It’s been a year since then-redshirt freshman quarterback Michael Penix Jr. announced his presence against Michigan State, and now the sophomore quarterback comes into the Old Brass Spittoon game on Saturday riding off the best performance of his career against Michigan on Nov. 7.
But last season, and last week, are in the past. Penix is solely focused on how he can contribute this week.
“We all know what happened last year,” Penix said in a Zoom conference Monday. “That’s something we really don’t look back on.”
IU couldn’t stop a late game-winning field goal drive by Michigan State and fell 40-31, despite Penix throwing for 286 yards and setting a school record with 20 straight completions.
It was another example in a long list of games the Hoosiers couldn’t close out.
“I just remember we were so close,” Penix said. “That’s what was said a lot last year. We’re just so close. We’re close to beating these teams. That’s something we’ve really emphasized this year, making sure we find ways to finish.”
Those close losses have helped IU remain focused on being able to finish. It closed out against Penn State by a matter of inches with Penix’s reach for the pylon. Last week, IU jumped to an early lead and refused to give Michigan a chance to come back.
“It’s a trophy game for us and we understand that,” head coach Tom Allen said. “We understand that and we’ve set down goals for the season and this is up there. Our guys understand that. We’ve not beaten them since I’ve been the head coach of the Indiana Hoosiers so this is one we want to be very locked in for and ready.”
Michigan State is trying to recover from a 49-7 loss to Iowa where junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi threw three interceptions.
This season, Michigan State has attacked through the air. Lombardi has 869 passing yards while the team’s leading rusher, freshman Jordon Simmons, has 132 yards.
There’s a striking similarity between the beginning of the stat lines of IU’s quarterback and Michigan State’s.
Penix has completed 66 of 112 pass attempts this season. Michigan State’s quarterback, Lombardi, has completed 65 of 112 pass attempts.
However, there’s a big difference that has led IU to a 3-0 record while Michigan State sits at 1-2 — turnovers. While Penix only has one interception, Lombardi has thrown five so far this season.
This weekend, Lombardi will face a Hoosiers secondary with seven picks on the season — the second most in the Big Ten. Junior cornerback Jaylin Williams has an interception in each game this season as part of a group of defensive backs that have helped IU’s defense take steps forward this season.
“You think of all three of our corners, they’re not monster-sized guys,” defensive coordinator Kane Wommack said. “But boy, they’re physical. I think it shows up. I think it’s a big deal when you put those things on tape.”
Although IU historically has had more success against Michigan State than Michigan, there still is not an abundance of victories. The Hoosiers are 16-48-2 all time against the Spartans and have only won one of the last 11 matchups.
It will be the second time IU is ranked and Michigan State is not when the two schools face each other Saturday. The first, in 1967, ended with a 14-13 victory for then-No. 6 IU.
A lot of attention is being given to the Hoosiers’ matchup next week against the Buckeyes, but for now the only hurdle they are focused on is the Spartans.
“This game is the biggest game of the season because it’s the next one,” Penix said.