter means that we were playing really good defense."

That’s a somewhat dumb comment from Mendenhall! Ramsey led full drives against Ohio State and the Virginia coaching staff not foreseeing his having a role in the game is why the former BYU coach’s tenure in Charlottesville has gotten off to such a rough start. But, there’s still some truth to it! Lagow was really, really good against Ohio State, making routine NFL level throws and tossing it for over 400-some yards. Perhaps Mendenhall can’t be blamed for feeling Lagow could move the ball against, you know, Virginia.

Still, Lagow made his fair share of mistakes against both the Buckeyes -- and early in Charlottesville. Here’s a sample of a favorite Lagow mistake in the second quarter against Ohio State, locking on to his option and then attempting to thread closing window far too late. The result? Not good!

And this throw against Virginia is what beget the possible start to the Ramsey era in the first place. This ball’s thrown short and to the inside shoulder, where the miss is long & outside. Lagow was excellent on these type of throws against Ohio State, but Indiana can’t afford to make these kind of mistakes against inferior opponents.

Still, those type of mistakes have been the deviation from the norm from Lagow in 2017 -- albeit we’re working with a small sample size. I left the season’s first Thursday night impressed, and a 40-of-65 for 410 yard performance against Ohio State where Indiana looked like the better offense without even having a rushing attack at all shouldn’t be forgotten! Perhaps that statement right there gets at just why Lagow possibly losing his job isn’t even his own fault.

Lagow or Ramsey, Indiana’s problem isn’t at quarterback. It’s the offensive line. And that weakness may dictate who starts.

For the rest of the 2017 season, Richard Lagow’s biggest disadvantage may be just be the type of quarterback he is — and how that doesn’t fit with Indiana’s lackluster offensive front. The 5th year senior is, though not completely immobile, a prototypical pocket passer at his best when not having to scramble to the edges to make plays. Early returns say, uh, that’s going to be necessary! Nine sacks and 138 total rush yards through two outings is likely enough evidence to show the offensive line will be this team’s weakest unit.

That struggle to clear holes for the traditional run game, which might make Ramsey’s mobility necessary for Indiana to not become a one-trick pony. Starting tailback Mike Majette’s averaging an atrocious 1.1 yards per carry. That’s god-awful, and thus why you might see Morgan Ellison complimenting Lagow or Ramsey in the backfield moving forward. His 3.7 YPC mark is at least palatable, and a nice second half in Charlottesville should dictate that he get the starting not against FIU next weekend. But, of course, part of that success from Ellison might be because of, well, stuff like this!

With that lackluster offensive front, Ramsey’s mobility gives Indiana’s offense the ability to extend plays and keep defenses honest from loading up on Simmie Cobbs & Donovan Hale. He’s maybe a better overall scheme fit too, when you consider Mike DeBord’s recent successes. Both Debord & Tom Allen have opened up about wanting a mobile quarterback in Bloomington, and perhaps DeBord’s greatest offensive season came at Tennessee last season -- with Josh Dobbs doing this stuff.

Consider too, what’s necessary for Richard Lagow to show his strengths. Indiana’s vertical threat ability with Lagow’s arm, Cobbs, Hale, Timian, & Co is probably the program’s best chance to hang with the Penn States, Michigans, and Wisconsin of the world. Lagow’s showing against the Buckeyes, for at least 3 quarters, was proof positive of such.

But, that success for Lagow might be hard to duplicate without an improved offensive line up front. Consider his successes against the Buckeyes. Quick release throws like these were almost entirely reliant on Simmie Cobbs or Donovan Hale taking advantage of single coverage.

Long term, that’s not necessary scalable as a solution to Indiana’s offensive problems. Cobbs & Hale are great, huge wideouts and were willing individual battles against 5-star corners, but teams can scheme against that pretty easily. If Indiana opponents don’t have to respect the run game, outside man coverage quickly dries up and the Indiana’s ability to out-talent on the outside is quickly lost.

Here’s a quick sample of Lagow trying to stand in as Josh Dobbs, in a look that feels more like something from late-2016 Tennessee. It works, but, uh, uhhhhhhh.

That’s perhaps a quality explanation in a single GIF of why Richard Lagow might be on the way out for Indiana at the quarterback position -- he’s being asked to play in areas outside his strengths. Indiana can’t block well enough to run the ball effectively, nor throw the ball deep. It’s a somewhat sad scenario — the Ohio State performance showed he clearly improved in the offseason, he’s been an all-world teammate in his time in Bloomington, and the NFL wasn’t a pipe dream with a player of his size and arm talent if this season went well.

But perhaps of little fault of his own, Lagow might not have a chance.