In what was perhaps the most important decision of Tom Allen’s three-year tenure as the IU head football coach, redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. was named the starting quarterback for the Hoosiers on Monday afternoon.
Penix fits new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer’s scheme better than junior Peyton Ramsey and freshman Jack Tuttle because he places a large emphasis on explosive and dynamic plays.
With a stronger arm, Penix is more fit to take shots down the field to one of the many members of IU’s talented receiving corps. Penix is also more mobile than Tuttle, who is known to be more of a traditional pocket passer.
With a cannon of an arm to go along with a strong running option, Penix is the type of dual threat quarterback that has flourished in modern day college football, as well as the type of signal caller that excels in DeBoer’s offense.
“If you just talk about him at that position with his arm talent and his legs, you know," Allen said. "Those are two pretty obvious things that can create that [explosive plays]."
While choosing the returning starter Ramsey would have been the safe decision, Penix provides a higher ceiling for the Hoosiers as quarterback. He also gives IU a better chance to win games against the multiple ranked teams in the Big Ten.
Even though Ramsey has thrown for over 4,100 yards in his first two years in Bloomington, he has always struggled against strong competition. Since taking the starting job midway through his freshman season at IU, Ramsey has started 10 games against unranked teams and six contests versus top 25 foes.
Against teams that were unranked, Ramsey threw for 245 yards per game with 17 touchdowns, 1.7 per game and an average passer rating of 138.2. Against ranked foes, those numbers dropped to 194 yards per game with seven touchdowns, 1.16 per game and an average passer rating of 111.3.
With Ramsey under center, IU went 0-6 against ranked teams.
While it is completely unfair to pin the losses on one player, too often would the Hoosier defense keep IU in the ballgame against a top team. Then, IU would fail to see the lack of dynamic plays from anyone other than sophomore running back Stevie Scott which would see an upset bid fall short.
Eventually the opposing offense wears down the Hoosiers’ defense and either comes back to take the lead and breaks the game open late. There are exemptions to the trend, Ramsey’s 322 passing yards, three touchdown performance at Ohio State last season comes to mind, but other than a few isolated moments, Ramsey just is not dynamic enough to win games against the best in the Big Ten.
Yes, the jury is still out on Penix.
But his pure talent and explosive style offers the higher ceiling that is needed to have a chance to not only beat at least one of the five preseason top 25 teams on IU’s schedule, but to get the Hoosiers to a bowl game for the first time since 2016.
“To me it's not about throwing the ball 60 yards down field,” Allen said. “It's the placement of the football to create the space for an underneath route that creates the separation by ball placement and velocity to be able to get him in position to take it and run with it after he catches it. And that to me are the variables that he brings to the table.”
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