Was it pretty? No. Was it awe-inspiring? Also no. Was it a win? Yes, it was. On Saturday the Indiana Hoosiers took on the Ball State Cardinals at Lucas Oil Stadium and despite some struggles, they won 34-24.
Tom Allen and Kalen DeBoer unveiled their Penix to mixed results, the defense occasionally shot itself in the foot and it was special teams that might’ve saved the day.
1. O Penix, My(ke) Penix
In this one Michael Penix Jr. became the first freshman to start the season opener under center for IU since Antwaan Randle El did it back in 1998. There’s been plenty of hype surrounding him since he signed with IU and we saw exactly why. On his first drive he led the Hoosiers into field goal range and though the drive did stall out IU took the lead. On his second drive he dialed up a long-range call, hitting Nick Westbrook on the fly for a 75-yard score, the first time the Hoosiers had scored a TD of 70 yards or longer through the air since Ian Thomas did it back in 2017. The big-play potential we’ve all been talking about with Penix came to fruition almost immediately.
On the flip side, there were some struggles for the young quarterback. Following the touchdown he threw interceptions on back-to-back drives. The first was simply a bad decision as he tried to force the ball into a window that wasn’t really open. The second one was a bit more open to interpretation, but it appeared as if there was a bit of a disconnect between Penix and the receiver possibly influenced by a stumble on the route.
There were also a few drops that really hurt the Hoosiers. Whop Philyor had one pass hit him in the hands in the red zone and it fell to the turf. That could’ve, maybe should’ve, been a touchdown. Later in the game Nick Westbrook was all alone deep down the field and the ball slipped right through his hands. That one should’ve been a touchdown as well.
All in all, it was a solid start for Penix. The most important thing is winning the game, which he did, and after that he managed to make (or almost make) the big plays that IU needs him to make. His final line of 24 completions on 40 attempts for 326 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story, but it’s not too far off. He was also IU’s leading rusher in the game, carrying the ball seven times for 67 yards, which is pretty good for a guy who despite having the ability to run would rather not. One impressive thing was the way that he (in conjunction with new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer) was able to spread the ball around. Five Hoosiers finished the game with at least three catches, seven had at least one catch. One of the strengths of this team is the depth it has in terms of pass catchers and that was utilized on Saturday whether it was Westbrook, Ty Fryfogle, Peyton Hendershot or Philyor, among others.
The simplest way to describe Penix’s performance is that we saw why the coaching staff chose him and believes in him, but we also saw that he’s still a freshman. He definitely did enough to earn another start next week and confidence moving forward.
2. Defensive Consistency
Over the course of the game it felt like the defense was a bit wishy-washy. The second you started to feel comfortable with their ability to get to the quarterback and stuff the run they’d give up a run of eight yards. When you started to grow concerned about whether or not the defensive line could get a push, they’d get in the backfield and sack the quarterback. Overall the defense ended the day with 7.5 tackles for loss and three sacks as well as four quarterback hurries. Giving up 24 points to a team like Ball State isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring, but at the same time it was enough to get IU the win and college football is typically higher-scoring anyway so it’s not like it was a bad performance. On Ball State’s final drive Jaylin Williams stepped up and made an interception to officially close the book on the Cardinals which was huge.
Easy way to sum it up: the defense could’ve been better, could’ve been worse but, as with Penix, they did enough to win the game. There’s room for improvement, as there’s supposed to be in week one, but we’ll have to see it soon with Justin Fields and Ohio State coming up in a few weeks.
3. Logan Justus Good
For much of the game the Cardinals were kept at bay thanks to the work of IU’s field goal unit. Coming into the season there were some questions about Logan Justus’ leg strength as he wasn’t particularly reliable from deep last season, but he had himself a game against Ball State. He didn’t set a new career-long field goal once, he didn’t do it twice, he did it three times in this game. He hit from distances of 48, 49 and 50 yards to complete and re-complete the feat while also mixing in a 30-yarder to go 4/4 overall on field goals while also hitting both of his PATs on the afternoon. Through one game it looks like Justus is the real deal, even from range which is something that IU missed last season following the graduation of Griffin Oakes.
There were other special teamers who performed well as Haydon Whitehead gave the Hoosiers a boost in his limited punting opportunities. True freshman David Ellis also stood out, racking up 104 yards on four kick returns while also doing this:
Now the Hoosiers will prepare for the Eastern Illinois Panthers. The IU home opener is slated for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff and is the next step on the road to #9WINDIANA.