When: Saturday, August 31, 2019, 12:00 EST
Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN
How to Watch: CBS Sports Network
When the Hoosiers open their 2019 football season on Saturday afternoon against the Ball State Cardinals, it will be our first opportunity to gauge a new look Indiana team. With fresh faces at both coordinator positions, Kalen Deboer on offense and Kane Wommack on defense, along with Redshirt Freshmen quarterback Mike Penix Jr. set to make his first career start, the Hoosiers will have no shortage of interesting storylines to follow.
Perhaps the most intriguing change will be Penix Jr, who beat out incumbent starter Peyton Ramsey as well as highly touted transfer Jack Tuttle to secure the starting spot. Penix possesses an impressive combination of athleticism as well as a strong arm, and head coach Tom Allen liked the potential he saw in Penix.
“It wasn’t what Peyton didn’t do. It was more of what I believe Mike can be,” Allen said at his weekly news conference. “So, we let these guys compete, and it was very, as we said all along, it was very close. We made the decision last week so we could get the proper reps.”
Penix will have no shortage of help around him, with an experienced offensive line as well as returning Senior Wide Receivers in Donovan Hale and Nick Westbrook. Sophomore running back Stevie Scott will also line-up next to Penix in the backfield, a year removed from an Indiana Freshman record for rushing yards in a single season after racking up 1,137 yards on the ground during his freshmen campaign.
Indiana’s opponent in the opening week, the Ball State Cardinals, will have their work cut out for them as they look to bounce back from a 38-10 defeat at the hands of the Hoosiers during the 2018 season. The Cardinals will come into the season with 20 returning starters, but they will have big holes to fill with the transfer of both starting quarterback Riley Neal as well as starting running back James Gilbert.
The Cardinals will likely turn to junior Drew Plitt at the quarterback position, who started the final 3 games of the 2018 season following an injury to Neal. Plitt appeared in a total of 8 games throughout the season, throwing for 1,008 yards, 6 TD’s, along with 8 INT’s. Ball State’s passing attack ranked 1st in the MAC in yards per game last season, and with Plitt at quarterback the Cardinals will be expected to continue to rely heavily on their passing game.
There is no doubt that this Hoosiers team exudes an aura of confidence, but after back to back disappointing seasons that saw the Hoosiers fail to qualify for postseason play, Indiana will need to prove that their confidence is justified.
“Our word for this week is prove,” Allen said. “We’ve had a long time to let this fester and let our guys really, really work hard to create change in this program, both in recruiting and now player development. Now, we get a chance to go out there and prove it on the field.”
There is plenty of reason for optimism in Bloomington that the program is moving in the right direction, but the Hoosiers need to see that translate into wins on the field. If there’s one certainty with playing in the rigorous Big Ten East, it’s that the Hoosiers get off to a strong start and take advantage of a favorable non-conference schedule.