Indiana head coach Tom Allen announced at Monday’s press conference that starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr. will miss the remainder of the 2020 season with a torn ACL.
“It’s a really tough situation for all of us, my heart breaks for Michael,” Allen said. “…The bottom line is setbacks and adversity is part of this life. As we told our team last week, how you respond to these challenges define who you are.”
Penix was injured late in the third quarter of Indiana’s 27-11 win over Maryland on Nov. 28. The redshirt sophomore scampered down the sideline for a 21-yard gain before he was pushed out of bounds. As Penix slowed down, his leg planted awkwardly, and seconds later he pounded on the turf in pain.
Penix is no stranger to injury. Last season during Indiana’s 34-3 win over Northwestern, Penix suffered a right sternoclavicular joint injury, which forced him to have season-ending shoulder surgery. During Indiana’s 2018 loss to Penn State, Penix’s season ended due to a torn ACL.
“His family was here with him and I’m thankful for that,” Allen said. “It’s just tough, it’s hard. I really feel for him and all of his work to get back and the way he was playing.”
In the first week of the 2020 Big Ten season, Penix caught the eyes of the college football world with his dive for the pylon to defeat then-No. 8 Penn State. Even in a loss, Penix’s 491-yard and five-touchdown performance versus Ohio State helped Indiana gain national respect.
— FOX College Football (@CFBONFOX) October 24, 2020
After the win over Maryland, Indiana moved up to the No. 10 ranking in the AP Top 25 poll. The Hoosiers face a tough test next week without their star quarterback, as they go on the road to face the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers.
“You just watch them play and it’s a model of consistency and culture they have created,” Allen said. “How they play the game on both sides of the football and special teams, just so much discipline and so much size…I know we have got a fight on our hands up there.”
Redshirt sophomore quarterback Jack Tuttle will replace Penix as Indiana’s starter in this game. Against Maryland, Tuttle completed all five pass attempts for 31 yards.
“Once Mike went down and Tuttle came in, he was poised and confident,” Indiana running back Stevie Scott said after the Maryland game. “He can make a play at any given moment. It’s him believing in himself and us believing in him.”
Tuttle spent his freshman year at the University of Utah where he did not make an appearance in any games.
He transferred to Indiana before the 2019 season, and appeared in five games for the Hoosiers. Tuttle’s 2019 action came when the game was already decided, and he completed six of 11 passes for 34 yards. Tuttle also showed some ability to make plays with his feet, rushing nine times for 20 yards.
Mission Hills Alumni Jack Tuttle enters game for Indiana . ?⚪️ pic.twitter.com/Dwx7soFAdi
— San Diego Football (@Daygofootball) November 28, 2020
Coming out of high school, Tuttle was rated as a four-star quarterback out of Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, California. According to 247Sports, Tuttle was ranked as the No. 5 pro-style quarterback nationally and the No. 13 player in the state of California. Tuttle also competed in the prestigious Elite 11 high school quarterback camp, where he earned a spot in the 2017 finals.
“That’s why you recruit, that’s why you develop,” Allen said. “That’s why [Tuttle] came to Indiana, for opportunities like this.”
Allen said he was impressed by Tuttle’s first throw of the game to convert a two-point conversion. Poise, work ethic and intelligence are some of Tuttle’s best qualities, according to Allen.
Tuttle will have big shoes to fill, though, as Penix was experiencing a breakout season. Through four games plus nearly three quarters of play versus Maryland, Penix threw for 1,645 yards, which is tops in the Big Ten.
Penix’s 14 touchdown passes also rank first in the Big Ten, and his average of 274.2 passing yards per game is second behind Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, who has played in just four games this season.
While Penix was one of the best quarterbacks in the Big Ten, his biggest flaws this season were inaccuracy and slow starts. Penix completed 56.4 percent of passes, which ranks 11th in the Big Ten. However, his big play ability made up for these inaccuracies, as his connection with Ty Fryfogle and Whop Philyor was always a threat to exploit opposing defenses.
There is no easy solution to replace the productivity of Penix, but Indiana has a defense that can keep the Hoosiers competitive. Indiana currently leads the nation with 16 interceptions. Moving forward, this strength will be relied upon even more because Indiana will be without its electrifying quarterback.
“I am excited for the opportunity this presents to our football team to come together and rely on our defense and our run game and Jack Tuttle to come in and as you saw him perform on Saturday,” Allen said.
Allen said in tough times, it is important to fall back on the people that care the most about you. Allen loves to use the word “grit” to describe his program, and that is exactly what it will take moving forward without Penix.
“It’s discouraging,” Allen said. “It’s disheartening when it first happens, and once you get through that part of it, you know what, now it’s time to bull up and fight. That is why grit is such a great word. It describes this program. It’s perseverance and passion towards a long-term goal and Michael’s got some big-time, long-term goals.”