Hoosiers hungry for an Old Brass Spittoon after hot start

Indiana’s Michael Penix Jr. has been at the head of a cinderella squad the last several weeks, soaking in the oversized spotlight that comes with being a winning quarterback.

But coming out of the Hoosiers’ historic win over Michigan, a memory was stirred Monday about another foe to the north. Penix was asked what he recalls from last season’s 40-31 loss at Michigan State — a game that was 31-all with less than two minutes left.

No. 10 IU (3-0, 3-0 Big Ten) heads back to Spartan Stadium this Saturday.

“I just remember we were so close,” Penix said. “That’s what was said a lot last year. We’re just so close. We’re so close to beating these teams.”

While the Hoosiers are riding high from signature wins over two of the Big Ten East’s perennial powers, this is a game that reminds them of where they started. They weren’t quite able to jump the big-game hurdle in East Lansing last year. Penix essentially had his coming out party versus MSU, throwing for 286 yards and completing a program-record 20 consecutive passes in the process.

But IU fell short.

That one loss at Michigan State remains the one blemish on Penix’s resume as a starter, because IU has won the other eight games where Penix has started. MSU remains a blank square on IU coach Tom Allen’s checklist, as well, because the Hoosiers haven’t won the Old Brass Spittoon during Allen’s tenure as head coach, either.

IU last beat Michigan State in 2016, the year Allen was the Hoosiers’ defensive coordinator.

“This is a big game for us now,” Allen said. “This is the biggest game of the season because it’s the next one. It’s a trophy game for us, and we understand that. We set down goals for the season, and this one is up there.”

So there will be no looking ahead to No. 3 Ohio State, which comes in Week 5. IU will first try to improve to 4-0 in Big Ten play for the first time since 1987, practicing a singular focus that Allen believes has brought the Hoosiers to the place they now sit.

They are finishing out games, remaining undefeated, and climbing to rare heights in the top 25 polls.

“I knew when you’re in … one of the elite conferences in the country, when you have success, those things are going to come,” Allen said of IU’s top-10 ranking. “To me, it’s a great tool in recruiting. It helps us prove and show that we’re doing what we believe we can do and we’re not just talking about it. It’s becoming a reality.

“That part is good, but it doesn’t help us do anything on game day. I’ve told that 100 times to our coaches and players. We don’t talk about it much.”

The talk this week is about Mel Tucker and the Spartans. Tucker, who came over to MSU after one year at Colorado, certainly has a coaching pedigree. He was a defensive assistant at Georgia and Alabama, and a defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars and Chicago Bears, before his elevation to college headman in Boulder.

Allen doesn’t know Tucker well, but one defensive-minded coach knows the other by reputation. That resume has IU’s attention. So, too, does MSU’s win over Michigan in Week 2. In that game, Spartans quarterback Rocky Lombardi threw for 323 yards and three touchdowns on the Wolverine secondary.

“You saw how they played against Michigan. And for me, that’s all you have to see,” Allen said. “The toughness, and the fight, and the execution on both sides of the ball, and just guys making plays.”

Of course, MSU fell flat versus Iowa this past weekend, 49-7. But the Hoosiers have to plan for the better version of the Spartans. On top of that, the newness of Tucker’s staff does pose some challenges in preparation.

Luckily, the Hoosiers have some inside knowledge. When MSU offensive coordinator Jay Johnson was leading the offense at Southern Mississippi, current IU defensive coordinator Kane Wommack was one of his tight ends. Also, current MSU offensive line coach Chris Capilovic was the o-line coach at Southern Miss during Wommack’s time.

“I did text (Capilovic) last night. I said ‘You shouldn’t have taught me anything. I’ll try to use it against you the best I can,’” Wommack said. “Schematically, they do a really good job. They try to move people around and spread you out in ways. … To me, it’s about building a program for them, as they are moving forward.

“You see some guys that are really talented, and you see some guys that can make some plays out of their backfield, and they’ve already proven against a team we played Saturday in Michigan, they can make plays downfield.”

That’s enough to keep the Hoosiers’ attention in the present. They can’t look ahead to Ohio State in Week 5, nor can they look back at thrilling wins over PSU and Michigan, nor can they seek vengance for a heartbreaking loss at Spartan Stadium in 2019.

Penix, who was just named to the Davey O’Brien Award’s midseason watch list — an award that honors the nation’s top quarterback — knows he has an important role to play in keeping his teammates grounded.

“As the starting quarterback … whenever there are big wins, you’re mainly the one getting recognition,” Penix said. “The main role I have to play, for me being in the spotlight, is just showing the team that we can’t be complacent. We’ve accomplished some great things, but I have to stay on the team and make sure (to remind them) we still have a season ahead of us.

“We have to stay focused and locked in. I can tell them that and I also have to lead by example. I think they follow me and follow everything Coach Allen talks about. Stay positive, and 1-0 mindset, and stay looking forward to the future.”

OSU kick

While it’s out of sight for the Hoosiers until after the MSU game, IU fans can set their calendars for OSU week.

It’s been announced that IU’s trip to Columbus will be a noon kickoff in Week 5. The game will air on Fox.

6 comments

  1. IU has the right players to keep these wins coming. Our defense has exceptional players through out it and the offense has a number of special players on it showing they can win games. IU needs to take it to MSU and dominate them the way they did Michigan. Prove to them the 1st half they can’t even think of beating IU and remind them of the Iowa game.

    This week will go a ways to determine how well IU can play OSU. Gaining confidence from playing well three games in a row will give the team momentum going forward.

  2. How bad would it be for Purdue to lose to Northwestern this weekend? That means in back to back games facing Peyton Ramsey you lost. OUCH! That could be a good game and measuring stick at where those two teams really are.

  3. In this game MP’s arm needs to keep IU’s offense dynamic but they should practice, polish and perfect a varied rushing attack. Having Ellis back would magnify the possibilities.

  4. It would be nice to have Ellis back, but how much of a contribution can he make, even if he’s completely healthy? If he gets into the game, the defense will have a good idea what IU is going to run and will key on him.

  5. Isn’t Ellis supposed to be used as a “change of pace” running back, primarily to get to the edge faster? I know he can play both RB and Receiver, but I was under the impression he’s to be used primarily as a RB. It will be interesting to see how Sheridan uses him once he’s healthy, which I hope is soon.

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