Penix's star shows promise for IU
ELIZABETH WYMAN | For The Journal Gazette
INDIANAPOLIS – Of course Michael Penix has heard of Antwaan Randle El. He’s one of the greatest all-around athletes to play for Indiana and went on to have a successful NFL career.
“I've heard of him, but I don’t know him like that,” Penix said, laughing.
After Penix’s first career start Saturday for the Hoosiers, his name will now forever be tied to Randel El, as Penix was the first freshman to start at quarterback since Randle El did it in 1998.
The redshirt freshman led Indiana to a 34-24 win over Ball State at the Rouff Home Mortgage Kickoff Classic at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis to open the 2019 football season. Penix completed 24 of 40 passes for 326 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
He also joined Randle El as the only other freshman to surpass 300 passing yards in his first start. His total yards and passing yards trails only Randle El for most in a debut.
Despite the two turnovers, Indiana coach Tom Allen was pleased with his quarterback, who he named as the starter earlier this week.
“We talked to him about being smart with his decision making, but at the same time, I just wanted him to keep on learning,” Allen said. “You saw the upside that I’ve seen all fall camp.”
Penix never looked defeated and stay poised after the two turnovers, which came on back-to-back possessions.
Penix won the starting job over redshirt junior and last year’s starter Peyton Ramsey, largely because of his explosive arm and ability to run. That was on full display when he hit senior wide receiver Nick Westbrook for a 75-yard catch and run touchdown in the first half.
“He’s a young guy. It’s his first start, so of course there's going to be some nervousness,” Westbrook said. "I was like, ‘Dude, there’s only one way to get through it, and that’s to play your game, mistakes happen, and you'll bounce back.' That's exactly what he did.”
He connected with seven different receivers on the day, keeping the Ball State defense guessing.
“Whoever is open that’s who I look for,” Penix said. “I just try to make sure I put the ball in an accurate spot so they can make a great catch.”
With 69 yards, Penix led the team in rushing, and is more of a dual threat quarterback than Hoosier teams have had in the past. Multiple times on third down Penix picked it up on his own. When Ball State’s Yo’Heinz Tyler caught a 36-yard touchdown pass to trim the Hoosier lead to 31-24 with 6:28 left in the game, Penix rattled off a 24-yard rushing attempt to get the Hoosiers into field goal range and all but end the game.
“You turn that offense over to him and you gotta trust him,” Allen said. "To me it’s just about growing, and you can’t simulate those situations in practice, so I just felt like as much as possible I wanted him to be able to move us down the field.”
The game was the first time Penix had been full contact since his ACL tear against Penn State last October.
“It felt great,” Penix said. “I wasn’t worried about it at all, and I knew everything was going to be good. It just felt great to feel that.”
After Stevie Scott punched the ball in for his second touchdown of the day, wide receiver David Ellis pitched it to tight end Peyton Hendershoot for a successful 2-point conversion. Allen later admitted that play had never been practiced and was impressed with Ellis.
Penix noticed the true freshman’s arm.
“I was real proud of him,” Penix said. “He told me, ‘I’m coming for your spot.’”
All jokes aside, Saturday’s season-opener made it clear why this Hoosiers team deservedly belongs to Penix.