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Monday Notebook: Penix out for season, Indiana working on kick coverage

We’re back with another edition of the Monday Notebook. As always, we heard from head coach Tom Allen and offensive coordinator Mike DeBord. Peyton Ramsey joined the party. So too did Bryant Fitzgerald, Dameon Willis Jr., Reakwon Jones and Stevie Scott.

As Mondays go, this week was particularly eventful. Here are the news and notes from the morning:

Michael Penix tears ACL, out for season

Michael Penix has torn his ACL. (Mark Timko/HN)

In 2016, reigning honorable mention All-Big Ten receiver Simmie Cobbs Jr. went down with a season ending ankle injury early in week two against Ball State.

Last season, Nick Westbrook, also coming off an honorable mention All-Big Ten campaign, suffered an ACL injury on the opening kickoff of Indiana’s season opener against Ohio State.

Starting running back Cole Gest tore his ACL in the 2018 season opener.

Monday, Tom Allen confirmed the news that true freshman quarterback Michael Penix tore his ACL in the third quarter against Penn State. He will miss the remainder of the season, and will be a redshirt freshman in 2019.

“And as we close up the game just want to say that unfortunately we’ve lost [freshman quarterback] Michael Penix with an ACL tear,” Allen said, “which is a very tough thing for him to have to go through and my heart breaks for him. But it’s part of this game.”

Penix, a 6-foot-3, 206-pound lefty, was a prized late coup for the Indiana coaching staff in the 2018 recruiting class. Rated the No. 13 pro-style quarterback nationally, the Hoosiers landed his commitment over perennial power Florida State.

In three games this season, Penix totaled 219 yards and one touchdown while completing 21 of 34 passes.

Though Peyton Ramsey remains the starter, the IU quarterback room gets a lot more interesting in Penix’s absence. Freshman Reese Taylor, a high school quarterback who has played offense, defense and special teams for the Hoosiers this year, will suit up behind Ramsey in the backup role.

“We had some packages we put him in there, did some things,” Allen said of Taylor. “Now it’s obviously intensified. So before it was just more drill work and isolated situations. But he’s played that position his whole life. So it was pretty natural at it.”

Allen said the plan is for Penix to throw in seven-on-seven situations in spring ball and be full-go when the summer session begins.

How does Indiana’s kick coverage improve? 

After the Penn State loss, Allen said that he would send kickoffs out of bounds every opportunity if it didn’t result in a penalty. And given his kick coverage team’s abysmal performance against the Nittany Lions, he still may be better served doing so.

That said, Allen noted changes are coming to the Indiana special teams unit.

“Special teams let us down and really disappointed in that,” Allen said. “And spent a lot of time over the weekend addressing our kickoff cover unit and different things there, adjusting personnel, and making corrections and changes we have to do to be at the level we need to be at in special teams to win those kind of games.”

Saturday, the Hoosiers gave up returns of 58 and 95 yards to KJ Hamler and Johnathan Thomas, respectively. Both resulted in touchdown drives for the Nittany Lions.

To say Indiana needs to sort out their special teams issues in a hurry is an understatement. Minnesota comes into Friday’s contest averaging 24.06 yards per kickoff return and 25.57 yards per punt return.

“Their special teams are excellent,” Allen said. “And really impressed with their kickers. Their cover units are really, really strong. The return units are strong. So well-coached football team, very well-coached.”

A loss to Penn State, though disappointing, isn’t the end of the world for Indiana. A loss to Minnesota would be crippling in its quest for bowl eligibility. Special teams are overtly controllable and Indiana must right the ship if they hope to win in Minneapolis Friday night.

Stevie Scott is rumblin’, bumblin’ and stumblin’

Raise your hand if you thought freshman running back Stevie Scott would torch the Penn State defense for 138 yards and two touchdowns.

Now put your hand down because you’re lying.

Following four straight games in which Scott gained 64 yards or less, the bruiser from Syracuse, New York grounded and pounded his way up, over and through the Nittany Lions’ defense.

More startling, Scott averaged 5.3 yards per carry, while his longest run of the day was just 18 yards. Differently put, Scott’s yards per carry average was not skewed by one breakaway run.

“I felt I played pretty well,” Scott said. “The line blocked very well for me to help me accomplish that goal.”

Perhaps even more important than Scott’s resurgence is the effect he has on the passing game. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey stressed how given the respect Penn State had to show for Indiana’s ground game, things opened up through the air.

“It was good to see Stevie bust a couple long runs in there and it helps the entire offense,” Ramsey said. “It helps the dynamic of our offense be able to run the ball and throw the ball and a little [run-pass option] action. So it helps a ton when you’re able to run the ball, especially that effectively.”

With a road trip against a Minnesota team that allows 158.9 rush yards per game awaiting Friday, expect the Golden Gophers to receive a heavy dose of Scott and fellow freshman Ronnie Walker Jr.

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