A fitting definition for our Sunday wake-up...
Morning-After Effect noun \ˈmȯr-niŋ ˈaf-tər i-ˈfekt\ 1. The violent swing of one’s mental state from groggy bliss to crushing depression at the realization that last night’s events were not a dream.
Last week, I penned the inaugural SMCD column of the 2014 season. As one of my colleagues in the cohort of writers put it, my approach seemed to ruffle the feathers of a few loyal members the commentariat. I likely came off as unduly critical of the conference’s week one performance. While there were a few flat spots and a case of snatching defeat from the tender maw of victory, the conference acquitted itself well in week one. Teams won the games they were supposed to win and even a few they weren’t supposed to win. To borrow from Twain, my reports of the conference’s demise after week one were greatly exaggerated. Mea culpa.
Week two promised us a chance to really show the establishment that the Big Ten belongs in the national conversation. This was the great reckoning. This was our chance to smash the glass ceiling on Big Ten perception. This was the week when we would send ESPN talking heads reeling. The sports giant’s underpaid interns would clamber down to the basement of ESPN HQ and burst into the room of a thousand monkeys at their typewriters, screaming "Re-write the narrative! Stat!" Gird your loins, ‘Merica. Hide yo’ kids, hide yo’ wife. The B1G is comin’ at ya.
But it didn’t happen. Not even a little bit. Not even at all. And since your hearts likely feel as heavy as mine, I’ll dispense with further effusive formalities and get right to the meat of this week’s Sunday Morning Coming Down. No, it won’t be a cheery rundown. I don’t think anyone could put a happy spin on this national nightmare. This was easily the worst single day for the B1G since January 1st, 2011.
All aboard, sports fans.
Akron at Penn State.
The Good: PSU’s first touchdown drive looked as easy one could imagine. A veritable pitch-and-catch frisbee drill down the field. Hackenberg ended the day with 319 yards, 3 TDs, and the PSU offense generated 425 yards overall. The Bad: Giving the ball away three times. Offensive output like that should add up to more than 21 points. The MAC may be small, but they don’t need the charity. The Ugly: The wildcat formation. Here’s a list of every defense that is still fooled by the wildcat: ___________. Time to let it go. Verdict: A win is a win, and Akron isn’t a joke of an opponent. For a program still trying to steam its way out of the patch of flotsam left by The Scandal, every victory counts. Franklin seems to be an able helmsman, and right now he’s getting it done. Good on you, PSU. Next opponent: at Rutgers.
Howard at Rutgers.
The Good: Nova and James were once again the highlights of offense that found the endzone more often than not. Paul James has the potential to be a lethal threat against B1G defenses that struggle with the run (which at this point looks like most of them). The Bad: Three and out to open the game and then letting Howard move down the field with impunity to open the scoring for the day. This is a Bison team that was shut out by Akron a week ago. The Ugly: Leading 38-13 in the 4th and not shutting the door on Howard. Don’t let off the gas. The Verdict: I never thought Rutgers would go into Week 3 with a better record than OSU, MSU, and Michigan. I’d better go make sure my dogs aren’t lying down with cats. Next opponent: Penn State.
McNeese State at Nebraska.
The Good: Ameer Abdullah. That’s about it. The Bad: Honestly, damn near everything else. The offense was atrocious. Tommy Jr. went 16-31 passing and Big Red managed only 4-13 on third downs. I’m still stunned at only 195 yards on the ground against an FCS opponent, what with the legs in that Nebraska offensive backfield. I’m even more stunned that McNeese managed almost the same output against the Husker defense. The Ugly: Needing the best offensive run of the entire weekend to get past a Southland Conference opponent. The Verdict: Eeesh. How many versions of this team are there? I feel a bit vindicated in my choice to not draw any conclusions from last week’s drubbing of FAU. There’s more (less?) to this team than we know. Next opponent: at Fresno State.
Western Kentucky at Illinois.
