Entering Saturday’s matchup against No. 15 Penn State, Tom Allen was quiet about who would be starting at quarterback for his team.
While he could have revealed more, he never would have been able to predict what unfolded at Memorial Stadium on a windy afternoon.
After an undisclosed injury held Connor Bazelak out of the contest, it was time for Jack Tuttle – and later Brendan Sorsby and Dexter Williams II – to step in behind center to limited success in a 45-14 loss to the Nittany Lions.
The Jack Tuttle-led offense moved the ball with some consistency early in the quarterback’s first start since Oct. 23 of last year, thanks to both his arm and legs. Tuttle completed 9 of 12 passes for 82 yards and a touchdown, and had several chunk yardage runs for crucial first downs.
“I think when he went out there, he did a good job,” tight end A.J. Barner, who caught Tuttle’s lone touchdown pass, said after the game. “Moved the pocket, was able to extend some plays, unfortunate that he got hurt.”
The success would be short lived for Tuttle. The San Marcos, California, product was sacked five times in just under two quarters of play, the fifth of which ended his afternoon right before halftime. Tuttle injured his shoulder and did not return.
Why play Tuttle, who is transferring after the season, over the two youngsters Sorsby and Williams?
“Felt like Jack is our next guy,” Allen said after the game.
With Bazelak and Tuttle both injured, Indiana turned to a group of healthy quarterbacks with a combined one collegiate start under their belts, that belonging to walk-on Grant Gremel. Enter Sorsby, a true freshman from Texas, who Allen had mentioned several times in interviews as an emerging young talent leading up to the Penn State game.
After arriving at IU in June, Sorsby struggled in his first collegiate action, completing three of six passes for eight yards and an interception on a deep pass intended for Javon Swinton.
The freshman was benched after failing to lead the offense to a first down in the third quarter in favor of Dexter Williams II, a third-year signal caller who had yet to take a snap in his IU career prior to Saturday.
Williams showed some signs of improvement over Sorsby – showcasing his mobility and arm strength, including an overthrow intended for Donaven McCulley that traveled nearly 50 yards down the field while being hit – but it was too little, and far too late. Williams completed 4 of 11 passes for 41 yards and two interceptions, one on a tipped ball, and rushed for 24 yards.
“I actually thought today Dexter played better (than Sorsby), so made more plays,” Allen said. “You don’t know until you play them, right?
“To me they’re both very equal. There’s no doubt Dexter has been here longer. At the same time moving forward to me it’s just 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.”
Allen said he didn’t really have a plan to play Sorsby or Williams coming into the game. And while neither of the two replacement quarterbacks were able to do enough to help Indiana remain competitive with Penn State, Allen was adamant about their place as key parts of the program’s future – and that neither quarterback stood out more than the other.
“I think they both have a lot of talent,” Allen said of Sorsby and Williams after the game. “I think Dexter did some really good things. There’s no doubt about it.
“But both good quarterbacks and guys that I think will be a big part of our future.”
During Indiana’s back-to-back winning seasons in 2019 and 2020, quarterback was a position of strength, with both Michael Penix Jr. and Peyton Ramsey finding success. With Penix Jr. now at Washington and leading the nation in passing, comparing his and former IU offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer’s situation in Seattle with the current state of affairs in Bloomington is a dismal exercise for Hoosier fans.
Now, Indiana will almost certainly miss out on a bowl game for a second straight season, and while the team’s offensive struggles over the past two months do not boil down to just quarterbacking, inconsistency at the position has been an issue regardless.
Heading into the home stretch of the season, Allen is still looking to find a spark on offense for the first time all season – namely by improving blocking, giving a group of quarterbacks that he likes more time to make plays.
“When you block them up front, then everything works a whole lot better. It’s about getting our playmakers the football and letting us have a chance on offense,” Allen said. “I’m excited about these young quarterbacks.”
But while we got a chance to see several new faces on Saturday, all of this may be short-lived. Allen indicated Bazelak should be back next week when the Hoosiers travel to Ohio State.
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