After his team lost to Rutgers for its fifth consecutive defeat, IU head coach Tom Allen said that every area of the team would be evaluated during the bye week.
That included the most important position on the field, quarterback.
And coming out of the bye, the only thing that’s clear about IU’s quarterback position is a lack of clarity.
Once it was apparent Connor Bazelak was the starter — after the Illinois game — he spoke at the podium for every weekly press conference. But he did not appear on Monday.
Allen, when asked about the quarterback situation during the media availability, made comments suggesting Bazelak may not start against Penn State.
“We will move forward with that position. I guess we’ll have to see how that plays itself out when it comes to game day,” Allen said. “We’re just trying to find the best combination to be able to give us a spark on offense and allow our guys to be able to move the football and score points.”
He was later asked, point blank, if Bazelak would start on Saturday, and he reiterated a similar line.
Indiana’s offense has struggled for much of the season, tied for fifth-worst in the country in passing yards per attempt and seventh-worst in rushing yards per attempt.
And that’s not all on Bazelak, especially the rushing numbers. IU’s offensive line struggled so mightily this season that offensive line coach Darren Hiller was fired in mid-October. Every position on IU’s offense has struggled at various times.
Bazelak did lead the game-winning drive against Illinois, put together some key drives in the wins over Idaho and Western Kentucky, and has had good moments in every game this season for IU.
But for each good moment, there have been two or three bad plays. Whether it be a bad throw to an open receiver, a forced throw into coverage, missing an open running lane, or a litany of other things. Bazelak is at or near the bottom of the Big Ten in passer rating, completion percentage, and yards per attempt. And his nine interceptions are the fourth-most of any quarterback in FBS.
“I think, basically, there have been times that the quarterback position has played good football. We’ve had some ball control issues,” offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. “We’re going to have a good week of practice, evaluate who’s doing the best job, and we’ll make a decision from there.”
Should Indiana make a change, it would either be senior Jack Tuttle or sophomore Dexter Williams II taking over.
Bazelak edged out Tuttle for the starting job in fall camp, a battle which was not publicly resolved until kickoff of the season opener against Illinois.
The Utah transfer’s previous opportunities for Indiana didn’t yield much. Tuttle made four starts between 2020 and 2021, and went 1-3 in those games. He got IU across the finish line in Madison in December 2020, in a 14-6 win over Wisconsin. He played two other full games — the Outback Bowl against Ole Miss, and against Michigan State last year. And the Hoosiers were in both of those games deep into the contests, but they fell short. He started against Ohio State last year but suffered an early injury.
Ahead of the Rutgers game this year, he announced his intention to enter the transfer portal after the season.
“There are certain things that Jack does really well, and that goes all the way back to fall camp. And that’s why it was a really close competition,” Bell said. “There’s things Connor does really well. And at times, he’s played really well this season.“
Williams is the most unproven of the three, but for IU, that may be the allure. Coaches have talked about his athleticism and mobility, and praised his development in practices. And that mobility, in premise, could certainly give the offense a jolt.
Bazelak spoke highly of Williams’ arm before the Rutgers game.
“He’s super talented. He’s got a cannon,” Bazelak said. “As a quarterback, you know when someone has a strong arm. Right when I came in and saw him throw, I could tell that he freaking zips it in there. I think that’s one of his best traits.”
But Williams has had limited exposure to college football, as he redshirted in 2020 and missed 2021 with a torn ACL. Though IU could have used the bye week to get him more reps with the starters, it would be an extremely tall order for Williams to make his collegiate debut against a defense as talented as Penn State’s.
It’s obvious Indiana’s offense needs a change of some sort. But it’s not evident what the right answer is at quarterback to accomplish that.
And, quite frankly, it might not matter.
IU just lost its top offensive weapon, as wide receiver Cam Camper tore his ACL against Rutgers. Emery Simmons has steadily improved and taken on a larger role over the last month, but Camper’s absence will shift more defensive attention his way. It’s a major loss for whoever is taking the snaps.
Though IU’s offensive line has been better, in spots, after Rod Casey replaced Hiller, the blocking still has not been consistently good enough.
And Indiana’s uptempo, pass-heavy offense is a real challenge for anyone to take on. Those factors, and more, would create extremely tough circumstances for any quarterback — including Bazelak — to go up against some of the Big Ten’s best in Penn State and Ohio State.
If Indiana does bench Bazelak for Tuttle or Williams, nobody could claim that the Hoosiers didn’t exhaust all of their options. But barring an incredible turnaround, that might be the only credit IU gets.
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