QB question remains unanswered for Indiana football


When Indiana football coach Tom Allen showed up at Big Ten Media Days a few weeks ago accompanied by defensive players and a tight end who had not played much, it was apparent the Hoosiers still didn’t have a quarterback.

With the 2022 season looming — IU opens Sept. 2 at home versus Illinois — the Hoosiers need one in a hurry.

Somebody must lead the offense, and it seems the sweepstakes has been narrowed to Jack Tuttle or Connor Bazelak. Last year was an “As The World Turns” soap opera at QB for the Hoosiers with players going down with injuries, recovering from injuries, being rushed into action from potential red-shirt years and walk-ons taking snaps.

Michael Penix Jr. was the guy when the 2021 season started, but he never truly bounced back from the last in a series of injuries that ended three Hoosier seasons prematurely and resulted in him leaving the program. Tuttle got hurt, too.

Reluctantly, the coaching staff turned the reins over to freshman Donaven McCulley, the alleged quarterback of the future. McCulley is still a Hoosier, but now, he is a wide receiver of the future.

Coming off of a shocking 2-10 season that included going 0-9 in the Big Ten, there is no bigger issue for Allen to resolve than picking the main man behind center.

Besides Tuttle, a known quantity, and Bazelak, a transfer from Missouri, other quarterbacks listed on the roster are walk-on Grant Gremel, who got a few shots throwing downfield last year; Will Jontz; Brendan Sorsby; and Dexter Williams II. The reality is, if any of the latter four take snaps in anything other than a blowout victory, something has gone horribly wrong.

In the anything-goes world of modern college football, the transfer of Bazelak amounted to offseason quarterback shopping. Bazelak, a junior from Dayton, Ohio, stands 6-foot-3 and weighs 224 pounds. Last fall, he threw for 2,548 yards, completing 65.3% of his throws, for 16 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The 6-4, 212-pound Tuttle has been around Indiana football longer than some of the coaches. He has had his moments as a leader, even if he was always in the shadow of Penix.

Bazelak has the credentials to be No. 1, noting he was severely hampered by a hamstring injury last year. He “played through that, which was tough. Couldn’t run. But nobody cares, you know. You go out there and you’ve got to win games. That’s what they want.” So far, Bazelak said, he loves being a Hoosier.

Twice, Bazelak has attended the Manning Passing Academy, where Peyton and Eli teach what is supposed to rub off to make quarterbacks successful. Bazelak may be an undergrad at IU, but he made his visits to the passing academy sound like graduate work.

One thing Tuttle has going for him is understanding what Allen wants. Of course, what Allen wants, even with a new offensive coordinator in place, is what every coach wants from a quarterback — a demonstration of leadership, a player who can move the chains, a thrower who can put points on the board, a player with which he can win.

The Hoosiers were nationwide darlings two seasons ago, the surprise team in The Associated Press poll, but that’s history. Rather than improve in 2021, IU regressed, took a lot of lumps, was beaten down by injuries and inconsistency. The sad tale of quarterback ups and mostly downs became the storyline of the season.

Tuttle said he huddled with defensive leader Cam Jones soon after the season concluded, and they discussed what they had seen and how to fix it. Then the duo met with the rest of the players to remind them how spirit needs to be rejuvenated and what else has to change so they can win again.

“Put all the thoughts — really had a lot of accountability stuff in there — presented it to the whole team in January,” Tuttle said, “and that just kind of created that spark we needed, that motivation we needed, that hunger we needed to get back, grind, do what we need to do, to improve.”

There is no doubt Tuttle talks the talk, but it may be Bazelak counted on to walk the walk.

Lew Freedman writes sports columns for The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected].

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