Will Penix give DCs something to fear?

There is at least one defensive coordinator that doesn’t want to see quarterback Michael Penix Jr. anymore.

“I don’t really want to think about playing Mike Penix, to be honest with you,” Indiana’s Kane Wommack said this week, flashing a relieved grin. “I’ve played him enough for the last couple of weeks here.”

Now that the preseason is over, and the opener with Ball State has arrived, the question will begin to be answered: Will other defensive coordinators hate facing the Hoosiers’ redshirt freshman in games as much as Wommack did in practice?

IU coach Tom Allen, in naming Penix the starter, believes the answer will be “yes.” Penix has a strong arm, described by one teammate, safety Bryant Fitzgerald, as a “laser.” He isn’t as experienced as redshirt junior Peyton Ramsey, but he isn’t going in cold, either, thanks to the three games he entered last season before an ACL injury sidelined him.

Penix is back to 100 percent, they believe. And while everyone can marvel at his physical gifts — he jumped 22 feet in the high school long jump and notched a time of 22.8 seconds in the 200-meter dash — it’s processes inside Penix’s mind that really excite coaches.

At least coaches on his side.

“Even last year as a true freshman, you see him go through his progressions and his reads and look people off and look the safety off and throw a seam ball on a rope at 25 yards,” Wommack said. “Like, what do you tell your players in a situation like that? He presents a lot of challenges with the way he is athletically and the decisions he makes.

“It’s a cliche to say, but I’m truly glad he’s on our side.”

Ball State’s David Elson, who was a quality control coach for Bill Lynch at IU, will have the first shot at trying to limit the Hoosiers’ 19-year-old lefty. Eastern Illinois — one of Wommack’s past stops as DC — follows in the Hoosiers’ home opener.

After that, Penix and the offense will have to be sharp. No. 5 Ohio State visits Bloomington on Sept. 14.

“I think in some ways when you pick ‘the guy’ it almost takes some pressure off, too, from the competition part,” Allen said. “I feel like, in some ways, he kinda seems more relaxed. Once we made the decision, he knows he’s the guy, he just has to go play ball.

“Obviously, game day is going to reveal all the preparation. I think he’s done a good job.”

The more disturbing thing to Allen’s day-to-day might be the surrender of the defensive-coordinating duties. Letting go of the reins, allowing Wommack to fashion his own plan, gets more difficult as kickoff approaches.

“The biggest thing for me is managing my time because so much was spent watching film,” Allen said. “Your adrenaline gets pumping when you are calling it. I have a little bit of calmness to myself because I’m not.

“I’ve always said ask me after several games how I really feel because that’s going to be the true test.”

Saturday will be a big day for Allen’s subordinates. Not only will the offense be led by a new face at quarterback, but offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer, in his first season at IU after a pair at Fresno State, will unveil his play-calling style for Hoosier fans.

At his weekly radio show, one fan tried to ask Allen for his expectations.

“Tune in,” Allen said.

His tune didn’t change later in the week, either.

“Bottom line, we even talked as a team, when you talk about the first game, why is there so much buildup? Because it’s been so many months since you last played,” Allen said. “That’s for everybody. We don’t have any preseason games, we don’t do anything against anybody but ourselves all spring and summer and all fall camp.

“You just want to see your guys play. Obviously, with the new offensive system, everyone’s anxious to see what’s going to be different. I’ve tried to keep that at bay as much as possible. We haven’t made radical changes … but there will be differences, for sure. They’ll see those in a couple of days.”

4 STORYLINES

1. Protect Penix.
Penix put it this way: He’s not a “dual-threat” quarterback as much as a pro-style quarterback that can run. That means he likes to sit in the pocket and work his progressions. He believes in the strength of his arm and its accuracy. But will the Hoosiers’ offensive line be able to give him time? Coy Cronk is a fourth-year starter on the left side, but that’s no longer the blindside with a lefty like Penix. That puts the onus even more on redshirt sophomore Caleb Jones, the line’s new starter at right tackle. Can he hold up in pass protection? Coaches have raved about Jones’ readiness compared to years past. This will be a first chance for the 6-foot-8, 358-pounder to prove it.

2. The offensive mix.
The long-anticipated debut of Kalen DeBoer’s offense is here. How different will it be from Mike DeBord’s scheme? How heavily will DeBoer lean on the run with a young quarterback under center? As Tom Allen said, Penix doesn’t have to be “superman” considering the Hoosiers’ supporting pieces, but it will be fascinating to see how DeBoer uses them, particularly the running backs. Sophomore Stevie Scott, one season removed from a breakout campaign, should get a lot of carries, but the Hoosiers may not want to wear him down, either, especially with redshirt junior Cole Gest returning, sophomore Ronnie Walker (a trusted pass protector) still in the mix, and heralded freshman Sampson James ready to go. How DeBoer utilizes his running backs and tight ends in the passing game will be something to watch, as well.

