clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Evaluating Michael Penix Jr. ahead of the National Championship

We’ll get a little bit of help from his days at Indiana.

Allstate Sugar Bowl - Texas v Washington Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images
Daniel Plocher Dan Plocher contributes to Maize n’ Brew in several areas including podcasts, game previews/recaps, and various YouTube videos.

Rewind to 2020, and the Michigan Wolverines were in the midst of what would be their worst season in the Jim Harbaugh era. In Week 3, they went to Bloomington for a game against the surging Indiana Hoosiers, led by starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr.

Two weeks prior, Penix led the Hoosiers to an improbable upset win over No. 8 Penn State on a last-second pylon-tapping two-point conversion in overtime in Happy Valley. It was the first of what would become many highlight plays in the career of Penix.

The momentum from that game continued to a top-25 matchup with Michigan, and Penix continued to show out in what has gone down as a legendary season at Indiana. He went 30-of-50 for 342 yards and three touchdowns in the 38-21 win over the Wolverines, the first time the Hoosiers had beaten Michigan since 1987.

Penix and the Wolverines will now match up again, this time under much different circumstances. The Washington Huskies have been one of the most explosive offenses in college football this season, and Penix’s play has propelled them to this national title tilt against the top-ranked Michigan defense.

It’s the first time these two have seen each other since 2020, and there are things we can take away from that game that still apply today. Here’s what has made Penix so great years later, and how Michigan could slow him down.

Back in 2020, Michigan almost exclusively ran man coverage under defensive coordinator Don Brown. That’s why they struggled against quarterbacks who could throw the ball effectively, specifically down the field. Penix is fearless in taking shots and he has always been able to throw guys open, even dating back to his days at Indiana.

Penix is still doing that today, but now with one of the best receiving corps in college football. Rome Odunze has been the biggest beneficiaries, recording 1,553 receiving yards on 87 receptions and 13 touchdowns this season. Ja’Lynn Polk has also surpassed 1,000 yards this season, and Jalen McMillen just returned from a midseason injury and has 526 yards in just six games. Here are the kinds of shots he’ll take down the field to any of these three receivers:

Luckily, the Wolverines play a much more diverse defense now. They’ll mix in quite a bit of zone coverage as well, sending unique blitz packages too. Disguising coverage will be extremely important to cause confusion pre-snap for Penix and potentially force him to make mistakes.

Penix has also proven on countless occasions that he can pick apart a defense sitting in base zone coverage, even dating back to his Indiana days:

With adequate time to break down the coverage, Penix is going to find an open receiver, even if it is a tight window. Washington’s offensive line won the Joe Moore Award this season, so they clearly do a great job of protecting him. That’s a huge reason why he is able to make throws like this one:

Penix has plenty of confidence in his arm, but sometimes it borders on overconfidence. The first thing he will do is look to his check down if he can’t find someone open when he senses some pressure. But if the check down happens to be covered, his instinct is to launch a ball down the field. Usually, he is looking for something on the sidelines, and sometimes those are dangerous throws.

This is why pressure and disguised coverages will be important. You can see Arizona State show blitz on this play and then back off and only rush three. Penix makes a bad throw to a receiver who isn't open and gets picked off. He did something similar against Oregon in the Pac-12 Championship:

Plays like this one can completely turn a game like this one, and limiting possessions is going to be important for Michigan.

The way the Wolverines lose is if Washington has the ball several times and Penix is able to make big plays. Michigan’s top-ranked defense is the best he will have seen, but simultaneously, the Wolverines have not played a quarterback like Penix. This game simply boils down to slowing him down by all means necessary. If they can do that, they’ll have a great chance to take home the title.