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As goes the quarterbacks, goes the Indiana Hoosiers

Everything hinges on QB play this week for the Hoosiers contest with Ohio State. But who will be the QB when the game starts?

NCAA Football: Eastern Illinois at Indiana Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten football returns for the 2019 season on Saturday. In an East Division clash, the Ohio State Buckeyes will face the Indiana Hoosiers at noon ET in Memorial Stadium. Bloomington, Ind., has been a strange place for the Buckeyes since 2010. In the three visits to IU, two of the games have come within one score of a Hoosier upset. However, 2017 was a convincing road win for the Buckeyes, as J.K. Dobbins busted onto the scene with a 181-yard Thursday night performance.

Some of the faces have stayed the same, but most have changed. Most notably, the quarterback for the Hoosiers. Peyton Ramsey was the primary signal-caller for IU in a 5-7 campaign in 2018—throwing 2,875 yards and 19 touchdowns. But now, Ramsey has been designated as QB2, as dual-threat extraordinary Michael Penix Jr. has earned the reign. Through two games in 2019, Penix Jr. has shown his passing and running ability. In the air, he has 523 yards, three scores and two interceptions on 38-of-60 passing; and on the ground, he is the team’s second leading rusher with 79 yards on nine carries. Ramsey has also seen snaps this season, and has found a completion in all but one of his throws. Going 13-of-14 in backup duty, Ramsey has 226 yards and a pair of TDs.

That was until Thursday morning, when Zach Osterman of the Indianapolis Star broke that Penix Jr. is “in doubt” for Saturday’s game versus Ohio State. In the piece, head coach Tom Allen dances around what the injury is and when it occurred:

Allen said Penix has been able to practice “a bit” this week but provided no specifics on the injury, only saying the injury was not suffered during the Eastern Illinois game. Allen described the injury as “something not feeling right” but was adamant it should not be a long-term issue.

If he is truly out for the game, the Hoosiers lose major offensive weapon in their bid for an upset. Granted, he hasn’t faced anyone like an Ohio State defense, but let’s not pretend that Penix Jr. isn’t a QB in the making.

Against Ball State, the Hoosier QB launched a 75-yard TD to Nick Westbrook. He has a cannon for an arm, but, he also had time to throw and Westbrook was able to create space from his defender.

Regardless of who’s taking the snaps for IU, they’ll be staring down a talented Buckeye defense. Chase Young is a consistent 1.5 sack binge in each of the first two games, and you know he’ll be hungry for another sack (or two) this weekend. Additionally, and unsurprisingly, the Buckeye pass defense is better than what Ball State brought in Week 1. Jeffrey Okudah proved last week that he can cut off receivers before they cut up field, and the linebackers are beginning to take better approach angles to the ball carrier. Now, that’s not to say that a chunk pass won’t be completed. But it will be harder for IU to pull it off. Ohio State is in whole different weight class than Ball State and Eastern Illinois. If Penix gets the green light at the last second, he’ll have his work cut out for him.

But, that doesn’t mean that all is lost. That’s good news for the Hoosier faithful, and may scrunch some eyebrows for the Buckeye faithful.

Cincinnati, while struggling more often than not, did have a few drives that showed promise. Two of those drives were headed for a touchdown, while one was a field goal—which got blocked by Young. A tipped pass (and interception for Tuf Borland), and a fumble on the goal line erased the productive TD-destined drives. In order to hold your own against OSU, you have to take care of the ball and make good decisions. That is football 101, but it’s worth mentioning. Last season, hero ball led to self inflicted wounds to Nebraska, Minnesota and Maryland in their games to the Buckeyes. Ohio State took advantage of the mistakes and did enough to escape with wins. Turnovers, especially when marching down the field, absolutely kill momentum. If the QBs can keep the turnovers to zero or one, the Hoosiers will be able to put some points on the board. Now, will those points be enough to win the game? Probably not. But IU may be able to make things interesting in the third quarter. If you’re a gambler, taking a roughly 16-point line in favor of the Buckeyes could make you sweat if Penix or Ramsey doesn’t commit interceptions.

Last season, Ramsey didn’t throw interceptions, and the Hoosiers were down 35-26 in the fourth quarter. However, the Buckeyes took over the game in the final 15 minutes to win comfortably. Ramsey threw the ball 322 yards and collected three touchdowns—doing so on 26-of-49 passing.

To create an effective attack this time around, the offense needs to have a running game. Look to Stevie Scott III to pick up a few yards per carry. He’s averaging 3.5 per pop in 2019, and that’s enough to keep a defense honest. Penix would be a good option when flushed from the pocket, but if he’s not good to go, Ramsey’s ability to not lose yards when the play breaks down becomes the primary objective.

In addition to Westbrook, Whop Philyor is another go-to receiver. Philyor leads the team in reception yards (141) and has done it in just 10 catches. But again, who’s been covering these guys? Jordan Fuller will be attempting to create a no-fly zone over Memorial Stadium, and linebacker Malik Harrison will be charging up to the line of scrimmage on run plays or blitzs.

One thing is for certain though: If Penix and/or Ramsey have a no good, terrible, horrible day against Ohio State, then the Hoosiers will have a no good, terrible, horrible day. It could even be worse than Cincinnati’s bad day last Saturday, where they left a goose egg on the scoreboard.

The Big Ten East has its challenges, and the Buckeyes are right at the top for any opposing QB. But one good day — just 60 minutes — from whomever is under center could be the difference for the Hoosiers and their first win against OSU since 1988.