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Indiana’s offense to face more uncertainty with injury to Michael Penix Jr., departure of Tim Baldwin Jr.

In the aftermath of Saturday night's 24-0 loss to Penn State, where Indiana was shut out for the first time since 2000, the Hoosiers' struggling offense will face more uncertainty.

The first and most pressing issue revolves around the health of Michael Penix Jr. The second is that sophomore runningback Tim Baldwin Jr. entered the transfer portal and is no longer with the program, Indiana head coach Tom Allen confirmed Monday.

On Monday, Allen announced that Penix Jr. suffered an acromioclavicular (AC) separation in his left shoulder and is designated as “week to week.” Allen said that surgery is not necessary and Penix Jr. has already started his rehab process. There isn’t, however, an exact timeline for his return.

The injury happened during a play on Saturday night. Penix Jr. scrambled to his left in the third quarter when he was slammed on his shoulder. He was attended to by training staff before leaving the field and sitting out the rest of the game.

This makes the fourth consecutive year that Penix Jr. has suffered an injury. During his promising yet tumultuous career, he’s had three season-ending injuries, including two torn ACLs. Now, it's an injury to his throwing shoulder, but there's still optimism that he can return this season.

“Right now, we feel confident that the rehab process will allow him to be able to heal and get back to where he can be effective,” Allen said.

Penix Jr. has taken a brunt of the criticism regarding Indiana’s struggling offense this season. In five games, he’s thrown four touchdowns to seven interceptions, with a completion percentage of 53 percent. Besides the game against Western Kentucky, he’s never looked comfortable in the pocket. Before exiting the game on Saturday, his stat line was 10-for-22 for 118 yards and one interception.

For now, that means Jack Tuttle, whose journey is as intriguing as any, will be Indiana’s starter. Tuttle was once one of the top quarterbacks in the 2018 class, where he was recruited by the likes of Alabama, USC and Wisconsin. He ultimately chose Utah, but elected to transfer out before completing one season.

Tuttle arrived at Indiana in 2019, but was the backup or third-string option to start both campaigns. Last season, he saw his first significant action when Penix Jr. tore his ACL against Maryland. In two starts, Tuttle led Indiana to a win over Wisconsin but was also behind center in Indiana’s disappointing bowl loss to Ole Miss, a game in which he played through a separated shoulder. In all, he was 44-for-72 for 362 yards, two touchdowns and one interception last season.

Tuttle filled in again on Saturday against Penn State, where he was 6-for-12 and led the Hoosiers into the red zone before throwing an interception. Earlier this season, Tuttle flashed his arm strength with a 76-yard touchdown pass against Idaho and has undoubtedly gained trust from Allen. Allen hailed Tuttle's growth as a player and as a leader.

“He’s highly respected by his teammates," Allen said. "He brings an energy as well, that you can see. I think he gave us a spark even Saturday. I have absolute confidence in him and I’ve always felt that way.”

It also means that freshman Donaven McCulley will move into the backup role. McCulley, who was a four-star dual-threat quarterback out of Lawrence North High School in Indianapolis, was spoken highly of by coaches during fall camp. He hasn’t appeared on the field yet this season, meaning his redshirt year is still intact and can play in up to four games while maintaining that designation.

“I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen so far in both his attitude and leadership, as well as his ability to learn our system,” Allen said of McCulley. “So, yeah, his role will definitely increase.”

The revolving offensive pieces continue in the running back room, where Indiana’s No. 2 backfield option Baldwin Jr. decided to move on from the program. In two seasons with the Hoosiers, he appeared in eight games, with his best performance coming in a 106-yard rushing outing last year against Maryland. He rushed for 103 total yards this season, but made a costly fumble on the goal line against Cincinnati in what would’ve been the go-ahead touchdown.

Moving forward, starting running back Stephen Carr still figures to get a majority of the carries. Behind him, though, Davion Ervin-Poindexter and Chris Childers, who have been platooned into action this season, will have to step up. Freshman David Holloman and redshirt freshman Charlie Spegal will likely also take on a larger role.

“We always say two things reveal who you really are and that’s over time and with pressure,” Allen said. “Time and pressure reveal who we are and they expose things. It gives us a chance to really know who are players on and who we can count on.”

Indiana's offense has been its biggest weakness this season. The Hoosiers rank 106th in the nation in offensive yards per game and 96th in points per game. They've yet to score a touchdown in their two Big Ten games, with six points against Iowa coming off of field goals.

Given that Indiana is currently on a bye week, the team have more time to figure things out. It remains, however, that the running game and quarterback play have been two of Indiana’s most inconsistent areas of play this season. The offensive line, which has largely struggled, is a factor in both of those as well.

If the Hoosiers want to turn their season around, those issues need to be solved with significant urgency. The injury and departure, however, complicate an already ominous situation.

“This is a tough football team,” Allen said. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity, played some tough games and played some tough football teams and we just got to stay together and keep fighting.”

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