Tuttle in the limelight now for IU

Once all that was awful about Michael Penix Jr.’s ACL tear had been expressed, Indiana coach Tom Allen uttered seven very important words.

“Jack Tuttle is a special player, too,” Allen said.

No one in IU’s program wanted to see Penix go down, especially six games into a nine-game season. But there was some comfort in Allen being able to make that point about his backup quarterback.

Tuttle, the redshirt sophomore from San Marcos, Calif., wasn’t a rung below Penix in the 2018 recruiting class. Penix was the No. 40 quarterback prospect in the land that year. Tuttle, committed to Utah, slotted in at No. 16.

Tuttle was a participant in the Elite 11 quarterback camp. He was a 6-foot-4, 195-pounder with offers from Alabama, LSU, USC, and Wisconsin. He was, in the view of most programs, a special talent.

Now it’s been a few years since those initial assessments were made. Now the No. 10 Hoosiers (5-1) are in the midst of a Big Ten title chase, trying to continue their success under Penix, and it’s up to another immensely talented and highly coveted prospect to keep it going.

In a quarter and a half versus Maryland, Tuttle showed a glimpse. The Hoosiers’ talented lefty went down, and the strong-armed righty Tuttle came in and completed all six of his passes, his first a two-point conversion throw to tight end Peyton Hendershot.

It was a quick out to the pylon, on a line.

“That’s not an easy throw now. That’s a tough angle,” Allen said. “He made that throw in practice many, many, many times. That’s why you can’t even emphasize enough the critical component of ‘next man up,’ always being ready, because you do not know. I was just excited for him to be rewarded for his preparation because he was ready to play.”

Tuttle was ready despite a challenging beginning to his college career. He was at Utah for just a semester before he transferred to IU midyear. In his first fall camp in 2019, an initial three-way competition quickly narrowed to just Penix and incumbent Peyton Ramsey, and Tuttle’s classmate claimed the crown.

But as Penix went into 2020 as the entrenched starter, Tuttle kept working and progressing. He’s now 215 pounds, about 20 pounds heavier than he was in high school. He’s also two years into the Hoosiers’ offensive system, which didn’t change much from Kalen DeBoer to Nick Sheridan as coordinator.

“That’s been a big benefit for him and his development and really was impressed with how he performed in fall camp. It was consistent across the board,” Allen said. “Our staff was like wow, man, he’s playing to the level we thought he was going to when he came here. Sometimes it takes time. There’s a lot of variables that go into a young man’s performance, but this is why he came here.

“He was a highly recruited player out of high school and has a lot of arm talent.”

It remains to be seen whether the four-star prospect can make all of the NFL-type throws that Penix executed in six games. But the Hoosiers also have little reason to believe Tuttle can’t make those throws.

Sheridan expects Tuttle will prefer some plays more than Penix did, and others less so, but Sheridan isn’t sure the average fan will be able to tell a difference in play selection from one quarterback to the next.

“They are different players, but there’s no lack of talent for Jack,” Sheridan said. “There’s no pass concept that we don’t have confidence in Jack throwing or executing. I think what you do with each player that you have is you try to cater to what they like the best. And every quarterback I’ve ever coached and ever been around, they each see the game a little differently.”

IU has been here before, switching quarterbacks midseason, just because of the number of times Penix was hurt in 2019. The big difference between Tuttle and Ramsey is just experience.

Tuttle completed almost as many passes in his 5-of-5, 31-yard debut Saturday as he did all of last season. He completed 6-of-11 for 34 yards in 2019.

But what has impressed Sheridan and Allen the most about Tuttle is how he’s performed behind the scenes. Just this past weekend, Tuttle was the first player to arrive at IU’s walkthrough for Maryland, without having any clue that Penix would be injured and he would have to play.

“But as you can tell, when he entered the game, he was ready,” Allen said.

His first test as a starter won’t be easy. IU is about to head to No. 18 Wisconsin, facing a defense that is holding opposing offenses to a league-low 67.3 rushing yards per game. The Hoosiers just rushed for 234 yards, but it came versus the Big Ten’s worst rush defense in Maryland.

There will be challenges to staying balanced, but the hope is that Tuttle’s 5-of-5 outing in relief of Penix was just a taste of what’s to come. There is no reason, given his pedigree, to think he can’t perform at a high level.

“He also needs to understand he has a lot of talent around him,” Allen said. “He has a great receiver corps, and tight ends, and running backs, and o-line, and a great coaching staff that’s going to support him. He just needs to go out there and relax and just play football and help lead this team.

“I’m excited for him in the midst of this situation, to be able to give him a chance to prove to everybody who he is as a football player. And you can only get those opportunities when they are presented, and this presented itself to him, and he needs to take it and run with it.”

(photo courtesy of IU Athletics)

10 comments

  1. Tuttle is a really good pretty physical mobile quarterback. NFL caliber qb. Played for a good team in high school with really good receivers.

  2. I hope TA didn’t mean “take it and run with it” literally.

    Looking ahead, it Tuttle plays well and leads IU to a great finish, it’s going to be interesting to see how things stack up next fall. I know it’s changing with advances in surgical techniques and rehab procedures, and that every person heals differently, but how long did it take Penix to fully heal the first time he tore his ACL? Was it less than nine months?

    1. Yes, definitely less than 9 months. I think the concern is that the tear was in the same knee. That may suggest a structural issue that’s much more difficult to address. Multiple non-contact ACL tears (think Mikey Dudek from Illinois, who had three of them) often mean someone has an inherent structural abnormality. Hope that’s not the case here.

  3. Unfortunately for M.P. his football future is pretty neutralized. Regardless, there comes a point of lack of return playing at a high big ten east level. The talent will always be there. Just not physically.

  4. Tuttle now has the chance to show how good he is as he takes over an offense with very good skilled players. He will be challenged to read the defense quickly and get the ball to the open receiver while avoiding turnovers. It will be interesting to see how the offense works with him at QB especially after seeing Penix excel despite pressure and tight coverages.

    1. It is for his plant leg and to protect the knee from hits on the side from rushers. It keeps the knee from collapsing and really stretching the ligaments and tendons.

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