One step forward, two steps back. After last weekend's turnaround, it seemed as though the staggering Big Ten had finally found its footing. Enter ye olde banana peel, the trusty standby of many a slapstick routine. This saturday saw the first of the B1G's classic trophy games, as well as Maryland's inaugural conference matchup. There wasn't much to crow about in terms of power match-ups, with the only out of conference foes hailing from the moribund AAC or worse. Fortunately (or unfortunately) the B1G itself provided all the intrigue and drama we needed for week 5. Let's comb through the wreckage and hoist the trophies, as the case may be.
First things first...
Tulane at Rutgers. A Champagne Gary Nova in the skyyyy. Man, that guy's name is the gift that keeps on giving. This wasn't exactly a test for Rutgers in the traditional sense, but it was the Scarlet Knights' first full game without the talents of Paul James in the backfield. For a Rutgers team trying to earn respect on their maiden Big Ten voyage, that's no small loss. Nova stepped up in fine fashion to systematically dismantle what meager resistance Tulane could offer, going 14-21 with 4 TDs (and a pick, ‘cause he's still our Gary), en route to a 31-6 rout of the Green Wave. Tulane made for a well-timed tune-up for the now James-less offense as they head into the meat of conference play. Next: Michigan.
Wyoming at MSU. As we all expected, Sparty's offense put on a steamroller performance against the hopelessly outgunned Cowboys. There's really no good way to make it sound competitive, so I'll spare you the eye-wash. Cook and company looked once again like the most balanced and potent attack in the Big Ten, though some may take that as "damning with faint praise," as my grandmother was fond of saying. Still, it's hard to argue with 533 yards of offense. The only questionable stat was the offense's rather pedestrian 7-of-12 third down efficiency, but State only punted once and turned the ball over on downs twice. Sparty fans were slightly miffed at a few breakdowns in coverage, but it's still football and there are always issues to be ironed out. MSU's cupcake buffet (with a side of sour duck) is finally over. Now they get to mete out violence against B1G foes. Next up: Nebraska.
And now, it gets messy...
Northwestern at Penn State. Going into this game, I was prepared to dub Tarpwestern the LOLcatz and offer some home staging advice for Pat Fitzgerald as he prepared to sink back to his level of competence as a linebacker coach elsewhere in the Power 5 community. Instead, I'm hanging that albatross on Hack's neck (he's not entitled to the -enberg portion until next week). The most disturbing part of this game was hearing the BTN announcers swoon over Hack's talent, declaring him to be "the most talented quarterback in the Big Ten" no fewer than three times before the end of the first half. How they kept making these remarks as he chucked high-speed lawn darts and errant howitzer rounds all over the field is a case study in willful ignorance. His crispest pass of the day was to NW linebacker Anthony Walker. Perhaps they attended a joint Brent Musburger/Verne Lundquist seminar on divorcing commentary from reality? Who knows what dark arts Delaney practices up there in Chi-town. Trevor Siemian deserves a ton of credit for this win. He performed better than we've seen since this time last season, standing in the pocket, buying time when necessary, and throwing perfect strikes to his receivers. Three TDs out of Siemian plus Walker's pick-six buried the Nittany Lions and their stagnant oftense. Hack marshaled his team to a mere 266 yards of total offense on the back of a 22-of-46 passing efficiency. Even worse, PSU mustered a ghastly 3-of-17 on third down conversions. Rarely do I get to pat myself on the back for my Friday picks, so I'll happily take credit for my prediction that PSU's offense might actually be terrifying to the Beaver Stadium faithful instead of to PSU's opponents. Was this a one-off collapse or the indication of bigger issues? The coming weeks will suss that out. Northwestern next up: Wisconisin. PSU next up: Bye week.
