Indiana head coach Tom Allen was mum about his team’s quarterback situation heading into Saturday’s game against No. 16 Penn State, refusing to name a starter or rule anyone out.
For the second time this season, Memorial Stadium was put on quarterback watch, waiting to find out who would lead the Hoosiers out on the first drive.
Indiana called on senior Jack Tuttle to start its 45-14 loss to Penn State in place of Connor Bazelak, who missed the game with an undisclosed injury. But after Tuttle sustained an injury himself in the second quarter, the quarterback carousel continued to turn for Indiana.
True freshman Brendan Sorsby was next up for the Hoosiers, but brought little added dimension to a struggling offense. After five drives from Sorsby, in which Indiana picked up five total yards, it switched up the signal caller again, turning to sophomore Dexter Williams II for the first time in his career.
“We have two young quarterbacks in Dexter and Brendan, so to me those guys are very, very similar,” Allen said in his postgame press conference. “Didn't really have a plan to use a lot of those guys today. Obviously with Jack going down, that created that. They're very equal. I think they both have a lot of talent.”
Williams provided some instant and short-lived spark, completing 2-of-4 passes for 23 yards on his first drive, which entered Penn State’s red zone before a batted pass was intercepted.
Although he ended the day with two interceptions, Indiana’s offense looked its best by far under Williams, totaling 120 yards and a touchdown. Williams was 4-for-11 on the day, passing for 41 yards and rushing for 24 more.
“I actually thought today Dexter played better, made more plays,” Allen said. “You don't know until you play them, right?... At the same time, moving forward, those guys are going to be battling it out without a question. I liked what I saw from Dexter, to be quite frank with you.”
While playing, Tuttle showed flashes of brilliance amid droughts of ugliness, inspiring confidence on the Hoosiers’ second drive before being helpless on the next five.
When holes opened up, he could make big plays: a 35-yard completion to Andison Coby in wide open space, or a completed touchdown pass to tight end AJ Barner in coverage, or any of his several scrambles through gaps in the offensive line, including a long of 15 yards.
But just as often, Tuttle was on the ground before he had a chance to breathe. The offense line was blasted for three sacks in the first quarter alone. Sixteen times throughout the game, the Nittany Lions tackled the Hoosiers behind the line of scrimmage, including six sacks which all came in the first half.
“We needed to get into a rhythm,” Barner said. “We just didn’t do it. The (second) drive, we had a rhythm. We moved it down the field, then Jack getting hurt didn’t help.”
When Tuttle was injured, Indiana called on Sorsby. While he did not dress for several games at the beginning of the season, Sorsby leapfrogged Williams on the depth chart just to get sacked on his first two career plays.
“It's really difficult up front (on the offensive line), not being able to give our backs a chance to get seams to run through and the quarterbacks time to throw,” Allen said. “That to me is really the bottom line. I think we have to really focus on getting ourselves continuing to work to get better there because it's not good enough, and it's killing us right now.”
Indiana has maintained its confidence in Tuttle as a backup through his four seasons here. He was named a team captain this season despite not winning the starting job. When Tuttle announced he would leave the program to transfer after the season, Allen said Tuttle was still the No. 2 quarterback — a sign of a coach believing in his player’s commitment.
As a result, Tuttle, who was trying out for his next team as much as he was attempting to win for his current one, responded with a 9-for-12 start and 82 yards. He would’ve added a respectful rushing total if not for the abundance of sacks allowed by the offensive line.
“Jack has the most reps and stuff and when he went out there, he did a good job and moved the pocket and was able to extend some plays,” Barner said.
With his injury, the Hoosiers then had to turn to two quarterbacks, neither of which had appeared in a game before Saturday. Williams seemed to provide a better glimpse into Indiana’s future, despite being the third string.
With Bazelak out, Allen went to Tuttle despite knowing the move wouldn’t help IU’s future. It was a win-now choice against a ranked opponent.
Indiana did not win. Now Allen’s squad, with a 3-6 record, heads into next week facing Ohio State and another wasted season.