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Hoosiers blanked in Happy Valley as offense reveals problems deeper than quarterback choice

STATE COLLEGE, PA. – Jack Tuttle was greeted with rib-rattling tackle on his first play.

Penn State’s Arnold Ebiketie beat Indiana offensive tackle Caleb Jones off the edge, allowing Ebiketie to steamroll the Hoosiers’ backup quarterback. Michael Penix Jr. exited the game with an injury to his throwing shoulder after scrambling to avoid a sack and being sandwiched by a pair of Nittany Lion defenders on the previous play.

Neither Penix nor Tuttle were able to lead Indiana to a score, but it became clear that Indiana’s problems are much deeper than who lines up under center. Whether it was dropped passes, a lack of push from its offensive line, play calling or poor decision making from quarterbacks, an inept performance from the offense was the result in Indiana’s 24-0 loss at No. 4 Penn State. 

This was the first time Indiana has been shut out since its 58-0 loss to Michigan on Oct. 14, 2000. 

“I think guys need to take a look at themselves in the mirror and decide what’s going to come of this,” linebacker Micah McFadden said. 

Before his injury, Penix completed 10 of 22 passes for 118 yards and an interception. Uncharacteristic drops from Ty Fryfogle and inconsistent offensive line play didn’t help, but Penix appeared skittish in the pocket and unsure how to decipher the Penn State defense. 

Fans have been calling for “Tuttle Time” for weeks during Penix’s struggles, but the switch to Jack Tuttle didn’t bring any meaningful results. Indiana head coach Tom Allen said Tuttle gave Indiana a “little spark,” but it didn’t lead to points. 

Tuttle finished the game completing 6 of 12 passes for 77 yards and an interception that floated easily into the hands of Ji’Aiyr Brown as the Hoosiers approached the red zone. Tuttle also led the Hoosiers into the red zone on his first drive, but Charles Campbell’s 30-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Brandon Smith.

The Indiana offense managed 12 first downs on Saturday night, but was never able to build momentum. Penix completed two first-down passes to Peyton Hendershot and Miles Marshall, but threw an interception on the subsequent play.

In total, Indiana gained just 42 yards on plays coming immediately after first downs. These situations also included four incompletions and two separate runs that lost five yards. Whenever Indiana sniffed success against the Nittany Lion defense, it was promptly met with failure. 

The Hoosiers also faced a surprise inactive status for All-American cornerback Tiawan Mullen before today’s game. Allen said if he was asked yesterday if Mullen was going to play, the answer would have been yes.

Allen noted that Mullen’s injury was sustained on two separate occasions against Western Kentucky, and consistent rehab throughout the week wasn’t enough to get Mullen ready to play. The absence of Mullen left a significant hole in the Indiana’s defense felt through his lockdown coverage, as well as leadership.

Mullen would have likely drawn the assignment on Penn State standout receiver Jahan Dotson, who hauled in eight catches for 84 yards and two touchdowns. Dotson and quarterback Sean Clifford have connected for 18 touchdowns in their careers, which set a Penn State record for most touchdowns between a quarterback and receiver duo. 

Reese Taylor also left Saturday’s game with an injury, which continued the streak of injuries to Indiana defensive backs this season. Linebacker Cam Jones said luckily for the Hoosiers, they have a bye week next week to remedy these injuries. Allen said he doesn’t expect Mullen or Taylor to be out long-term.

“[The bye week] comes at a great time,” Jones said. “People can rest up, we’ll go back to the drawing board and figure this season out.”

McFadden and Ryder Anderson led the Hoosiers with eight tackles each, and when Mullen returns, there’s no doubt Indiana has pillars on defense that can lead to wins. But when the offense has five three-and-out possessions coupled with multiple turnovers, it puts an unrealistic expectation on the defense to be perfect. 

Indiana entered the season with aspirations of reaching a Big Ten title game, but that optimism feels years in the past. It is likely that the teams that have defeated IU this season — Penn State, Iowa and Cincinnati — are each ranked in the top five when the Associated Press releases its rankings this week, but the Hoosiers have been outscored 96-30 in those games with 24 points coming against Cincinnati.

“There are no excuses,” Allen said. “We’re going to look ourselves in the mirror, we’re going to get back up and we’re going to fight.”

My name is Jack Ankony and I am a senior from Mount Prospect, Illinois. I have covered the Indiana football team the last two seasons, and my work with HN started on the baseball and women's basketball beats. I love to write and talk about sports.

3 Comments

  • SOSD says:

    “We are going to get it figured out.” That’s what I thought preseason camp was for, to figure things out and be ready for the season, and not wait five games into the season to figure out how to play sound fundamental football.

    I’ve figured it out already. Last year was an aberration. This year is reality of what IU football is and has been for decades, a horrible football program.

    I have nothing against Tom Allen. I’m sure he is a fine man, however he is exhibiting that he is in way over his head. All the heart warming slogans and family atmosphere mean little when they don’t translate into wins because of coaching ineptness. Every team in the division has shown improvement while IU has regressed.

    Good luck finding 4 more wins on this schedule. The next five games are certain losses, MSU, OSU, Maryland, UM, Rutgers, with Minnesota possibly being the next opportunity for a win, but don’t count on it.

    This is a season of unmet expectations. Just another 4-8 or 3-9 record as once again IU claims its rightful place at the bottom of the standings.

    • Anonymous says:

      Well said, learned many years ago do not get hopes high for this program the last couple of years was part of the once in a decade-plus blip they have and now its back to normal. As normal a lot of talk, unmet expectations, and as you correctly put SOSD. It’s the part of the season fans start looking towards basketball.

  • Mark Newlin says:

    The biggest issue on the OL is our coach of the OL as we see players technique declining each year at IU instead of improving. The other issue is our OC that runs offensive practices that doesn’t help our QB with the way he calls plays [virtually every 1st down is a run]. To change things coach Allen will need to get better coaches to replace these coaches other wise IU won’t be able to compete in the B1G; just look at PSU last year when they saw the OC not fitting in and went and got a much better OC.

    We will see after this year if coach Allen shakes up the offensive staff as it needs to be if he is serious of winning the B1G some year soon. Getting better isn’t enough to get the job done if they can’t coach very well.

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