Hoosiers need all the resilience they can muster



Part of the identity Indiana football coach Tom Allen has sought to craft while taking on one of the nation’s most daunting college football rebuilding challenges has been establishing the traits of toughness and grit.

Every step of this season, the Hoosiers have lived up to the demands and turned aside the tests they have encountered, maneuvered around the potholes that could have sidetracked them from their mission.

From the ups and downs of being allowed to practice during the COVID-19 pandemic, to not being allowed to practice, from having the Big Ten kibosh the season and then resurrect it, Allen has preached calm.

From standing strong when the Black Lives Matter movement swept through Indianapolis and the country to handling the summer’s shooting death of former player Chris Beatty, 38, with dignity and compassion at that time, Allen has remained a rock. He has repeated that the world throws stuff at you when you least expect it and you must confront and adjust.

True again today. As the Hoosiers ran their record to 5-1 with a grinding victory over Maryland at Memorial Stadium last Saturday, they finished off the Terrapins with a next-man-up scenario. Back-up Jack Tuttle filled in for quarterback Michael Penix Jr. just after Penix dazzled with a 21-yard run along the right sideline.

Penix came up limping and that is no small thing. Monday, Allen, IU and Penix’s teammates learned he has been ruled out for the rest of the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

“Setbacks and adversity is part of this life,” Allen said at his Monday press conference when he told the world that Penix had done damage to the same knee he hurt two years ago. “It’s how you respond to these challenges. We’ll rely on our defense and run game and Jack Tuttle. He’s worked extremely hard and prepared at a high level.”

Those were precisely the tools IU used to finish Maryland in a near-empty Memorial Stadium, a reminder that the lack of spectators permitted to watch the Hoosiers’ finest season since 1967 has been restricted to family because of the coronavirus.

Tuttle was the relief pitcher out of the bullpen who took control of the offense after Penix disappeared into the locker room. Tuttle went 5-5 throwing. The running game featured freshman Tim Baldwin Jr. (106 yards) in his first headliner role and Stevie Scott III (88 yards, three running TDs).

And the defense was resourceful and effective, demoralizing the Terrapins with three interceptions, three sacks, and a safety putting two points on the scoreboard. Allen — and all coaches — love defenses that take the ball away. Scott announced his admiration for his brothers on the other side of the ball, too.

“Those guys are ballhawks,” Scott said.

The win moved the Hoosiers to No. 10 in the weekly The Associated Press poll, up from 12th prior to the triumph, and one notch lower than they were before losing to Ohio State. This Saturday they meet No. 18 Wisconsin in Madison. Odds-makers, who have established they are not deep-down believers in Indiana’s success, have made Wisconsin a 14-point favorite.

In this virus-infected season, the Badgers are 2-1 and have had games cancelled against Nebraska and Minnesota. Maryland came to Indiana after two forced weeks off due to virus-related cancellations. Ohio State couldn’t play last Saturday, a week after holding off IU, 42-35.

The in-stadium activity had the trappings of college football, but it was also a little like one of those parallel universe story lines in a Superman comic book. The Hoosiers massed in the end zone coming out of the locker room and fireworks were lit. But their arrival was met by no mighty home crowd roar. There was a lot of quiet throughout.

This was reduced-atmosphere football. But real football was played, all too real for the repeatedly-injured Penix, who had emerged as the soul of the team with his 1,645 yards passing, 14 touchdowns against just four interceptions, and a penchant for the elusive and spectacular.

The development is crushing for Penix. It could be for IU, too, though every time one of those life disappointments swerve in front of the Hoosiers they somehow keep the car going between the white lines.

Tuttle, a transfer from Utah where he did not play, and who briefly made it on the field a handful of times last season, now has extra weight on his shoulder pads as the man of the hour.

“He was just real poised,” Scott said of Tuttle post-Maryland. “His believing in himself had us believing in him.”

Under Penix, Indiana’s passing game was explosive. The Hoosiers showed off a new wildcat formation with direct snaps to Scott the other day. Now, relying on the untried Tuttle, IU is running a faith-based offense.

Lew Freedman is the Sports Editor for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected].

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