Indiana head coach Tom Allen was doing his best to get his true freshman backup quarterback ready to go on a moment’s notice.
“Okay Dex, this is why you came here buddy, it’s your time,” Allen said to 18 year old Dexter Williams as Jack Tuttle ran off the field to be examined in the locker room after suffering a blow to his helmet.
Williams appeared set to take over with Indiana inside their own 15 yard line and the Hoosiers precariously clinging to a 14-6 lead over No. 16 Wisconsin with under nine minutes left in the game.
Meanwhile, somewhere deep in the bowels of Camp Randall Stadium, Tuttle was feeling the unfamiliar effects of Big Ten football.
Playing against one of the best defenses in the country, it had been a while since Tuttle had seen, or felt, anything quite like this.
“It was the first time I had really been hit in a year or year and a half,” Tuttle remarked.
With Williams set to see the field long before he was ready, out of the locker room came the one man cavalry.
As Tuttle sprinted back to the Indiana sideline just as the Hoosier offense was set to take the field, a relieved Allen was the first to greet him.
“Yeah! He’s back!” is how Allen described his feelings in the moment, hands extended over his head, and with a smile from ear-to-ear.
And what drove Tuttle to run back out to the field was no doubt music to Allen’s “Love Each Other” ears.
“I just wanted to get back on the field,” Tuttle said after the game. “That is really it to be honest. I love my team and I just wanted to be back on the field.”
Tuttle completed a couple throws that resulted in first downs on the drive as IU worked an important 4:02 off the clock and forced Wisconsin into a long field for their final drive of the game.
The redshirt sophomore quarterback’s resilience was just enough to hold off the Badgers and continue Indiana’s magical 2020 season.
Tuttle was steady and poised throughout the game. He made good reads and avoided big mistakes, completing 13-of-22 for 130 yards and 2 touchdowns.
But the day was about much more than numbers for the 6-foot-4 pro-style quarterback.
Tuttle showed his teammates and coaches that he fit the culture. He was one of them.
“He showed tremendous toughness in that game,” Allen said. “Really that is what stuck out to me. He made some really, really good throws and took some hits, took some shots and just kept coming back. That is a great message to your teammates and to your opponents as well.”
Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan had a decision to make.
With his quarterback clearly shaken up and the game on the line, Sheridan could have taken the ball out of Tuttle’s hands and called nothing but running plays on that late fourth quarter drive.
Work the clock as much as possible and hope your defense can get one more stop.
Instead, Tuttle’s enthusiastic return to the field gave Sheridan confidence in his relatively inexperienced quarterback.
“We expected Jack to be tough but you do not know how a player is going to respond until it happens,” Sheridan said. “He responded great and that is this league. Part of playing quarterback in the Big Ten is that you are going to have to be tough. It is just required, non-negotiable, and he was great. He did a good job of that. He hung in there, took some shots, made some good throws and did enough to help us win on the road.”
This week Tuttle appears primed to take another step in his progression.
He’ll have the confidence of coming through in a big moment, and he has earned the trust of his teammates and coaches.
Tuttle will be facing a far less daunting defense, too.
If the weather cooperates it won’t be a surprise to see Indiana open things up downfield in Tuttle’s second start.
Against Wisconsin, Sheridan knew he had to be a bit more conservative with his young quarterback, and that grew easier as it became clear that Indiana’s defense was dialed in.
“I would not say we were not trying to be aggressive, but I think we were trying to make sure that we did what we needed to do to win the game,” Sheridan said. “There were a couple (throwing) opportunities down field where we could have been better.”
Allen believes that Tuttle can now start to find a rhythm in week two.
With the confidence of delivering a win and the knowledge that he is the guy for the final three games, the hope is that Tuttle grows more comfortable, and his well documented talent continues to blossom in live game action.
“To me it is just about getting in that routine and now that he has had a chance to do it, he has always been an extremely hard worker like we have stated multiple times, and that is not going to change for him and he understands that he has to prepare at a high level to be ready for Saturday, Allen said.
“I think that it is always good to have that first start under your belt. That first experience and to go through that process, and I thought he did a tremendous job of handling those responsibilities in that position, and just kind of what that looks like in game week. Now he gets a chance to go do it again, so as always it is the case. I think you get the chance to do it a second time you feel more comfortable, and you feel better about things.”
Tuttle’s confidence and mental comfort are not the only things that feel different as he prepares for his second career start.
“I am a little bit sore,” he said on Monday.
Just part of being a tough guy.
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