Indiana's offense needs a fix. Maybe Penix needs a break?
If the Hoosiers want to get this fixed — and perhaps redirect a season that looks rudderless right now — then it starts with No. 9.
Well, perhaps it starts with the head coach, because he is the one who needs to decide what to do with No. 9, quarterback Michael Penix Jr. The veteran QB’s struggles continued vs. No. 8 Cincinnati on Saturday, as he missed more passes than he completed and threw 3 interceptions in a 2-touchdown loss.
It’s been that way through 3 games for Penix, who is completing only 48 percent of his passes with 6 interceptions and 4 touchdowns. He had only 8 career picks in 12 previous starts entering this season.
Compounding the matter was post-game news that Penix had been taken for X-rays following the game after he appeared to favor his left (throwing) arm at times during the second half of the 38-24 loss. Tom Allen is expected to update Penix’s condition at his weekly press conference on Monday.
Injuries have long been part of the story for Penix, and maybe a major reason why he’s playing so far below his standard right now. (Poor offensive line play and an inconsistent running game are also to blame, as is curious play-calling and inefficiency in the red zone. So, the fingers can point in plenty of directions). Penix is coming back from his second ACL injury and simply hasn’t looked comfortable inside the pocket or out of it, with bad footwork leading to erratic throws. And the deep-passing game that Indiana hangs its hat on has been MIA.
What’s the answer?
While injury news might force his hand, Allen needs to consider a change, even if it’s only for a short term. It might be the only choice to salvage a season that’s on the brink of being lost. Sitting Penix would not only be good for him physically — and we know he’s been through a lot, with a couple knee injuries and an upper-body issue — but more so mentally. He needs a reset.
“I’m going to look at everything in terms of evaluating the team. Everyone gets evaluated,” Allen told media after game, after being asked if he would consider making a change. “… Every position, you’ve got to perform. I’m never going to act like everyone’s position is 100 percent safe. I don’t care what position you play on this team. You better perform and play to a high level to do the things we’ve got to do to win football games.”
Allen is challenged, though, to make such a call at QB. Indiana’s ability to win is tied to the play of Penix; he’s the straw. So it’s not surprising that with his struggles have come the Hoosiers’ struggles. And if Indiana is to beat anybody, even Western Kentucky on Saturday, it might need Penix on the field. Indiana doesn’t feel the same confidence, or even close to it, about its backups. If Allen felt good about junior Jack Tuttle — or even freshman Donaven McCulley — then he’d be more apt to go that direction.
But we’ve seen Tuttle. He’s capable of managing the team, and he did win against Wisconsin last season, but IU had to play conservatively, relying on its defense while trying to keep mistakes to a minimum. And after the book was out on Tuttle, Indiana’s offense became way too predictable. Maybe Indiana can turn to Tuttle for one game at WKU, but it’s not sustainable long-term. Perhaps IU could use a mix of Tuttle and McCulley, a highly-regarded former 4-star recruit who is the future of the position. It’d give the Hoosiers a jolt of athleticism to mix with Tuttle.
Whatever the combo, Penix needs a break. And Indiana needs a jolt.