Indiana’s spring game went to overtime and Tom Allen couldn’t have been happier.
“I was thrilled,” Allen said.
To an extent, Allen saw it coming. When he sat down to grade the quality of the Cream and Crimson draft held earlier this week, Allen felt each side had the same number of positions where they held an advantage. Where Crimson may have had the stronger group of defensive linemen, Cream may have had the stronger group of receivers. And so on.
That it took a four-yard touchdown run by Alex Rodriguez to give the Crimson side a 42-36 victory in sudden death didn’t surprise the IU coach.
He was just glad the annual scrimmage came down to a pressure situation.
“I just wanted to put us in tough spots,” Allen said. “I want to be able to create that adversity. I want to be able to create that (pressure) on both the coaches and the players and see how we respond because, to me, that’s where we want to be.”
Thursday offered a glimpse into where this program stands four-plus months into the Allen era, with a revamped offensive coaching staff and a will to break through with the program’s first winning season since 2007.
Allen wants to instill in his players a pressure to deliver. That was apparent at perhaps the most important position — quarterback, where starter Richard Lagow experienced a range of highs and lows last season.
If it’s possible to gain any read from this unofficial football game in the middle of April, it’s that Indiana has at least two quarterbacks. Unofficially, Lagow finished 20-for-34 for 181 yards with an interception and a touchdown for the Cream team.
His Crimson counterpart, Peyton Ramsey, impressed in his first public showing since arriving on campus last summer. Unofficially, Ramsey completed 10 of his 17 passes for 92 yards, throwing for two scores, rushing for another and tossing an interception on the last play of the first half.
One of the takeaways from IU’s spring season is that Lagow is more sure of himself as a leader and as a passer. He also has a teammate who appears unwilling to settle for the backup job behind him.
“We all need that,” Allen said. “We all need to be pushed. We all need to feel that there’s somebody on my heels that keeps me sharp, keeps me attentive to the little things. But I’m not surprised at all with the way (Ramsey) played today.”
Ramsey, a 6-foot-2 redshirt freshman, scored on an 11-yard touchdown run that tied the game for Crimson at 7-7 with 4:45 left in the first quarter. He put Crimson ahead minutes later with a 23-yard strike to tight end Ian Thomas and later added a 10-yard touchdown pass on a fade to Taysir Mack, who caught the ball despite pass interference on the defense.
Ramsey moved well in the pocket and showed arm strength, throwing accuracy and good agility on the run, while taking the bulk of Crimson’s snaps in front of Austin King.
Although Thomas earned IU’s award for most improved offensive player this spring, and Lagow was the spring’s offensive most valuable player, consider Ramsey among the Hoosiers’ most intriguing players entering the summer.
“I think Peyton’s doing an amazing job,” Lagow said. “I think you saw tonight. He was able to make plays, he’s athletic, he’s smart, he takes care of the football. I think we push each other. It’s a little bit different because I’m the older guy in the room and he’s pretty young, and there’s still things he looks to learn from me from experience and stuff like that, but I think the world of that kid and think he has a really bright future.”
Intrigue wasn’t exclusive to the quarterback position. IU receivers Jonah Morris, Simmie Cobbs and Isaac James each made big plays — and those plays weren’t necessarily the result of them catching the ball.
James, a former quarterback at Carmel, completed a second-half pass to Ricky Brookins that went for 68 yards and helped set up the game-tying score for Cream.
Even hybrid safety Marcelino Ball got in on the offensive fun, taking a double-reverse 28 yards to open the second half. The play should have gone for a loss, but Ball danced and finessed his way through would-be tacklers to produce a big gain.
Allen wasn’t happy with the tackling on either side Thursday, but he had to be pleased seeing his offensive players gaining some traction to close the spring.
Those tricky plays were the result of some fun the Cream and Crimson sides had during Tuesday’s practice. Allen gave both teams privacy to simulate game preparation and gave them the liberty to install two tricks.
Those big gains were the result.
And on a night when Allen wanted to simulate as many live, regular-season situations as possible, explosive plays like those are what IU hopes to see more of when the games count for real.
Thursday was a start.