The Good: Decent passing and running. Points off turnovers. Not giving up the fight when the scoreboard wasn’t on their side. The Bad: Points off turnovers. A 95-yard fumble return for a score by a Hilltopper cornerback reminded the sons of Chief Illiniwek that they were in a fight. Also, letting WKU mount a 99-yard touchdown drive late in the first. The Ugly: The Illini got stuffed on four straight downs inside the WKU ten yard line. Winning in the B1G is going to require some red zone potency. The Verdict: Again, a win is a win. Even Illinois deserves nice things once in awhile. Next opponent: at Washington.
Central Michigan at Purdue.
The Good: Not much. I’m struggling to think of something, to be honest. Let’s see…only six yards lost on two sacks. That about covers it. The Bad: Penalties. Fumbles. Only 3.9 yards per offensive play. Honestly, name nearly any category and Purdue fared worse than CMU. It’s almost uncanny. The Ugly: Everything from the opening kickoff until the final gun. The Verdict: I don’t know how to say this nicely, so I won’t even try. Get it together, Purdue, or seriously consider not playing B1G football anymore. One FBS win in 13 outings. I’m at a loss. Apparently, so is everyone from Darrell Hazell to the waterboys. When I was a kid, Purdue was something to be feared. I still have angry childhood memories of watching Purdue beat that humongous drum in Ohio Stadium. Where’d that Purdue go? Next opponent: at Notre Dame.
Western Illinois at Wisconsin.
The Good: The second half. The defense, generally speaking. Tanner McEvoy completing far more passes than not. The Bad: The first half, in total. The Ugly: Watching Melvin Gordon get stuffed, strung out, and turned back repeatedly by a cadre of down lineman and linebackers who should’ve been churned under by a Wiscy line that showed an ability to push LSU around. The Verdict: A win that left only a little to feel truly good about. Next opponent: Bye.
Ball State at Iowa.
The Good: Jake Rudock’s ability to cinch down the belt on his man-pants, stand in the pocket, and pick apart the secondary when it counted. Additional kudos to the offensive line for providing said pocket. The Bad: 114 yards rushing against a MAC defense. Coughing up the rock twice and letting Ball State make 10 out of it. The Ugly: Registering double the number of first downs and twice the yardage of Ball State, but repeatedly failing to convert into points. Missing two key FGs. The Verdict: Call me cynical and demanding, but this isn’t where Iowa should be. Not with Rudock under center. Not with their size and strength. Draw your own conclusions. Next opponent: Iowa State.
MTSU at Minnesota.
The Good: The Gopher ground attack showed signs of serious potency, with David Cobb racking up 220 yards. That’s the highest individual rushing total in nearly a decade of Minnesota football. The Bad: Mitch Leidner’s 5-11 passing performance, totaling an anemic 67 yards. The Ugly: Not much too see as ugly in this one, thankfully. The Verdict: Brick by Brick continues with another solid win. Minnie was up 28-0 at the half and never looked back. Next opponent: at TCU.
NIU at Northwestern.
The Good: Precious little, quite frankly. Only one turnover, though. That’s a plus. The Bad: Everything else. The Cats mustered 76 yards rushing. Even if we generously give back the 36 yards of sacks to the rushing total, that’s still a meager ground game. Dropped passes. The Ugly: Almost 100 yards in penalties. Dropped TD passes. That’s how you turn 400 yards of offense into 15 points. The Verdict: Things in Evanston seem to be stuck in the same reverse gear they found after the OSU game last season. The loss of Venrick Mark is painful in light of the inability to run the ball. Next opponent: Bye.
Maryland at USF.
