Allen looking for Mr. Obvious in QB race

Tom Allen wants the decision to become obvious.

So far, the three quarterbacks battling for Indiana’s starting job have made the competition interesting. But they haven’t made it obvious.

As fall camp approaches its midway point, redshirt sophomore Peyton Ramsey, graduate transfer Brandon Dawkins and true freshman Michael Penix are still sharing reps in practice, while Allen and his staff wait for separation to occur.

Ramsey, for example, knows the system and presents a poised, balanced approach to leading the offense. Dawkins is an elusive runner, and Penix offers the most electric arm.

So as Allen surveys their progression, he’s evaluating their skill sets and judging the race based on one underlying question.

Which of those three is making the most of their strengths?

“I think it’s about being great at what they do,” Allen said. “Because, at the end of the day, it’s about making plays. … especially the two older guys that have played before. I think you know what their strengths are and they need to maximize those. It’s about moving the chains, getting the team to believe in yourself and scoring touchdowns. My thing is you got to have a guy that they believe, when the game is on the line, just get them the ball one more time and we’ve got a chance to win the game.”

The clock is ticking, and this weekend’s second scrimmage of camp could be decisive.

Here’s how each of IU’s three quarterbacks have stacked up since the beginning of the month, and the strengths that could separate them in the coming days:

Peyton Ramsey
Starting four of the nine games he played last season helped Ramsey achieve a base line of Big Ten experience. Just as important to the Cincinnati native was the work he enjoyed during the offseason.

A winter training regimen focused on building better arm strength has Ramsey feeling more equipped to challenge defenses across the field.

“It’s a lot of core stuff, a lot of rotational stuff,” Ramsey said of his training. “(Athletic performance coach Dr. Matt) Rhea had me working all winter and all spring, a couple times a week doing certain arm-strength workouts that I think have kind of paid off for me.

“… I think I’ve done a better job of being able to push the ball down the field. My arm strength has improved. I’ve gotten a lot better just anticipating throws, and ‘throwing guys open,’ and putting it in windows and making bigger plays that way that we kind of lacked last year.”

Although Ramsey still doesn’t have the strongest arm in the IU backfield, he’s demonstrated the kind of smarts and stability the position demands. Throughout camp, Ramsey has seemed to limit turnovers. He knows when to throw the ball away, when to take off running and when to check down.

Ramsey completed 65 percent of his passes for 1,252 yards, with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions for Indiana last season. A chunk of those throws, of course, were of the shorter variety.

What Ramsey is making clear once again this camp is that, while he may not be the most explosive option, he is steady, reliable and tough enough to earn the job.

“I think, first and foremost, I’ve done a good job of leading,” Ramsey said. “Kind of trying to prove to the guys that not only am I a leader in the locker room – I run sprints as hard as I can, warm up as hard as I can – but when we make plays, I’m going to celebrate with you and earn that trust that way.”

Brandon Dawkins
He lost his starting job at Arizona due to injury in early October, he didn’t participate in spring practice and he’s now trying to command a completely new offense.

The first few days of camp, Dawkins admits, were a grind.

“I was throwing up between drills, trying to get back on my feet,” Dawkins said. “Trying to just breathe the first couple days.”

Dawkins is feeling — and looking — better now.

Although his passing ability has been the most inconsistent of the bunch, Dawkins’ legs appear to be as advertised. The 6-foot-3, 218-pound senior, who rushed for 1,582 yards during parts of three seasons at Arizona, seemingly only needs a small crease to make something happen on the ground.

While quarterbacks are off limits during live work, Dawkins says he wishes he could shed his blue jersey and show what he’s truly able to do as a dual-threat playmaker.

“I wear a towel and they’ll run by and smack my towel or something like, ‘Oh, he’s down,'” Dawkins said. “I’m a little bit bigger than I think these people assume. They’re always like, ‘You’re lucky you’re in a blue jersey.’ I tell the defense that they’re lucky I’m in a blue jersey, because if I wasn’t in a blue jersey, it’d be a real ugly practice for the defense.”

Beyond his running ability, Dawkins’ other strength is his experience. He started 14 of the 23 games he played at Arizona and is using that knowledge both to make his case for the starting job and help Ramsey and Penix find their ways.

“I just feel like that was one thing that I could maximize, using my knowledge that I’ve had in college football so far,” Dawkins said. “(Also), just the ability to extend plays. That’s been something that’s come naturally to me, making a guy or two miss. If things go a little haywire, just being able to make a play for the offense, either just get a first down or stretch it and maybe get a touchdown.”

Michael Penix
Penix is a legitimate contender to win this job.

