If you’re going to play pretty poorly in half of your games, you’d better schedule your off days very wisely. Good job, Hoosiers.
It should surprise no one that No. 12 IU had some fits in its 27-11 victory over Maryland Saturday, one week after a narrow defeat to No. 4 Ohio State and a week before a matchup with No. 16 Wisconsin.
Time and time again, the unranked opponent between two high-profile matchups proves to be quicksand for teams with grand aspirations.
Fortunately for the Hoosiers, defensive coordinator Kane Wommack’s crew was particularly dominant against the Terrapins, picking up the ludicrous amount of slack the offense left it, forcing three turnovers and three sacks, one of which resulted in a safety.
On the other side of the ball, the most offensive thing IU did early on was roll out its "salute to service" uniforms, a camouflage outfit resembling something between television static and molded bathtub caulk. I would make the obvious joke that I couldn’t see the Hoosiers in their stealthy duds, but that frankly might have been better than the greyscale nightmare to which we were subjected.
It took a free play on which 75% of the Terrapins were caught offside for sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to toss a 37-yard heave to Miles Marshall and generate momentum. From there, IU enlisted a series of direct snaps to propel junior running back Stevie Scott III across the goal line.
Traditionalists may say the wildcat is a gimmick and has no place in pure, honest football, but I’d rather Scott obtain gimmicky first downs than slam into the defensive line for pure, honest runs of zero yards.
Regardless, IU’s offensive performance initially felt like an asthmatic toddler trying to inflate a parade balloon with nothing but his breath.
Penix threw 13 of his first 15 passes into the dirt, seemingly in a convoluted effort to aerate the turf of Memorial Stadium.
As compensation for an uncharacteristically awful day through the air, the Hoosiers’ run offense finally found traction, netting 234 yards. Scott showed glimpses of his freshman form in 2017, and freshman Tim Baldwin raised eyebrows with impressive bursts of speed through the Terrapin front seven, finishing with 106 yards.
Even the most explosive one-dimensional unit is bound to come out flat on occasion, so exhibiting even faint traces of success on the ground is a huge win for IU.
Of course, the team’s newfound run game hardly balances the massive loss the Hoosiers suffered. After a 21-yard scamper, Penix collapsed on the sideline due to an unknown lower-leg injury, was helped to the locker room and did not return.
There’s not much use in contemplating worst-case scenarios, but IU followers are acutely aware of the fact that a season-ending injury would be Penix’s third in as many years.
Sophomore quarterback Jack Tuttle was commendable in relief for Penix, completing each of his 5 passes for 31 yards and a two-point conversion.
A sample size of one quarter isn’t quite enough to draw conclusions about Tuttle as the Hoosiers’ potential starter moving forward, so I’ll just say I’m thankful he was on the sidelines today and I hope offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan has some packages in mind to cater to Tuttles’ strengths, whatever those may end up being.
There isn’t anything I can say that Hoosier fans aren’t already feeling, and those emotions aren’t even all that important right now. The only individual we should consider feeling sorry for is Penix, and even that could grossly undermine the resilience of a remarkable student-athlete.
For now, we can only root for Tuttle and company on game day while wishing speedy recoveries for Penix and every other injured Hoosier Sunday through Friday. L.E.O. was never meant to be an hour-per-week commitment, after all.