Hoosiers, Penix Jr. ready for season-opener against Iowa

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr., who suffered a torn ACL in November 2020, is on track to play in the Hoosiers’ Week 1 matchup with the Hawkeyes.


Jerod Ringwald

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. answers questions during day two of Big Ten Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Friday, July 23. (Jerod Ringwald/The Daily Iowan)

Austin Hanson, Sports Editor

INDIANAPOLIS — On Nov. 28, 2020, University of Indiana football quarterback Michael Penix Jr. suffered an ACL injury for the second time in his Hoosier career.

On a routine run play, Penix angled toward the sideline and was pushed out of bounds by Maryland linebacker Ruben Hyppolite II. Penix came down awkwardly on his right knee and was later diagnosed with a torn ACL.

Penix dealt with a torn ACL in 2019 as well, injuring his knee in his first career start.

“I think you got to be smart,” Hoosier head coach Tom Allen said at a Big Ten Football Media Days press conference Friday afternoon. “We have our discussion about [Penix’s injury history] as a staff. It is live, tackle football. I keep saying it. It’s true. Everybody on defense is trying to get to the quarterback. [Penix] knows that too. He’s not going to play in fear of that. He’s just got to let it rip, but be smart. I think there’s an understanding of where we want to put him, intentionally, in situations. Limit those, and you know what, he’s got to play the game.”

Now, Penix is entering his third season with the Hoosiers, and he’ll have little time to ease his way into Indiana’s 2021-22 campaign. Penix and the Hoosiers will open their 2021-22 season against a Big Ten Conference opponent — Iowa.

At Big Ten Football Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium Friday, Penix said he’ll be ready and “100 percent” for Indiana’s Sept. 4 matchup with the Hawkeyes.

While Penix may be completely healthy when he takes the field against Iowa, he will likely be rusty. According to Allen, Penix hasn’t participated in any contact drills this offseason, and he isn’t likely to do so before the Hoosiers’ season-opener at Iowa.

“There’s definitely a progression, and he’s right where he needs to be,” Allen said. “. . . To me, that’s going to be very important, for sure, to get him in those conditions and get him comfortable and get him around. But he’s not going to get hit until Sept. 4.”

Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s goat chain is seen during day two of Big Ten Media Days at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Friday, July 23. (Jerod Ringwald/The Daily Iowan) (Jerod Ringwald)

In past seasons, the Hoosiers have played Big Ten opponents like Iowa before league play begins. Most notably, Indiana played then-No. 2 Ohio State in Week 1 of the 2017 season. As a result, Allen and his team know how to prepare for an early-season matchup against a Big Ten foe.

“I think [our preparation] has been great,” Penix said. “A lot of guys have been working very hard all offseason. You know, we’ve been pushing each other to be great. You know, we know we’re coming out with a big game. You know, Iowa is definitely a team that you have to respect and they always have a good team. So, I feel like we’re definitely confident. As long as we continue to go day-by-day with our preparation and just continue to push each other and strive to be great, everything will fall in our favor.”

Unlike Indiana, Hawkeye head coach Kirk Ferentz and his squad will be in unfamiliar territory come Sept. 4. Excluding their 2020 campaign — which featured a schedule that was altered by COVID-19 — the Hawkeyes haven’t opened a season against a conference adversary since 1979, according to Ferentz.

The last time Iowa faced a conference foe before league play began was in 2019. The Hawkeyes played Rutgers in Week 2 of that season, picking up a 30-0 win.

“It’s unique for us this year to open up with a Big Ten scheduled opponent,” Ferentz said Friday. “That is unique. I know last year was an exception for all of us, but I think you have to go back, I believe, 1979, 1980 when [former Hawkeye head coach Hayden Fry] was just getting started. I know they played Indiana, ironically, in ‘79. So, we open with Indiana this year. It’s something very different for us.”

While Ferentz and company plunge into unfamiliar territory, Allen is embracing the challenge Iowa will provide his Hoosiers right out of the gate in 2021.

“It’s going to be our third time [opening the season against Big Ten competition] since I’ve been here,” Allen said. “It’s my fifth year as head coach [at Indiana]. It’s definitely a challenge, without question. I love the way that it creates a sense of urgency with your team. The start of the season always creates excitement. There’s always that level no matter who you play, but when it’s a conference opponent and when it’s a team that of their caliber, coach Ferentz does a tremendous job there, the consistency, the toughness they have had for so many years, and to go and play in that venue to start the season is going to be very challenging.”

“But I love the way that you always get better in the preparation process,” Allen continued. “When you’re preparing for such a high-level opponent that early, it helps you, I think, have a better season.”

The Hawkeyes and Hoosiers are currently scheduled to begin their 2021 campaigns Sept. 4 at 2:30 p.m. at Kinnick Stadium. The matchup between the two teams is slated to air on the Big Ten Network.

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