Before Indiana football’s game Saturday against Western Kentucky University, head coach Tom Allen told the media during a weekly press conference that he had full faith in junior quarterback Michael Penix Jr. to improve upon his first three performances.
Penix backed up his coach, throwing for 373 yards against Western Kentucky to lead Indiana to a 33-31 victory.
"So proud of him just for overcoming all of what he’s been through these last few weeks,” Allen said in a postgame press conference. “It’s hard, it’s tough. But I’ve never wavered in my belief in him."
The quarterback easily surpassed his previous season high for passing yards and completions. He connected with senior wide receiver Ty Fryfogle 10 times for 98 yards, both season highs. Penix and senior tight end Peyton Hendershot connected six times for a season-best 94 yards.
“They know that as long as they do their job, the play is going to come to them,” Penix said. “I trust that all of them are going to make the big catches.”
But in a game where Penix, Fryfogle and Hendershot each had their best games of the season, junior kicker Charles Campbell was Indiana’s best player. Campbell tied a school record with four made field goals, capping off four-straight drives with three points.
His first was a 46-yard attempt that sailed between the uprights. A Western Kentucky offside penalty negated a miss on the 51-yard attempt before that.
Indiana’s offense took over with 55 seconds left in the first half, looking to extend its 20-14 lead over Western Kentucky before halftime.
Indiana drove 61 yards in 39 seconds before its next two passes fell incomplete and they were forced to settle for a field goal. The drive was the second consecutive time Indiana reached the red zone and failed to score a touchdown.
But Indiana wasn’t haunted by the points it left on the board.
“You’ve got to have a guy like (Campbell),” Allen said. “Definitely needed a few more touchdowns in there, but obviously those field goals were the difference in the game.”
Despite Western Kentucky graduate student quarterback Bailey Zappe throwing 365 yards, the defense held strong enough to help Indiana escape with the win.
The Hoosiers forced two consecutive three-and-outs in the second half while only up three on the Hilltoppers.
Senior linebacker Micah McFadden led Indiana with 12 tackles a week after being ejected for a targeting penalty last week against the University of Cincinnati. Senior defensive back Devon Matthews, who missed the last two weeks with an injury sustained against Iowa, was second with eight.
Penix threw zero interceptions against Western Kentucky after throwing six in his first three games. Allen said Penix was able to relax during his throws, helping him fit the ball into tight throwing windows.
Penix had 10 passes of over 15 yards, including a 26-yard completion to Hendershot in the first quarter.
“I’ve never thought his confidence was ever shaken,” Allen said. “I did know though that he needed to just relax and play, not worry about making mistakes. Just go out there and play ball.”
Indiana is 2-2 on the season and will play Penn State at 7:30 p.m. next Saturday at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania.