BLOOMINGTON – Tom Allen’s original plan with freshman quarterback and former Lawrence North star Donaven McCulley was to find four opportunities for him to make an appearance this season but no more, thereby keeping him eligible for a redshirt.
But thanks to starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr.’s separated left shoulder, that is not Allen’s plan anymore.
McCulley got his first action Saturday in Indiana’s 20-15 loss to Michigan State, taking three snaps, rushing the ball twice for eight yards and also throwing a backward lateral. Especially as long as Penix is out and redshirt junior Jack Tuttle is starting, Allen said he plans to look for more opportunities for the former IndyStar Mr. Football finalist.
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The 6-5, 200-pound McCulley brings a level of foot speed that Tuttle doesn’t have, so he can be used as a change of pace. But more importantly, Allen said, the Hoosiers have to get McCulley work just in case an injury to Tuttle thrusts him into extended action.
“We were going to (redshirt him) and now we’re not,” Allen said at his news conference Monday. “When Michael went down, we basically made the decision that he would have to go. Before that, the thought was that we just use those four games in a judicious way. Now, what you got is he’s training to be the next guy in. We expect to see him more. We kind of even thought we would use him more on Saturday.”
Allen said the decision is not a sign the Hoosiers know more about Penix’s timetable for a return than they have previously indicated. He said the prognosis remains “week to week,” and it remains possible for him to have a swift return.
“We’re being honest in the fact that we don’t know the length of time,” Allen said. “We don’t know. We’ve been told it can be a short period or long. … Because of that, (McCulley) is the No. 2. He is the next guy in the game if something would happen to Jack. We have to prepare him as such and take a long-term approach with that and not think, ‘Hey, we’re still going to try to protect him for those four games.’ To me, we just have to take that out of your head.”
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McCulley, a four-star recruit, is the highest-rated quarterback ever to sign with Indiana out of high school according to the 247Sports.com composite rankings. He was rated the No. 2 player in the state behind Avon offensive tackle and Notre Dame signee Blake Fisher, the No. 24 quarterback and the No. 236 player nationally in the Class of 2021 after throwing for 2,576 yards and 22 touchdowns while also rushing for 506 yards and two touchdowns as a senior at Lawrence North.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Dexter Williams tore his ACL in spring practice, and that made McCulley one of just three healthy scholarship quarterbacks when he arrived in the summer, so the No. 3 spot on the depth chart was effectively his by default. However, Allen was also thrilled with what he saw from him in preseason camp.
“He’s a very talented guy and we have to maximize our roster,” Allen said. “To me, he’s one of our guys who can make plays with the ball in his hand.”
And as talented as McCulley is at running the ball, Allen and offensive coordinator Nick Sheridan stressed he will not only be used as a wildcat or option quarterback and they trust him to throw the ball. However, they acknowledge there will be some growing pains as he gets used to the offense.
“I think he’s a talented passer,” Sheridan said. “A little inconsistent. We’re working on that each and every day. … He is a talented kid. He has a strong arm. He is accurate. It’s just making sure that he feels comfortable in those moments, on a lot of things. The protection, the read, the throw, etc. He’s making progress every day and I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
Follow Herald-Times IU Insider Dustin Dopirak on Twitter at @DustinDopirak or email him at [email protected]