Graduating from high school and getting onto campus in January went a long way toward preparing the left-hander for this month’s battle. He’s the best overall prospect, he throws the best overall ball and he shows the most overall upside.

But he’s also unproven overall.

“You got the two other guys who’ve actually started and won and played in college football, where he’s a young man that hasn’t played a snap of live college football that isn’t against his own team,” Allen said. “For you to feel like, yeah, he’s the guy, he has to truly beat those guys out.”

At this point, Penix appears to be making this a tough call.

“In the spring I wasn’t that vocal, coming in as the youngest player on the team,” Penix said. “I felt like it was a lot on my plate. But I did everything I could to show the team that I’m ready whenever my time is called.”

Even if he doesn’t win the job outright, the 6-foot-3, 208-pound newcomer is likely to at least make a few cameos this season due to the NCAA’s new redshirt rule, which allows players to play in no more than four games while preserving a year of eligibility.

Penix, just like Ramsey and Dawkins, has been in the rotation with the first-team offense, seeking to put a stamp on his bid for the job.

As the race enters the final stretch in the coming days, Allen is still looking for one of them to make a winning move to the front of the pack.

“That’s what we’re telling whoever the guy is: ‘I want you to make it obvious. Make it obvious,'” Allen said. “And it hasn’t been made obvious, yet. So we’re still waiting on that.”


  1. Coach Allen may not have the luxury of having the QB starter obvious, it would be nice though. It may come down to who’s strength makes the offense most dangerous and that could be based on the other strengths of the team. If IU’s strength are its receivers then getting the best passer making the fewest mistakes is the choice. If the receivers are best at turning underneath routes into big plays then Ramsey could be best. If the WRs can stretch the field and do best with intermediate routes and deep balls it might be Penix that is best. On the other hand if the running game is a threat again with RBs that can go the distance then Dawkins would help them have bigger holes to run through. This is not to say the QBs can’t do other aspects of the offense just what they do best.

    Whichever choice is made it appears the QB position will be stronger this year for the Hoosiers. The offense should be better as a result of improved QB play. The key however is the OL improvement just like the key for every offense is based on the OL play.

  2. At their current status they are three average qbs each having their individual average strengths with potential to be ever how much above average. That is a negative if you are thinking in terms of outstanding qb play. However, quarterback position has been upgraded. Again, it was not good last year and below average since Sudfeld, so improvement will be known once games are played. Several games.

  3. If Peyton right now is significantly better than Peyton last year; and he is not obviously the best of the 3 possibilities, then the IU offense could be explosive! Open up on offense and average 40+/game. There is no question that Peyton now (improved over last year) would have started every game last season! IU was 5-7, one game away from a bowl game. This could be the “Breakthrough” year! GO IU!

  4. Average of 40 plus a game usually means especially for IU that score 50 (mostly against lesser level teams) in a couple games, and thirty to forty in two, three or four, and in the twenties two or three, below twenty in two or three games. IU football is not going to average 40+ a game. Usually, when you think 40+ the high scores are remembered and the low scores are forgotten.

  5. To QB, or not to QB, that is the question…..the undiscovered touchdown country, from whose bourn no traveller returns, puzzles the will,
    and makes us rather bear those IU Football ills we have,
    than fly downfield to receivers that we know not of.
    To QB, or not to QB, that is the question.

  6. H4H, good job turning IU’s QB question into prose, now if the choice would be so easy for the offensive coaches. Whoever the choice is I hope he makes the offense explosive and tough for defenses to stop.

  7. All three will play no matter who is named the starter. I can’t remember when IU was able to play just 1 quarterback for every snap of a season. Penix will play because he has the most upside. But they also want to redshirt him so he won’t be named the starter. I like the idea of Ramsey starts and Dawkins can be used when IU has a lead and wants to run some clock. Whichever starts, expect teams to load the box and force IU to pass.

  8. Excellent point. That brings IU back to square one. Stuff running game, ineffective passing plus interceptions killing drives. How physical will offensive line will be? Can defense hold its own? Same o same o. Game days.

  9. Well, they used to “load the box” against Arizona when Dawkins was there, and it didn’t work then. In spite of a bad O-line during Dawkins’ two years as a starter, AZ generated huge offensive stats and scored a lot of points against even the best PAC-12 defenses (i.e., Washington). Arizona’s read-option and super-fast tempo gave PAC-12 defenses fits and produced gaudy offensive stats. With the depth, speed and experience of IU’s receivers, I hope defenses do “stack the box,” because each of these three quarterbacks should be good enough to exploit man-to-man coverage. I think the only thing that can stop IU’s offense this season is DeBord/Allen getting too conservative with the offense and not giving their play-makers the ball often enough. IU is simply not going to win a contest of traditional ball-control power-football against the elite defenses of PSU, MI, OSU and MSU. If they attempt to do so, they’ll be playing into the strength of their opponents.

