Football: How Indiana’s two quarterback situation compares to Northwestern’s


Joshua Hoffman/The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern gears up at the point of attack. The Wildcats will battle an Indiana team that has had two successful quarterbacks this season.

Charlie Goldsmith, Reporter


Not everything that looks the same really is the same. Take Northwestern and Indiana’s two-man quarterback competitions, which look as different as the Titanic and a leaky sailboat.

While the Wildcats are still looking for a quarterback who can throw more touchdowns than interceptions, the Hoosiers have two players who have proven they can lead the team to victory.

Freshman Michael Penix Jr. won the training camp competition and has proven to the coaches that he’s the better passer. If it weren’t for a recent injury, he’d have started every game this season, Indiana coach Tom Allen said. In five games, Penix Jr. has thrown for 1,232 yards and 10 touchdowns, but he’s a game-time decision for Indiana’s (6-2, 3-2 Big Ten) game under the lights against the Wildcats (1-6, 0-5), Allen said.

Junior Peyton Ramsey, who started all 12 games last season, has played even better in the games he’s played this year, throwing for 1194 yards and on a 72.1 completion rate. If Penix Jr. isn’t healthy, Ramsey will get to follow up on the best game of his career. He threw for a career-high 351 yards, added 42 more on the ground and scored three touchdowns in last week’s 38-31 win against Nebraska.

“Peyton’s done a phenomenal job, but if Mike can’t go, Peyton’s going to go,” Allen said. “I have absolute confidence in Peyton Ramsey. We don’t know exactly yet what this week will hold, who will be the starter, but whoever it is, we’ll be ready, and they’ll play well.”

Even though they run the same plays, Penix Jr. and Ramsey are very different quarterbacks. Penix Jr.’s arm strength rivals any quarterback in the Big Ten, and he’s already thrown three touchdown passes of 25 or more yards. Penix Jr. is also a more composed pocket passer, which he showed when he completed 13 straight attempts in a 40-31 loss to Michigan State on September 28. But he’s taken worse hits than the more elusive Ramsey, and he’s missed three games.

After sitting two games early this season with a shoulder injury, Penix Jr. was hit again scrambling outside the pocket in the Hoosiers’ game against Maryland on October 19. He hasn’t played since, and Ramsey has stepped up in his absence.
Ramsey has had more success this year in new offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer’s up-tempo spread offense, but he hasn’t made as flashy throws as Penix Jr. Even though Ramsey’s more efficient and more experienced, Penix Jr.’s arm strength makes him the preferred option.

“It’s so awesome because anybody can get the ball (from Penix Jr.) at any time,” Indiana receiver Nick Westbrook said after Pennix Jr. threw three touchdowns in a 35-0 win against Rutgers. “Even if you’re the third or last read, you’re thinking, ‘I still need to win this route’ because the ball might still be coming to me. We’ve got so many good players on this team. We can really spread it around.”

As Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields and Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley have shown over the last two games, the Cats are susceptible to aggressive down-field quarterbacks. With several players in the secondary dealing with injuries this season, most notably senior captain Trae Williams, the defense has allowed six completions of 30 or more yards in the last two weeks.

The Cats haven’t intercepted a pass since they played Wisconsin on September 28. The secondary has a role to play in NU turning around its season, and the coaches have stressed in practice that they need to force turnovers to win.

“Every Big Ten team that won (last) weekend won the turnover margin, and we haven’t gotten turnovers,” Williams said. “We’re playing decent on defense but haven’t gotten turnovers. If we have five (pass breakups) you need to make two picks.”

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