Penix hurt in 27-11 win for No. 12 IU over Maryland

In one corner of Memorial Stadium appeared one of the more dreadful sights the Hoosiers could possibly see.

Michael Penix Jr., lying on the ground.

One false step at the end of a 21-yard run landed Indiana’s star quarterback there Saturday. He slapped the turf, frustrated, as IU’s training staff arrived. Teammates came to his side, too, as Penix finally came to his feet, shuffling off the field, but without putting much weight on his right leg.

In the midst of a 27-11 win over Maryland, one play was threatening to change the complexion of an otherwise immaculate season. But this season, in general, has always been about not letting one missing player, or one bad play, or one lost game, overly affect the outcome of what the Hoosiers are striving for.

They can’t allow that. Not when the Big Ten championship game is still realistically in view, because the team that just handed IU (5-1) its first loss, OSU, isn’t playing due to a COVID-related shutdown. Not when a player goes down, even if it’s a player of Penix’s stature, because this is a year when anyone could be sidelined for reasons that have nothing to do with the game.

“This is a crazy season, 2020, COVID, and it seems like there’s a lot of things that happen when you don’t expect,” IU coach Tom Allen said postgame, addressing the absence of running back Sampson James, which he couldn’t provide detail on.

Regardless of who was or wasn’t on the field, IU did what it had to do Saturday. In the absence of James, freshman running back Tim Baldwin Jr. led the Hoosiers with 106 yards. IU racked up 234 yards in all on the ground, aided by a Wildcat package featuring junior Stevie Scott, who amassed 80 yards of his own.

Following Penix’s late-third-quarter injury, backup quarterback Jack Tuttle came in and completed all five of his passes, plus a two-point conversion to put IU ahead 17-3.

“Feel very confident in Jack,” Allen said. “But the bottom line is that it’s whatever position it is, guys have to step up when called upon. And he was called upon today, so he stepped up.”

Allen wasn’t able to provide much detail on Penix’s injury postgame. It’s of the lower-leg variety, he said, and it will require more tests to determine the severity.

But despite the unfortunate things the Hoosiers were hit with, they controlled what they could. The defense forced another trio of turnovers, holding Maryland (2-2) to minus-5 yards in the third quarter.

This was undoubtedly an important win, as the Hoosiers sought to rebound after their first loss of the season, heading into a pivotal contest at Wisconsin.

“We had to respond, you know, bounce back from Ohio State,” IU corner Tiawan Mullen said. “Everybody knows we left a lot on the field. But we moved on from that. We just had to refocus on Maryland, respond in the right way. Get a W.”

IU had to respond within the game, too. Before his injury, Penix suffered through a terrible start, completing just two of his first 15 passes. One was a 37-yard jump ball to receiver Miles Marshall, which helped lead to IU’s lone first-half touchdown. The other was a tipped ball, which just so happened to land in the hands of tight end Peyton Hendershot.

The Hoosiers went in at halftime ahead 7-3, but Penix was visibly disappointed on the sideline after IU’s last first-half drive ended with a punt. He stayed down in a squat position, his helmet at his side. When Penix popped up, he shook his head.

“He just seemed a little off. He had a good week of practice, threw the ball extremely well,” Allen said, noting that Maryland did get pressure on Penix early. “Just missing guys, little high throws here and there, and not giving guys on some deep balls a chance.

“Sometimes you have days like that. That’s why you have to pony up and the whole team has to respond.”

Penix was much more effective to start the second half, completing his first four passes. IU couldn’t score, though, on its first possession, which went 71 yards but stalled on a fourth-and-2 run by Scott.

The defense helped turn the tide. IU linebacker D.K. Bonhomme corralled Taulia Tagovailoa in the end zone on a read-option run. The sophomore is another player who has stepped up, replacing defensive end Lance Bryant, who has been out the last two weeks.

“That was big-time,” IU linebacker Cam Jones said. “We knew that was a run, and we told him the play was going to come, and he did his job. I’m happy for him. He stepped up big-time with that play.”

Up 9-3, Penix helped the Hoosiers into the red zone with his long run. But then he went down, and others had to finish the job.

Scott, as the wildcat, ran in a two-yard touchdown to help give the Hoosiers a two-touchdown lead with four minutes remaining in the third quarter. Those direct-snap rushes weren’t entirely new to the playbook, but the Hoosiers ran them over and over the past week in practice, gearing up specifically for this game.

“I love that formation, that’s something I was very excited Coach (Nick) Sheridan added that to the playbook,” Scott said. “A zone play, just reading the holes and the gaps. And wherever you see a crease, hit it, and try to make a play.”

The offensive line, without starting left tackle Caleb Jones for a third week in a row, did its job. The running backs, including Baldwin, did theirs. And when called upon, Bonhomme and Tuttle made the plays they had to make.

