A tough schedule week for the B1G, as basketball season came early in the form of an impromptu B1G/ACC challenge. The slate featured five tilts between the midwest and our sort-of-Southern, sort-of-coastal neighbors. That's a lot of Power Five matchups for the non-conference time of year. Perhaps scheduling in the B1G is finally getting on the right side of the "how many FCS teams should we play?" question.
A week with this many quality matchups offers the chance to answer a lot of questions. Can Illinois keep the magical season rolling? Is Northwestern for real, or is this 2013 all over again? Who's really it, Iowa or Pitt? With the B1G leading 1-0 after OSU's week one trouncing of VT, the conference had every opportunity to put claims of ACC prowess to rest on Saturday.
Naturally, the Big Ten didn't seize the chance to quiet its doubters. That's not what we do. With some big hits and even bigger misses, the conferences are now dead even at three wins apiece. Let's see who carried the day and who bungled it away.
14 B1G Things
1. Consider for a moment how bad an offense has to be to make people who are "Minnesota nice" boo their own team. Then add one more INT and that's the Gophers.
2. Playing a service academy is a good reminder that there's more to football than size and strength.
3. Michigan produced 254 yards of rushing offense alone, but once again Rudock spent the aftenoon missing open receivers and generally looking like a Kirk Ferentz product.
4. Orange is a good color for Illinois, since the whole team just turned into pumpkins.
5. Northwestern's win over Duke was the only game this week where the average ACT score of both teams eclipsed the point total.
6. It's toss-up as to what changes more: Maryland's QB situation or their uniforms. It's also a dead heat as to which is harder to look at.
7. The Buckeyes provided Jim Tressel a fitting tribute for his induction into the OSU Athletics Hall of Fame: a seven-point win over a MAC team.
8. Cardale Jones is doing his best to remind everyone why he was third string.
9. Tommy Armstrong, Jr. is the Evel Knievel of QBs. It's either great success or epic, soul-pulverizing failure with that guy.
10. VT is following the OSU model this year: Lose the star QB and then hang 50+ on some hapless opponent to get the team's confidence back. Oh, hey Purdue...didn't see you there.
11. Stop trying to make Tanner McEvoy at quarterback happen.
12. In case you hadn't noticed, the Hoosiers are playing football.
13. The season-defining nature of a game against a neutered Rutgers shows you right where PSU is these days.
14. Of course Iowa would nearly lose on a punt and win on a kick. That's football.
The Nitty Gritty
Kent State at Minnesota // Minnesota wins 10-7...wait...yup, 10-7 This was a comedy of offensive impotence from the coin toss onward. Mitch Leidner was, quite frankly, terrible. His 17-of-27 effort was actually better than his usual completion rate, but brutal interceptions on back to back series killed what little momentum the Gopher offense had. The throws he managed to make accounted for 184 of the Gophs' 288 yards. That's a weak showing by itself, but the ugliest stat of the day was actually the Minnesota rushing attack--or lack thereof. Rodney Smith added only 73 yards to a ground campaign that barely topped the century mark. The Gophers remained stingy on defense, though Kent State's anemic offense is hardly a barometer of any defense's abilities. Increasingly, this Gopher team that looked so promising in the opener against TCU seems like they won't make much noise in the West without a major improvement. Minnesota next up: Ohio U.
