Indiana QB means trouble

Murali Balaji

During the week of practice, Gophers players had one question running through their minds: How do you stop Indiana quarterback Antwaan Randle El?
First, linebacker Parc Williams tried to take a crack at the question.
“We’re going to have to get pressure on him,” Williams said. “He’s just so effective in the option.”
It was a response crafted out of respect, almost in deference to a player that has grabbed headlines throughout the nation with his spectacular playmaking ability. Have all the countless accolades, interview requests and highlight reels come as a surprise to Randle El?
“It didn’t really surprise me because I always had that confidence,” he said. “It became a reality of my dreams.”
As linebacker Sean Hoffman pointed out, there will be something special about playing the freshman sensation out of Riverdale, Ill.
“There are just some athletes that have been blessed with great ability, and he’s one of them,” Hoffman said. Which comes back to the original question.
“You can’t quit until he is down,” Hoffman said. “You’ve got to gang-tackle him. If you give him one inch, he’ll get you for 30 or 40 yards — I’ve seen him do it on film.”
Statistically, Randle El ranks among the lower portion of Big Ten quarterbacks. After a scorching start against Western Michigan, where he threw for 385 yards and accounted for six touchdowns, Randle El has completed just 46 percent of his passes for 1,230 yards and two touchdowns.
But statistics don’t mean a thing when playing defense against Randle El; it’s the intangibles that come into play. Just ask his Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight, who will welcome the freshman to the team this season.
“I think what he brings to any team is personality,” Knight said. “There is a real desire to play and play well, and I think that’s evident with the way he has played for the football team.”
Randle El agreed.
“That’s the type of confidence I have,” Randle El said. “Every time I turn the corner, I expect to make something happen.”
Randle El won’t intimidate anyone physically; at 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, he is the smallest starting quarterback in the Big Ten, but he might also be the fastest. Hoffman compared tackling him to corralling NFL superstar running back Barry Sanders.
“It’s a great comparison because you think both guys are down when they really aren’t,” he said.
In nine games, Randle El has gained 834 yards and scored eight touchdowns on the ground. With him at the helm, the Hoosiers are averaging a robust 202 rushing yards per game.
Randle El has also benefited from the surprising play of sophomore wide receiver Tyrone Browning, who leads the team in catches and is also one of his best friends.
“You can see the chemistry between us,” Randle El said. “A lot of that came from working out together this summer. We’re actually roommates, and we watch film together.”
So as Randle El squirts between tacklers and uses his lightning-quick burst to get to the outside, the Gophers will see what has made the freshman such a phenom. But Randle El himself isn’t overly impressed with his performance.
“I sit down sometimes and look at film of some of the things I’ve done,” he said. “But I can’t rest on that and have to keep working on leading this team.”
And as Randle El indicated, the roller coaster ride of excitement is just beginning for college football fans. Browning and split end Levron Williams are only sophomores and could provide Randle El weapons to shred opposing defenses for the next few years.
“I think the key is keeping this team together,” Randle El said. “We can build on what we had this year, and I think we’ll be a lot better next year.”