Indiana coach Tom Allen is staying relatively quiet this week.
He’s not talking about his options at quarterback for Saturday’s home game against No. 10 Michigan State and he’s certainly not going to provide practice updates on injured starter Michael Penix Jr. or backup Jack Tuttle.
Allen thinks it’s more beneficial to keep his decision secret secret until kickoff.
“Jack, as always, will be ready to go,” he said, declining to expand on Penix’s status. “That’s been something that’s one of his strengths, his ability to be locked in and focused, and prepare at a high level, no matter what role he’s asked to perform.”
Tuttle started two games last season in place of Penix, leading the Hoosiers to a victory at Wisconsin in Indiana’s regular-season finale before losing to Ole Miss in last season’s Outback Bowl, finishing the game with a separated throwing shoulder.
Now it’s Penix with the separated throwing shoulder joint that could keep him out as the Hoosiers (2-3, 0-2 Big Ten) try to right their season.
A year ago, Indiana recaptured the Old Brass Spittoon by shutting out Michigan State 24-0 in East Lansing. But this season, they’ve lost three times to teams currently ranked in the top seven and they’re about to face a foe making one of the nation’s biggest turnarounds.
Kenneth Walker leads the nation in rushing at 152.2 yards per game. Quarterback Payton Thorne and receiver Jalen Nalor appear to be in perfect alignment after last week’s impressive showing against Rutgers.
Add a defense allowing 19.3 points per game and it’s easy to see why Michigan State (6-0, 3-0) shares the East Division lead with No. 6 Ohio State and No. 8 Michigan.
Next up, though, may be he Spartans’ biggest obstacle yet by reclaiming the prized trophy on the road, against a team coming off a bye and hungry to prove last season’s magic was not an aberration.
“As I told the team, we’re expecting them to be better than we’ve seen on tape,” Spartans coach Mel Tucker said. “We’re expecting them to be at their very best, rested and ready.”
Sure, the uncertainty at quarterback could play to the Hoosiers advantage, though Tucker believes the foundation Michigan State has built over the past six weeks will be the key ingredient to an opponent still searching for answers.
THE BIG PROBLEM
Allen spent the bye week poring through game tape, analyzing with coaches and players what’s gone wrong and came up with a simple explanation for the losses.
Penix threw three interceptions at Iowa with two returned for scores, threw three more in a loss to Cincinnati at home and then turned the ball over two more times two weeks ago at Penn State.
“The execution hasn’t been what it was expected to be and the play of our quarterbacks, that to me hasn’t been to the standard of what we know we have to have to win those kind of games,” Allen said. “You play those caliber teams, whether you play them early or play them late, you have to be able to score points when you get down to the red zone and you have to be execute and throw and run the football and protect it.”
STRIKING A BALANCE
Michigan State has been proficient this season by moving the ball and scoring on the ground and through the air this season.
It’s changed the whole look of the Spartans offense and how others, like Indiana, attempt to defend them.
“It’s like pick your poison,” coach Mel Tucker said.
LET IT SNOW
Michigan State safety Darius Snow has steadily earned more playing time by performing well at practice. He’s ranked among the team leaders in tackles (27), and he’s rekindling images of two relatives who also starred for the Spartans.
Snow’s father, Eric, played basketball for the Spartans from 1991 to 1995. His uncle, Percy, was an award-winning Michigan State linebacker in the late 1980s.
“He’s worked really hard to get into the position he is now,” Tucker said.
AP Sports Writer Larry Lage in Detroit also contributed to this report.