Air Force at Michigan State // Sparty wins 35-21 Hard to believe that those undersized, high motor, cut-blocking scoundrels from Colorado Springs could hang in the game at all. They should probably be relegated to FCS before they hurt somebody with their dastardly-yet-legal blocking schemes. Nonetheless, Air Force never really threatened to upset MSU, despite the final score. The fact that Air Force did have some success throwing against the MSU secondary is a bit concerning, especially in light of news that star CB Vayante Copeland is out for the remainder of the year with a neck injury. Overall, Connor Cook and the Sparty offense had their way with the Falcons. The veteran QB went 15-of-23 for four TDs, three of which were grabbed by Aaron Burbridge. All in all, it was a decent showing for a Michigan State team coming off an all-out effort against Oregon and facing a rare triple option offense. MSU next up: Central Michigan
UNLV at Michigan // Michigan wins 28-7 Michigan fans in the Big House must've been relieved to a see a game that was over by the half, but not at their expense. The Wolverines came into this matchup favored by a seemingly insane 35 points, and in retrospect that was probably a bit generous to Harbaugh's squad. Michigan led 7-0 after the first, 21-0 at the half, and never really looked back. What started out as a slow running day for Michigan became a steady rout of the UNLV line, especially off-tackle. De'Veon Smith remained the workhorse of the rushing attack, getting 13 touches but only 33 yards. By the end of the day, ten different Wolverines had carried the rock, with Ty Isaac's 76-yard rumble standing proud as the signature run of the afternoon. Rudock tossed a short pass for a TD, and his usual interception. UNLV wasn't much of a foe, but the Wolverines have two wins under their belt and some momentum to carry into a tougher challenge next week. Michigan next up: BYU
Illinois at UNC // UNC wins 48-14 The Cinderella Story lasted a good two weeks for the Illini and interim coach Bill Cubit. While it's tempting to say "the Illini hit a Power Five buzzsaw" or some such thing, the reality is that UNC is not a very good team. But they're better than Illinois. A lot better. Wes Lunt finally came crashing back to earth in the face of an athletic UNC defense, going 17-of-32 for a paltry 140 yards and no TDs. He'd thrown for 5 TDs thus far and yardage in excess of 300 last week. UNC QB Marquise Williams had a phenomenal day, posting 203 yards passing with three TDs and another 105 yards rushing. UNC led the Illini 20-7 at the half, and came out like gangbusters after the break to score 28 more points. Illinois had no answer for sophomore WR Ryan Switzer, who ripped off returns of 71 yards and 85 yards--the latter for the final TD and the school record for single-game return yards. He also caught a TD pass. For Illinois, the harsh reality that removing a jerk from the corner office doesn't suddenly improve the talent or execution of the team has finally been driven home. Now the real work begins. The Illini got smashed in the mouth. Will they get up and come out swinging? Or will they stumble punch-drunk through the remainder of the season? Illinois next up: Middle Tennessee
Northwestern at Duke // Northwestern wins 19-10 An offensive showdown this was not. While the Illini were getting trucked in another corner of the The Triangle, the Cats were carrying the battle standard for the B1G against David Cutcliffe's revitalized Duke team. With Fitz prowling the sidelines in his only known pair of shorts, Northwestern trailed the Dookies 7-3 at the half. Duke scored early off great field position that came from Clayton Thorson's second interception of the season. The 'Cats signal caller was off his game for the rest of the day, completing only 9 of his 23 passes.
Turnovers and special teams were the story of the victory. Northwestern got on the board after DE Dean Lowry tipped a pass to himself and rumbled the other way. The first PurpaCat lead came in the 3rd when Solomon Vault took the 2nd half kickoff 98 yards for a TD, but somehow Northwestern failed to convert the PAT. After the foes traded field goals, Warren Long stretched the lead to 19-10 with a 55-yard scamper for a TD--a lead he sealed by recovering a muffed punt shortly thereafter. We've seen starts like this out of Northwestern before, at least in terms of record. Even so, the Cats have proven they have something going. Beating two P5 opponents in three weeks is no small thing anymore. Northwestern next up: Ball State
USF at Maryland // Maryland wins 35-17 Perry Hills has plenty of time to polish up his wrestling moves as he's now on the bench in favor of Caleb Rowe. Rowe wasted no time in his first start of the year, firing off four TD passes and nearly 300 yards through the air. He also wasted no time in throwing three INTs and coughing up three fumbles. The yin and yang of football is alive and well in College Park. After losing to a surprisingly potent Bowling Green last week, the Terps found a rhythm offensively in spite of the turnovers. Maryland's defense held the Bulls to only seven points in the second half, while the Terps' offense tacked on two more TDs to seal the game. Rowe, who threw two INTs in three passing attempts last week, finished the day 21/33 for 297. USF gashed Maryland's defense on the ground for 240 yards with five different ball carriers, though Maryland all but shut down the Bulls' passing attack. This Maryland program still looks to be a bit of a rudderless ship at the moment, but at least they didn't embarrass the B1G with two G5 losses in a row. Maryland next up: West Virginia
NIU at Ohio State // OSU escapes 20-13 in a maelstrom of ineptitude. Cardale Jones started the afternoon with a wounded duck interception and things only got worse from there. The Buckeye QBs--as a pair--would throw three INTs on the day, and the offense looked completely gutless on all but two drives. There's not much to say in the Buckeyes' favor except that the defense was quite solid all afternoon. OSU held NIU to 190 yards of total offense and only one short-field TD. The real story of the Buckeyes' day, aside from the terrible QB play, was the awful play-calling by Warriner. Despite having a running back capable of chewing up turf 10 yards at a go, the newly minted OC continued to dial up schemes to highlight the horrors of the misfiring signal callers. Drive after drive fizzled with dropped passes, blown routes, or interceptions. Jacoby Boren's snapping woes continued, as well.
