As anyone remotely familiar with football would know, quarterback is the most important position on the field, and there’s really no argument against that.
However, if you are familiar with Indiana football, the situation at quarterback has seen so much turnover, injury, and utter chaos in just the past three seasons that the position is now seen as an unreliable facet of the offense.
Take a gander at Saturday’s game against Michigan, if you don’t believe me. Brendan Sorsby and Tayven Jackson split time in Ann Arbor in hopes of solidifying their spot for the rest of the regular season.
What game was it you ask? No, not the first — the sixth.
At a time when IU needs a leader most in hopes to be bowl eligible, things are not clicking when it comes to the general of the offense.
And in recent seasons, it’s been a similar story. Especially when looking at the previous three under Tom Allen.
Today, we take a look at those season’s signal-callers tasked with starting at the quarterback position, and how they fared with the job.
In total, eight different quarterbacks have started the last 30 games, and they’ve been instructed by three different quarterbacks coaches. And IU has gone 8-22 in those games, including just 2-19 in the Big Ten.
Working backwards, Brendan Sorsby was the first quarterback to officially see field action in the 2023 season.
However, some may forget he also appeared late in 2022, where he appeared due to an injury-plagued room (more on that later) versus Penn State.
In that game, the redshirt freshman went 3-for-6 for 8 yards and an interception.
So far this season, Sorsby has yet to win the starting quarterback job after splitting time with Tayven Jackson. Sorsby officially lost the job due to Jackson’s performances against Indiana State.
So far this season Sorsby has thrown for 294 yards and a 52.6 completion percentage across his four appearances. Tom Allen claims that both quarterbacks have a shot leading up to the homecoming matchup versus Rutgers, but only time will tell if Sorsby is introduced to a more prominent role heading into the back half of the season.
When Tayven Jackson committed out of the transfer portal from Tennessee for the 2023 season, many fans had no doubt the former 4-star recruit would become Indiana’s main man for years to come.
Fast forward to mid-season and his role is not as notable.
The Greenwood, Ind. product has yet to show his capability as a cornerstone in the Indiana offense. However, there have been flashes.
Jackson has thrown for 914 yards and two touchdowns while completing his passes at a 60 percent clip. He’s also rushed for a touchdown this season as well.
Perhaps what limits Jackson is his struggles with accuracy, as he’s thrown five interceptions in his six appearances.
The talent is undoubtedly there, but the consistency and judgment remains to be seen. The development of Jackson may take more time than many realize, which may be the reason why Jackson hasn’t been a go-to player.
Tom Allen has a tough decision to make with both of these quarterbacks in order to make an improbable run for at a postseason appearance.
But wait, there’s more.
Dexter Williams is a true wildcard in this entire quarterback situation. After dislocating his knee against Purdue in the 2022 season finale, many didn’t know how he would factor into the equation at the beginning of the season.
The uncertainty is still there, but Williams is a factor.
Williams also showed flashes of good play in the previous season, throwing for two touchdowns and one rushing. His best win came against Michigan State, where he led Indiana to an upset victory in East Lansing.
Williams was just been moved from “out” to “questionable” in the pregame report against Michigan this past weekend, so there is strong belief that he may also be competing for, at the very least, some playing time this week. As a true dual-threat quarterback, there is definitely consideration with his fit for option schemes that Indiana has wanted to succeed in.
While they are raw, Jackson, Williams, and Sorsby have the tools to become a solid quarterback for the rest of their collegiate careers.
However, if they are not put in the position to do so, things may just end up similar to the next guy on our list.
Connor Bazelak was one of the premier transfers into the Indiana program for the 2022 season. After a good campaign in 2021 at Missouri and spending his offseason attending the Manning Passing Academy, there was a lot of hope coming into the year for Bazelak and the Indiana offense.
Did the hype translate? Not really.
Bazelak finished the 2022 season with 2,312 yards with 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Injury and inconsistency surrounded Bazelak throughout the year.
Bazelak was benched for Jack Tuttle when the Penn State Nittany Lions came to Bloomington. From that point on, his role continued to diminish as Williams finished out the season.
Bazelak transferred to Bowling Green for the current season, and has, to put it kindly, seen better days.
To open the season against Liberty, Bazelak threw three interceptions and finished 6-for-21 with a total quarterback rating of 9.4. He’s thrown for six interceptions so far this season and has only found the end zone four times.
Much different from Bazelak, our next guy may not see the most playing time, but he’s thriving in his role.
Jack Tuttle never truly found his footing in Indiana.
