Michael Penix, Jr. never looked comfortable when he threw three interceptions to open the 2021 season at Iowa.
And he certainly didn’t look like the quarterback who had thrown for at least 320 yards in two straight games the year prior in wins over Michigan and Michigan State, and 491 after that against Ohio State.
Penix was just nine months removed from a second torn ACL when he led Indiana into Iowa City two years ago. So it was reasonable to expect it may take some time for him to regain his rhythm. And Kinnick Stadium is no kind of easy place to do that.
But even with all of that in mind, something wasn’t right. Penix had come back from injury before and looked relatively sharp doing it. But against the Hawkeyes, he was skittish.
And now we know why.
In an interview on the Pac-12 Network released this week, the former Indiana quarterback revealed the phone call he received in the days leading up to the Iowa game.
“The 2021 season was real hard for me,” Penix said. “A lot of people don’t know, I was coming back from my second ACL tear, and the Monday of the week of the first game, I get a phone call from the doctor that did my surgery, and he’s like ‘hey, you’re not cleared yet from me, but if you wanna play, then you can play.”
Penix said that message from his doctor was different than anything he heard in the months leading up to the season.
Indiana entered the 2021 season coming off of back-to-back January bowl game appearances and a combined 14-7 record for the 2019 and 2020 campaigns. Although he was unable to finish either of those seasons, Penix was a major reason behind IU’s success, and the team’s sky high high expectations going into 2021.
The decision to play was up to Penix, and he obviously chose to do so.
But he was never himself in 2021.
Penix threw seven interceptions and just four touchdowns, while completing just 53.7 percent of his throws. As was the case in each of his four seasons at Indiana, Penix suffered a season-ending injury in week five of 2021, and he transferred to Washington a couple months later.
Prior to arriving at Indiana in 2018, Penix had never suffered a serious injury. But things were so bad for him at IU in 2021, he says he grew to fear gameday.
“There were times when I’d wake up the day of the game and I’d wait until my roommate leaves and I’d just lay on the floor and I’d just cry to God, just praying that he’d protect me that day, because I knew where my head was at that time, and it wasn’t truly fresh,” Penix said. “It was a lot of tears man.”
Playing for 2019 IU offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer at Washington, it has been a complete reversal of fortunes for Penix over the last two seasons.
In 2022, Penix completed an entire season without injury and finished eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting after throwing for 4,641 yards, 31 touchdowns and just eight interceptions.
He’s off to an even better pace so far this year through two games, with a career best 73.1 percent completion percentage, 859 yards, eight touchdowns and an interception. He’s top-three in the early Heisman projections, and Penix is on pace to be an early round selection at next year’s NFL Draft.
For complete coverage of IU football, GO HERE.
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”
- Find us on Facebook: thedailyhoosier
- You can follow us on Twitter: @daily_hoosier
- Seven ways to support completely free IU coverage at no cost to you.