BLOOMINGTON – Indiana's quarterback battle continues to play out day after day at fall camp and with the season-opener barely two weeks away, there still doesn't appear to be a clear frontrunner. What can be said is that the race has likely – and I do mean likely, because Jack Tuttle has the talent to make a late run, more on that below – shifted to a two-man battle between incumbent starter Peyton Ramsey and redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr.
If you had asked me to handicap the race before it began, I probably would've put Penix third in the odds-making process, if only because he was coming off an ACL tear and had missed valuable developmental time in spring practice as a result. He is essentially getting acquainted with the offense for the first time in nearly a year, whereas Ramsey (and Tuttle to a certain extent) have had time to build that chemistry. Despite those obstacles, Penix has wiggled his way into the middle of the race. He has the strongest arm of the three and is also the fastest. In camp, he's shown he can lead the offense, meaning his biggest remaining question is whether he is accurate enough as a short passer to open up the deep-passing game. I've seen enough in recent practices, including today, to make me believe he is. He made a couple of nice touch throws, including a 30-yard pass along the sideline to freshman Miles Marshall in traffic that might have been the best play of the day. There were a couple of series in which he seemed out of sync, but Ramsey and Tuttle had those, as well.
If I were to hazard a guess, I would say that Ramsey still gets the starts early in the season, but if Penix keeps developing at his current rate, he could unseat Ramsey by midseason, if not sooner. Coach Tom Allen has said he wanted to stick with one quarterback once the season started, but Penix's rapid development throws a wrench in that plan.
That leaves Tuttle as the third option, though he did make a couple of throws today that show off his obvious arm talent. One was a 40-yard deep ball to freshman receiver David Ellis on a flag route, in which Tuttle dropped the ball perfectly over Ellis' shoulder. The other big-time throw from the Utah transfer came on a 15-yard crossing route over the middle to Marshall. The coverage was good, but Tuttle zipped the ball in a tiny window and Marshall (somehow) hung on. I don't think Ramsey can make that throw. Plays like that are why it's too early to count Tuttle out just yet. Clarity is a long way off in this race.
I've already mentioned two plays that Marshall made in this practice, which continues a string of practices I've seen in which the true freshman from Lilburn, Georgia, makes at least a couple of head-turning catches. I'm going to keep beating this drum all preseason: Marshall is one of the Hoosiers' biggest pass-catching threats already and he should make an immediate impact this season. That's rare for a true freshman, but he has the size and the hands to do it.
Another young pass-catcher for the Hoosiers stepped up today, as well. Redshirt freshman tight end Ryan Barnes, a walk-on who was twice scout-team player of the week in 2018, made a couple of impressive receptions in a short span today, on different passes. The first was a deep out from Penix that the quarterback dropped into a soft spot in the coverage, giving the Noblesville native a chance to make a nice over-the-shoulder catch. Barnes also pulled in a 20-yard seam route from Ramsey that was probably the quarterback's best throw of the day, over the top into a small window. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound Barnes showed off nice hands and decent speed today and might become a significant receiver this season.
There were times when the Indiana offense wasn't as crisp as it should have been (a problem that affected it no matter who was under center), leading one coach to shout "You're sleep-walking through skelly (skeleton drills against only the secondary on defense)!"
Despite that low point, the intensity was generally good and there were some big plays from all over the roster. This team has a ton of talent on offense and a lot of it is very inexperienced. How fast it gets game-ready will determine Indiana's fate in 2019.