Coming off a lackluster Week 1 it's refreshing to see the Big 10 do what it's supposed to do in the early season: demonstrate grit, consistency, and urgency from top to bottom. In the wake of a weekend that saw all eleven members add a notch to the win belt (buoying the conference to 18-3 on the season), I thought I'd comment on a few surprising developments.
No. 17 Penn State gave a Midwestern welcome to Oregon State -- their seventh straight home win against the Pac 10. The average Week 2 margin of victory for a Big 10 team was 26.6 points. Six contenders crushed opponents by over 30 and two presided over 42 point massacres. That's more like it.
The Rivalry, Esq. salutes Minnesota, Tim Brewster and the Gopher faithful for punctuating a win on the road against a Bowling Green team that orchestrated an upset of then No. 25 Pittsburgh just last week. But they didn't just win: they won with attitude -- flipping turnovers like pancakes in the first half (four fumbles and an interception), and sustaining variable, athletic drives to produce points. Quarterback Adam Weber threw three touchdown passes en route to a 42-17 win. Technically this may not be a compliment, but Tim Brewster has already tripled his number of wins as head coach of the Gophers. Why stop there?
Iowa won big for the second week in a row beating FIU like, well, everyone else -- but shoring a shutout in the hot hands of new quarterback Ricki Stanzi who went 8 of 10 for 162 yards and three touchdowns before halftime. The only negative The Rivalry, Esq. can see about Ferentz's new ferocity is that our network friends over at Black Heart, Gold Pants are going to have a lot less to complain about -- at the natural expense of their comedic sensibilities.
Indiana put a similar show on Murray State -- running back Marcus Thigpen found the endzone the first two times he touched the ball and didn't look back (there wasn't much to see) taking five carries over 20 yards. The sheer amount of offensive volume, particularly on the running end of the aisle (3 rushing touchdowns, 254 yards) makes us wonder if Ohio State's stable couldn't learn a little from the Hoosiers (but we'll get to that later).
Then there's Purdue which took to the skies in its opener, painting the town black and gold in a seamless synergy between Curtis Painter, Desmond Tardy, and Greg Orton.
"The average Week 2 margin of victory for the Big 10 was 26.6 points. Six contenders crushed opponents by over 30 points and two presided over 42 point massacres. That's more like it."
Roto-tiller Wisconsin had trouble moving the football on the ground against the Thundering Herd -- their lack of bravado sinking them into a 14 point deficit before they transitioned into a pass-focused attack and marshaled 51 unanswered points. Nice adaption, but The Rivalry, Esq. wants to know how P.J. Hill goes from a 200 yard Week 1, to a 57 yard Week 2 on 18 carries?
Maurice Wells and Dan "Boom" Herron were equally pajamed, puddering out 50 and 48 yard performances respectively on a shared 21 carries for Ohio State.
Why do the Buckeyes get their own section?
Trust us, it's for all the wrong reasons. The Rivalry, Esq. (from its trademark perch in the south stands) was shocked and appauled at the home team's effort against the Ohio Bobcats. Have you heard that OSU hasn't been beaten by an in-state program since 1921? Forget it. Whatever the scoreboard says, they got bludgeoned Saturday.
Brian Hartline says it best, "That was pathetic," but the rhetorical power of the statement doesn't address the real inquiry. What was pathetic? And why?
Maurice Wells breaks through an open lane gets betrayed by his offensive line against a Bobcat rushing defense that currently ranks 79th in the nation. Seventy-ninth. That's Left Tackle Alex Boone on the other side of the pile. Hmm...
It starts with the offensive line -- a unit famously anonymous for want of quantifiable statistics. From Ohio State's first possession the boys up front looked outmatched by the smaller, quicker Bobcats. On more than one occassion Alex Boone lunged out in frustration after a cave in. Observers will remember Center Jim Cordle's high-snap that put Todd Boeckman in an endzone boil -- but the truth is the offensive derision started from the moment the Bucks took the opening possession. Bad blocks led to less lanes than a Chicago freeway -- forcing the backup backs to play matador in a bull run near the line of scrimmage.
So go to the air, right? It worked for Wisconsin. But here too the Buckeyes were strangely undisciplined. Quarterback Todd Boeckman, a traditional fixture of routine, had the hands of a sixteen year old trying to unhook his girlfriend's bra -- a lack of confidence that led him out of the pocket and into an awkward series of scrambles (for 2, 3, and 4 yard gains respectively). Boeckman finished 16 of 26 for 110 yards.
The wideouts didn't help. Ohio State's top receiver -- some guy named Sanzenbacher -- had a paltry 4 catches for 32 yards. Runner up Ray Small (whose 69 yard punt return and the special teams unit that was responsible for it was one of the few bright spots of the afternoon) managed only 9 catches for 27 yards.
Without the forced turnovers -- again, another item on the short list of positives -- the end result would have been all but impossible. Even the infamously suffocating defense was uncharastically shy in space tackles -- and struggled against a mobile second-string quarterback in highlights that often resembled the 2006 BCS National Championship Game. Thank goodness Boo Jackson couldn't hit the broad side of a barn. Had his arm fared even slightly better than 9 for 25, Ohio might have never looked back from the 8 point lead they carried through the middle of the third quarter.
Which brings us to our next question: Why?
Variously explainations have been proffered from the naive -- Tress did it on purpose to make sure those Trojan by-weekers in their bean bag chairs had nothing to see -- to the hopeful -- The Bucks just got caught looking ahead to the 13th -- to the egocentric -- Beanie wasn't playing.
All or maybe none of them are false.
The truth is somewhat more simple. The Buckeyes didn't play their best, and they have a lot of work to do. The humbling that comes from the unrest of the fanbase and a slip and slide back two spots in the rankings is the absolute best thing that could have happened to the Buckeyes.
Don't believe me? Ask USC. Last year in Week 5 the Trojans lost to the 41 point underdog Stanford Cardinal -- a game in which they were overmatched and supremely frustrated. They came back to win 7 of their final 8 (the lone loss being against the No. 5 Oregon Ducks con Dixon), including the famous Rose Bowl thorning of Illinois. A performance, incidentially, that put them where they are today in the ranks.
So, talent and esteem aside, it's any given Saturday. Still, the Buckeyes have a lot of work to do. The same goes for the Big 10.