Iowa at Purdue. C.J. Beathard got the start for Iowa, and despite some early setbacks he performed well enough to beat Purdue. Scoff if you must (you must! you must!), but yesterday that was what mattered. Purdue is not good, but they aren't terrible either. As much as we like to kick Boiler Nation while they're down, this Purdue team isn't going to quit fighting and I wouldn't be surprised if they hang one on an unprepared opponent down the stretch (looking at you, Tarp and IU). The Boilermakers hopped out to a 10-point lead, thanks to a pick-six courtesy of Beathard and a field goal that capped Purdue's first and last sustained drive of the day. Beathard finished the day an unimpressive 17-of-37 passing and his TDs equalled his INTs at one apiece. As one OTE reader noted, Iowa fans celebrated the win with a vigor not usually associated with vanquishing Purdue. This was Iowa's third come-from-behind win of the season--a trend which doesn't bode well for future weeks. Iowa next up: Indiana. Purdue next up: at Illinois.
USF at Wisconsin. Fans and pundits alike often compare the Badger running attack to a freight train. Wisconsin has taken the analogy to heart, right down to the slow, plodding, wheezing start. For the third week in a row the Badger offense sputtered its way through the first half, to the tune of a 3-3 tie by the end of the second quarter. That flaccid performance included Melvin Gordon getting stuffed for losses on three third downs. The last stuff resulted in a fumble at the USF 9-yard line. The situation improved in the second half. Gordon ripped off two of his characteristic TD runs. USF made it a one-score game with a long TD run on a reverse. Tanner McEvoy widened the gap again with a TD pass (yes, really!). When USF threatened with a 52-yard deep strike to the Wisconsin 10 the Badger defense jarred the ball loose and recovered it. That was all she wrote. Like an homage to the black and white stripes on Buckingham's head, Wiscy has been two different teams thus far. Sometimes it's whole games, and sometimes it's by halves, but the fact is undeniable that the Badgers run hot and cold in the extreme. Slow starts in the coming weeks might spell disaster. Next up: at Northwestern.
Maryland at Indiana. The Terps are a thing, y'all. I don't like it any more than you do, but it can't be denied. They're here to play ball and they're not going to be the B1G's patsy. Indiana, I don't know what to think of you. You're like a crazy ex. Some days I think "man, you know, Indiana's really a pretty decent dame," and then other days it's "I should probably change my number and pretend we never met." The Terps came out swinging and never looked back, securing a 20-9 halftime lead at the expense of their QB C.J. Brown, who left with an injured wrist. The turtle herd didn't miss a beat, with backup QB Caleb Brown throwing two TD passes. Sudfeld looked anemic, with a 14-of-37 performance that made last week's victory over Mizzou seem like a dream. Tevin Coleman mustered 122 yards, which is 75 shy of his average, and the Hoosiers didn't see the endzone until late in the fourth. The lone bright spot was IU's kicker hitting a 58-yard bomb of a field goal. The struggle continues in Bloomington, but don't sleep on Maryland. If they keep this up, folks will be shouting "Omar comin!" when the Terps roll into town. I'm as aghast as anyone. Maryland next up: Ohio State. Indiana next up: North Texas (WTF?)
Minnesota at Michigan (The Little Brown Jug). To borrow from Silky Johnson: "What can I say about Michigan that hasn't already been said about Afghanistan? Bombed out and depleted." This game was likely the death knell for Brady Hoke. Most of the Michigan faithful now see his firing not as an "if" but a "when." The Wolverines are awful. There's no way around it. Through 49 minutes of football, they managed 106 yards of total offense with sophomore Shane Morris at the helm. The embattled Devin Gardner came in part-way through the fourth, as Morris was apparently concussed. Hold onto that fact, as it will be important in a moment. Gardner led the Wolverines on a long scoring drive in the fourth, capping it with a 3-yard keeper for a touchdown--Michigan's last points of the day. Minnesota was already leading 30-7 at that point, thanks to a 14-of-22 performance out of QB
Christian Mitch Leidner (why yes I will erroneously rename that young man). The Gopher signal caller threw for one TD and ran for another. Kicker Ryan Santoso was a clay pigeon launcher, knocking out 3 of 3 field goal attempts. Shane Morris was picked off for a TD by a Gopher linebacker midway through the third and the rout was on. Speaking of Morris, Brady Hoke is now in the midst of a growing row about Morris re-entering the game to replace Gardner, who had to leave after his helmet popped off. The implications of putting a concussed player back in the game, given the zeitgeist of concern over head injuries, are huge. The worst is that Hoke's comments indicate that he didn't know that Morris had his bell rung. This merely stokes the fire of his image as a sideline cheerleader who is wholly out of touch with the team and what's occurring on the field. Whatever happens to Hoke, I hope the Jug has a good recipe for a Hot Dish, since it'll be wintering in the Twin Cities for the first time 23 years. Minnesota next up: Bye week. Michigan next up: at Rutgers.
