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5 Questions with Crimson Quarry: Is Indiana a better team than its record shows?

NCAA Football: Indiana at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 10-ranked Michigan State Spartans (6-0) look to stay undefeated and retake ownership of the Old Brass Spittoon against the Indiana Hoosiers (2-3) in Bloomington on Saturday (noon Eastern, FS1), but it won’t be easy. The Hoosiers are coming off of a bye week, celebrating homecoming and are hungry for a win.

To give us the scoop on where Indiana currently stands and what to expect from the team on Saturday, we spoke with Colin Lavery, managing editor at Crimson Quarry — SB Nation’s website for all things Hoosiers.

If Michael Penix Jr. doesn’t play, what does Jack Tuttle bring to the Indiana offense? Is Indiana actually better than its record shows? Colin discuses these questions and more.

1. What is the current status of quarterback Michael Penix Jr. and do you expect him to play on Saturday? If not, what does Jack Tuttle bring to the table?

Colin: Michael Penix Jr. is considered week-to-week and Tom Allen declined to name a starter this week when asked. That said, it’s a little hard to handicap whether he will get the start or not, since some people have been calling for Tuttle to play since even before Penix’s recent injury. Probably because of his extensive history of injuries, Penix has never really looked himself this year. Lots of throws off of his back foot, a reluctance to take off running when the pocket collapses, and even when he’s running in the open field, he isn’t throwing his body all over the place like he was on the play he became most known for against Penn State last year. I strongly recommend that anyone who hasn’t torn an ACL twice refrain from commenting on how tough they think Penix is, though.

Tuttle could be the answer for the simple fact that he isn’t playing afraid. As Coach Allen has pointed out, Tuttle has started and won games on the road in the Big Ten, most notably against Wisconsin last year. As a recruit, he was ranked higher than Penix and has a lot more arm talent than most backup quarterbacks at the college level. When Indiana has had to start the No. 2 quarterback in prior years, namely Peyton Ramsey or Zander Diamont, it was fairly obvious that the Hoosiers wouldn’t be taking shots downfield and that their mobility would be at a premium. This isn’t really the case with Tuttle, who has already completed a 76-yard pass this year.

2. After a strong campaign in 2020, Indiana has struggled to start the season with just a 2-3 record. With that said, the Hoosiers have had a really difficult early schedule. Do you believe Indiana is better than its record shows, and do you expect the Hoosiers to be able to hang with the Spartans?

Colin: I believe Indiana still has the potential to be better than the record shows, but the Hoosiers have not played near enough to their potential yet for me to be completely confident in that. To your point, the schedule thus far has been incredibly difficult and writing this team off completely would be stupid. Even in the years prior to 2019-2020, when Allen started having more sustained success, Indiana has been great at getting up for big opponents at home and playing them close for at least three quarters of the game. In 2016, for example, we bounced back from a crushing home loss to Wake Forest to beating Michigan State the following game. This year, the Hoosiers had a bye week before the Old Brass Spittoon game. I expect a close game.

3. Outside of the quarterbacks, who are the players to know on Indiana’s offense? What does the offense as a whole need to improve upon?

Colin: Offensively, things have been looking a little bleak outside of a handful of players. Running back Stephen Carr had a very good game against Western Kentucky, but Penn State bottled him up pretty well, in part due to extremely unimaginative play-calling. Both tight end Peyton Hendershot and wide receiver Ty Fryfogle were getting some NFL Draft attention prior to the season, and Hendershot has started to resemble his 2020 self. Fryfogle has had some frustrating drops so far this year, but is definitely a match-up problem when he’s playing to his potential because of his size and willingness to go up and get contested balls. Honestly, though, the offense has looked so broken at points this year that it’s tough to say what the real strengths and weaknesses are on that side of the ball.

4. Defensively, Indiana ranks toward the middle of the pack in Big Ten in passing yards allowed and rushing yards allowed, and dead last in the conference in points allowed. With that said, the Hoosiers rank 53rd nationally against the run, which is quite respectable. Do you expect IU to be able to shut down Kenneth Walker III and the MSU run game? What names should Michigan State fans know on Indiana’s defense?

Colin: I’m glad you asked about the defensive numbers, because I have a strong suspicion that they are distorted by how much the defensive unit has been asked to do. Penn State, for example, killed us in time of possession and most everyone watching knew that 24-0 did not reflect how badly the Nittany Lions beat us. And that game, we were without Tiawan Mullen, who was named a preseason second-team All-American. Michah McFadden got the same honors and the pair have largely played to those expectations so far this year. When IU lost McFadden in the first half against Cincinnati, the entire momentum in the game shifted and we suddenly could not stop the Bearcats. I’m not going to say that these two players will shut down your Heisman-contender running back, but they will play you tougher than the numbers may suggest at this point.

5. The winner of this game of course gets to take home the Old Brass Spittoon. Michigan State has mostly dominated this series, but Indiana made quick work of the Spartans in 2020. How big of a rival do Indiana fans view MSU? Is it just another game, or do IU fans legitimately dislike the Spartans?

Colin: I’m going to go ahead and answer this from a personal perspective, since the football team’s prominence didn’t really start until after I graduated. I distinctly remember during my senior year, somebody walking into our house on campus to ask our plans for the day and being mystified by the fact that we wanted to watch Indiana University play football. Outside of Purdue, I don’t know that people were paying enough attention to consider anyone else a rival. I don’t know that my hatred for MSU reaches the levels that it does for Michigan, Purdue, Nebraska or Ohio State, but because of how many close games we’ve played over the years, I do get pretty excited for this game on the calendar every year. Winning in the Big Ten East has always been hard, so it always felt important to take advantage of those last couple of seasons under Dantonio when you guys weren’t blowing us out like you did with Connor Cook and company.

Bonus: Score prediction?

Colin: I’m taking Hoosiers 27-24.

Shout-out to Colin for providing his thoughts and insights into Indiana. You can follow Colin on Twitter, and for news and analysis on the Hoosiers, follow Crimson Quarry as well.

If you are curious about my responses to Colin’s questions, read here.