BLOOMINGTON – There was a moment a few days ago during Indiana football practice when Stevie Scott knew.
At the height of Indiana's battle for the starting quarterback spot, incumbent Peyton Ramsey and redshirt freshman Michael Penix Jr. separated themselves from redshirt freshman transfer Jack Tuttle. Practice reps were then slanted toward Ramsey and Penix, with the starting role ripe for the taking.
Scott, a sophomore running back who led the Hoosiers with 1,137 rushing yards last season, ran a wheel route along the sideline, not expecting to be involved in the play as he sprinted away from Penix. But seconds later, when he looked upward he saw the football flying above him, on a perfect trajectory to allow him to dash underneath it and score.
“It was a beautiful pass,” Scott said. “So I'm just thinking, 'Once the season starts, more plays like this, more explosive plays.'”
It's a wish shared by Indiana's coaches, fans and players, and it factored significantly into Monday's announcement that Penix would be the team's new starting quarterback.
Penix's athleticism, the ability to use his left arm and legs, combined with a new playbook from offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer that is designed to get the ball into the hands of Indiana's playmakers, could pose problems for defenses.
“He just really has to show the world,” Scott said of Penix. “I can't really explain too much about what he does in practice, but he'll definitely be able to show it to the people that's been watching and just shock the nation.”
Kane Wommack, Indiana defensive coordinator and linebackers coach, is in his second season of facing Penix in practice and has firsthand knowledge of the challenges posed by the Tampa, Florida, native.
“Having a multidimensional quarterback that athletically can just beat you in a one-vs.-one matchup, whether he's throwing the ball or running the ball, that's difficult,” Wommack said.
A lack of downfield passing was a frequent criticism of Ramsey during his time as Indiana's starting signal caller.
DeBoer cited consistency and maturity as the two things he saw from Penix that convinced him he was the right choice for the Hoosiers, although DeBoer also emphasized the big-play potential Penix possesses.
“What you hope Mike brings is that when he throws the ball, even on the short and intermediate throws, that it gets there faster to where guys can make a play with their legs and have a little more space to create yards after catch,” he said.
The change at quarterback fits Indiana's aggressive offseason overhaul.
Sophomore linebacker Cam Jones described going up against a more assertive and competitive Indiana offense during the offseason, and Penix himself is looking to help Indiana produce more momentum-shifting plays after the team was among the worst in college football at generating explosive offense plays last season.
“It's always fun to make those explosive plays in practice,” Penix said. “We're ready to make them in the games as well.”
While those elements may have changed IU's offense, Penix still maintains a calm, steady confidence about himself.
Coaches and teammates have praised his ability to be a more vocal leader, but underlying all of that is the poise which helped earn Penix the starting job and will now be tested on a near-daily basis.
“He believes in himself and he plays that way,” coach Tom Allen said. “He's got a very live arm and athleticism and all those things, but just that quiet confidence about him.”
Saturday: vs. Ball State, at Lucas Oil Stadium, noon
Sept. 7: Eastern Illinois, 3:30 p.m.
Sept. 14: Ohio State, noon
Sept. 21: Connecticut, TBA
Sept. 28: at Michigan State, 3:30 or 4 p.m.
Oct. 12: Rutgers, noon
Oct. 19: at Maryland, TBA
Oct. 26: at Nebraska, TBA
Nov. 2: Northwestern, TBA
Nov. 16: at Penn State, TBA
Nov. 23: Michigan, TBA
Nov. 30: at Purdue, TBA