As the No. 12 IU football team continues to prepare for its first game after the loss of sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to a torn ACL, head coach Tom Allen said there’s an opportunity for the team to come together.
The Hoosiers will rely once again on their defense this Saturday against No. 16 Wisconsin. But the team will also lean on its run game in sophomore quarterback Jack Tuttle’s first start under center.
IU posted a season-high 234 rushing yards in a 27-11 victory against Maryland on Nov. 28. Without Penix, junior running back Stevie Scott said he's looking to amplify his leadership role in the offensive huddle.
“It’s definitely time for me to step up and just lead this team in any way I can,” Scott said. “Especially with running the ball, blocking for Jack and just trying to be out there to make plays.”
Scott earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for contributing 80 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries in the team’s fifth win of the year Saturday. But it was freshman running back Tim Baldwin Jr. that led the team with 106 yards.
While the program has shown full confidence in its new signal-caller, a strong rushing attack will only make Tuttle's job easier. And it starts with the offensive linemen up front paving the way.
“We know Jack’s going to get his job done,” senior offensive lineman Dylan Powell said. “We have to do everything we can to help make the game easier for him. Obviously, Wisconsin has a really good defense, and we’re going to have to improve tremendously from last week.”
The offensive line has only allowed seven sacks all season, which allowed Penix to lead the Big Ten conference with 1,645 passing yards before getting injured. Tuttle will look to seamlessly slide into Penix’s place, and his teammates have said he is calm, collected and ready for the challenge.
“A great throw from him is like an everyday thing,” Baldwin said. “I have 100% confidence that he’ll do his job. He’s probably one of the hardest workers on the team, if not the hardest, so I’m excited to see what he does.”
Last week against the Terrapins, Penix and Tuttle weren’t the only players to receive snaps behind the offensive line. Scott and sophomore running back David Ellis both ran plays in the quarterback’s position.
All three of Scott’s touchdown runs came from direct snaps inside the five-yard line, but neither he nor Ellis ever attempted a pass. However, if offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan asked Scott to throw, he would.
“I’m definitely just one of those players that’s trying to make a play at any given moment to help the team win,” Scott said. “If I have to go out there in the wildcat and pass it, I’m going to pass it. I’m going to throw it, I’m going to turn into a QB for the moment. Just whatever to help the team, I’m here to do it.”