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‘I believe in him’: Tom Allen remains confident in Michael Penix Jr. as Indiana’s starting quarterback

During his first three seasons at Indiana, which consisted of 15 appearances, Michael Penix Jr. tossed a total of eight interceptions.  

In just three games this season, Penix Jr. has nearly matched that figure with six. He threw three inceptions in one game for the first time in his career against Iowa. Then he did it again in Indiana’s loss to Cincinnati on Saturday, one of which was in the red zone, part of the Hoosiers’ overall inability to capitalize on a variety of opportunities.

After Saturday’s game, an IU spokesperson said that Penix Jr. was undergoing X-rays, but no further details were given. On Monday, Indiana head coach Tom Allen said that tests on Penix Jr.’s non-throwing hand came back negative.

There were already concerns entering this season about Penix Jr.’s ability to bounce back from last year’s ACL injury, his third consecutive season-ending injury. Through three games, that apprehension has become more pressing and criticism has come from all directions about whether Penix Jr. should remain the quarterback at Indiana.

But on Monday, Allen’s trust in Penix Jr. was unwavering, saying that he will start on Saturday against Western Kentucky.

“Michael Penix is our starting quarterback and I believe in him with 100 percent of my heart,” Allen said. “And know that our team feels the same way.”

It wasn’t all bad on Saturday for Penix Jr. Solely from a yardage standpoint, Penix Jr. had his best game of the season, throwing for 224 yards and outgaining the combined total from his first two games.

There were certainly moments, albeit not consistent, when Penix Jr. looked more comfortable. In the first quarter, he flashed his ability to make throws on the run when he hit tight end, Peyton Hendershot, for a 16-yard touchdown. While on the move again in the second quarter, Penix Jr. lofted a touch pass to running back Stephen Carr for a five-yard touchdown.

Penix Jr. also connected on a few deeper passes, notably to DJ Matthews, an element of the quarterback’s game that had been lacking the first two weeks. 

“He made some really good plays, made some really good throws that not many guys could make,” Allen said. “…He’s showing growth and progress in that and confidence in his knee.”

Ultimately, though, Penix Jr.’s mistakes outweighed his incremental progress. It remains that Penix Jr. was quick to make decisions when he was under pressure and didn’t appear fully composed, which, more often than not, led to interceptions or incompletions.

One of those came midway through the second quarter when Indiana had the ball on the Cincinnati eight-yard line. The pocket was collapsing around Penix Jr. and, throwing off his back foot while slightly off-balance, he tossed an interception. Similarly, later that quarter, Penix Jr. was starting to be dragged down by a Cincinnati defender when, instead of taking the sack, he almost blindly launched a ball to the middle of the field and was picked off again. 

The last mistake came with less than four minutes left in the game and Indiana down by six points. Penix Jr., rolling to his left, threw the ball across his body, something that quarterbacks are taught not to do, leading to an easy interception.

“You turn the ball over that many times against a top-10 team, you’re not going to win,” Allen said. “We did some good things but we didn’t finish. He’s (Penix Jr.) part of that. He’s got to finish, as well, and that’s going to be the focus is consistent performance.”

There were other factors that contributed to Penix Jr.’s struggles. Indiana’s offense line took steps forward but was still largely inconsistent. The run game, which showed promise in the first half, slowed down significantly in the second half. Indiana’s All-Big Ten receiver, Ty Fryfogle, finished with just one catch and an uncharacteristic three drops.

“He practices well, he practices hard,” Allen said of Fryfogle. “To me, that just was a hiccup for him because that’s not him.”

Saturday’s game against Western Kentucky will give Penix Jr. yet another opportunity to get into a rhythm, but it will be intriguing to see how long Allen continues to stick with his quarterback should his struggles continue.

While not established at the college level, the options behind Penix Jr. are not incapable of producing. Penix Jr.’s backup, Jack Tuttle, a former blue-chip recruit, has long been regarded as someone with the tools to be successful, although he hasn’t proven to do so. Behind him is freshman Donaven McCulley, a dual-threat quarterback that the coaching staff has spoken highly of during fall camp. 

Last season, Penix Jr. was the symbolic leader of Indiana’s success, a figure that was praised for the team’s meteoric rise. Now, he’s experiencing the other side of that attention, finding himself at the epicenter of Indiana’s unprecedented expectations and uncharted pressure.

“You cannot let circumstances and things around you cause that to waver, and that’s what we’re going to be the challenge to him,” Allen said. “But once again, we’re just teaching him and growing with him and helping him through this because he’s still growing and maturing, too.”

One Comment

  • SOSD says:

    Three games into what was projected to be a season where IU would challenge for the east division title, and IU is essentially out of it. I understand mathematically IU is still in it as they have not yet played an east division team, but who expects IU to go 6-0, or even 5-1 within their own division? It is highly unlikely that even if TA makes a QB change that either Tuttle or McCulley will be enough of a difference to overcompensate for a under performing OL.

    Going into this season I was as optimistic as anyone. National as well as conference pundits were talking up IU. Penix was listed as the top QB in the conference. We had viable skill position players that would complement this offense, making it multi-dimensional. That all came crashing down in week one. Penix, for whatever reason was playing as if he had been given the playbook an hour before the game. The running game was stymied because the OL struggled in run blocking, and was completely lost when in came to pass protection.

    The defense was supposed to be the strength of this team, and would keep us in every ball game, but with an ineffective offense, unless they are pitching shutouts every Saturday the chances of winning are greatly reduced.

    I’ll be honest I saw IU as a 9 win team at a minimum at the start of the season, now I am struggling to find three more wins. I thought OSU to be this teams only obstacle to a division title. We lost to them by 7 last year, the smallest margin of victory. They were in a reload year with an inexperienced QB taking over the offense we matched score for score. A win wasn’t guaranteed but a strong argument could be made that IU had a good chance. I knew PSU would be tough. We beat them last year so it wasn’t out of the realm of possibilities that it could happen again, same with Michigan. Rutgers, MSU, and Maryland I considered to be teams where IU had the upper hand in talent. I can no longer make that claim. My hope and expectation of a 7-0 or 6-1 division record is now looking to be the direct opposite of that. I don’t see IU as being capable of beating PSU. They appear to be the cream of the crop this season. OSU may have dropped a notch, but they are still far superior to IU. UM is looking strong, albeit they haven’t played anyone of record. Schiano has Rutgers playing disciplined football which will make them difficult for IU to beat. Maryland’s improvement makes it unlikely for a road win, and MSU is a totally different team with the addition of 40 new players, and a coach who appears to have instilled the same mentality that he learned from Saban while he was at Alabama.

    Instead of expecting an IU victory I have reverted to the mentality that I have carried over my 55 years of rooting for IU football, and hoping for a win. I hope IU can beat WKU, and PU, because those are the only two games I believe they have a chance of winning.

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