The “Penix Stretch” will go down as perhaps the single biggest individual play in Indiana football history. The way the game had gone, the call coach Tom Allen made and the controversial, “was he in or was he out” ending is the stuff of legend.
But Michael Penix Jr. wasn’t always the hero on Saturday.
In fact, Penix Jr. looked far from it for the better part of Indiana’s 36-35 overtime win over eighth-ranked Penn State.
In the first half, he was all over the place. After an opening Nittany Lion touchdown, Indiana’s offense, which was supposed to be their strength, gained just one first down in a scoreless first quarter.
Penix, who many saw as a top-three quarterback in the Big Ten, was just 2-4 for 15 yards after the opening 15 minutes.
Even worse, he had missed on three throws that would have either been touchdowns or big plays.
“He did not play very well,” Allen said of his quarterback’s performance for most of the game. “Offense did not play very well for the majority of the game. That is part of it. We have not played football in a long time in a game. He had not played an even longer time. He got hurt last November.”
As the game went on and Indiana built a ten-point lead, it was improbably on the back of its defense and Penn State’s sloppy play.
IU led 17-7 at the half, and it was in spite of its quarterback.
But in sports, there is an unquantifiable ability that some athletes have to flip a switch. The so-called clutch gene.
It is what makes the great ones great. The question becomes, “can you, on your worst day, still find a way to lead your team to victory?”
Like a pitcher in baseball who doesn’t have his best stuff, Penix just survived for the first 57 minutes of the game. But the redshirt sophomore quarterback had no ability to hand the ball to a reliever.
Penix had to somehow turn it on and find his game. And find it he did.
Down eight points with one minute and 38 seconds on the clock, and armed with just one timeout, Penix Jr. led one of the more impressive drives you’ll ever see to even the score and force overtime.
He hit Whop Philyor for 12. Javon Swinton for gains of 13 and 10. Each pass made under pressure, each catch in a tight window.
Then, the impossible: Penix dropped back, had a six-man Nittany Lion rush breathing down his neck, and with his feet on the Penn State 29-yard line, fired a laser to a blanketed Jacolby Hewitt at the.
It was the type of throw that you can watch over and over again, still wondering how he pulled it off.
Great throw and catch.
Michael Penix Jr football 🏈 Jacolby Hewitt pic.twitter.com/U5ZXQ9tKYR
— The 4 Man Rush (@4ourmanrush) October 24, 2020
But in this game, on this drive, there was no time for instant replay, no time for back and forth between the announcers. That’s because Michael Penix Jr. had flipped the clutch switch.
And he was just getting warmed up.
A Peyton Hendershot catch followed by two Penix runs, one for the touchdown and another for the game-tying two point conversion, and this game was going to overtime. But for MPJ. still the best was yet to come.
We’ve all seen the last drive from Indiana in overtime, where Penix wisely hits Stevie Scott in the flat before throwing perhaps his most well-placed ball to Philyor in the end zone.
But on that final play, one where all of his receivers were covered, where his offensive line allowed pressure, where everything was so chaotic, Penix decided to take matters into his own hands.
And he took Indiana football, and a fanbase that had endured 33 years of close losses and heartbreak with him — on his back.
“When it counted and when we had to have it, he made the play and that is what great players do, they come up big when the game is on the line,” Allen said.
Penix didn’t have a great game. He would be the first to admit that he has to clean several things up if Indiana wants to have the season it is capable of.
But in college football, the only play that ultimately matters in overtime is the last play.
And for both Penix and IU, it was an all-timer.
“If you look back at the last few years, we did not really finish how we wanted to,” Penix said. “That is something that we have been stressing all offseason. We have been waiting for this opportunity and the guys made plays when they needed to be made so that is one thing we did today.”
Penix didn’t start the way he wanted to on Saturday.
But he came through in the end, literally giving everything he had on the final play. Every inch for a generational win.
“We made sure we finished,” he said.
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