The company line coming out of Bloomington is who starts at quarterback for Indiana on Saturday against Michigan State is truly a game time decision.
Whether that is a bit of competitive gamesmanship by IU or simply the reality, we may never know. But another thing coming out of Bloomington that does seem clear — if Jack Tuttle is the starting quarterback, he will be fully prepared and capable of performing the task at hand.
Backing up the oft-injured Michael Penix, Jr. necessitates a ready at a moments notice mentality, and the coaching staff believes Tuttle is uniquely well suited for that role.
“Jack, as always, will be ready to go,” head coach Tom Allen said on Monday morning. “One of his strengths is the ability to be locked in and focused and prepare at a high level, no matter what the role he is being asked to perform. He will be ready, as always.”
Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan put Tuttle on a pedestal when it comes to his dedication to getting ready for game day.
“Jack’s preparation, and his work ethic are as good as I’ve been around,” Sheridan said.
Penix’s latest injury, a shoulder separation, has Tuttle in the spotlight once again this week. And it was Penix’s last injury, a torn ACL, that gave Tuttle the valuable experience that convinced his coaches he could not only be prepared but also be effective against Power Five competition.
Now in his third year at IU, Tuttle has appeared in 11 games, including two starts. He filled in for Penix against Maryland last year and completed all five of his passes to lead IU to a win. The following week at Wisconsin he started and completed 13 of 22 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Fans will remember a third touchdown that was dropped.
Tuttle also started and played through an injury at the Outback Bowl, and he stepped in at Penn State just over a week ago and gave a performance that once again reminded the staff they have a more than capable backup.
“I certainly think that he has the physical ability and tools to be successful as a quarterback,” Sheridan said. “He’s shown that in our conference.”
Tuttle took all of the first team reps at spring practice as Penix rehabbed, and coupled with the bye week and the uncertainty going into this weekend, the staff has gotten an extended look at the 6-foot-4 Utah transfer.
As a former 4-star recruit and Elite-11 participant, they knew he had the ability, and what they’ve seen of him over the last year has only served as confirmation.
“I think his arm talent; he is a guy that gets the ball out fast, and he has a strong arm, an accurate arm. Also, his ability to extend plays with his legs,” Allen said. “That is a positive thing, without question, and obviously we saw that even last year.”
Tuttle didn’t play at Utah before transferring to IU prior to the 2019 season. Over his three years in Bloomington, the son of former IU walk-on kicker Jay Tuttle is 58-of-101 (57.4 percent) for 564 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. While those numbers aren’t off-the charts impressive, the staff knows the California product will be prepared and they believe he can do the job if called upon.
But do they need to devise a unique game plan for him against Michigan State?
Tuttle doesn’t have Penix’s arm strength, but at least this year he seems to have better pocket fundamentals and instincts, and the look of a more nimble and effective runner. Indiana was already busy doing a deep dive examination of the offense during the bye week in a search for more points, and part of that analysis now includes finding what will work best for Tuttle’s unique skill set.
Allen isn’t going to tell us who is starting until kickoff on Saturday, so he certainly isn’t going to tell you whether or how the gameplan might be modified to fit Tuttle. But he did provide some general thoughts on that topic.
“The whole objective is you want to be able to stretch the defense. You want to stretch them in different ways. You talk about stretching them laterally, vertically,” Allen said. “Both directions have to be stretched to be able to make them feel the strain of the scheme and then to be able to get the ball placed in the right spots based on the strength of your quarterback, what he can do and what his strengths are: both arm talent and leg talent, everything he can bring to the table.
“Those are all part of it, for sure. Without getting into too many things, too specific about what we need to be able to do, we’re looking at all those things for sure to be able to help our offense be effective.”
For Sheridan’s part as the playcaller, he will work in advance with Tuttle to make sure he has a good read on the plays that fit his unique style and preferences.
“We try to cater to whoever is playing quarterback to try to run the plays that they feel most comfortable with and that we feel gives them the best opportunity to be successful and get first downs and score points,” Sheridan said.
If his number is called, Tuttle will be stepping into a critical moment in the season for IU. Off to a disappointing 2-3 start, the Hoosiers need to right the ship fast against No. 9/10 Michigan State.
Whatever they come up with for the gameplan, the staff oozes confidence that Tuttle will put in the work to be ready on Saturday.
“There’s not a guy that works harder in our program than Jack Tuttle,” Sheridan said.
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