3. Pressure Plitt.
Drew Plitt started the last three games of 2018 for Ball State, taking over for Riley Neal (now a grad transfer at Vanderbilt). Plitt proved to be more than capable. He threw for 355 yards against Toledo and then completed 81 percent of his passes and tossed three touchdowns in a win over Western Michigan. If he’s allowed a clean pocket to throw, he can put the ball on the money. Ball State has experience up front with senior right tackle Danny Pinter (6-4, 300), who has started 23 games, and senior center Andrew Poenitsch (on the Rimington Trophy watch list). Power 5 teams usually have an advantage in the trenches, but defensive coordinator Kane Wommack will have to figure out what types of line stunts or blitz pressures will bother the Cardinal blockers and, in turn, Plitt.

4. Covering the Cardinals.
One of the perceived strengths of the Hoosier defense will be tested in Week 1. Head coach Mike Neu, formerly a quarterbacks coach for the New Orleans Saints, brings NFL passing concepts to the table. He has two good possession receivers at his disposal, senior Riley Miller (6-1, 200) and junior Justin Hall (5-8, 181). Also, one of the Cardinals’ leading rushers from 2018, Malik Dunner, has moved to receiver. IU has to be wary of the run, especially since junior Caleb Huntley (5-10, 226) rushed for 1,000-plus yards as a freshman in 2017. But covering up on the backend will be just as important. Miller, a former walk-on, has caught touchdowns in each of his last six games. One question heading into the opener is whether sophomore corner Reese Taylor, who dealt with a hand injury in camp, will be available.

By the numbers
135: The number of seasons Indiana has competed in football.
39: The number of games the Hoosiers have won against Mid-American opponents (out of 49 contests).
13: The number of openers IU has won in its last 15.
32: IU assistant Kane Wommack’s age, making him the youngest defensive coordinator among Power 5 teams.
46.9: The percentage of freshmen on IU’s roster (53 out of 113). There are just 14 seniors for the Hoosiers.

11 comments

  1. In earlier post I noted one thing IU would learn. That was to run to correct side of field. To begin game half of IU team run to one side and half to the other side. So for IU maybe they learned which side of the field is their side.

  2. Pretty typical first half of the season. Lot’s of mistakes and bad tackling make me feel that we’re lucky to be up at half. My biggest concern before the game was the performance of the defensive line and it was obviously a valid concern. And where’s IU’s running game? Scott’s been met in the backfield on several plays. The O-line is not creating any holes.

    Phylor needs to learn how to catch those bullets from Penix. His two drops killed drives. Penix made some typical rookie mistakes, but demonstrates great arm talent and surprising running ability.

    Looks like we have a great FG kicker.

    One last thought: Graduate transfers are a huge benefit for mid-major programs, and it seems like BSU has taken full advantage of that new rule.

  3. Absolutely pathetic. Losing the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to BSU. Won’t or can’t run. Pass.pass, pass. This is what IU paid $800,000.00 for! If this is IU’s modis operendi for the season maybe 4 wins at most. Surprised and very disappointing. They’ll get killed in the BIG.

    1. DeBoer is scheming around what is a very average offensive line that it’s apparent he lacks confidence in. The way he used Scott confirmed that. The pass / run ratio will get much more lopsided in the Big 10, too. No one should be surprised based on the losses from last year and the failure to bring on enough talent to address it. Better hope no one gets hurt.

  4. Defensive front is slow coming off the ball. I’ve been watching Juan Harris, and his first move is to stand straight up. No penetration. If he plans on relying solely on his size to be enough of an impediment against an offense he is mistaken.

  5. Only 3 Hoosiers looked invested in the game today, the PKer, KRer and DeBoer. The rest looked like their size, speed and muscle should stop BS in their tracks. 1st practice next week should be spent running stadium steps.

    1. …just watched the replay and have to add Ty, Hendershot and RT Caleb Jones were solid for the offense…

  6. Terrible tackling, stone hands by both receivers and defensive backs, terrible zone pass defense (4th and 14 converted???), and an O-line that under-achieved. Next week better be the best week of practice in IU’s history, or this is going to be another disappointing season.

    What is Ball’s deal? He’s a hot-headed penalty machine. If he’s one of the defense’s leaders, he’s setting a bad example for his younger teammates.

    Anyone satisfied with this win is waring rose-colored glasses. Thank goodness we have a good kicker who took advantage of playing in a domed stadium.

  7. IU learned that they 1. can thank Logan for this win. 2. that IU is not very good. 3. Lots of upside to improve 4. Penix has good demeanor. 5. Long ball and passing game has a lot of upside. 6. Running game has to run up to its talent level with backs and OL has to block. 7. And defense and Ball are a work project. Disaster avoided. It is IU football.

  8. I thought Penix played very poised for his first official full game and coming off a knee injury. Was impressed by his fearlessness running out of the pocket (some designed plays as well). Even the dunk and dink stuff looked crisper and with more pace. He’s got a very quick release on the football….
    Give him some time and he might turn out to be quite the quarterback.

    Nice play calling on the 2-pt conversion. DeBoer brings in something closer to Wilson. Just seemed like the game was faster.

    Field goal kicking was also a positive.

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