Doctors gave Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. the all clear to play this weekend at Western Kentucky, and Hoosiers coach Tom Allen said he remains confident his star will pull himself out of an early-season funk.
Allen said Penix, who earned second-team All-Big Ten honors in 2020, would remain the starter despite concerns over his low completion percentage and sudden penchant for turnovers.
“Michael Penix is our starting quarterback, and I believe in him with 100% of my heart and know that our team feels the same way,” Allen said. “Again we're going through this together and that, to me, if you falter in times of trouble, how little is your strength.”
Penix threw three interceptions and had two returned for scores in an embarrassing 34-6 season-opening loss at Iowa. Statistically, it was the worst start of his career.
He performed better against Idaho in a Week 2 victory but struggled again Saturday, throwing three more interceptions in a 38-24 loss to No. 8 Cincinnati in which the Hoosiers let a 14-point lead slip. Penix did not speak with reporters after the game, instead seeking medical attention for what appeared to be an injury to his throwing arm. He was not made available to reporters Monday.
Through three games, Penix has completed just 48.3% of his throws with six interceptions and four TD passes. He is back after suffering three successive season-ending injuries, including an ACL tear in November against Maryland that ended his 2020 season two games early.
“Michael had an X-ray and an MRI on his non-throwing hand, both came back good, so he should be fine physically,” Allen said. “He made some really good plays (against Cincinnati), made some really good throws that not many guys could make. But the mistakes were costly. It's about protecting the football, and he knows it.”
Penix finished 17 of 40 against the Bearcats for 224 yards and two touchdowns, but he also tossed three interceptions. One of the picks was an ill-advised throw with his legs in the grasp of a defender late in the first half that set up a Cincinnati field goal. Another came in the game's final minutes, with Indiana trailing 30-24. On third and 16 Penix threw wildly across his body into a crowd, and Cincinnati came away with a game-clinching turnover.
Jack Tuttle, a former four-star recruit who transferred to Indiana from Utah prior to the 2019 season, replaced Penix late last season and helped the Hoosiers close out the win over Maryland and led Indiana to a victory at Wisconsin. He also played the second half of the loss to Mississippi in the Outback Bowl with a separated throwing shoulder.
For now, though, players and coaches back Penix, believing he will turn things around.
“We expect to be much more efficient in the pass game,” offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said. “Michael knows that. So we've got to correct it, coach it. We've just got to get the bad out of there. You can't beat good teams turning the ball over at the rate we are.”
at Western Kentucky
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Houchens Industries–L. T. Smith Stadium, Bowling Green, Ky.
Records: Indiana (1-2), Western Kentucky (1-1)
TV: CBS Sports Network