Now IU still has a chance at playing in the Big Ten title game, because OSU didn’t play this weekend and has only four games played this season. Given the average number of games Big Ten teams have played in 2020, the Buckeyes would either need 12 of the league’s last 14 games to be canceled to lower the conference’s threshold, or they would need to be ready to resume next week and play the necessary six games to be eligible for the title game.

By beating Maryland, the Big Ten East’s other one-loss team prior to Saturday, the Hoosiers are now in the driver’s seat behind dormant OSU.

They just have to keep going, whoever may be available. That’s just what this season requires.

“We’re still breaking through at the end of the day. We still have to finish this season strong,” Scott said. “Play every game with no worries and a positive mindset and with confidence, knowing we can go out and dominate any team, and strive for greatness every day.”

13 comments

  1. Baldwin looks good. Hope to see more of him. Hopeful Penix isn’t hurt badly enough to miss a game.

  2. IU won a game where they didn’t play very well but still were in control trough out the game. Penix looked like he was hurting from the start as he didn’t throw the ball like he usually does. The ball came out of his hand very poorly in the first series but he straightened out that problem but he was off target on almost all of the passes.

    The defense played decently and kept up the take-aways and took a QB completing 67% of his passes making him look like a shell shocked freshman most of the time.

    I am not a big fan of the direct snap to the RB because it takes time away from working on your real offense and there aren’t many options when the ball goes directly to the RB. I would rather see options from the base offense.

    Tough to see Penix injured but I will wait to see if his knee was tweaked or seriously injured. It would have been nice to see Tuttle throw the ball more as he has a very good release. This was the kind of game to work through issues following a tough loss and yet win the game easily. IU needs to play much better next week in Madison no matter which QB is starting and win the game as they have a shot at going to the Championship Game for the B1G.

    1. V, I am not concerned with your concern about direct snaps to a RB. Nothing is perfect. But adding the wildcat sets was crucial to IU’s victory! Good job Coach Sheridan.

    2. V, the “options” from the “base offense” haven’t been productive all season. They can’t execute a consistent running game from that regular offense, and they don’t have the luxury of working on it like they might in a 12 game season with two open dates. The direct snap package has been there for awhile, but they knew after OSU and going into the last stretch of likely cold weather games that they had to get more from the running game. Direct snaps give the back more time to find gaps, and they require less of a push from the O line. It worked well yesterday, and NS, MH and DH should be commended for it.

  3. Penix was the story of last week’s game and unfortunately he was the story of today’s game. He had a terrible first half. Glad to see he was improving in the second half, but unfortunately he got hurt. Tuttle did a good job for the limited opportunities he was given. We’ll see how he handles a tough test against a very good Wisconsin defense.

    Two games in a row where an IU DB made an INT and fumbled it back. Just really careless, and it was fortunate that it did not cost IU the victory today. Coaching staff must rectify those mistakes. Catch the ball, secure it, get what you can get, and then get out of bounds or on the ground.

    Congratulations to TA for producing two consecutive winning seasons. Hope we find a way to win out, then go to another major bowl game.

    1. If DBs aren’t working with RBs during ball security drills they need to be in those drills as one game an INT/fumble will come back and bite IU hard. Both DB fumbles the past two weeks were due to not carrying the ball correctly and running through a crowd. Last week’s fumble hurt worse because it would have had IU inside the 15 yard line of OSU.

      1. Respectfully disagree, V13, that time should be spent practicing ball security w/DBs. That’s taking away practice time from the core mission of the DBs. If a DB makes a pick in practice, the coach should immediately blow the whistle and ask the DB, “What now?” The idea is to make the DB’s reflex to think for an instant rather than take off without a thought.

  4. For HH, that all season has touted Penix as the single way to success, 4 for 17.
    James must be in the doghouse. Baldwin 13 rushes for 73 yards, 5.6 yards per carry. Had they not worked on emphasizing the run options used today, would have likely lost. Wommack’s defense has made this season.

  5. Scott proved today he is a situational/change of pace groundpounder. Baldwin and Ellis can run between the tackles just as well and have a chance to break into the open.
    Really believe the injury to Penix is below the knee. Need him in Madison.

  6. Man Penix’s body language showed a lot of pain. With no fans in the stands you could hear him yell out. Hope it isn’t an Achilles. Poor kid has been through enough with the injuries already.

  7. Best news about this game, I realized IU finished the B1G East schedule 4-1, what a season getting to 5-1 today. IU still might play in the B1G Championship Game with a chance to win the B1G Title. IU has already assured themselves of a second winning season with this win.

    IU can take a very good year and make it a spectacular year by winning the next two games and then winning the extra game in the B1G – championship or match up game.

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