In 2019, Indiana University had its best season in 25 years. As an IU fan all my life, there’s been very few years that invoked the kind of optimism and joy I experienced last season. The Hoosiers finished the regular season with an 8-4 record and a bid to the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl that, frankly, IU should have won. The question now is whether or not they can build upon this success heading into the 2020 season. There’s reason for hope but much of it depends on the growth (and health) of their starting quarterback.
Michael Penix Jr. (9) will take over the reigns at QB for the Hoosiers in 2020. (Photo courtesy Saturday Tradition.)
Michael Penix Jr. was a 3-star recruit from Tampa. Tennessee recruited him early on and with Oregon as his only other offer from a big-time program, he committed to the Vols in April 2017. Other schools continued to recruit him and on December 11, 2017, Penix paid an official visit to Indiana University. Two days later, he informed the Vols that he had changed his mind. A week later, Penix committed to the Hoosiers.
As a true freshman, Penix Jr. battled early for the starting role but Peyton Ramsey got the nod. Still, Penix was able to play in three games before tearing his ACL. Fully recovered and heading into 2019, Penix was able to seize the starting job from Ramsey. Unfortunately, he missed a couple of games in September with a shoulder injury and his season ended in November after a right sternoclavicular joint injury.
RISING TO THE SURFACE
Listed at 6-3 and 202 pounds last season, Penix Jr. has bulked up to 220 pounds in an effort to stay healthy through a physical Big Ten schedule. With Ramsey transferring to Northwestern, the IU offense now rides entirely on Penix’s shoulders.
With a 5-1 starting record in 2019, there’s plenty of reasons to believe Penix Jr. is in for a highly productive year, and it starts with his arm strength. The kid has a cannon and at times makes deep throws down the field look effortless. He also completed 68.8% of his passes last year. If he had stayed healthy and maintained that pace, he would have been in the top 10 for completion percentage. While he doesn’t look to run often, Penix does have the ability to tuck it away and get some yards.
Penix does a good job of going through his progressions and finding the open receiver. Unlike some strong-armed QBs, he also demonstrates the ability to put some nice touch on the ball. He has a good feel for ball placement, which has led to few interceptions.
The biggest issue Penix Jr. has is putting too much trust in his arm at times. You can see this in a couple of throws in the clip below. On one, he has pressure up the middle but stares down his wide receiver and thinks he can trust his arm to get the ball to him. The defender cuts under the route and intercepts the ball.
The next highlight shows a poor decision on a play that was designed to fake the swing and hit the outside wide receiver deep down the field. Seeing he’s covered, Penix makes an ill-advised throw to a receiver not even looking for the ball. He would have been better off tucking the ball and gaining some yards with his feet, or just throwing it away. Finally, there’s another play where he underthrows the wide receiver when he doesn’t step into the throw and uses all arm. Fortunately, Whop Philyor makes a great grab.
THE FINAL CAST
Penix Jr. has the tools to be a highly-productive quarterback in 2020 if he can stay healthy. Much of the offense is returning, which includes a strong running game headlined by Stevie Scott. Philyor, his top wide receiver, is a little undersized but he tracks the ball well and is very good after the catch. Tight end Peyton Hendershot was a favorite of mine but is currently suspended from the team due to a domestic battery charge. It’s hard to see him playing next season which is unfortunate for Penix as he would have been IU’s best red zone target.
For devy enthusiasts in Superflex leagues, this guy needs to be on your radar and is worth a late-round pick.