He wasn’t Indiana’s starting quarterback, but this was not an excuse for Jack Tuttle.
Before Indiana’s game versus Maryland on Nov. 28, head coach Tom Allen said Tuttle was the first Hoosier to arrive at the team’s walkthrough. There was no promise he would take a single snap in the game, but Tuttle prepared like he was going to lead Indiana out of the tunnel that day. That’s just how he’s built.
“He has prepared really hard,” Indiana offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said. “He has each and every week, and I think that gave him confidence to go in the game. He did his job.”
Michael Penix Jr. tore his ACL after planting awkwardly at the end of a 21-yard run, and in the snap of a finger, it was time for Tuttle. While some backup quarterbacks might have been intimidated or unprepared to enter the game in this pressing situation, Tuttle was quite the opposite. For Tuttle, things were business as usual.
“It was really very normal," Sheridan said. "The conversations that he and I had were normal, just like you normally would with Mike when Mike is in the game. He really did a nice job and didn’t flinch and didn’t blink.”
The first few plays with Tuttle under center were runs, and Stevie Scott punched in a touchdown before Tuttle had to drop back to pass. But eventually he, Sheridan and the Indiana fans at home knew he would Tuttle would have to make a throw.
Indiana took a 15-3 lead following the Scott score, and with a 12-point lead, the card said to go for two. Tuttle sent tight end Peyton Hendershot in motion, took the snap out of the shotgun and didn’t think twice. Tuttle delivered a strike to Hendershot to convert the two-point play on what Allen said was not an easy throw.
“That’s a tough angle,” Allen said. “We work on that a lot, and he made that throw in practice many, many times. That’s why you just can’t emphasize enough the critical component of next man up.”
This throw put Indiana up 17-3, and the Hoosiers did not look back. Tuttle led the Hoosiers for a quarter and change to claim a 27-11 victory over Maryland. Tuttle was perfect from the pocket, completing all five of his pass attempts for 31 yards. For Allen, this performance not only revealed something about Tuttle, but also the mentality of the entire team.
“This is a tight group of guys,” Allen said. This is a close-knit family that trusts in each other, loves each other and cares about each other. Part of that is being ready when called upon.”
Tuttle wasn’t asked to do too much in this appearance, but his poise shined through.
Tuttle will make his first collegiate start on Dec. 5 on the road versus the No. 16 Wisconsin Badgers. While Tuttle won’t experience the raucous atmosphere opponents face as Badger fans “Jump Around” in Madison, it will take the same preparation and poise to come out with a victory. Allen said it will be important for Tuttle to recognize the talent surrounding him, and for each area of the team to improve by one percent.
“That is a big part of how you gain the respect of your teammates," Allen said. "You have to go out there and prove it on game day. It’s a team game. The greatest team game out there, and that’s why it’s a special sport that really teaches a lot about life.”
Tuttle hasn’t had many opportunities to prove himself as a quarterback, making five appearances after the game was decided in 2019. Counting his play versus Maryland, Tuttle has attempted just 16 passes as a college quarterback. Allen said it will be important for Tuttle to trust the talent of his teammates around him on Saturday.
“I think our offense is phenomenal,” Tuttle said. “We have some guys that can just really go and I believe in that. They believe in themselves and we believe in each other.”
And there is reason to be optimistic, even if Tuttle hasn’t proved it at the Division I level.
He impressed Allen in his limited appearance versus Maryland, but this wasn’t the first eye-opening experience for Allen. Indiana wasn’t able to practice much this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant fall camp was the first look Allen got of Tuttle after the 2019 season.
“I think it was consistent across the board, our staff was like, ‘He’s playing to the level that we thought he would when he came here,’” Allen said.
Tuttle transferred to Indiana before the 2019 season after spending one season at the University of Utah where he didn’t see the field. Coming out of high school, Tuttle was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country. He was ranked as the No. 5 pro-style quarterback nationally by 247Sports and the No. 13 player in the state of California.
Tuttle chose Utah over schools such as Alabama, Arizona, Arizona State and Boston College. He gained national recognition as a high schooler when he competed in the prestigious Elite 11 quarterback competition.