    1. Why would you worry about IU winning a game against elite defenses like PSU, OSU, MI and MSU? What is IU’s record against these teams in the last 2 decades? 4-76? 5-75? IU’s value to the league is to be the Washington Generals- lose, lose big and make the marque team look good. The league has no interest in IU beating any of their star teams and the officiating and the record proves it. Same for Rutgers, Maryland, Purdue and Illinois. Worry about games where the teams still get to play 11 on 11 and not 11 on 12.

  10. Then, it becomes a question of effective passing game.
    I read somewhere Dawkins was ready to get rid of being touched and play tackle fb so he could better demonstrate his talent. (I assume scrambling, running, and breaking tackles). Sounds good, however how well will he do after being jarred around and hit over and over? Decision making under pressure and passing efficiency/effectiveness? Plus can offensive line be physical enough to keep him or any of the other qbs reasonably clean? As far as the teams listed above…Run, pass game or can IU do anything to beat these teams or some others not listed?

  11. I thought Vesuvius 13 made a good point. Which of three strengths can best be exploited by the rest of the offense. I like Dawkins. At the college level especially that QB that is an extra running back is a good weapon. Can our current running backs block?

  12. It wasn’t that long ago we we put a backup linebacker in at quarterback, before he went down, and then we put in a nice kid for execution.

    As problems go…this is a good one.

  13. Yes Chet. You make a good point and I agree, these are the types of problems IU fans want to have. Which of three solid QBs do we start?

    Generally speaking and historically, the PAC-12 is a faster conference than the Big Ten. PAC-12 teams enjoy better team speed. The Big Ten is generally considered to be bigger, but a step slower. Of course, there are always exceptions. But Dawkins was a productive runner at AZ going up against fast defenses. You watch some of his highlight tapes, and you’ll see several runs in which he simply outran defensive backs. And, as t alluded to above, he’s confident in his size, speed and ability to deliver the blow on a tackler. His reputation for being less accurate may have a lot to do with the system Rich Rod used in which both the QB and the receiver had to read the pass coverage exactly the same and then execute the route the same way, and when they didn’t do that, the throws were way off target. But even if he’s simply not as accurate a passer, Dawkins’ legs can probably extend drives and be more valuable deep in the red zone than a more accurate passer. Because with a regular QB, when it’s third and long, the defense knows it’s going to be a pass play. With guys like Dawkins, the defense does not know what’s coming on third down and long. That’s an advantage a good running quarterback provides to an otherwise average offense.

    1. Po,
      This is the key to dual threat QB’s, enough of an arm to earn the defense’s respect. Doesn’t have to be great, just adequate. The other key is to have enough skill players to force the defense to cover them. Basically leaves the QB with the slower members of the defense, at least on average in college. If you QB has good or exceptional speed, the defense just can’t cover all the bases every play.

      Your own defense has to be good enough to slow the good teams down just enough and control the average and below average teams. We have seen this philosophy work many times in the national championship runs. Not saying such is the case for IUFB, but could certainly make them respectable if all the cards fall into place. As always, that is the main problem for IUFB, getting the cards to all fall into place at the same time.

      1. Yeah, I think a highly mobile quarterback is the likely best way to move toward the front of the pack quickly.

        IU will need a wild card. A mobile quarterback can negate an overall superior team.

        I will be surprised if Dawkins is not the starter at the beginning of the season. That being said. If we are down two scores, we might go to the big arm.

        These are fun things to consider. It’s not like we are looking at being boys against men.

        1. Chet,
          I am wondering along the same lines as you. I am reminded of how a run of the mill Auburn team went from maybe a top 25-40 team to a national championship with just the addition of a very mobile, reasonably decent passing QB by the name of Cam Newton. Not saying IU would have such a jump, but a proportional move up for IU would be to 6-8 wins.

          1. Chet,
            You are exactly right, Auburn got really lucky that year. Newton was probably the most valuable of the two, but couldn’t have pulled off 14-0 and the BCS without both.

  14. Stumbled across this.

    Danny Cameron passed for 2000 yards at a 49% completion percentage last season for New Mexico Highlands University. He threw for 13 touchdowns with 12 interceptions.

    The Cowboys finished the season at 2-9.

  15. What got Danny Cameron kicked off the IU football team? Glad he found a new home, but honestly, I had never heard of New Mexico Highlands University before Chet’s post.

