Indiana Daily Student

Nick Sheridan learns to balance multiple quarterbacks for Indiana football

Freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley scrambles with the ball Nov. 6, 2021, at Michigan Stadium. Indiana football is now 2-7 on the 2021 season.
Freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley scrambles with the ball Nov. 6, 2021, at Michigan Stadium. Indiana football is now 2-7 on the 2021 season.

Heading into the season, no one at Indiana football’s team facilities ever imagined a scenario where sophomore quarterback Grant Gremel would see snaps in a game, head coach Tom Allen said following the team's loss to Ohio State on Oct. 23.

The same can be said for freshman Donaven McCulley and, to a lesser degree, junior Jack Tuttle.

With McCulley, the team had intended on preserving his redshirt year. Tuttle had experience as a starter if junior Michael Penix Jr. missed any time.

But there they were, Gremel and McCulley, taking nationally-televised snaps against Ohio State after injuries to Tuttle and Penix took them out of play. 

Offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said the quarterbacks have different strengths, preferences and levels of experience. Now he’s had to prepare four for in-game snaps at practices.

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The change caused by the quarterback switch extends beyond the player himself, Sheridan said in a press conference Monday. Each player, from wide receivers to the offensive line, has to adjust based on who’s taking snaps.

“You’re trying to run concepts and schemes that fit whoever’s behind the center,” Sheridan said. “While it benefits [quarterbacks], you’re also asking other players to maybe do things they haven’t done as much of.”

For example, McCulley is asked to run the ball more than Penix and Tuttle. McCulley has rushed the ball on 25.8% of his 89 snaps. Penix has only rushed on 6.6% of his snaps, while Tuttle has rushed 1.6% of his. 

An offensive line needs to have enough range to adjust based on the quarterback, Sheridan said, but uncertainty at quarterback can create continuity issues.

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“The only way that you get good at anything is you do it over and over again,” Sheridan said.

Senior wide receiver Ty Fryfogle, who had 200 or more receiving yards in consecutive games last season, was targeted 51 times in five total games before Penix’s injury against Penn State. Since then, he’s only been targeted 25 times in four games.

Nine of those targets came against Maryland, McCulley’s first game as a starting quarterback. Fryfogle caught just one pass for a single yard on three targets against Michigan. Fryfogle has maintained a “phenomenal” attitude through the changes, Sheridan said. 

The quarterbacks have also been playing behind an offensive line that has shifted throughout the season due to injury and poor blocking. When Sheridan called more quarterback runs against Michigan with McCulley, who had 10 carries for 53 yards, the line had to adjust. 

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“There has been some juggling relative to schemes or types of plays or the manner in which we operate depending on who’s been back there,” Sheridan said. “The guys have been busting their tails and working hard.”

Sheridan said that while Indiana’s quarterback situation has been challenging for the offense, they won’t use it as an excuse.

“We’ve gotta do better and find ways to get more first downs and score points to help our team,” Sheridan said.

All statistics referenced in this piece were sourced from Pro Football Focus.

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