All in all, it was a miserable outing for the Buckeyes. Somehow a team with three of the best QBs in the game suddenly finds itself unable to complete passes or finish a drive. The defense was able to bail them out of this one, but that certainly won't be the case in conference play. Whatever the issue is, Urban finds himself at the helm of a mighty ship that may turn out to be the Edmund Fitzgerald if he's not careful. Ohio State next up: Western Michigan
Nebraska at Miami // Miami wins 36-33 in OT Oh, Nebraska. Oh, what could have been! In a show of middle American manners, the Huskers opted to spot the 'Canes a 24 point lead before suddenly roaring back to life. Down 27-3 in the third, Tommy Armstrong Jr. ignited the offense and rattled off touchdown after touchdown, eventually tying the game at 33 with a 2-point conversion pass to Jordan Westerkamp in the final minutes. Despite being ineffective for most of the first half--mostly due to dropped passes and poor blocking--the Huskers scored points in bunches and threatened to win the game and end Al Golden's career at Miami.
On the first play of overtime, Armstrong pushed his comeback luck a bit too far. Rolling right out of the pocket, he heaved a weakly thrown ball to the endzone. A Miami defender was more than happy to pick it out of the air and go the other way, where he'd eventually be run out of bounds and be treated to an egregious late hit. That penalty set up a Miami possession at the 12.5 yard line. Instead of just kicking the field goal, Miami insisted on running play after play in the vain hope of finding some way to give Nebraska one more shot. Eventually the 'Canes squeaked one through the upright and the reprising of the great Nebraska/Miami battles of yore was over.
Despite his eleventh-hour heroics, Armstrong was as much the problem as the solution. He threw for 309 yards, but also 3 interceptions. It can be argued that the comeback was partially enabled by the loss of two Miami safeties for targeting (Miami? Imagine that!). Wherever the blame for the loss falls, two things are certain. First, the Huskers are 1-2 for the first time since 1981, and that is not good. Secondly, Al Golden looks like he went to prison in those clothes, lost a ton of weight, and then got released to go coach a football game. Nebraska next up: Southern Miss.
Virginia Tech at Purdue // VT wins 51-24 Choo choo, motherf***ers. This was a classic beat-down of a Purdue team that once again doesn't have much of anything to offer. The commentators gleefully harped on how "confident" Darrell Hazell's team is, but that clearly didn't translate to the field. VT took Purdue to the woodshed the old fashioned way, with a balanced effort on offense, defense, and special teams. A wide-open offense led by freshman QB Brendan Motley overcame their new QB's fumbles and interceptions to tally up 471 yards. The Hokie defense smothered Purdue with their own pillow. The Boiler Boys had a punt blocked for a TD and fell victim to the usual Purdue brand of football: poor execution and brutal mistakes. Purdue actually led 14-10 at one point, thanks to a fumble-six (that's a scoop & score for you non-OTE types) by Danny Ezechukwu, but VT also returned a fumble for a TD. Austin Appleby was an abysmal 9-of-23 for 119 yards with two picks. Purdue won't win many games that way. September goes as ever in West Lafayette. Purdue next up: BGSU
Troy at Wisconsin // Wisconsin wins 28-3 With Corey Clement out for yet another week, the Badgers still had no trouble dispensing with the Trojans at Camp Randall. Dare Ogunbowale and Taiwan Deal picked up the slack against a Troy squad that was in town for a paycheck. The biggest news of the afternoon was the ejection of two Wisconsin defenders for tackles that looked to be hard but fair. Nonetheless, LB Leon Jacobs and CB Derrick Tindal got to spend most of the afternoon in the ice bath. Since both were first half ejections, they should be on the field next week. Deal ran 16 times for 84 yards and Ogunbowale added 75 yards on 15 carries. Stave, McEvoy, and Ogunbowale each ran for TDs and Stave found a wide open Austin Traylor at the goal line to set up the remaining TD toss to Traylor thereafter. All in all, it was another tuneup for a team that has the defense of Minnesota, but the offense of a football team. Wisconsin next up: Hawaii
Western Kentucky at Indiana // Indiana wins 38-35 A flurry of reds, whites, and chrome in Bloomington as the Hoosiers outlasted the Hilltoppers. WKU came into the game boasting the nation's leading passer in yards and touchdowns under center. QB Brandon Doughty did not disappoint, completing 35 of his 46 passes for 484 yards. His efforts put WKU up 28-17 at the half, and the Hilltoppers looked poised to run away with the game. Then the Hoosier defense decided they'd had enough, picking two Doughty passes to set up touchdowns. Nate Sudfeld was no slouch himself, boasting 22 completions on 27 attempts for 355 yards and 3 TDs. More importantly, he didn't turn the ball over.
