After a slow start, the Indiana offense got to work behind freshman Peyton Ramsey and put up enough points to notch a win on the back of dominant defensive and special teams units. So what stood out in the Hoosiers’ 34-17 win?
Richard Lagow probably lost his job today. If so, it’s the right decision. But it’s not Lagow’s fault. Last week in Three Things, I was harsh on the offensive line, which couldn’t hold off the Ohio State defensive line. Some pundits and critics thought that it was just because it was Ohio State’s stellar defensive line on the other side. Others thought that Greg Frey’s departure was an issue. But today, we saw that this is not a schematic issue, nor was it a matter of being outclassed by a top-5 opponent. No, this is a talent and tenacity issue. The offensive line stinks right now, and aside from one drive today (with about 12 minutes left that resulted in a turnover on downs on the goalline), they’ve shown no signs that improvement in anywhere on the horizon.
And that is why Lagow cannot be the quarterback of this Indiana team. He is slow and not very good on his feet even when he’s just trying to avoid trouble rather than run. Peyton Ramsey provides the offense with a guy who can elude some trouble and make things happen with his feet. And he demonstrated this afternoon that in addition to that shiftiness and speed, he can throw the ball much better than Zander Diamont, the former Indiana QB that many have been quick to compare to Ramsey.
As an aside: Mike Debord’s offensive playcalling didn’t do Lagow any favors either. Like Kevin Wilson did last year, Debord called far too many read options with a quarterback who wasn’t a running threat, meaning the defense could key on the running back and still defend the pass without accounting for Lagow. And when Debord called passing plays, he was asking Lagow to throw far too many back shoulder throws and fade routes, rather than allowing him to make some of the simpler throws that Ramsey was given today - i.e., mesh and crossing routes routes, dump offs, and some shorter routes to the big tight end Ian Thomas. We will see Richard Lagow at quarterback again this season, without question. It will be interesting to see if Debord adapts and calls some friendlier plays for him or reverts back to dumb read options and tough throws down the sideline.
Last but certainly not least on Lagow: what a great teammate he appears to be. He was enthusiastic for Ramsey and the Indiana offenses’s success while he was on the sideline and of all the times the cameras panned to him, his head was never down and his face never showed an ounce of disgust or embarrassment. What a dream for a head coach with tough decisions to make.
Defense. The defense was good, folks. They gave up 3 points on a short field after a punt return to the Indiana 24. They gave up 7 more after the Gooch debacle. The defense allowed one earned drive today and 7 earned points. Rashard Fant was absolutely fantastic, playing the best game I can recall and Indiana DB playing in my lifetime. Tegray Scales was much more active than week 1. And others, such as Gooch, A’Shon Riggins, and Chris Covington were all over the place making good plays for the Hoosiers.
Targeting is the worst rule in all of sports. We all know that the in theory, targeting is supposed to protect players and bring an iota of safety to a game where larger-than-normal humans launch their bodies into each other with nothing but rubber and plastic to protect them. It’s supposed to keep wide receivers from getting decapitated on a weekly basis. But in practice, targeting does nothing to protect players. Why? Because when you move as fast as college football players move, it’s impossible to contort yourself and change your direction and aiming point when a receiver or running back jumps, falls, dives, jukes, spins, or makes any other kind of movement that results in their head being in a different place than it was just a split second earlier.
But the most common application of the rule is not the worst. We saw that today when Greg Gooch sacked Virginia QB Kurt Benkert, forcing a fumble that was picked up by Robert McCray and returned for a 70-yard scoop and score to break the game wide open, making it 33-10. Before the Hoosiers could get the PAT off, though the booth stopped the action, reviewed the play, and determined that Gooch’s head made contact with Benkert’s, meaning the act was “targeting,” by the letter of the law. Gooch was ejected, the points were wiped off the board, and Virginia scored two plays later to make it a 10-point game.
Gooch’s play may or may not have been targeting as it is defined, but it is, without a doubt, not the kind of hit or play that the NCAA is trying to eliminate. The spirit of rule was certainly not violated. Nonetheless, Gooch missed most of the second half and, barring the Big Ten doing the right thing (seems incredibly unlikely), will miss the first half of next week’s game against Florida International. All that said, and regardless of whether or not it was targeting, the application of the rule on Gooch’s sack is especially disheartening because it was a low-speed play with no malice or recklessness. My point is this: if Greg Gooch’s hit on Benkert wasn’t legal, it’s time to take the pads off, set some nets down in front of the goalposts, and just play soccer.
Bonus Thing: Griffin Oakes. Last season, Oakes was a broken man. It became public that Oakes was injured sometime early in the season, and aside from the game-winner against Michigan State, he struggled in moments that mattered, especially from distance. But at some point, it became evident to fans everywhere that Oakes was struggling mentally as well. By the late parts of the season, Oakes probably needed to sit, whether it be for his head or the rest of his body. But Wilson continued to trot him out and then berate him for misses. Today, though, Oakes was 2-for-2, including making a 51-yarder to end the first half. When he made that one, Tom Allen rushed out onto the field and gave him the kind of look and hug that a father would give his son after getting his first hit in Little League. Given the allegations about how Kevin Wilson treated his injured players, and having seen how Oakes performed under him and now under Allen (yes, I know it’s a small sample size), one has to wonder if perhaps all Oakes needed was a good man like Allen to believe in him and care about him.