In 2017, Tuttle earned a place in the Elite 11 Finals. While current Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields won MVP of the competition, Tuttle had the chance to put his skills up against Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence and learn from counselors Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen and Will Grier.
Coming out of Mission Hills High School in San Marcos, California, Tuttle’s high school coach Chris Hauser said Tuttle could make all the throws. In an interview with the Bloomington Herald-Times from 2018, Hauser listed seven kinds of throws, varying from deep routes to running back screens, at which he believes Tuttle can succeed.
“He’s a big-arm quarterback,” Hauser said. “...So from an arm standpoint, I believe he can make the throws necessary to play in the Big Ten.”
Tuttle will have the opportunity on Saturday to prove that he is still the guy whose name was associated with quarterbacks who will be first-round picks in the 2021 NFL Draft.
But Tuttle isn’t necessarily that same guy. He said Wednesday that he has improved in his time at Indiana learning from Penix, as well as former Indiana quarterback Peyton Ramsey. Sheridan agrees and said he has seen a lot of development from Tuttle since he arrived in Bloomington.
“He’s gotten bigger, stronger, faster, quicker, but he has always had ability,” Sheridan said. “When he came in here he threw the ball well. He’s got good fundamentals, he’s accurate, he’s got good arm strength.”
Sheridan said something that has helped Tuttle's development is stability within the program. When Tuttle came to Indiana before the 2019 season, Kalen DeBoer was the offensive coordinator, but Sheridan was still on the staff as the tight ends coach. As Indiana transitioned from DeBoer to Sheridan, not much changed with Indiana's offensive schemes.
When looking at the development of young players, Sheridan said consistency and stability are important. In his two years as a Hoosier, Tuttle has heard the same messages from Sheridan and the rest of the Indiana staff. Sheridan said this constant reinforcement has helped Tuttle understand how to read coverages and execute.
"Over time if you work hard and you’re smart like Jack is, you get better," Sheridan said. "I think he’s done that since he’s been here.”
Tuttle said the main things he took away from his time with Ramsey last year and now with Penix is the way they watch film. This has helped Tuttle earn praise for his preparation from his coaches and teammates. Running back Tim Baldwin had a breakout performance versus Maryland rushing 16 times for 106, and said Tuttle is one of, if not the, hardest workers on the team.
“I think both of them are phenomenal quarterbacks and I learned a lot underneath them,” Tuttle said. “...Some of the things they do on the field, whether it be how they take their pre snap routine, things like that, I really took from them and implemented into my own routine.”
Like Tuttle, Sheridan feels comfortable because of another area of preparation. Last season when Penix when down for the season with a shoulder injury, Indiana had to adjust its offense with Ramsey under center.
Sheridan said he learned from this situation that it is important to cater to what the quarterback likes the best. He said there will be subtle changes to the Indiana offense this week, whether or not that is noticeable to fans. Luckily, Sheridan thinks Tuttle and Penix share similarities in their arm talent.
“I think there is a lot of carry over between the things that Mike liked the most and the things that Jack likes the most,” Sheridan said. You try to put together a system of offense that has flexibility based on your personnel week to week, game to game. You better have some flexibility to adjust, to adapt.”
An underrated part of Tuttle’s game, in Sheridan's opinion, is his ability to make plays on the run and out of the pocket. While it will be his first collegiate start and teams have very little film on him, Tuttle said he’ll keep this area of his game a secret for now.
But once Tuttle steps on the field in Madison, his true game will be revealed to the thousands of fans watching at home, and more importantly, a stellar Wisconsin defense. Though the Badgers have only played in three games this year due to COVID-19, Wisconsin has allowed by far the fewest yards per game through the air and on the ground. The Badgers also rank second in the Big Ten in defensive efficiency.
While a tough test lies ahead for Tuttle in his first start, he feels the support of his fellow Hoosiers behind him.
“For me, I just want to do every single thing I can for my team,” Tuttle said. “I care about them so much, and I want to give everything I have for them...The love I have for them, it’s LEO.”
Tuttle, once a highly-touted recruit, prepared to make a name for himself versus Badgers
He wasn’t Indiana’s starting quarterback, but this was not an excuse for Jack Tuttle.