When Sudfeld wasn't throwing, Jordan Howard was toiling to erase the name Tevin Coleman from the tongues of the Hoosier faithful. The junior RB from Alabama carried the rock 31 times for 203 yards, and now has 507 yards on the ground after only three weeks of football. This kid could be the next big thing at Indiana. The Hoosiers relied on his legs late to run out the clock after WKU pulled within three. Sudfeld kneeled on the ball inside the ten yard line of Western Kentucky, and could have easily driven it in for a bigger win. Remember that this WKU squad beat a Vanderbilt team that took Georgia to the wire a week later (Georgia clown-pounded fUSC last night). The Hilltoppers are a potent offense and a solid defense, and this was a great win for the Hoosiers at home. Indiana next up: Wake Forest
Rutgers at PSU // PSU wins 28-3 The B1G opener! Even the driving rain couldn't extinguish the dumpster fires in Happy Valley. Rutgers is the Steve Austin of the B1G...they're a team barely alive, and six million dollars might bring them back from the brink. PSU kept things simple and the plan couldn't have worked better for a Nittany Lion offense that has struggled to do anything but burn clock enroute to a punt or turnover so far this season. What remains of the Rutgers team had few answers for what the Nits threw at them. Despite PSU's offensive line being maligned for its poor play thus far, Rutgers got virtually no pressure on Hackenberg. What's more, Penn State's Akeel Lynch and Saquon Barkley found themselves encountering large, man-size holes in the defensive front for the first time in 2015. Lynch dashed 75-yards virtually untouched for a TD, and Barkley added two of his own as part of a 195-yard night in which he averaged 9 yards per carry. Rutgers' Chris Laviano showed flashes of brilliance, but two INTs submarined any chance of Rutgers making a go at it. The Knights' signal caller finished an unremarkable 27-of-42 for 251 yards on a night Rutgers fans would just as soon forget. I think I speak for most when I say it would preferable if the B1G could find some way to make any other game the conference opener. PSU next up: San Diego State Rutgers next up: Kansas
Pitt at Iowa // Iowa wins 27-24 Pitt wasn't it in Iowa City. Locked at 24 with two ticks left on the clock, Iowa kicker Marshall Koehn trotted onto the field and short-legged a practice shot when Narduzzi attempted to ice him. The former MSU defensive mastermind and current unpaid spokesmodel for Transitions lenses burned a timeout in hopes of rattling Koehn, but to no avail. The only ice to be found was in Koehn's veins as he drove a 57-yarder home with leg to spare, sending Pitt packing. The game had been a typical Iowa affair up to that point, with a blocked punt for a TD keeping Pitt in the running. Iowa retook the lead in the 4th when Narduzzi decided to punt on 4th and inches from the Iowa 42 (how B1G is that?!) and C.J. Beathard drove the team 80 yards to go up 24-17. Pitt answered back--converting on 4th and 15 to keep the drive alive at one point--to tie the game with 1:19 remaining. With the belligerents deadlocked at 24, Beathard moved Iowa 30 yards in a minute of clock time to set up Koehn's heroics. Iowa starts the season 3-0 for the first time since 2009. Iowa next up: North Texas