This Wednesday, leading into IU football’s Big Ten opener against No. 6 Ohio State, speculation started swirling that redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. would not be playing due to injury.
When IU head coach Tom Allen addressed the media Thursday, he announced that Penix would be a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury and that junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey would be in line to take his place.
As the Hoosiers warmed up before the game, Penix was fully dressed but didn’t participate in any throwing drills and took snaps with the backups. Ramsey would be taking over the offense.
“I always prepare like I’m going to go out and be the guy,” Ramsey said. “I prepped all week like I was going to be the guy and just found out whenever [coach] told me. That’s kind of the end of the story there.”
As the starter last year against the Buckeyes, Ramsey played well, throwing for 322 yards and three touchdowns, even as IU fell 49-26.
This time around, Ramsey was not as sharp against Ohio State.
From the opening whistle, Ramsey and the IU offense looked out of sync. Ramsey started the game one-for-three passing for negative-three yards, and it took the Hoosiers until their third drive to muster a play for positive yards when Ramsey found junior receiver Whop Philyor on a crossing route for six yards.
Ramsey would continue to struggle for the remainder of the game, completing only 19-of-33 passes for 162 yards and an interception.
In fact, the only IU touchdown came on a trick play in which fifth-year receiver Donavan Hale found sophomore tight end Peyton Hendershot wide open for a 49-yard touchdown.
A big reason for Ramsey’s struggles was the constant pressure he faced from the Ohio State defense. The Hoosiers weren’t able to keep the Ohio State rush at bay as they allowed five sacks and consistently got into the backfield with 12 tackles for loss.
“He did what we asked him to do, but the bottom line is we have to protect him better,” Allen said. “It just felt like he didn’t have a lot of time to function effectively.”
As a result of the unrelenting pass rush and Ramsey’s lack of downfield passing, IU was forced to adopt more of a dink-and-dump offense, a much different style than the explosive passing attack with Penix at the helm.
“You need to be able to create some of those chunk plays against these teams,” Allen said. “You’re not going to be able to systematically just move the chains 75-80 yards against this kind of a team. You need those chunk plays to create momentum.”
Ramsey being forced into action served as a reminder of the differences between this year’s Hoosier offense and last year's.
With Penix at the helm this season, IU was able to consistently put pressure on the defense with the threat of the deep ball. With Ramsey under center, Ohio State stacked the box, often only having one defender beyond five yards from the line-of-scrimmage, daring Ramsey to throw the ball over them.
With Penix’s availability for next week’s game against the University of Connecticut up in the air, IU will try to figure out the necessary adjustments to make its performance against Ohio State an anomaly and not the norm going forward.
“You have to have that fight,” Allen said. “There’s going to be all these arrows and all these things that come at you, but you’re not deterred and you don’t let that stuff sidetrack you. You go back and you honestly evaluate, and you make the changes when you need to.”
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