When Indiana named Michael Penix Jr. the starting quarterback, growing pains were to be expected.
Penix had yet to make a start in his young career and played in just three games throughout the 2018 season before being shut down for the year after suffering a torn ACL. It would be reasonable to expect there to be an adjustment period with Penix taking the reins on a fulltime basis.
When Indiana took on the Ball State Cardinals on Saturday afternoon, we saw many of those issues bubble to the forefront. At times throughout the game, the redshirt freshmen’s passes bounced off the hands of receivers, or occasionally found their way into the hands of waiting defenders. Two costly first-half interceptions from Penix allowed Ball State to hang around for much of the game, making it a nervous afternoon for most of the Hoosiers crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium
Yet, despite those early kinks, Penix also showed you exactly why he was named the starting quarterback to begin the season. Penix completed 24 of his 40 pass attempts on the afternoon for 326 yards, including a beautiful 75-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver Nick Westbrook. Throughout the afternoon Penix showed his natural arm talent, leading an Indiana offense that racked up nearly 500 yards of total offense on the day.
“We talked to him about his decision-making, but at the same time, I just wanted him to keep growing and learning,” head coach Tom Allen said after the game. “You saw the upside that I saw throughout all of fall camp.”
In addition to his unique arm talent, Penix also had his athleticism on full display throughout the game, rushing 7 times for 67 yards on the afternoon. However, Indiana’s offense outside of Penix routinely struggled to get anything going on the ground. The Hoosier running backs combined for just 65 yards on 22 carries and the offensive line struggled to create gaps to run through all day.
Yet the struggles for Indiana were perhaps most pronounced on the defensive side of the football, where blown coverages and poor tackling were a staple for much of the afternoon. Indiana allowed 398 yards of offense to the Cardinal offense, many of which came after the initial contact.
“Defensively we did not tackle very well,” Allen said. “That really sticks out to me, and it was terrible. We will get that fixed.”
When they were needed most, however, the defense stepped up to the plate, this time in the form of a Jaylin Williams interception that sealed the Indiana victory. The interception marked the 19th straight game the Hoosiers have forced a turnover, the longest active streak in the country.
Indiana did what they needed to do to secure a win, it may not have been a pretty win but in the end, they all count the same. The Hoosiers will now head back to Bloomington, where they will take on Eastern Illinois in their home opener September 7th.