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Quarterbacks – All of Them – Impress in Indiana's First Scrimmage

Indiana coach Tom Allen said the offense ''got the upper hand'' during the Hoosiers' first scrimmage, and all three quarterbacks – Michael Penix Jr., Jack Tuttle and Donaven McCulley – played well.
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BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Tom Allen is a defensive coach by nature after all these years. And he knows how it works early in fall camp. Almost every year, repeatedly, the defense is ahead of the offense during the first few weeks.

That's why it came as a bit of a surprise to Allen that the offense ''got the upper hand'' of the defense during the Hoosiers' first scrimmage on Saturday. He raved about the play of his quarterbacks – MIchael Penix Jr,, Jack Tuttle and freshman Donaven McCulley – and was impressed with that unit's efficiency.

"They outperformed (the defense), and that is probably the first time that happened during fall camp for an extended amount of plays, which was good to see. I did think our offensive line blocked well, I thought we threw the ball well and ran the ball well [early in the scrimmage].''

It's a good sign in mid-August, because there's been a lot of eyeballs on the quarterback situation. Penix, who's coming off a second ACL injury, has been targeting the Sept. 4 season opener at Iowa for being 100 percent. He's been full-go in practice, and did a lot of good things on Saturday.

But he's still being watched closely, and no one lays a hand on him.

"I feel good, and we have a lot of guys making plays, myself included,'' Penix said. "Personally, as far as the knee, I feel good. I feel like I’m ready to play. I know come Sept. 4, I will be 100 percent ready with no concerns.

Allen wants to keep it that way, too, Penix said with a smile.

"When I tried to use my legs, coach Allen was quick to blow the whistle, but I understand,'' the left-hander from Tampa said. "He is just looking out for me and looking out for this team as far as keeping an eye on me during the scrimmage.''

Senior Jack Tuttle, who played two-plus games last year after Penix was injured in the Maryland game, played well on Saturday as well, and McCulley made several nice throws, too.

"The offensive side of the ball executed. We executed the simple things and made sure we did our assignments and trusted each other,'' Penix said. "The guys on our side were making plays. We had the running backs making plays and I was doing my best to make sure I was getting them the ball. 

"I was making sure we were in the right protections, in the right place so that everything went smooth and that's how it went on Saturday. It wasn't just me. The other two quarterbacks were getting a lot of reps, too, Jack [Tuttle] and Donaven [McCulley]. We were just executing the small things and I feel once we do that, we are a great team.''

Tuttle and Penix have grown close during the past two years and he's watched his teammate work hard through his rehab. Whether Penix is ready for the opener or not, Tuttle takes the same approach. He prepares to be the starter every week, he said, whether he plays or not.

"I think we both learn a ton from each other,'' Tuttle said. "Mike’s a great player, and on the field it’s huge taking those mental reps when he's out there. Just picking up those little parts of the game that maybe he’s better at than I am, or I’m better at than he is, it’s super important. 

"We make each other better and we just have fun with it.''

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"Some things we would like to see next Saturday is continuing to play at a championship level,'' Tuttle said. "Coach Allen talks about it all the time. We’re growing and getting there, but it’s a non-stop push. 

"We may be at a championship level ,but in our minds we’re not. We’re going to keep striving and keep going. We’re going to keep on pushing in that regard. We need to do are continue to execute, and execute at an extremely high level. The offense as a whole, we’re rolling as usual.''

Jack Tuttle says he always prepares to be the starter, whether he is or not. (Photos courtesy of IU Athletics)

Jack Tuttle says he always prepares to be the starter, whether he is or not. (Photos courtesy of IU Athletics)

Indiana's offense has the potential to be very good this season, and – like every football team – it starts with the quarterbacks. This was a good first step.

"I thought all three quarterbacks played well, and that's where it starts in terms of the rhythm, throwing the ball on time and doing a good job of getting the ball to a lot of different guys,'' Allen said. "For that to happen, the offensive line did some good things. I thought we were physical on the offensive line and that's something that's being emphasized and we are working really hard on. That unit playing well. I thought they did some good things. 

"Just the timing on offense, it was impressive, and you've kind of seen that coming. The last couple of days, with the things that we do with routes on air and all the things with the timing of our receivers and tight ends, it's been good. I like our tight ends room, I like our receivers room, and the running backs, we have several guys there, as well. I think as a collective group, they put it all together, which is what you want to see.'' 

Allen has said repeatedly that he's confident Penix will be ready to go at Iowa, but he also has full faith and confidence in Tuttle, as does the entire locker room. He's been very happy that they've BOTH been very good during this first week of practice.

"I would say with those two, how they're throwing the ball and their leadership are the things that stick out,'' Allen said. "I think both of them are doing a good job verbally, within their areas of responsibility, and they are doing a good job leading. And they're throwing the ball with confidence, on time, and getting the ball out quick and making good decisions.

"They know where the ball needs to go based on the coverage they're getting. Even Donaven McCulley, same thing. It may be surprising, because he is so young. He is one that when it is live and full-go moving the ball and playing football, his legs can become a variable with this team, when it's more spread out and he's even more effective. Jack and Michael have done a good job. They have had a good fall camp and it showed on Saturday.''

Freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley has been impressive so far in the first week of fall camp. (Photos courtesy of IU Athletics)

Freshman quarterback Donaven McCulley has been impressive so far in the first week of fall camp. (Photos courtesy of IU Athletics)

Penix knows the value of a solid showing on Saturday, because Indiana's defense is loaded with talent, too. That's a good win.

"It felt good. We go against the defense everyday, but with the scrimmage, we were on the game field, so we got a feel for everything,'' Penix said. "It went good for being our first scrimmage. The offense showed a lot of great things and the defense showed great things as well. 

"It was something to build off. We still have some things to work on, but we are in a good spot right now.'' 

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