Weeks ago, Indiana football head coach Tom Allen revealed that his team had, in fact, made a quarterback decision heading into week one against Ohio State.
On Saturday, that decision became clear: playing both redshirt freshmen Brendan Sorsby and Tayven Jackson against the Buckeyes. The old saying goes that if you have two quarterbacks, you have none.
But I think Indiana has one. First, let’s talk what happened Saturday.
Sorsby “started” the game, being the first quarterback to take a snap. Then, late in the fourth quarter, Jackson was put into the game instead. Late in the third, Sorsby was back on the field. So Sorsby started and closed while Jackson took the reins for the middle portion.
How they were each used is revealing. It’s clear that Indiana’s offense is built on the run, with three members of Indiana’s RB room (Josh Henderson, Jaylin Lucas and Christian Turner) getting carries.
Indiana QB Snap Counts vs. OSU
Per StatBroadcast, Jackson attempted three rushes for a total of 11 yards in 27 snaps (per PFF). Sorsby had six rushing attempts, gaining a total of 14 yards with a substantial loss thanks to sacks/tackles for loss.
Not only was he used more as a rusher, Sorsby was used more as a passer as well, attempting 16 passes to Jackson’s 5. Of Sorsby’s 16 attempts, 12 came in the fourth quarter alone while two were attempted in the third. So, 14/16 attempts all came in the second half. Jackson’s five attempts resulted in a single, 24-yard completion to Cam Camper in the game’s lone Indiana scoring drive.
Altogether, Sorsby was used far more than Jackson despite playing just one more snap. This felt more like a game Indiana was using to get a sense of its quarterback play than one it was playing to win given all the late pass attempts. All that rushing is partially what allowed the defense to hold Ohio State to 23 points.
It’s hard to come away with a conclusion on Indiana’s quarterbacks after a game against one of the most talented defenses in the country. The results are difficult to draw a conclusion from, but the usage isn’t.
Sorsby, who was used more as a runner in high school than Jackson, fit the offense more, hence his far greater usage rate. We’ll see more of Jackson next week against Indiana State, but that’ll also likely give a warped view of the offense.
Sorsby fits the offense more because he has more in common with Indiana’s likely actual starting quarterback: Dexter Williams II.
I believe that, once healthy, Williams will assume the starting role. This offense is clearly built for his talents as a runner and Allen has said they expect him to return this season after suffering an injury against Purdue last year.
Allen indicated that he’d like to see the quarterback used as more of a running threat moving forward. Indiana’s previous long-term starter, Michael Penix Jr., was very much a dropback passer.
The offense was built around Williams for last year’s Michigan State and Purdue games, the first being a win and the second showing initial promise. Once he’s back, healthy and perhaps having shown more progress as a passer, I believe this is his team to lead.
On the other hand... it makes this offseason’s moves more confusing.
Jackson may not fully fit the offense Indiana has built, so I’m not sure I understand the decision to bring him in. Next year’s quarterback commit, Timothy Carpenter, does fit this type of offense.
If Jackson doesn’t fit the offense and Sorsby may not be ready waiting on Williams to return, why not bring in another transfer? It appeared Indiana did some work in this regard, reportedly reaching out to Nebraska transfer Casey Thompson.
Is Indiana just weathering the storm, feeling out pieces for the future until such a time that Williams is able to return? If so, that’s an approach I fail to understand as no good can come from losses or risk in college football the way it can in the NFL.
Indiana, of course, has the time to prove this wrong should either Sorsby or Jackson find a rhythm over the next few weeks. Allen and offensive coordinator Walt Bell will address the media tomorrow afternoon, so that could clear up a few things.
Until then this offense, and the moves made to build it, remain confusing.
If you’d like to read more about Indiana football this fall, subscribe to Bite-Sized Bison, a newsletter from Taylor Lehman.