BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — X-rays taken Saturday night after Indiana's 38-24 loss to Cincinnati revealed no damage to Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s right hand, and coach Tom Allen said Monday that he “should be good to go” this weekend at Western Kentucky.
Penix, who throws left-handed, was hit late in the fourth quarter and was seen holding his right hand/arm while he was coming off the field.
Allen also said that Penix will “100 percent” be his starting quarterback going forward, and that “we’re all in this together.”
Allen promised a thorough evaluation of everyone after Saturday's loss to Cincinnati, including Penix, who was 17-for-40 for 224 yards, with two touchdowns and three costly interceptions.
"He made some really good plays, made some really good throws that not many guys could make,'' Allen said Monday during his weekly news conference. "But the mistakes were costly. It's about protecting the football, and he knows it.
"What I saw was just I think he was pressing in those moments, just trying to do too much. At the end of the half there, just take a sack. There's 30 seconds to go in the half and we're up 14-7, and obviously they got momentum with that touchdown that they got late, and you don't want to give them any more momentum. We got a first down and we got a catch and you move it a little bit, so just don't make that throw. You don't have to, so don't do it. We're inside the 10-yard line, it's third down, we're in field goal range and we've got a chance to get points. I don't have a problem with us trying to score, but if it's not there, don't put the ball in jeopardy. Just make a better decision.''
Allen said Penix's poor play has nothing to do with his knee. He tore his ACL last November in a game against Maryland and has worked hard all year to rehab it to be ready for this season.
"He's showing growth and progress in that and he has confidence in his knee. To me, it was just better decision-making,'' Allen said. "He's got to take care of the football. You turn the ball over that many times against a top-10 team, you're not going to win.''
Penix has had an extensive and well-documented injury history during his time in Indiana, so the news on Saturday that he missed postgame media work to go get X-rays and an MRI created a stir.
He's been through a lot during his four years at Indiana. After appearing in a backup role twice as a true freshman in 2018, he got his first start against Penn State but was injured early in the game and lost for the season with an ACL injury.
In 2019, he won a training camp quarterback battle with former starter Peyton Ramsey but then was injured in Indiana second game that season, a 52-0 blowout of Eastern Illinois. He suffered a shoulder strain in that game, and wound up missing two starts. He came back to get a couple more wins but then was injured in the Maryland game when he took a blow to the head. Two week later against Northwestern, he had a clavicle injury that ended the season. He had minor surgery to repair that in the offseason. Ramsey finished the season at QB and the Hoosiers went 8-5, their most wins in a season since 1993.
In the COVID-shortened 2020 season, Penix was brilliant in the Hoosiers' 5-1 start, with the only loss coming at No. 2-ranked Ohio State when he threw for 491 yards and five touchdowns. But the following week, in the victory over Maryland, he tore his ACL for the second time in. non-contact injury while scrambling for extra yardage. He required surgery again, and was lost for the year for the third straight time.
He had surgery in November and worked very hard in rehabbing his knee all winter and spring long. He was back throwing with his receivers later in the summer it was a full participate in fall camp this year.
But he hasn’t been his usual self and his timing in rhythm with his receivers has been off since the beginning of the season, where he threw three interceptions in the 34-6 loss Iowa, which is currently 3-0 and ranked No. 5 in the country. It was the first time in his career that he had a three-interception game.
Prior to that during his three years in Indiana, he had thrown 414 passes and only had eight interceptions total. But then on Saturday again Cincinnati, he had a second three-interception game in three weeks. He now has six interceptions this season; he's never had more than four in a year previously.
This is all new for Penix, and he needs to learn to work through it. He's always been good about ball protection. He went his entire senior year of high school in Tampa and only threw one interception the entire season.
"Yeah, there's no doubt you've got to work through that,'' Allen said. "This is probably the most adversity he's faced in terms of issues on the field, and coming back and playing again. He's had those season-ending injuries, but then you're done playing, so now you've got to learn to work through it.
"If you go back and look, he threw one interception his whole senior year of high school, so that's not been something that he's had an issue with. When you're the quarterback, you have expectations and then when those aren't met, you have to stand up and give account. That's not easy to do, but it's part of growing up.''
Penix understands the microscope completely. In fact, he talked about that two weeks ago during his Mike & Micah podcast on Sports Illustrated Indiana,. He said that's what attracts him to the quarterback position, that you're relied upon to make big plays and be in the spotlight.
Allen said he talks to every quarterback about that when he's recruiting them.
"I always tell the quarterbacks when I recruit them, and we talk about it that the head coach and the quarterback, they get too much of the credit when things go good and they get too much of the blame when things go bad. That's all part of it. That's the reality being in that position, and that's what you've got to accept when you become in that role.
"I'm no different. I've got to stand here and give account, and so does he. So that's the reality of playing quarterback. That's what you've got to do. You've got to be confident in who you are and you cannot let circumstances and things around you cause that to waver, and that's what's going to be the challenge to him. But once again, we're just teaching him and growing with him and helping him through this because he's still growing and maturing, too.''
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