Tuttle mainly played in the shadow of the last guy on our list, but he did seem to have the skill needed to lead the offense.
Tuttle first got his chance at Indiana back in 2019, but never made a start until the 2020 season. Tuttle filled in as a result of injury to the starter and finished out the season with two touchdowns. A similar situation happened in 2021, but Tuttle also fell victim to injury.
Then 2022 came around. After not liking what he saw from Bazelak, Tom Allen brought out Jack Tuttle to start against Penn State at home. Just a few weeks prior however, Tuttle had already announced he would transfer after the season. But for now, it was Tuttle time.
Tuttle came out firing, going 9-for-12 with a touchdown in just his second drive. It was almost as if the solution to all Indiana’s problems that season fell right into their lap.
Yeah, not for long.
Tuttle went down with a shoulder injury after being sacked near the end of the second quarter. A few days later, it was announced he would be out for the season, and Tuttle would never appear under center for Indiana again.
Tuttle now serves as the backup quarterback to J.J. McCarthy at Michigan. In somewhat of a full circle moment, Tuttle tossed his first touchdown of the season against the Hoosiers on Saturday.
No people, the trick play dime on Saturday was not a fluke.
Donaven McCulley started his career as a Hoosier at quarterback in the 2021 season. After multiple injuries in the quarterback room, McCulley would have a shot to prove his four-star ranking out of high school.
McCulley did his job when a bad season was getting worse, and that’s all you really could have asked from him. He finished with 475 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The summary is short for McCulley, as was his stint at quarterback. It was announced in the offseason leading up to the 2022 season that McCulley would convert to a wide receiver.
McCulley has shown potential as a receiver with limited experience to his name. In just two seasons, he has tallied 36 receptions for 393 yards.
Here’s a name you may have forgotten.
Grant Gremel joined the Hoosiers as a walk-on in 2019. The Noblesville, Ind. product had his lone start in none other than The Old Oaken Bucket game in West Lafayette against Purdue in 2021.
In that start, Gremel went 18-for-30 with 187 yards. Indiana would end up losing by a wide margin.
Gremel also decided to transfer after the 2022 season, and now plays for The University of Saint Francis in Fort Wayne, Ind. So far this season, Gremel has thrown 45-for-86 with seven touchdown passes on the year.
Fair warning, this last one hurts.
Michael Penix Jr.
Michael Penix Jr. arrived in Indiana in 2018 as a three-star quarterback out of Tampa, Fla. Penix would be the primary backup for Peyton Ramsey until his first start in 2019.
Penix would start in all six games that he appeared in that season but would fall victim to injury midway through the year. He tallied 10 touchdowns and only four interceptions before his season was cut off.
Penix would come back healthy in 2020 and lead Indiana to an opening game upset against No. 8 Penn State at home. He would end the season with 14 touchdowns and only four picks before his season ended with a torn ACL.
After two campaigns with injuries, the Indiana staff was eager to have Penix healthy for a full season in hopes to compete for a Big Ten Championship. Penix would not look the part early on, as he only threw for four touchdown passes and six interceptions. Still, as Indiana traveled to Penn State in a rematch of the previous season’s miracle, Penix was eager to submit his legacy.
And that, my friends, is where the story ends.
Penix would suffer yet another season-ending injury against the No. 4 ranked Nittany Lions to end his 2021 campaign. Four seasons, four season-ending injuries. After the 2021 campaign, Penix would put his name in the portal, and he would be off to Washington.
In just two seasons as a Husky, Penix has amassed 51 touchdowns to just eight interceptions. With 20 already on the season so far this year, Penix is a Heisman frontrunner.
Michael Penix Jr. is one of the best “what could have been” stories in all of Indiana’s history. Injuries limited his time so much that his only successful “healing” was to move on to another school. Now that he’s remained healthy, he’s proven to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation.
Indiana has shown at times it can be a program where quarterbacks develop and prosper, but for some reason, it just hasn’t seen that light at the end of the tunnel over the last three years. And yet, there’s no one segment of the program to blame.
The process of “bringing it all together” just hasn’t happened. Yes, they have a good quarterback, but what about receivers? Offensive Line? Tight ends? What about the play calling? The questions go on and on, but the answers are few.
There’s a reason the quarterback is so important — because so much that goes on is directed by his performance. For Indiana, it just hasn’t gone their way, and there is plenty of blame to go around.
But one thing is for certain: Indiana needs a healthy and competent cornerstone quarterback to compete in college football.
Plain and simple.
For complete coverage of IU football, GO HERE.
The Daily Hoosier –“Where Indiana fans assemble when they’re not at Assembly”