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Hoosiers dominate Idaho, but where was Michael Penix Jr.?

By the look of the naked eye, Indiana’s 56-14 victory over Idaho was a rebound from a disastrous trip to Iowa City last weekend. While it was just that with the defense, special teams and run game firing on all cylinders, something was still missing with this Hoosier offense. 

Michael Penix Jr. was coming off the worst performance of his career last weekend at Iowa, throwing three interceptions, two of which were returned for Hawkeyes touchdowns. The aura around Bloomington last week leading into Saturday's game was what the response was going to be from the junior quarterback. 

Well, Penix looked more comfortable in the pocket and spread the ball around well, but we only saw him attempt two deep balls downfield — both overthrows intended for Ty Fryfogle. He didn’t need to be Superman for the Hoosiers to win, but when will he need to be? And will he be ready for it? 

That may come next weekend against No. 7 Cincinnati.   

It’s good for any quarterback coming off a tough performance to see the ball be caught in the endzone and build confidence in a game Indiana should win, and do so handily, but it’s important for Penix to have an opportunity to at least get comfortable with his deep ball and sling it around downfield. 

What made Penix so good last year was his ability to allow his receivers to make plays and use his arm strength to his advantage. In the first two games of the 2021 season he has yet to do that. Fans may have given him the benefit of the doubt last week due to it being his first game back from an ACL injury and the environment in Iowa City was absolutely ridiculous, but a light performance against Idaho is concerning. 

At the end of the first half Penix Jr. was 9-for-11 for 53 yards and two touchdowns. The Hoosiers had thrown the ball 11 times and ran the ball 25 times. That run-to-pass ratio didn’t change much in the second half. 

Penix threw the ball five times for 16 yards in only two drives before coming out of the game and with 2:37 left in the third quarter when backup quarterback Jack Tuttle checked in. 

Tuttle threw for more yards than Penix Jr. in one play: a 76-yard touchdown to tight end A.J. Barner. 

On the flipside of things, the game was essentially over in the first 10 minutes and it seemed like Tom Allen and offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan didn’t want to dive too deep into the playbook before welcoming a top-10 opponent to Memorial Stadium next weekend. Last week the Hoosiers had lost the game after the half, so we have really yet to see a full sample size of the Indiana football offense this season. 

The coaching staff also wanted to keep Penix Jr. healthy. The junior has suffered from season-ending injuries in back-to-back seasons.  

"We're behind Mike" wide receiver Javon Swinton stated in the post game presser. Tom Allen also expressed that he felt as if Penix had improved from last week to this week against Idaho.

Michael Penix, Jr. watches from the sideline during Indiana's loss to Iowa on Sept. 4, 2021 in Iowa City. (Ross Abdellah/HN)

On the bright side of things for the Hoosier offense, the Indiana run game looked much improved from last week. Running back Stephen Carr rushed for 118 yards on 22 carries, tallying one touchdown. The offensive line was dominant from the get-go and set the tone early. This was an important part of the offense that was missing in Iowa and something that a struggling Penix Jr. needs to be able to lean on in tight yardage situations. 

The Hoosiers success this season depends on Penix Jr. and while we haven’t much of any sample size at all, after two weeks the early reports are concerning. It will be interesting to see where the offense goes and when it really needs to play a full 60 minutes. 

The Hoosiers and No. 7 Bearcats have a date scheduled in Bloomington next weekend.

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