    To thinks point above: Sports Illustrated’s has Arizona ranked 19th in the nation and gives them an outside chance of winning the PAC-12 South. There’s no way any sporting news publication would rank this year’s Arizona team in the top 50 unless for Kahlil Tate. He elevates Arizona from having a losing record to a team that could play in the Holiday Bowl. The right dual-threat quarterback can have a huge impact on an otherwise mediocre team’s performance.

    1. Po,
      At this point all Hoosier Nation would like to see is 6 or 7 wins and would consider it a major step forward, especially if one of those wins was over PU.

    2. I’d never heard of New Mexico Highlands University before and I live 20 miles from New Mexico.

      1. I’m guessing lack of talent got Danny off the team. He’s not doing much for NMHU, obviously.

  16. No, I don’t think so. I believe I read somewhere that Cameron got kicked off the team or kicked out of school for something. Just don’t know what it was. Regardless, that was another scholarship wasted by Wilson in his attempt to find warm bodies to be back-up QBs. Wilson did good things for IU Football and has a great mind for offense, but he’s no quarterback guru, and he never was. Ironically, our new Defensive-minded head coach recruits QBs better than Wilson ever did at IU.

  17. Both Wilson and Allen got their best qb recruits because of 11th hour coaching changes at the recruits’ chosen school. To say either Wilson or Allen was/is great at recruiting qb’s is a stretch. I hope Dawkins gets on the field, plays a lot and plays well. IU’s lack of marque recruits is a benefit when competing for grad transfers. There’s a lot pf talent sitting unused on depth charts of the elite teams of the Big Ten and other conferences. IU could close the talent gap if it becomes the number 1 school for grad transfers looking for one last shot to show what they can do. #LastChance(I)U

  18. Maybe, there could be a collaboration among IU fb, Biology, Engineering and Robotics Departments. They could dissect each of the qbs including RT and build a qb utilizing the best strengths of each qb to get the best possible qb out of those 4. Maybe, an incredible Hawk or Six Million Dollar Man or Hercules or Tarzan (not sure about any of their passing games). However, there would be a depth problem if it didn’t work or there was an injury.

  19. Coach Allen has only recruited three quarterbacks for Indiana University, they are/where Nick Tronti (transferred), Mike Penix and Brandon Dawkins and the funny thing about these three recruits is that none of them has thrown a pass in regulation game for Indiana University. An we the fan (some of us) have the acknowledge this as the greatest collection of Indiana University quarterbacks in recent years. Whereby three quarterbacks that coach Wilson actually recruited and played for Indiana University Nate Sudfeld (holds 80% of the Indiana passing records), Tre Roberson-year 2013 (sophomore year) stats…..completed 60% of his pass (138 attempts/83 completions) for 1128 yards, 15 TD and 4 INT….a 158 pass efficiency rating, 423 rushing yards, 85 attempts for a 5.0 yards. Cam Coffman – year 2012 (junior year) stats…completed 60.7 of his passes (407 attempts/ 247 completions) for 2734 yards, 15 TD and 11 INT…123.9 pass efficiency rating. When a Tom Allen and Mike Debord recruit completes a pass for Indiana Univeristy is when I says he has recruited the quarterback position better the Coach Wilson….For most of you Peyton Ramsey is also a Coach Wilson recruit.

    1. Three quarterbacks. One played one season and transferred. The other played two…and transferred.

      So, what you have as an example of great recruiting is ONE quarterback who panned out.

      Got it.

      1. We are talking about the same guy who started a backup freshman linebacker followed by Opie Taylor for an entire season.

        Yeah, that’s remarkable quarterback recruiting.

  20. A.D. undefeated against Purdue. Highlight of IU fb during that short era.

    Maybe, Frankenstein. He could scare the defense. However, the neck screw would probably fall out or get broken

  21. IU79; Nate Sudfeld was recruited by Seth Littrell at Arizona when Littrell was the Offensive Coordinator for Arizona working for Mike Stoops. Sudfeld had committed to AZ before Stoops was fired and AZ hired Rich Rod. Littrell was hired to be IU’s OC and brought Sudfeld with him to Bloomington. Wilson had no idea who Sudfeld was before he hired Littrell, so you can’t claim Wilson recruited Sudfeld. And when Wilson had Sudfeld, Cam Coffman and Tre Roberson (Roberson was recruited by Bill Lynch) on the team, Wilson couldn’t make up his mind who the better quarterback was. Coffman and Roberson both transferred out in 2014 with a year of eligibility remaining, and Sudfeld won the starting job by default. That’s why, when Sudfeld went down with an injury in 2014, we ended up with a freshman linebacker playing quarterback for five games and then a freshman who weighed 160 lbs. soaking wet. The quarterback room during the 2014 season consisted of Sudfeld, Covington, Diamont, Boudreau, Cameron, Mathews, and Bryce Smith. If Wilson had ever been a quarterback guru, he didn’t demonstrate that while at IU.

