If the news that Indiana redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix has been lost for the season didn’t completely ruin your day, well, that’s somewhat understandable.
Of course Monday’s revelation is very unfortunate on the individual level. Penix did all of the right things on and off the field to win the starting job, and then showed the kind of ability through nine games to leave Hoosier fans salivating over what the next few years might bring.
But injured as much as he was healthy, Penix couldn’t stay on the field with multiple issues over the last two months.
And in his place, well, Peyton Ramsey has been great. Those are not my words. That was head coach Tom Allen after Saturday’s win over Northwestern.
“Once again, Peyton Ramsey has been a great teammate and a great player for us,” Allen said.
“Once again” because Northwestern was the third time Ramsey has filled in for Penix in the middle of a game due to injury, leading IU to a win each time. On the season, Ramsey has appeared in seven of the nine games, starting three times.
Statistically speaking, Penix and Ramsey are difficult to distinguish this year:
- Penix: 110-of-160 (69%), 1,394 yards, 10 TDs, 4 INTs | 22 rushes, 119 yards, 2 TDs
- Ramsey: 113-of-157 (72%), 1,302 yards, 9 TDs, 3 INTs | 42 rushes, 122 yards, 1 TD
- COMBINED: 223-of-317 (70%), 2,696 yards, 19 TDs, 7 INTs | 64 rushes, 241 yards, 3 TDs
Looking at those numbers, you would logically conclude that Indiana hasn’t missed a beat when Penix has been injured.
And on the surface, you would be correct.
But there is more going on here that suggests that the last four games of the season could be more challenging with Ramsey now permanently leading the way.
Because of Penix’s roller coaster season, the IU coaching staff has had the unique ability to practice a little gamesmanship when it comes to their starting quarterback from week to week.
Will it be Penix? Will it be Ramsey?
Prior to five games this year Indiana’s opposition has had to prepare for the contest not knowing who they would be facing at quarterback.
Think that’s no small thing?
Here is what Allen said about the dynamic when he has to face the situation as a defensive coach.
“I hate not knowing who the quarterback is going to be,” Allen said. “You can say all you want, it’s, you really, you like to know what you got, know who your dealing with and get a plan together. So, yeah, there are some benefits to that on our end, that they don’t know.”
Only adding to the equation has been the unique considerations that come into play as it relates to preparing for a left handed vs. right handed passer.
While the quarterback uncertainty hasn’t been optimal on the Indiana side either, the Hoosiers have certainly been in a much better position to prepare.
Allen readily admits that there are advantages when the opposition doesn’t know who to expect at quarterback.
“It’s not by grand design that we’re scheming that every week,” Allen continued. “That’s just the way it’s played out. But, yeah, it definitely creates a little bit of, you know, I like to know things and be able to plan accordingly.”
Whether it has been game week planning, or mid-game changes, all but two of Indiana’s opponents have had to deal with uncertainty when it came to IU’s quarterback situation. And those two opponents were Ball State and Rutgers, games where IU liked its chances no matter who was taking the snaps.
The fact that IU’s quarterback uncertainty has been a negative for opponents only speaks to how good Ramsey has been. If he were just some run-of-the-mill backup, he wouldn’t be much of a concern at all.
But as Allen has said repeatedly, Ramsey has been great. With one lone exception.
Ramsey was not great against Ohio State, along with his teammates, and everyone else that has lined up against the Buckeyes in 2019.
While the Buckeyes are the best team Indiana will play this year, the next two opponents are more along those lines than anyone else the Hoosiers have faced.
It’s no secret that IU’s seven wins have come against lesser caliber opponents.
While there is no reason to downplay four straight Big Ten wins and the first winning season in 12 years, you have to be real about it too. Indiana’s seven wins have come against opponents that now have a combined record of 16-46 as of this writing.
On the other hand, IU’s two losses have come against opponents with a combined record of 12-4.
Indiana’s next two opponents, Penn State and Michigan, are both in the top 15 and combine for a 15-2 mark. Penn State is in the hunt for the College Football Playoff, and Michigan is playing its best football of the year right now.
Don’t discount the incredible job that offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer has done this year. Despite managing his own quarterback uncertainty almost every week, DeBoer has assembled the No. 15 passing offense in the country during his first year in Bloomington.
While some are mentioning Allen’s name irresponsibly or on an uninformed basis when it comes to job openings, it is much more likely that DeBoer will be the hot prospect on the radar of just about every program looking to fill openings after the season.
But with his element of surprise now gone, and the opposition stiffening considerably down the stretch, DeBoer’s greatest test is yet to come.
As the opposition ramps up, the throwing windows tighten, meaning a uniquely strong-armed quarterback like Penix can squeeze balls into places that others cannot. Never was that more evident than at Michigan State as Penix picked apart the Spartans.
Indiana might have been able to pull out wins with either quarterback against lesser teams, but the formula for beating a Penn State or Michigan requires a unique skill set — and Penix has it.
Moreover, it isn’t unreasonable to think that DeBoer might dial back Ramsey’s runs in an effort to protect him — and thereby further limit the offense.
Going to battle with someone like Ramsey, who might be the best backup in the Big Ten, without a doubt gives Indiana a chance.
Also promoted now is the new backup, redshirt freshman Jack Tuttle. The former four-star recruit just might be the best third string quarterback in the league.
IU is still in a really good position at quarterback moving forward.
But just don’t let yourself believe that Indiana can just carry on here from the Penix injury without consequence.
There is a reason Penix was named the starter. It was for games like the next two weeks.
The opposition going forward is going to ramp up considerably.
And the challenge for Indiana, playing without Penix, is going to follow suit.
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