No. 12 Indiana gets important win against Maryland, but loses starting quarterback Penix

Jon Blau
Bloomington Herald-Times

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – In one corner of Memorial Stadium appeared one of the more dreadful sights No. 12 Indiana could possibly see.

Michael Penix Jr., lying on the ground.

One false step at the end of a 21-yard run landed star quarterback of the Hoosiers there Saturday. He slapped the turf, frustrated, as the team's training staff arrived. Teammates came to his side, too, as Penix finally came to his feet, shuffling off the field, but without putting much weight on his right leg.

In the midst of a 27-11 win over Maryland, one play was threatening to change the complexion of an otherwise immaculate season. But this season, in general, has always been about not letting one missing player, or one bad play, or one lost game, overly affect the outcome of what the Hoosiers are striving for.

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. throws the ball against Maryland during their team's game at Memorial Stadium on November 28, 2020 in Bloomington, Indiana.

They can’t allow that. Not when the Big Ten championship game is still realistically in view, because the team that just handed Indiana its first loss, Ohio State, isn’t playing due to a COVID-related shutdown. Not when a player goes down, even if it’s a player of Penix’s stature, because this is a year when anyone could be sidelined for reasons that have nothing to do with the game.

“This is a crazy season, 2020, COVID, and it seems like there’s a lot of things that happen when you don’t expect,” Indiana coach Tom Allen said postgame, addressing the absence of running back Sampson James, which he couldn’t provide detail on.

HISTORY MADE:Vanderbilt's Sarah Fuller is first female player in Power Five

HIGHS AND LOWS:College football winners and losers from Week 13

FINALLY:Penn State gets its first win of season with defeat of Michigan

Regardless of who was or wasn’t on the field, the Hoosiers did what they had to do Saturday. In the absence of James, freshman running back Tim Baldwin Jr. led the Hoosiers with 106 yards. Indiana racked up 241 yards in all on the ground, aided by a Wildcat package featuring junior Stevie Scott, who amassed 80 yards of his own.

Following Penix’s late-third-quarter injury, backup quarterback Jack Tuttle came in and completed all five of his passes, plus a two-point conversion to put the Hoosiers ahead 17-3.

“Feel very confident in Jack,” Allen said. “But the bottom line is that it’s whatever position it is, guys have to step up when called upon. And he was called upon today, so he stepped up.”

Allen wasn’t able to provide much detail on Penix’s injury postgame. It’s of the lower-leg variety, he said, and it will require more tests to determine the severity.

But despite the unfortunate things the Hoosiers were hit with, they controlled what they could. The defense forced another trio of turnovers, holding Maryland to minus-5 yards in the third quarter.

This was undoubtedly an important win, as the Hoosiers sought to rebound after their first loss of the season, heading into a pivotal contest at Wisconsin.

“We had to respond, you know, bounce back from Ohio State,” Indiana corner Tiawan Mullen said. “Everybody knows we left a lot on the field. But we moved on from that. We just had to refocus on Maryland, respond in the right way. Get a W.”

Now Indiana still has a chance at playing in the Big Ten title game, because OSU is shut down with only four games played this season. Given the average number of games Big Ten teams have played in 2020, the Buckeyes would either need 12 of the league’s last 14 games to be canceled for the conference average to fall below six, or they would need to be ready to resume next week.

By beating Maryland, the Big Ten East’s other one-loss team prior to Saturday, the Hoosiers are now in the driver’s seat.

They just have to keep going, whoever may be available. That’s just what this season requires.

“We’re still breaking through at the end of the day. We still have to finish this season strong,” Scott said. “Play every game with no worries and a positive mindset and with confidence, knowing we can go out and dominate any team, and strive for greatness every day.”