For the first time since 2017, Indiana football faces a future that doesn’t include Michael Penix Jr.
Penix had been the guy since arguably 2018, when an injury kept his true debut at bay.
But now he’s at Washington with Kalen DeBoer. So, where did Indiana go from here to address the most critical position on offense?
The program leaned a bit on former ‘22 commit Josh Hoover, but he flipped to home state Texas Christian University not long after Penix announced he was entering the transfer portal.
At the time, Indiana was looking at a quarterbacks room of Jack Tuttle, Donaven McCulley, Dexter Williams and a bunch of walk-ons including Grant Gremel. Allen said he sought to add a transfer and a high schooler in the coming weeks and ended up getting his wish.
The transfer: Missouri’s Connor Bazelak
The high schooler: Brendan Sorsby
These are definitely improvements to the group, but there’s a long way to go before any of them see the field. That includes, of course, the Indiana football quarterback battle that happens every few years or so.
According to reporting from the Herald Times and Indianapolis Star, the competition has narrowed down to a two-man race between Tuttle and Bazelak. Donaven McCulley has reportedly made a switch to wide receiver.
So now that we know… uh, a bit more, we’re gonna try to break down what it all means.
Keep in mind that incumbency matters less than it normally would. Walt Bell’s system is new to the entire team, so nobody has a leg up from familiarity with Indiana’s offense.
This is the one you should be familiar with.
When Jack Tuttle transferred to Indiana in 2019, he became the highest-rated high school quarterback to ever suit up for the Hoosiers. This, of course, ended with him as the third string behind Penix and Peyton Ramsey.
Tuttle Time finally arrived in 2020 when Tuttle, in relief of an injured Penix, led the Hoosiers into Camp Randall Stadium and defeated the Wisconsin Badgers. You can’t really blame Tuttle for Indiana’s loss in the Outback Bowl after he suffered a separated shoulder early in the game and played through the pain.
Indiana called on Jack Tuttle again in 2020, though he only managed two starts before an injury against Ohio State ended his season. The first, a close loss to Michigan State featured a whopping 52 pass attempts from Tuttle.
None of them found the endzone, but two ended up in the hands of the Spartans’ defense. This was slightly negated by Michigan State’s Payton Thorne throwing two interceptions of his own, but even a single touchdown pass could’ve resulted in a win for the Hoosiers.
But again, I wouldn’t fully blame Tuttle for that (although those INTs were really on him) because the play calling was lackluster and the offensive line wasn’t able to hold up. He wasn’t really put in a good position to help Indiana win the game.
Tuttle moved the ball right down the field and threw a touchdown in Indiana’s scripted opening series against Ohio State, but was injured on the play and unable to return to the field.
Off the field, Tuttle is well-liked by his teammates and is known for being friendly if you run into him around the facility. That’s what’s key for Tuttle in this quarterback battle: the staff and his teammates know who he is. They know Jack the quarterback and Jack the teammate.
As a quarterback, Tuttle is physically capable of making most of the throws in the book. He doesn’t have a cannon for an arm, but he can push the ball downfield when he needs to. He’s not going to tuck the ball and scramble like Peyton Ramsey could, but he’s shown he has enough mobility to move in the pocket and make some plays with his legs.
In his Indiana career, Tuttle has thrown four touchdowns to six interceptions. Not exactly the ratio you want to see. Indiana has also been more reluctant to ask him to throw the ball downfield than they were with Penix, opting for more play-action to open things up for Tuttle (which doesn’t work when the running game isn’t there, so).
Tuttle has been hesitant to let plays die when he’s on the field, for the worse. It usually leads to some forced passes into coverage and, well, six interceptions. If Tuttle can correct that error, he can definitely put himself in a position to win the starting job.
Ah, the new guy.
In truth, Indiana likely secured one of the better quarterbacks available on the transfer market this time around. It helped that Bazelak was already familiar with Tom Allen thanks to Indiana recruiting him out of high school in Ohio.
Bazelak can boast that he’s been there and done that as a starter. He won the job at Missouri and won the SEC’s co-Freshman of the Year award. In a league loaded with 5-Stars, that’s no small feat.
We haven’t been able to see any of the team’s work in spring ball, so we can only go off of what we saw at Missouri to consider what Bazelak brings to the battle. Is his career with the Tigers, Bazelak threw for 23 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. That’s not a fantastic ratio, but it’s not absolutely terrible.
He also did so against SEC defenses, which are superior to most Big Ten defenses outside of Ohio State, Michigan and occasionally Penn State. Bazelak passed for over 300 yards in three games in 2021 and defeated multiple ranked opponents at Missouri.
If there’s a downside to Bazelak, it’s his lack of mobility. He definitely isn’t going to regularly burst from the pocket and run downfield, but she’s shown trouble with extending plays throughout his career. He’s been able to rely on his arm to make up for that, but that can lead to interceptions.
That lack of mobility will definitely hurt more when you consider the types of plays Indiana will be able to block for (not too many).
Alright, so either Tuttle or Bazelak will be the starter. Whoever loses the job will be the backup. But with recent history in mind, Indiana’s third string could be pressed into playing time if injury befalls the room again this season.
In that case, Indiana is likely to tap Dexter Williams II or Grant Gremel, with an edge being given to Williams. Williams would have been Indiana’s third string over McCulley this past season were it not for a torn ACL sidelining him for the entirety of 2021.
Williams is a duel threat, so the offense would likely adjust to cater to his needs if he’s pressed into playing time this year. It nearly happened against Wisconsin in 2020 when Tuttle entered the locker room with an injury.
Indiana will in all likelihood keep Sorsby off the field so the Hoosiers can see what potential he has for the future. When Walt Bell first arrived in Bloomington he left less than 24 hours later to hit the road recruiting and ultimately found Sorsby.
Sorsby, a former 3-star per 247Sports, passed for 14 touchdowns and three interceptions in 2021 as a senior at Lake Dallas High School in Texas. He also added 791 yards and 15 touchdowns on the ground.
On top of that, Sorsby played baseball for Lake Dallas in the Spring. Tom Allen is known for liking multi-sport athletes, so we’ll have to wait and see how those skills translate.
Well. Indiana has a two-man quarterback battle without a clear favorite and a potential future piece in Sorsby. The most important position on offense is shrouded in mystery, we’ll all just have to wait and see how this shakes out.
Indiana football 2022 position preview: Quarterbacks