Bloomington – Let the competition for IU’s starting quarterback job begin…again.
With the Hoosiers’ regular season now two-thirds complete, the lead story about IU’s football team is the same as it was nearly three months ago when fall camp opened. Quarterbacks Kellen Lewis and Ben Chappell are once again competing for the starting job.
When asked about who would start Saturday, Lynch was blunt on his early week assessment of the situation.
“I don’t know,” Lynch said.
The competition, though, isn’t so much about who out-performs the other at practice as it is about who will be healthy enough to play when IU faces Central Michigan at Noon on Sunday. Lewis is just now returning to the practice field after a two week absence due to a high ankle sprain, and Chappell is laboring his way through practice as well while nursing a plethora of bumps and bruises suffered in recent weeks.
Both were able to practice Monday, although the opening session of the week includes no contact and is shorter in duration than the remaining practices this week.
“We’ll find out more today about who can practice the longest, and we’ll evaluate it as we go through the week,” Lynch said. “It’s a health issue as much as anything right now. We have to put the guys on the field that give us the best chance to win based on who’s healthiest. That’s my biggest concern right now.”
While the staff will be looking at the health situation of both, they’ll be monitoring their productivity as well. Most had assumed Lewis would reclaim his starting job once he returned from his ankle injury, but Chappell’s performance in Saturday’s 21-19 win over No. 22 Northwestern has created some doubt. Chappell completed 21-of-34 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown as IU ended its five-game losing streak.
Chappell’s performance gave him a strong case to remain under center, but this is the same Kellen Lewis who re-wrote IU’s single-season passing record book a year ago when he accounted for 3,739 yards of total offense and 37 touchdowns.
“The good part is we feel we have two good quarterbacks,” Lynch said.
One issue that continues to plague IU’s football team is penalties. The Hoosiers committed eight more penalties Saturday for 73 yards, and they continue to be the most penalized team in the Big Ten.
Saturday’s miscues included a couple of odd delay of game penalties, both of which occurred despite the fact the offense was at the line of scrimmage for a good length of time before the play clock expired. Those penalties drew the ire of not only IU’s fans, but Lynch as well.
“When we were getting booed, I was booing too because it’s unacceptable,” Lynch said. “It was a combination of things, and I never really got a straight answer. It was one of things where finally (I said), ‘get it straightened out’ and they did.”
Indiana’s defense and special teams created five turnovers against Northwestern, but it figures to have a much more difficult time getting takeaways this weekend.
The Hoosiers will be facing a Central Michigan team that has turned the ball over an NCAA-low six times this season. The Chippewas have lost only two fumbles, while quarterbacks Dan LeFevour and Brian Brunner have combined for only four interceptions. The Chippewas have turned the ball over more than once in only one game this season (2 vs. Purdue), and they’ve had three games of zero turnovers.
According to Lynch, much of the credit for that goes to LeFevour, the reigning MAC Offensive Player of the Year who leads the Chippewas in both rushing and passing this season.
“When you have a great quarterback who takes care of the ball that goes a long way toward winning football games,” Lynch said. “He doesn’t throw interceptions and he takes care of it and he runs it a lot. It’s a point of emphasis in their program.”
While there’s been plenty of attention on the players IU has been losing due to injury as of late, one of the biggest positives to come out of Saturday was the performance of the freshman wide receiver tandem of Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss.
Both had their biggest games of the season statistically, with Doss catching eight passes for 107 yards and Belcher adding six catches for 82 yards. Both caught a touchdown as well and appear to some big days ahead of them no matter who is throwing them the ball.
“They’re good football players,” Lynch said. “Damarlo has gotten to play enough that he’s got a pretty good feel for it. Tandon, we saw that early in camp that he’s a good football player.”
Back in fall camp, it appeared Doss was going to be the freshman wideout who would make the biggest impact this season. But he was sidelined for several days during camp while an academic transcript matter was sorted out, and he’s also suffered a pair of injuries that have sidelined him for a number of weeks.
The most recent was a knee injury suffered against Michigan State Sept. 27, but he returned to practice last week.
“They have a good feel for the game,” Lynch said. “They have confidence and they’re not phased by the environment.”
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