BLOOMINGTON — During a live scrimmage segment in Wednesday’s practice, Indiana sophomore running back Stevie Scott III burst through a hole and raced down the right sideline.
There was only one player to beat, and with a deft fake and stutter step, Scott avoided an ankle tackle and glided to the end zone for a 33-yard touchdown run.
“That’s something he didn’t do last year,” IU running backs coach Mike Hart said. “He’s still got to work on it. There were a couple of times he didn’t do it in camp, and that was probably the first time he did it in camp.
“To get 50-yard touchdowns, you have to beat a safety. That’s what he’s going to need to do to get big runs.”
After a record-setting freshman campaign at IU, the 6-foot-2, 231-pound Scott is pushing himself for an even better sophomore season. Scott feels like he had an extra gear to shift to after a full offseason working out with strength coach Dave Ballou and speed coach Dr. Matt Rhea.
“People haven’t really seen my breakaway speed and my power and things, and those are things that I’ve been working on this offseason,” Scott said.
Scott rushed for an IU freshman record 1,137 yards and 10 TDs, posting six 100-yard rushing games to earn honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. An opportunity arose when starting running back Cole Gest went down with a season-ending injury in Week 1, and Scott took advantage of it.
“I wasn’t really surprised because I knew my potential,” Scott said of his freshman season.
Hart could see the potential the first time Scott put on pads last season.
“He was physical, and he had good feet,” Hart said. “You can’t teach a guy to see a hole, but he’s a guy who made some plays early on in camp. You just know, 'hey, this guy is going to be able to help us.'”
But Scott said there are plenty of things he’s working on to improve as a sophomore, such as ball security (Scott lost three fumbles last season), picking up his knees when he runs and, like he did Wednesday, making the last defender miss.
“I could be a better player just working on the little things that really matter,” Scott said. “Little things can help you just be a better person, instead of just a good player, just be a great player.”
Hart feels competition will push Scott in camp as well. Talented incoming freshmen running backs Sampson James and Ivory Winters join a deep group that includes redshirt sophomore Ronnie Walker Jr. and Gest, who is back from a season-ending knee injury.
With more depth at running back this season, Scott’s workload could be reduced after carrying the ball 20 or more times in five games last season.
“As long as we win the game, I’m fine with sharing the load,” Scott said. “We could all be doing numbers and helping our team produce Ws, so that’s all I’m really focused about.
“I feel like I can carry the load and also split the load.”
Scott also will be wearing a new number this season, switching from 21 to 8, the number his father, Stevie Scott Jr., wore as a high-school player in central New York. Scott — who grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., but spurned the Orange and flipped from Rutgers to come to IU — said his father helped him get through tough times when he suffered a season-ending injury during his senior year of high school.
“My dad has really been my role model since I was about 12,” Scott said. “He’s really been just helping me improve as a man on the field and just helping me stay on track with school, so just having him in my life is just very important. I’m very blessed to have him. He’s just helping me push forward and keep positive.”
EXTRA POINTS: Redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. had his best day of camp Wednesday, leading the offense to two scoring drives with the first- and second-team offense in the two-minute drill in the scrimmage portion at the end of practice. Penix also connected with receiver Ty Fryfogle on a long pass during 11-on-11 drills. “You can see when we need to make throws down the field, he just has the arm talent and explosiveness to throw it there,” IU offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said. DeBoer also noted Penix is playing catch-up with the new terminology of the offense after sitting out most of spring drills while recovering from a torn ACL. “Once he can just play ball, all those things take over, all of those natural instincts,” DeBoer said. … DeBoer said left guard Harry Crider and right tackle Caleb Jones have shown marked improvement from spring to fall drills, “Crider and Caleb are way better than they were this spring, especially Caleb because he’s just a much different player,” DeBoer said. … Tensions boiled over during points of IU’s second practice in full pads, as receiver Whop Philyor and defensive back Raheem Layne engaged in a scuffle during a drill. IU head coach Tom Allen raced across the field and jumped between them to break the fight up.