There was an autumn crisp/chill in the air at my tailgate in Evanston on Saturday. Fleeces, hoodies, and sweaters were in abundance, beer was warming our insides, and grills were blazing.
God, was it glorious. Football season officially begins for me once the fall weather starts, and Saturday's tailgate was ideal.
Saturday also saw the start of conference play (which I applaud, since it means less games that I have to write about for this column), and Wisconsin seemingly picked up where they left off in their last conference game. In non-conference, the B1G went 7-2, with no real "upsets," but certainly some disappointment for Sparty and the Hoosiers that they couldn't make that a perfect run. We also some both types of ugly wins - ugly wins where fans shake their head and wonder why the team played so sluggish/poorly (Michigan, Northwestern) and ugly wins where you wonder why on Earth you even scheduled such a weakling (Ohio State, Nebraska, Iowa, Penn State).
Let's jump to the bullet points:
- Anyone worrying about a Wisconsin hangover from the debacle in the desert had nothing to worry about, apparently. Melvin Gordon deserves to be in the Heisman discussion at this point, as he had another dominant performance (147 yards rushing, 3 TDs), and he was bolstered by James White (145 yards, 1 TD) and Corey Clement (83 yards, 1 TD). If there is a negative here for Wisconsin, Joel Stave wasn't all that impressive, but he really didn't need to be given how the Wisconsin running game was going. Needless to say, Stave will need to be better next week in Columbus against a better defense. As for Purdue....it's going to be a long season. The Boilermakers only managed 180 total yards and 45 yards rushing against Wisconsin (and keep in mind, that's a Badger secondary that gave up some passing yards to Arizona State last week), and couldn't stop the Wisconsin running game at all. Hazell has his work cut out for him, and I'm not sure minor personnel changes (such as changing Purdue's QB) will have any effect on things this year.
- As many of you know, Sunday Morning Coming Down is named after a Johnny Cash song. In that spirit, Ohio State's crushing of Florida A&M is the equivalent of "shooting a man in Reno, just to watch him die. Honestly, why on earth did Ohio State schedule this team? And if you ARE going to schedule Florida A&M, don't you insist they bring their awesome marching band? Anyways, this was Ohio State's largest margin of victory since 1935, the most points the Buckeyes have scored since 1950, and Kenny Guiton set an OSU record with 6 TD passes. Everyone get excited - the next two weeks (hosting the running juggernaut of Wisconsin, heading to Evanston for homecoming under the lights against Northwestern) are going to be pretty damn awesome to watch.
- This week was not immune to referee controversies, but this week it was B1G referees screwing over conference teams in South Bend. I obviously did not see the game (I was at tailgates and at the Northwestern game, being played at the same time), but I've seen the replays, and Michigan State got ABSOLUTELY SCREWED by the referees on pass interference calls against Notre Dame. Honest to God, don't cornerbacks have a right to go after the ball? I'm not saying the outcome of the game would have necessarily been different, but the referees need to let the players on the field play and decide the game. As for the game itself, Sparty fans are still probably shaking their heads wondering why Andrew Maxwell got the last drive of the game. Neither Notre Dame or Sparty was very effective on offense (presumably because both defenses are pretty good?), as both teams managed less than 300 yards total offense. Michigan State heads into the bye week and then the beginning of conference play 3-1, and with lots of questions and work to do on offense.
- Quietly, Iowa has started to look impressive. Yes, this was only Western Michigan (currently 0-4 on the season), but Iowa got huge games from Kevonte Martin-Manley (2 punt returns for TDs, becoming the 3rd B1G player with 2 punt return TDs in the same game and the first to do so since 1983) and B.J. Lowery (2 INTs returned for TDs), and absolutely rolled 59-3. Given all those special teams and defensive TDs, the Iowa offense didn't need to be that impressive, but Jake Ruddock still threw for 2 TDs. Iowa will not be an easy out this year.