  22. I am not saying coach Wilson was a quarterback guru (far from it), all I am saying is that doing 4 of the 6 years, Wilson was at Indiana is that he had some fairly good quarterback play….Yes, I know all about Nate Sudfeld recruitment, but basically the same can be said about Mike Penix for Tom Allen and Mike Debord, they got him by default. An at this point no Tom Allen or Mike Debord recruit has completed or attempted a pass at Indiana University in two years, and yet we the fans are trying to says this is the greatest group of quarterback Indiana has ever had as a group. Mike Phenix has a lot of upside based on being a 4* recruit, but we have to see if he develops under Mike Debord. An based on the Tom Allen and Mike Debord offensive of running quarterbacks, may things could happen doing Mike Phenix career. Brandon Dawkins is a great running quarterback and hopefully he can develop enough to complete the 5 to 6 yard passes needed for this offensive to work, because he is the better (superior) and more physical running quarterback.

  23. You make a good point. We’ve yet to see a QB recruited on T.A.’s watch throw a pass in a real college game. But based on the experience two of the three have, and the rating that Penix had coming out of High School, I think it fair to say that these three have as much potential as any three quarterbacks IU has had in decades! But more importantly, all three QBs have the attributes necessary for the offense that T.A. and DeBord want to run. Sudfeld and Roberson were two totally different QBs. Roberson could run but had an average arm. Sudfeld had an great arm but could not run. And last year, it was the same scenario; our two QBs had totally different skill sets.

    I have a theory as to why T.A. has not named the starter. I believe the reason is that Dawkins needs time to catch up and learn the offense. If Dawkins’ skills were not as good as either Penix or Ramsey, T.A. would have named one of those guys the starter by now. But if it’s simply a matter of Dawkins needing more time to learn the offense, you extend the competition to give him the time to catch up. Seems to me that T. A. is bending over backward to give Dawkins the practice time necessary to learn the offense, and that’s why he has not yet identified the starter.

  24. Penix is a 3 star at 78 about the same as RT per espn. I know there is Rivals and others. I use espn to keep consistency in my reference.

  25. Wilson had 2 future NFL running backs(Coleman & Howard) and some very good receivers….Takes a bit of pressure off of needing Bart Starr.

    You still need power running…If you think your dynamic qb can make up for a power/solid running game in the BigTen East, you’ll need more than 3 quarterbacks.

    Maybe Wilson wasn’t a qb guru(although there were some very untimely injuries to Roberson and Sudfeld resulting in very ill-afforded bumps in the BigTen East), but he sure had a couple of wonderful running backs. With healthy quarterbacks for a full season, his offense would have likely been far more dynamic /explosive. He didn’t need Bart Starr. He just needed a little good fortune to complement a running game and his far less risk averse/hurry-up style.
    Personally, I think it was pretty exciting offense….Highly successful NFL running backs from IU? That’s pretty damn good advertising for the program in my book.

    1. You are right about the offenses in 2013, 2014, and 2015 but Wilson was showing the decline in his recruiting in 2016 which wasn’t an offense to the level of the past years. This staff must have an offense that is in line with the 2013 and 2015 years if the program will take a step up. Highly successful NFL RBs are good advertisement for IU.

      1. A one year recruiting decline in a program having decades of comatose seasons? Even top programs have one or two year dips. Wilson injected life into a program that was dead, buried…and with unmarked grave.
        Let’s be a little honest here. How long of a dip in Indiana recruiting was allowed at Assembly Hall before a change was made?
        And building a 80+ roster in a conference division containing OSU, Michigan, MSU, and PSU…(along with local competition in ND, Purdue, Northwestern) is just a bit different than finding one or two standout ballers to carry your team to a Sweet 16. Just sayin’…..

  26. And let’s quit acting like some sort of credit should be given to new assistants bringing some of these quality guys to IU. It’s IU…Our past and our placement in the BigTen doesn’t support any theories beyond divine intervention or cold cash enticing a potential NFL starter to ever play for the worst Division 1 college football program in history.
    Wilson wasn’t selling Jesus….and I don’t think any cash payments were discovered under the rug of his verbally abusive tendencies.
    Thus, the only reason a handful of top performers came to Indiana was due to confidence in offensive output and changing culture of the program.

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