Jack Tuttle’s IU quarterback chance is now


Jack Tuttle looks like a quarterback. He is 6-foot-4 and weighs 215 and has that lithe, athletic build.

Now, the Indiana University football team hopes he can live up to the image with an arm, wits and creativity to match the picture and is not merely a Hollywood leading man vision of a QB.

It is never easy when the backup takes over, especially not when the first-team regular has been accomplishing things that make witnesses go "Wow!"

But as Tuttle prepares for his first starting assignment for No. 10-ranked IU on Saturday against No. 18-ranked Wisconsin on the road, that’s his situation. Tuttle is the new Hoosiers quarterback because leader Michael Penix Jr. tore an ACL in his right knee versus Maryland.

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Penix is out for the season, and coach Tom Allen, his assistants and the other players are counting on Tuttle being in for the season as the 5-1 Hoosiers continue pursuing a Big Ten championship.

Indiana hasn’t been this good for this long in a season since 1967, but what was a pleasure ride for IU fans took a turn when Penix limped off of the field, leaving them biting their nails with fresh worry that everything accomplished in this bizarre 2020 coronavirus-ridden season will come undone.

Tuttle represents the unknown. Last week, he filled in admirably after Penix got hurt, going 5-for-5 on his throws, including completing a nifty two-point conversation and playing a notable role in the victory over the Terrapins.

Now, Tuttle is the starter, really the moment he has been waiting for, in a situation that is all about the pressure to perform right now. It is the previously closed door being opened to opportunity.

"I’m looking forward to playing loose and having fun on Saturday," Tuttle said.

Sometimes, these sudden shifts work out. One remarkable such midseason change for those with long memories was Tom Brady taking over for injured Drew Bledsoe with the New England Patriots. There is a vast amount of room to make a positive impression between Greatest of All Time and steering a team to one win on a Saturday.

Each week, as the Hoosiers prepare for their next foe, sportswriters get a chance to speak to Allen, coaches and a variety of players. No one has requested Tuttle’s presence on these Zoom connections before, but he had his public coming out party Wednesday.

He did not come off as a guy who is edgy about his suddenly enhanced status on the depth chart. He stressed he is ready for this moment.

"Every week, I try to prepare like I am the starter," Tuttle said. "Every week, we put earmuffs and blinders on to the outside to focus on the internal and our opponent."

Tuttle is a sophomore, heavily recruited out of high school in California, including by Wisconsin. He sat for a year at the University of Utah before transferring to IU. He got into five games last season in short appearances, his passing totals being 6-for-11.

Last week was different. It was not a mop-up job, just to take a handful of snaps. They were meaningful minutes when the result of the 27-11 IU win was still in doubt.

"Coming in and being prepared, I came in ready to go," Tuttle said. "The preparation really helped. I was hoping Mike was going to be OK. I knew I was going in."

Penix was one of the Hoosiers’ charismatic leaders, and he could make plays with his feet as well as his arm. He was injured on a 21-yard rushing gain, but he and his receivers, especially Ty Fryfogle, seemed to have a psychic chemistry.

Tuttle and Penix probably have different strengths. Penix established himself as a leader. Tuttle must seize the role. Penix is probably a more dangerous runner. Tuttle might have a stronger arm, one that Allen said "pops" when he throws.

"I just think it means I can throw the ball," Tuttle said.

As for those feet, offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan said Tuttle can move better than most people think. It’s not clear if he means most people think Tuttle is a statue with toes or what.

But Tuttle laughed at the description, choosing not to elaborate on his running capability out of the pocket.

"I guess we’ll keep that a secret for now," Tuttle said.

There will be fewer secrets about Jack Tuttle after Saturday.

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