Michael Penix vs. Eastern Illinois. Photo by Mike Schumann, The Daily Hoosier

IU Football: We’re About to Find Out if Michael Penix is Ready For the Big Stage

There is no denying the raw talent.

And the potential.

But who is Indiana redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix?

While all signs point in a positive direction, as of right now, the verdict is still out.

One way, or another, that could change on Saturday when the Hoosiers host No. 6 Ohio State in Bloomington.

For his brief career thus far, Penix is 59-of-94 throwing the football.  That’s good for a 62.8 completion percentage, which would be the second best mark in program history if he had enough attempts.

Penix isn’t building up that completion percentage on check downs.  His 7.9 yards per attempt is 1.4 yards better than the program’s current all-time completion percentage leader Peyton Ramsey.

Add in Penix’s 16 career rushing attempts for 124 yards (7.8 per carry), and it is clear that IU has a dynamic “pro style quarterback that can run” as he likes to put it.

But then there are those two interceptions against Ball State.  Admittedly the only two of his career, but certainly enough to give you pause with such a limited data set.

There is something else about Penix’s thus far limited resume that makes you questions what we know — the competition.

The Tampa, Fla. product has appeared in five games over the 2018 and 2019 seasons.  Four of those opponents were Florida International, Ball State (twice) and Eastern Illinois.  Not exactly a murderer’s row of college football.

The fifth opponent was Penn State.  That was the game in 2018 when Penix’s season ended when he tore his ACL.

But before the injury, Penix had 10 incomplete passes (9-for-19).  10 of his 35 career incomplete passes came in that game.  Penix had a 47.4 completion percentage against the Nittany Lions, and 66.7 percent against everyone else.

Much like the rest of his resume, Penix’s performance against Penn State was too limited to draw any definitive conclusions.

And that’s the point. Michael Penix is still very much an unknown commodity.

On Tuesday Penix said the biggest game of his career was a third round playoff game during his senior year of high school.  “That was a big game, Penix said. “They had a jumbo-tron.”

Penix likely forgot about the Penn State game when he gave that answer, and the 91′ by 42′ LED video board in the Memorial Stadium south end zone.

Penix in action against Penn State in 2018.
Photo Credit – Getty Images North America

But he hasn’t forgotten who is coming on Saturday.

Against Ohio State you lose because of those two interceptions.

Against Ohio State, you take more hits, the passing windows are tighter, the line you have to throw over is taller, and the time you can wait to get rid of the ball is shorter.

Everything will be happening faster on Saturday for Penix.

How is he going to deal with it?

We simply don’t know.

One person that does know a fair amount about IU’s starting quarterback is Ohio State head coach Ryan Day, who recruited Penix while he was in high school.

“He’s very talented,” Day told reporters at his weekly media availability on Tuesday.  “We recruited him.  He’s out of Tampa.  Very mobile and very productive out of high school, and I’m not surprised that he’s playing right away there.”

“He’s a really smart kid.  Understands the game.  In my conversations with him recruiting he had a good football IQ.”

Thus far Day has seen the early signs of the potential he saw in Penix the recruit translating to the college game.

“Now he’s stepping in as a youngster and has had a good couple games,” Day said.   “I think he’s going to have a really good career and he’s very talented and very versatile.”

“He’s mobile, he can run, he’s accurate throwing the ball.  He’s pretty decisive throwing the ball.  He’s smart.  It’s still early in his career, but he’s talented.”

Day sees the same things that everyone sees in Penix with his dynamic and versatile skill set.  And now Day has gone from recruiter to the opposition, as he is tasked with preventing Penix from becoming everything that he and many other schools including Tennessee and Florida State thought he could be.

In Penix, Day saw a recruit that could compete at the top of the Big Ten.  Now he and the rest of us will begin to find out.

There will certainly be other variables involved for Penix on Saturdary.  Can his offensive line hold up against Ohio State’s immensely talented front seven?  Will his receivers stop dropping his passes?

But as it goes in football, all eyes will be on the quarterback.

It is still early days for Penix, but his first major test as a starter is looming.

Big Ten play begins, the Ohio State Buckeyes are coming, national television, and Memorial Stadium should at or near capacity.

The kickoff is at noon, but the lights will be bright — figuratively at least.

There will even be a giant video board.

And when the game ends, the way we think about Michael Penix will have likely changed significantly.

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