- Let's get this out of the way: Northwestern did not look great against Maine. Maine outgained Northwestern (379-373), had more first downs (23-20), won time of possession (33:10 to 26:50) and matched Northwestern's offense in points (21-21). On the other hand, Northwestern managed 2 pick-6s by Dean Lowry and Damien Proby, went up 21-0 early in the 3rd quarter, played an insanely vanilla offensive gameplan (barely using Trevor Siemian, only passing 17 times, keeping Treyvon Green out for much of the game), and never led by less than 14 the rest of the game (the last Maine TD was scored against Northwestern's 2nd team defense after a turnover by Northwestern's 2nd team offense). I may be in the minority amongst Northwestern fans, but I'll take that, particularly since it means the team/coaches know they have PLENTY to work on during its upcoming bye week before THE BIGGEST GAME EVER against Ohio State on October 5th (with Gameday almost certainly in town). Hopefully, NU will work on tackling, secondary coverage, run blocking, and offense (and hopefully they'll find time to work Venric Mark back into the offense, as NU fans hope he comes back from a lower body injury in time for October 5th). Northwestern starts 4-0 again, has scored 21+ in 18 straight games, 30+ in 6 straight, and Northwestern has 19 INTs in the last 7 games.
- Also winning ugly: Michigan. Unlike Northwestern, though, Michigan needed a comeback to beat UConn on the road. Unlike Northwestern (who at least lead throughout), this was troubling given that it's just one week after almost dropping to Akron. Michigan's offense was not good at all (only 284 total yards against UConn?), Devin Gardner had 3 turnovers (this is starting to be a troubling trend), and Michigan once again struggled to come back and beat an allegedly "inferior" opponent. Good news? Desmond Morgan's INT was beautiful, and the Michigan running game (including Fitzgerald Toussaint's 120 yards rushing and 2 TDs) got on track.
- Nebraska got the win, which it (and maybe Bo Pelini) desperately needed. With Taylor Martinez out with turf toe, Tommy Armstrong Jr. (169 yards passing, 1 TD) and Ron Kellogg III (136 yards passing, 1 TD) filled in ably, and Nebraska got an INT return TD by Randy Gregory. The Nebraska defense, though? Still broken. It gave up 202 yards rushing to the Jackrabbit's Zach Zenner, and gave up 465 total yards of offense and 25 first downs. I think we can safely say that Nebraska's defense is a fatal flaw at this point, and will likely keep them out of a BCS Bowl/B1G Championship.
- Another guy that needed a win? Jerry Kill, if only to shut up the ignorant columnists who want him to resign due to his epilepsy. With Philip Nelson out, Mitch Leidner had a monster game on the ground (151 yards rushing and 4 TDs), and the Gopher defense bent (allowing 486 total yards, including 439 yards by San Jose State's David Fales) but didn't break (forcing 3 turnovers). Minnesota is 4-0, but given the competition, shouldn't they be? I have no idea what to make of the Gophers....but we might get a clue when they battle Iowa for Floyd next week.
- Penn State got a shutout win in the rain against Kent State, 34-0. The defense clearly bounced back from last week's disappointing performance against UCF (who, let's be fair, is probably better than many of us might have thought) by holding Kent State to only 190 total yards and 9 first downs, and Bill Belton (90 yards rushing) and Zach Zwinak (65 yards rushing and 3 TDs) led the way for the Nittany Lions. This was Penn State's first shutout since 2010. I like Penn State - if Hackenberg improves and the defense plays better than they did against UCF, the Nittany Lions could be a huge hurdle for teams like Nebraska, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.
- I'm giving up on Indiana this season. I really thought the defense HAD to be better....and then they give up 623 yards to a middling Mizzou team (setting an ugly record in Memorial Stadium). Both teams turned the ball over 3 times, but Mizzou ran one back 49 yards for a TD. Indiana needed to go at least 3-1 in the non-conference to have a chance at a bowl....being 2-2, it's almost impossible to see 4 wins in that schedule, particularly when the Hoosiers defense is still a sieve.
- It was also initiation week for future B1G teams. Future B1G member Maryland had a great Saturday, shutting out West Virginia 37-0. As for our other future member.....
- Rutgers 28 - Arkansas 24. #Karma? Still undefeated.