The Good: The Terps blocked a punt in the endzone to secure the go-ahead TD. The defense bottled up USF’s Marlon Mack, who racked up 275 yards last week. He only managed 75 against the Turtle Herd (I just coined that…run with it). The Bad: Only 2.9 yards per rush and barely 300 yards of offense. The Ugly: Seven fumbles. Seven. Add two interceptions to that and Maryland gave the ball away six times. The Verdict: Again…the new kids are holding up their end of the bargain in the B1G. That being said, every one of us should a take a lesson from this. Even a team we laughingly called "U-So-F***ingbad" will hang around when they’re given six extra chances. Next opponent: West Virginia.
Michigan State at Oregon:
The Good: Score notwithstanding, there was an awful lot of good in this game. Sadly, most of it came in the first half. Despite falling behind early, the Spartans showed ruthless efficiency in battling back. Connor Cook made throws you’d expect of a top-flight QB. Langford ran hard and smart. The defense smothered the Oregon attack from the early 2nd quarter until late in the 3rd. The Bad: The offense and the defense just seemed to run out of gas in the second half. A chip-shot of a pass from Mariota to Freeman late in the third opened up the Oregon scoring taps and the Spartan defense never recovered. The Ugly: Nothing ugly about the way MSU played, but this effectively ended any hope of the Big Ten making the playoff. The narrative continues, but MSU didn’t flop by any means. The Verdict: Oregon is a real contender, and MSU is still the heavy in the B1G. Next opponent: Bye.
Michigan at Notre Dame.
The Good: Nothing. Literally nothing. Well, that’s probably unfair. The Michigan defense held Notre Dame to 1.7 yards per rush. The Bad: The Michigan defense allowed three TD passes. Devin Gardner threw three interceptions. The Michigan offense could not achieve anything on the ground. The passing attack was better, but to no avail. 100 yards rushing on 35 carries, and 189 yards passing, that translated to zero points. That’s what turnovers will do to a team. The Ugly: The first shutout of Michigan since 1984. The first shutout of Michigan by any Notre Dame team. The most lopsided loss in the series. By any historical metric, things could hardly have gone worse for the Wolverines. The Verdict: Devastating performance by Michigan. In many ways, the Wolverines are back at square one. The program seems to have been adrift since Lloyd Carr stepped down. Brady Hoke should probably call a real estate agent, especially in light of his alienating behavior this week with the Michigan media. Mediocrity is a rot that takes hold and drives away talent. Michigan may have a choice to make soon. Next opponent: Miami U.
Virginia Tech at Ohio State.
The Good: Eli Apple’s coverage, on occasion. Turnovers leading to TDs to erase the first 14-point deficit. The Bad: Pick a unit. Any unit. O-line? I’m not sure they were at the game. Linebackers? Given the coverage over the middle, they looked more like extra D-linemen. Though with three extra linemen, you’d think Brewer might’ve been sacked more than twice. The Ugly: Seven sacks allowed. Three interceptions. The endless pressure. Repeated attempts at a read option to the short side against a VT defense that snuffed it out time and again. The Verdict: OSU’s ranking is a farce, mostly because it was predicated on a QB who isn’t playing. That being said, this didn’t look like an OSU team in any sense of the word. Horrendous play by the offensive line—really by the whole offense—and a revamped secondary that had no answer for VT’s passing game between the hashes nabbed Urban Meyer the first home opener loss since 1979. It’s going to be a long year in Columbus. Next opponent: Kent State.
Personal note: Lo, though I may be a Buckeye homer, I stood alone and totally called this disaster on Friday. I didn't give the corners enough credit for their ability to snatch Barrett's arm-punts. It's time to get real about this team, Buckeye fans.
That was not fun. Franly, I'm emotionally exhausted from compiling that much midwestern pain in one article. It's like a casserole of nails and broken lightbulbs. That's a "hot dish" for you Minnesotans. For now, the best we can hope for is that the teams who stumbled use the ensuing weeks to tighten up the weak spots and move ahead as a unit. Hope springs eternal in the land of green fields, black coffee, and red meat. The road to January is long, and as MSU showed us last year, an early loss does not the season condemn.