Cincinnati at Ohio State. Fresh off a bye week, the Buckeyes welcomed in-state rival Cincinnati to Ohio Stadium in the hopes of continuing what seems like infinite dominance over in-state rivals. The Buckeyes did not disappoint, though at times they seemed to consider it as an option. After jumping out to a 30-7 lead, the Buckeye secondary got scorched twice when young safeties jumped on underneath coverage and Bearcats blazed right past. The ‘cats closed the gap to 30-21 at the half, and got as close as 33-28. Then Buckeyes turned to a rushing attack that looks to be shaping up as the equal to Winsconsin and Nebraska's. Ezekiel Elliot ripped off 186 yards as part of a 380-yard Buckeye ground attack. The Buckeye secondary found their missing fundamentals and defensive line put Gunner Kiel...wait for it...under the gun. Cincy never scored again and the Buckeyes racked up 710 yards of total offense. For a Buckeye offense that couldn't seem to get anything done against VT, this was a much-improved product. The secondary is still cheesecloth at best, which makes a trip to Maryland a daunting prospect. Perhaps the best play of the whole game was executed by Buckeye strength coach Anthony Schlegel. Pro-tip: if you're going to run on the field and disrupt a game, do it near the kicking coach. Next up: at Maryland.
Illinois at Nebraska. Let's get the bad out of the way right up front: dem uniforms, doe. Sweet mother of mercy, those have to be the most visually offensive threads ever conceived. Never mind the fact that "alternate uniforms" jumped the shark three years ago. These are just hideous. What's worse is that they weren't just ugly. That can be forgiven to a degree, since taste is subjective. A crime that I find truly unforgivable is the changing of a school's colors for a uniform gimmick. Nebraska's colors are Scarlet & Cream. Michigan wears Maize and Blue. Period. Colors an unimpeachable part of the university's identity. One can only wonder who thought that those hallowed Nebraska colors were fungible to the point of the Huskers donning what appeared on TV as flat burgundy and black for a game against Illinois. I'll stow my personal soapbox now. The game went as you'd expect. Ameer Abdullah was nigh unstoppable, amassing 208 yards against an Illinois defense who sharpness ended at their own fancy fancy uniforms. Wes Lunt didn't make an appearance for the Illini, thanks to a lingering leg injury from last week's tilt against Texas State. Instead, youngster Reilly O'Toole (sounds Polish, I think) went 17-of-38 for 1 TD, but also 3 INTs. The one downside for the Huskers was the Illini's opening drive touchdown. Nebraska's defense has now allowed a TD on 4 of 5 opening defensive series this season. The Illini fall to 1-16 against B1G competition under Beckman. Solid hire, Illinois. Nebraska next up: at Michigan State. Illinois next up: Purdue.
At long last, the cupcakes and non-con slugs are behind us. The B1G looks inward now, and begins eating its own young. This is a good thing for the Empire. It's what we desire. Cold weather, colder beer, warm fires, and breaking things in our living rooms. What did we learn this week? I think it's safe to say we learned that Michigan will have a new coach next year. We also learned the fickleness of the PSU fan base. Numerous commenters speculated that James Franklin might be another Hoke, i.e. a "rah rah" recruiter who can't coach in a big game. I'd say it's a bit premature for such alarmist views. His record at Vanderbilt says otherwise, and had Hack(enberg) not tossed hot garbage all afternoon, the Penn State could've turned that game around. Sometimes the boys get the breaks, and sometimes the breaks beat the boys. It's tough to see PSU fall like that, as the B1G could've used another team in the rankings to help rebuild the league's image. Damn you, proverbial banana peel. That's life in football, and especially in the B1G.
Until next week...keep the greasy side down, B1G faithful.