BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — After its first loss of the season, Indiana’s one word for the week was “respond,” entering its matchup against Maryland on Saturday.
The 12th-ranked Hoosiers response slowly revealed itself in a 27-11 victory over the Terrapins inside Memorial Stadium. However, as Indiana celebrates its victory, it now has uncertainty in a very key position.
“I’m really proud of our football team,” Indiana head coach Tom Allen said. “Tough, hard fought win. They are all hard. They are all tough and every win is a big win in the Big Ten. So, very proud of our guys.”
Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. left the game in the third quarter after running the ball for a 21-yard gain to the sideline. Penix tripped up on the sideline and went down after the play. He left the field with team personnel once he got up. The Hoosiers’ leader under center struggled Saturday, completing just 6-of-19 passes for 84 yards after throwing for 491 yards and five touchdowns against Ohio State last week.
Allen says that Penix’s injury is a lower leg injury and needs more tests.
“I do not really know right now,” Allen said regarding Penix’s injury. “We will do some more tests to figure it out but yeah, it is a lower leg injury.”
With Penix’s status in question, backup quarterback Jack Tuttle looks to be the leading candidate for replacement. Tuttle came in for Penix against Maryland and completed 5-of-5 passes for 31 yards. The redshirt sophomore completed a pass to tight end Peyton Hendershot on a 2-point conversion that was on target.
“He [Tuttle] has been here for a few years now and has been competing,” Allen said. “He has been working extremely hard. I think he has gotten better and better every time we practice and continues to grow and develop. So, just feel very confident in Jack but the bottom line is that whatever position it is, guys have to step up when called upon and he was called upon today.”
IU’s offense worked in a mixture of short passes and handoffs to running backs for Tuttle to get himself going. The former 4-star recruit led Indiana on three scoring drives in the second half for 17 points.
“I thought it was good that he got a chance to get some good reps when it mattered,” Allen said about Tuttle. “If you noticed, there was no drop off.”
Even with Penix at quarterback during the first half, Indiana’s offense did not look like they did a week ago. The Hoosiers recorded just 139 yards of offense and just seven points in the first half. Penix had just one completion of positive yards in the first two quarters He threw a 37-yard pass to receiver Miles Marshall on a free play after forcing Maryland to jump offsides. Penix’s other first half completion was caught by Hendershot for no gain.
Maryland who has not played a game since Nov. 7 played well in space and kept pressure on both Penix and the secondary. Meanwhile, Indiana (5-1) looked like the team that had three weeks without gameplay.
“Bottom line is that you adjust and our guys did that,” Allen said. “But to figure out why there was a slow start on offense, we have got to sit down and figure it out. Last week we had to figure out the run game and we got that figured out this week, and now we have got to figure out a way to start faster.”
The biggest response on Saturday came from the Hoosiers’ rushing attack. Indiana totaled 234 yards on the ground on 48 carries. Stevie Scott recorded three rushing touchdowns and 88 yards on the afternoon, but it was freshman Tim Baldwin Jr. leading the way with 106 yards on 16 carries. Baldwin stepping up on Saturday after Sampson James was inactive for the Hoosiers.
Indiana was without offensive tackle Caleb Jones for the third consecutive game, but the offensive line created holes for the running backs, wearing out the Terrapins’ defense in the second half.
“Very proud of our offensive line for responding,” Allen said. “That was our challenge all week was run the football and they [Maryland] loaded the box.”
Offensive Coordinator Nick Sheridan mixed in different packages to aid the run game and the biggest was the involvement of the wildcat formation. Scott and David Ellis received multiple direct snaps giving the backs a quicker opportunity to take the ball downfield. The adjustment worked as Indiana’s 234 yards on the ground were its highest since October 12, 2019, recording 260 rushing yards against Rutgers.
“It is something that we have been working on before the start of the season,” Scott said about the wildcat formation. “We just kind of never have really gotten to it. It was just something that me and a lot of the running backs are pointing at Coach Sheridan here that I feel like that is something different that we can run with the offense.”
With Scott and Baldwin’s effort on Saturday and the quarterback status up in the air. The running game is now even more critical as Indiana continues its season. Tuttle played well in key minutes of today’s game, but now there needs to be another option for the offense to take away the pressure if Penix is not available.
Indiana’s defense continued its stellar play on the season with another dominating performance in the turnover department. The Hoosiers intercepted Maryland’s Taulia Tagovailoa three times. Tiawan Mullen, Jaylin Williams and Micah McFadden each contributed to the Hoosiers takeaways.
“He [Tagovailoa] was just a one read player, Mullen said. “Wherever he looked that was the way he was going to throw the ball. We did a lot of film studying on him, and we came up with a lot of takeaways. Which way he looked is the way we wanted to attack.”
The defense as a unit held Maryland (2-2) to 300 yards of offense and just 11 points. Tagovailoa completed 17-of-36 passes for 300 yards, one score and the three picks.
The Hoosier’s defense has been one of the key reasons for the team’s success this season. When the offense had its struggles early on, the defense made the crucial plays needed to keep Indiana from losing on Saturday.
The Hoosiers are now 5-1 on the season having finished their Big Ten East schedule. Only West Division opponents remain in Wisconsin, Purdue, and Indiana’s opponent in the Big Ten’s Champions Week the weekend of Dec. 19. As questions now rise about the status of Penix and what the offense can do, it is now more crucial than ever this season for the entire roster to step up when called upon.
One thing that the Hoosiers do know right now is who they are playing next.
Indiana heads back on the road to Madison, Wis. for a matchup with the Wisconsin Badgers on Dec. 5. The Hoosiers look to snap a 10-game losing streak to the Badgers and their first win at Wisconsin since 2001. The contest kicks off at 3:30 p.m. EST on ABC.
“We had to respond and bounce back from Ohio State,” Mullen said. “Everybody knows that we left a lot on the field, but we moved on from that. We were focused on Maryland, and we responded the right way by getting a W.”
Featured Photo: Indiana University Athletics