Fans of Indiana University football are haunted during each and every Saturday in the fall.
Not in the traditional sense, of course. They watch the Hoosiers duke it out throughout the Midwest and, lately, the team comes up short. But before or after that they have the wide world of college football at their viewing discretion. Within this sport lie several familiar faces, most of whom are experiencing great success.
They are the Ghosts of Indiana Football Past.
PENIX AND DEBOER
Penix is likely the greatest Indiana quarterback in years if not decades, with the only other contender being Nate Sudfeld. He who vanquished Penn State with a now-iconic stretch for the pylon, felled mighty Michigan and gave eventual national runner-up Ohio State a run for their money in the Buckeyes’ own stadium.
Those iconic moments, memories of a dream 2020, wouldn’t have come about were it not for him.
But everything wasn’t always so bright.
Penix never finished a season fully healthy during his time in Bloomington. He never started a game against Purdue, having not been named the starter at that point or having suffered an injury along the way.
In no season was this more true than 2021, when the Hoosiers rode a wave of hype that crashed down to a disastrous 2-10 record.
Indiana went through countless quarterbacks. None could get the offense going be it Penix, Jack Tuttle, Donaven McCulley or Grant Gremel taking snaps. Fingers were pointed, blame placed.
Was it the play calling? The porous offensive line? Something else?
Whatever it was led to the firing of offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan, who recruited Penix, following the season. He was the only staff member let go.
Into the portal Penix went, finding refuge in Washington with another familiar face: Kalen DeBoer. Legendary former head coach at Sioux Falls hired by Tom Allen as offensive coordinator in 2019.
That year too was among the best in recent memory, with Indiana reaching a bowl game and hoisting the Old Oaken Bucket. But DeBoer was not long for Southern Indiana, taking his offensive innovation to the head coaching job at Fresno State before ending up in the Pacific Northwest.
Now Washington (with Sheridan on board as tight ends coach, a position he held in 2019 for Indiana by the way!) is a bonafide College Football Playoff contender and Penix looks like a favorite for the Heisman Trophy with 12 passing touchdowns in just three games thus far.
It’s a weekly, brutal reminder of what the program has lost. We’ll have much, much more to say about this later, but the departure and subsequent emergence of Penix can’t be called anything but a colossal failure by Indiana.
To be extra clear here, this blog always has and always will root for Penix’s success. Go Husky,
The success of 2020 also doesn’t happen without wizardry in the defensive play calling. Enter Kane Wommack.
Wommack wasn’t always the vaunted up-and-comer he is now. He went through a few growing pains in Bloomington but boy was his final year something. The defense was a wrecking crew, creating turnovers and havoc on what felt like every snap.
There was the secondary maintaining a no-fly zone in the backfield or flying in out of nowhere to send the quarterback into the Earth’s mantle. The linebackers directing it all and flying in themselves.
All led by Wommack donning a blue vest on the sidelines as an homage to coach Phil Dickens. Now Wommack is a head coach in his own right preaching the LEO message to South Alabama.
His most recent work? Absolutely D E S T R O Y I N G Oklahoma State on the road, 33-7.
He’s a guy who got a well-deserved opportunity, but it’s been difficult to watch the defense try and regain its footing without him. Indiana has had three separate play callers in as many years since his departure.
CHUCK CAMPBELL, OTHERWISE KNOWN AS CHUCKY BOMBS
Campbell was a bright spot through the past few years of Indiana football.
Get in field goal range and he’ll get points on the board. He’s the reason they won a few games, most notably the victory over Western Kentucky in 2022, nailing a field goal in the closing seconds of overtime to avoid a loss.
Campbell is from Tennessee, so his transfer to Rocky Top this past season was a bit of a homecoming. It’s not exactly ideal to lose a kicker as consistent as Chuck Campbell was in Bloomington, and we have yet to see how that position can perform under pressure as he did.
Like the others, the blog only wishes success to Campbell moving forward. Chucky Bombs for life.
This was particularly sour.
Indiana lost its top tight end, AJ Barner, and a capable quarterback, Jack Tuttle, to a conference opponent in Michigan. Barner had a few big plays (probably could’ve had more too) in 2022 and Tuttle led Indiana to its first win over Wisconsin on the road since 2001.
With the Wolverines on track to win the Big Ten for a third consecutive year and perhaps break through for a national title, each could earn rings that’d be an impossible achievement in Bloomington.
Both were praised, endlessly, for their quality of character as teammates in Bloomington. Their departure is another cause for concern with the program.