Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr.
If you have been paying any attention to the Big Ten since its return, Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. may not feel like a real breakout candidate. Not only did he make a small name for himself a year ago, but he has been solid through the first handful of games in 2020. Even despite being shaky in the opener against Penn State (before his heroic diving rushing touchdown, of course), Penix helped the Indiana Hoosiers get out to a 4-0 start with nine passing touchdowns to just three picks.
On Saturday, Penix nearly pulled off another upset, posting a much more impressive performance this time around. On 51 attempts, Penix completed 27 passes for 491 yards, five touchdowns, and one interception. Penix had yet to throw more than three scores in any game this season. Likewise, his previous high in yardage was 342 against Michigan, which is about 150 yards short of where he finished against the Buckeyes.
Even if Ohio State’s defense is not on the same level this year as it has been before, they are still a much more talented unit than Indiana’s offense. Ohio State also calls a heavy man coverage defense, which puts the onus on the quarterback to win with accuracy and aggression against tight coverages. Penix did let a few passes hit the dirt that should not have, but he was relentless in attacking Ohio State’s defense over the middle and down the field, which is exactly the kind of mentality an underdog needs to show if they want to stand up to a powerhouse like Ohio State.
Win or lose, Penix put up a performance to be proud of. Scoring five touchdowns against Ohio State as a sophomore on an underdog team is a hell of an accomplishment, even if he and his squad fell just a bit short in the end. If Penix can continue to build on this performance, he should solidify himself as one of the most dangerous in the Big Ten, especially once Justin Fields inevitably leaves this offseason.
Texas State QB Brady McBride
All but one QB in the country finished with fewer passing yards this week than Brady McBride. With 443 yards and a whopping five touchdowns through his 45 attempts, McBride was a near unstoppable force in the narrow shootout win over Arkansas State. And if McBride’s previous performances was any indication, there was no reason to believe he had this in him.
In no other game in his career had McBride thrown more than two touchdowns. In no other game had he thrown for more than 260 yards. In no other game had McBride held a QBR over 70.0 (well, at least for games in which he threw 15 or more passes). And yet, he cleared all of those marks with flying colors against Arkansas State.
It is always tough for a previously untested, or unsuccessful, quarterback to try to keep up in a shootout. The pace of the game is different and the quarterback can feel the weight of the game fall on their shoulders as passing becomes the only clear way to stay in the game. McBride, just a redshirt sophomore, handled the pressure well, though, and found enough throws all over the field to outgun a high-powered Arkansas State offense.
If this is just a blip on the radar for McBride, then so be it. But this was the kind of performance that suggests McBride has room to grow over his next couple years on campus and really become one of the better quarterbacks in the Group of Five. Whether or not he lives up to these highs again is to be seen, but this was as encouraging a performance as Texas State’s staff could have been looking for.
App State RB Camerun Peoples
Came-RUN Peoples, people. Having a breakout performance as a running back was just a matter of time. It’s literally in the man’s name.
A redshirt sophomore this season, Peoples had never taken more than 17 carries in a game. Likewise, he only had a single 100-yard game to his credit before this week, which was against Charlotte in this year’s opener. Peoples has certainly taken on a bigger role this year than either of the previous two seasons, but he still had yet to prove himself a lead back.
That changed against Coastal Carolina despite the loss. On 27 carries, which is more than he took in his first two seasons combined, Peoples earned 178 yards, putting him at just under seven yards a pop. He also slammed in a touchdown, one of just two that App State scored on the night.
Peoples was nearly as efficient on a per-play basis as Appalachian State’s passing game, but did so without the turnovers. The redshirt sophomore back never fumbled, yet App State QB Zac Thomas threw three picks on the day. Peoples’ efforts were certainly good enough for a win had Thomas not tossed all those picks. Alas, hopefully Peoples can convert this performance into some strong showings to round out the year as he grows into the lead back role for the Mountaineers over the next couple years.
Pitt WR D.J. Turner
As of late, Turner has been incredibly consistent ... in a weird and disappointing way. Though he had produced some solid games early in the season, Turner’s last four games featured exactly one reception each. None of those receptions went for more than 12 yards and one of them even lost a yard. None of them found the end zone, either — as if that really needed explaining. Turner had become an afterthought in the offense.
Turns out Turner was just saving up a ton of rollover miles and he decided to blow them all on Virginia Tech. Those rollover miles were well spent, too, as Pitt ended up taking down the Hokies in a 47-14 blowout. On the way to that blowout, Turner caught a whopping 15 passes for 184 yards and a touchdown.
Turner was definitely more of a Steady Eddy than an explosive threat down the field. There is still a ton of value in that, especially when you can still rip off one monster play to even things out a little, as Turner did with his 64-yarder.
2020 is Turner’s senior season and there aren’t many games left. Hopefully, this game was a sign that he can finish off strong and perhaps play himself into some NFL camp invites. Pitt still have Clemson, which could be a huge opportunity for Turner, and Georgia Tech on the schedule, in addition to a possible bowl game.