The No. 12 Indiana Hoosiers (5-1) have often been considered one of the Big Ten conference’s bottom-feeders in recent history. However, this year, Indiana has shocked fans of the Big Ten and college football as a whole by proving itself to be one of the conference’s elite teams.
To better ascertain just how special this Hoosiers team is, we at The Daily Cardinal reached out Evan Gerike, a football writer for the Indiana Daily Student — a campus newspaper for the Indiana University at Bloomington.
“This IU team is different from pretty much any other in program history. It’s been ranked in polls six straight weeks, the longest stretch since 1987,” Gerike said.
Gerike noted that its No. 12 spot in the initial College Football Playoff ranking was the first time the Hoosiers have been ranked in program history and the first time IU has been ranked in the top 10 since 1969.
Gerike added that a lot of this was due to the formidable Hoosier defense.
“The Hoosiers lead the nation with 16 interceptions and pace the Big Ten with 20 sacks They held Michigan to 13 rushing yards, Michigan State to 60 and Maryland to 59,” Gerike noted, indicating that the strong rushing defense has helped the team force their opponents to attack through the air.
Yet the offensive explosiveness for the Hoosiers came from quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who tore his ACL last weekend against Maryland and will be out for the remainder of the 2020 season.
“After Penix tore his right ACL against Maryland on Saturday, IU is going to have to adapt its offense to fill the hole left by the Big Ten’s leading passer,” Gerike said.
Penix’s replacement, sophomore Jack Tuttle, will be making his first career start against Wisconsin this weekend. A former Utah Ute, Tuttle transferred from Utah after his freshman year and has seen limited action in an IU uniform.
“Head Coach Tom Allen has a lot of faith in [Tuttle] and his arm talent, but much of IU’s success going forward relies on the ability to open up the run game,” Gerike opined of Indiana’s offensive gameplan without Penix Jr.
When discussing the Hoosier’s rushing attack, Gerike conceded that it hasn’t been up to shape. That might become an even bigger problem without the star quarterback under center at Camp Randall this Saturday.
“Rushing has been IU’s biggest weakness this season,” Gerike said. “Freshman Tim Baldwin Jr. became IU’s first 100-yard rusher last week, and he only played because Sampson James was inactive last week. Junior Stevie Scott III, IU’s main rusher, has not been able to run well this season.”
Gerike noted that Penix’s strong passing ability helped hide the Hoosiers rushing deficiency in the shadows, but that running the football would be a good way for Indiana to help Tuttle settle into the game.
Gerike also brought up Indiana’s key playmakers on the outside in wideouts Tyler Fryfogle and Whop Philyor.
“Fryfogle became the first player in Big Ten history with back-to-back 200 yard receiving games earlier this year,” Gerike said. “Philyor is just as important as an offensive weapon that makes this passing game hard to stop.”
“Defensively, Jamar Johnson and Micah McFadden have really helped pace the defense,” Gerike said. “Johnson, a junior safety, is one of the better players in a very talented Hoosier secondary patrolling the field and breaking up passes. McFadden, a junior linebacker, has been pivotal for Indiana’s rush defense and has also contributed two interceptions on the year.”
Gerike also added that Johnson has three interceptions on the season, leading a defense that has twenty picks on the year which is the most in college football.
Given how special Penix Jr. has been all season — as well as the talented passing ability of Wisconsin’s Graham Mertz — it is a shame for college football fans that the two quarterbacks won’t be battling head-to-head Saturday afternoon in Madison. Although this game is still expected to be very close, it would have been terrific to see Penix and Mertz duel it out in one of the most electric atmospheres in college football.