Indiana's path to the postseason just got a lot more difficult.
After losing three straight and falling to .500, the Hoosiers are about to hit the road on a short week against a hungry team still seeking its first conference win. And now, they'll make the trip without their No. 2 quarterback.
Coach Tom Allen announced Monday that prized freshman Michael Penix Jr. will miss the rest of this season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in one of his knees and another freshman, Reese Taylor, will now serve as Peyton Ramsey's primary backup.
"I know he's hurting and discouraged and down, but it's one of those things you've got to deal with," Allen said. "He has a great mentor in J-Shun Harris to help him through. But tough blow for us and tough blow for him, but it's part of this tough game that we play."
Allen did not say which knee Penix hurt. Harris, a fifth-year senior, continues to play well after returning from his third ACL injury last year.
The timing could not be worse for Penix and the Hoosiers (4-4, 1-4 Big Ten). Following six straight October losses, Indiana heads to Minnesota (3-4, 0-4) for a rare Friday night contest. And now, they must figure out how to adjust to losing Penix, just as he seemed ready to play a more significant role.
The strong-armed freshman saw his most significant action in Saturday's 33-28 loss to Penn State, replacing Ramsey in the first half. He went 9 of 19 with 94 yards and had two carries for 24 yards before leaving in the third quarter after running for a first down. Penn State safety Garrett Taylor was ejected for targeting on the hit.
The Florida high school star originally committed to Tennessee before signing with the Hoosiers, then lost the starting job in preseason camp to Ramsey, who started four games as a redshirt freshman in 2017. Ramsey also has started all eight games this season.
But after a loss to Iowa, Allen acknowledged he wanted to use Penix more frequently during the closing portion of the schedule.
Now those plans are changing again.
Taylor, Indiana's reigning Mr. Football Award winner, has played a variety of positions this season and will likely add quarterback duties over Indiana's final four games.
"We had some (quarterback) packages we put him in there, did some things. Now it's obviously intensified," Allen said. "He's played that position his whole life. So he's pretty natural at it. Yeah, we'll utilize him. But obviously you've got to have an understanding of his other role that he plays as well."
Penix played three games this season, going 21 of 34 with 219 yards and one touchdown. He also had seven carries for 45 yards. Because he only appeared in three games, Penix can redshirt under the NCAA's new rule allowing players to participate in up to four games without giving away redshirt status.
Indiana must win two of its final four games — at Minnesota, home against Maryland, at No. 5 Michigan and at home against rival Purdue — to qualify for its third bowl game in four years.
The Hoosiers haven't beaten the Wolverines on their home turf since 1967.
Indiana already has one conference road win, at Rutgers, but it's won two road conference games in the same season only once since 2002.
So this week's game becomes crucial for the Hoosiers to get their season back on track.
"It's a great challenge for us, get back on the road, get back where we want to be," Allen said. "It's a very important week, both teams on the same schedule. Both teams played on Saturday. Both teams have the same amount of time to prepare so we have to modify our schedule and we have."
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