BLOOMINGTON — Like so many quarterbacks around college football, Indiana redshirt junior Peyton Ramsey could have entered the transfer portal after losing the starting job during fall camp.
For Ramsey, though, quitting on his teammates wasn’t an option.
“I have so many tight, close relationships,” Ramsey said. “And even the guys that I’m not close with, or as close with, they are guys you grind all summer with, all winter with. To let them down would have been hard.”
Ramsey came through with another big effort off the bench, completing 20 of 27 passes for 193 yards in IU’s 34-28 win at Maryland on Saturday. The Hoosiers (5-2, 2-2 Big Ten) moved a step closer to bowl eligibility despite losing starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who sat out the final three quarters after being taken back to the locker room with an undisclosed injury.
IU football coach Tom Allen said Penix will be a game-time decision for the Hoosiers’ next game Saturday at Nebraska (3:30 p.m.).
“The plan will be to prepare like we have every single week, to be able to have Peyton ready to roll, and he’ll have a great week of practice and just like he did last week,” Allen said. “And (third-stringer) Jack (Tuttle) will be ready as well. So those guys in that room will be doing their best to prepare, and Michael as well, and we’ll do everything we can to get him back if at all possible.”
Indiana and Maryland were tied at 14 when Ramsey entered at the 12-minute mark of the second quarter. Ramsey led IU down to Maryland’s 2-yard line on his first drive, going 77 yards on 12 plays before a 20-yard Logan Justus field goal put the Hoosiers up 17-14.
“It took a drive to kind of get settled in physically,” Ramsey said. “Mentally, I was locked in. I knew a lot of the gameplan pretty well, as I do every week, but physically it took me awhile.”
Ramsey connected with senior receiver Nick Westbrook, who dove fully extended for a 26-yard touchdown catch to put IU up 24-21 shortly before halftime.
“If you know Peyton he’s just LEO,” Wetbrook said, referring to Allen’s love each other slogan. “He lives it out to the fullest, and he cares so much about this team and all the guys here. He just stepped up when his name got called, and that’s just the type of guy he is.”
Ramsey admitted it wasn’t easy losing his job to Penix in fall camp after making all 12 starts for the Hoosiers last season.
“It hasn’t been easy to wake up every day and then want to come in and want to watch film and do all that stuff,” Ramsey said. “It’s a good learning experience. It’s adversity. I told myself that I wasn’t going to run from it, and I knew at the beginning of the year that I didn’t know when my number was going to be called, but I had a feeling at some point this team was going to need me.”
How Ramsey has responded hasn’t surprised teammates and coaches.
“He’s an ultimate teammate, from the team end of it, and just as coach, what a pleasure to coach him each and every day,” IU offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said. “When I walk in, he’s the same guy as I imagine he was last year. He was the starter from the beginning of last year, so it’s just, I know he’s going to be ready to go.”
Penix won the job based on his stronger arm and ability to throw deep, but under DeBoer, both quarterbacks have excelled in different ways. Ramsey came in during the second quarter to finish off a game against Eastern Illinois, then started against Ohio State and Connecticut while Penix sat out with a shoulder injury.
Per Pro Football Focus, among college football quarterbacks with 125 dropbacks or more, Ramsey ranks 10th in the nation in adjusted completion percentage (79.4), while Penix ranks sixth (80.3). DeBoer also noted Ramey’s ability to scramble. Ramsey had 46 yards on eight carries against Maryland and converted a first down on a 15-yard dash out of the pocket on third down.
“He can use his legs, as we saw in some critical moments, and convert some third downs with his feet and also in the run game, in the zone read part of it,” DeBoer said. “He did a nice job keeping the defense honest.”
• Allen expects senior center Hunter Littlejohn, who sat out the Maryland game with a low leg injury, to be back for Nebraska. Allen said Littlejohn warmed up before the Maryland game. “He probably could have gone but hadn’t got a lot of reps, and so we felt if we could just hold him for one more week and be able to still get what we want, then I think it served itself well there because now he’s, should be fully recovered here by time we get to Saturday,” Allen said. “He’ll be practicing with us this week and got off to a good start today.”
• Allen named Ramsey and Stevie Scott (18 carries, 108 yards, two TDs) as offensive players or the week and defensive backs Juwan Burgess (four tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery) and Reese Taylor (three tackles, one interception) as defensive players of the week for Maryland. Senior kicker Logan Justus earned special teams player of the week, making field goals of 20 and 34 yards to improve to 9-for-9 in field goal attempts on the season.