No need to panic. This Indiana team is built to win no matter who plays quarterback
The Hoosiers had one overriding concern this season: Could quarterback Michael Penix Jr. stay healthy?
Monday, Indiana received its answer.
The star sophomore was ruled out for the season after tearing his ACL on a second-half scramble in the Hoosiers’ win over Maryland on Saturday. It’s a crushing loss for IU, as Penix had become the centerpiece to the 5-1 Hoosiers’ meteoric rise in 2020. Maybe that was unfair to the underclassmen — Indiana’s solid play this season has been a sum of its parts as much as it’s been one player — but it’s true. Outside of Coach Tom Allen, Penix was the face of the program because of his laser-rocket arm, his ability to run when needed and his personality and leadership. IU felt like it had a chance with him under center.
Now, it’ll have to see if it has a chance without him.
Backup quarterback Jack Tuttle will get the call for the last 3 regular-season games, at Wisconsin Saturday, the Bucket game vs. Purdue a week later and then the cross-over game, which could potentially the Big Ten Championship Game in Indy. Tuttle isn’t without credentials; a former 4-star prospect, the 6-4 California native was ranked the No. 5 pro-style quarterback nationally by 247Sports in his class. After redshirting a season at Utah, Tuttle transferred to Indiana prior to 2019, getting a few snaps as a backup. He had a chance to compete for the starting job this fall, before Allen decided on Penix as his No. 1. The decision wasn’t a surprise.
But Tuttle elevates to the spot now. Fortunately, Indiana has won as a team this season. In 6 weeks this season, it has had a representative on the Big Ten Player of the Week list 5 times (and none have been Penix), with 3 on offense, 1 defense and 1 special teams). The Hoosiers lead the Big Ten in sacks and interceptions, with their defense’s propensity to force turnovers leading to extra offensive opportunities. It’s that characteristic that helped lead Indiana to all 5 of its wins this season, and its near-comeback against Ohio State 2 weeks ago.
Penix’s injury is devastating for him personally. The 3rd-year Hoosier has now trice been bitten by season-ending injuries, now this one to the same ACL in the same knee that cut short his true freshman season in 2018. For a player on the watch lists for the Maxwell and Davey O’Brien award, one hopes that injuries don’t curtail his vast potential.
Penix showed that at times, as he did against in the rally vs. Ohio State or for the entity of the win over Michigan. But for the most part, he was often simply managing the offense. And that’s not to take anything away from his performance; he was solid. But it makes the task easier for Tuttle. If he can only be a caretaker for Indiana, then the Hoosiers could still be in good shape. It’s what Tuttle did at the end of the Maryland game, inheriting a lead and helping the Hoosiers expand on it by hitting all 5 of his passes for 31 yards.
There will be pressure. Indiana might be the front-runner for the Big Ten Championship game at this point, given the complexity of the situation with Ohio State. The Buckeyes will need to play in both of their remaining 2 games (and win at least 1, but that shouldn’t be an issue) to get to the title game in Indy. That’s because the Big Ten set a minimum requirement of 6 games for entry into the Championship. Ohio State, at 4-0, needs 2 more, but it is dealing with its own COVID-related issues — the Buckeyes decided not to travel to Illinois on Saturday, but say they’re intention is to play this weekend at Michigan State — and its opponents potentially are too. The Buckeyes are scheduled to play Michigan on Dec. 12, but the Wolverines today paused team activities because of a growing number of presumptive positive cases. Will OSU be able to play Michigan in 2 weeks? Could it play someone else? Who knows?
But it puts Indiana in the driver’s seat, or at least as a side-seat driver. And now Tuttle is behind the wheel.