Welcome back, sports fans. After months of productive Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings spent in quiet reverence of your chosen deity, it's football time once again. We've waited far too long for this, so there's no point in mucking about with a lot of introduction. On to the foobawwwww!
14 B1G Things
1. Jerry Kill has built a surprisingly stout defense in the Twin Cities. The natural conclusion is that he struck a deal with the same undersea witch who let the Little Mermaid trade her voice for a pair of legs. In this case, the collateral was his offense.
2. Rudock 2014 threw 5 INTs. Rudock 2015 is on track to match that number by halftime next week.
3. MSU's defense would like to know whether Western Michigan's 24 points are tax-deductible as "charitable giving."
4. The best defensive line play this week occurred at Ryan Field, and not courtesy of the visiting team (as is custom).
5. If insanity is doing the same thing over and over with the expectation of differing results, kicking to Will Likely is practically a psych exam.
6. Last year, Rutgers could barely win with a secondary. This year they're going to try winning without one.
7. Pennsylvania Chemistry: Penn State OL + Temple DL = Three Mile Island.
8. If Mormon missionaries in Lincoln, NE, weren't having doors slammed in their faces already...
8a. But seriously, that hail mary...wow.
9. Illinois' performance has elevated the firing of Tim Beckman to a faith-healing event.
10. Indiana can turn any game into an existential ordeal.
11. Per '80s TV tradition, Joel Stave has obviously been replaced by his evil and accurate passing twin Mole Stave.
12. Wisconsin running backs and neutral site SEC season-openers do not mix.
13. BTN and schedule changes...never the twain shall meet.
14. For the second year in a row, the opening salvo of B1G football raised as many questions as it answered.
The Nitty Gritty
Michigan at Utah // Utah wins 24-17. The opening act of the Harbaugh era struck a decidedly familiar chord, as the new Michigan looked an awful lot like the old Michigan. Graduate transfer QB Jake Rudock--of Iowa infamy--threw three interceptions to his two TDs in his Big Blue debut. Similarly, few in Ann Arbor can be happy to see that Michigan's running game has retained much of its previous anemia. While neither team churned out big runs, the Wolverines produced only 76 yards on the ground. Michigan's O-line looked thoroughly confused and overmatched in run blocking. Turnovers aside, Rudock went 27-of-43 passing for 279 yards and 2 TDs enroute to a QB rating of 32.6. Wait, did they drop a numeral? Nope...32.6 it is.
Overall, it was clear early on that neither team would be a world-beater or even a divisional champ. Michigan will survive to whatever degree the schedule allows by virtue of its generally good defense. Jabrill Peppers looked decent in the second half, though there's still no observable reason to think he's second coming of Charles Woodson, as many had intimated in the past. This game was certainly not a trucking/dick-tripping/hammerf***ing or any other standard OTE term for a loss. Nonetheless, it seems that none of Michigan's questions have been answered, especially in the run game.
TCU at Minnesota // TCU wins 23-17. Reports of the Gophers' demise had been greatly exaggerated. Even I, your humble "writer," expected the worst. The best small mammal in the West was sure to be ground to grist by a runaway tractor with Trevone Boykin at the wheel. Instead, we saw what I can only describe as a rather stunning show of midwestern grit and long-term coaching success. TCU was expected to walk away with this game in the same fashion as the 2014 showdown--a 30-7 drubbing for those who've blocked it from their minds. The Gophers pinned their ears back and made TCU work for every yard. Boykin spent many a series throwing off his back foot and scrambling to keep the play alive after Maroon & Gold bruisers collapsed his pocket.
The obvious flipside of this Stanley Nickel is the Gopher offense. Mitch Leidner cannot, under nearly any circumstances, throw a tight spiral. In the same way that some people cannot roll their tongues or raise one eyebrow, he looks to be physically incapable of the task. Jerry Kill's chief signal caller ended the night right on par, completing 19-of-35 for one TD. If you thought Rudock's QBR was comically low, cut that number in half. The days of David Cobb floating the offense are well and truly over. RB Rodney Smith failed to crack 100 yards rushing. The entire team only managed 144 on the ground--again a number Cobb would've produced by himself last year in most games (except TCU). While I'm loath to revel in moral victories of any sort, the Gophers played the #2 team in the land til the final possession. If I was a fan of a B1G West team I'd be much less excited about this year's Gopher showdown. Especially because no one in the West has a QB who can even hold Trevone Boykin's towel. Minnesota next up: at Colorado State.
MSU at Western Michigan // MSU wins 37-24. Early-season scrums against Directional Michigans are as B1G as punting duels and cream of mushroom soup (AKA the "Lutheran binder"). Usually they're not worth watching beyond the half, but for some reason Sparty seems to have a way of letting them stick around a bit longer than is wise. Michigan State started out well, leading 20-7 after the first, and seemed to have the game in hand. By the third quarter MSU had a 24-point lead and was cruising toward the type of win that sends one searching for other games to watch. The Broncos, to their credit, refused to yield. Two long, grinding drives cut the MSU lead down to 10 points. The game was finally sealed when Sparty plucked an MSU pass out of the air to end the ordeal. Madre London, Gerald Holmes, and LJ Scott combined for 188 yards on 35 carries, with the former pair amassing three TDs. Connor Cook threw some nice downfield strikes, but finished the night at only 15-of-31 for 265 yards. In contrast, WMU's Zach Terrell finished 33-of-50 for 365 and a pair of INTs.
Probably the biggest takeaway for B1G and Sparty fans is the fact that the defensive secondary couldn't fully shut down the passing attack of Western Michigan. Was Dantonio holding back some talent in the rotation to preserve legs and spirits for next week's Oregon tilt? Or did Narduzzi take the magic with him to Pitt? Time--and the Ducks--will tell. MSU next up: Oregon
Stanford (21) at Northwestern // Northwestern wins 16-6. With the average on-field GPA probably slightly higher than the average on-field star rating, this game could've been a real stinker. Instead, we were treated to old-fashioned bareknuckle fisticuffs among the landed gentry. Stanford in the post-Harbaugh era has lost a bit of its luster, but David Shaw has held the program together well enough to see the Cardinal ranked once again. The highlights of the Tree People's visit to Ryan Field was--wait for it--the NW defensive line. The Purpacats flowed to the ball like men on fire, shutting down the Cardinal's running game and forcing Hogan into a throwing scheme he wasn't prepared to execute. Or perhaps more precisely, one that his receivers were not prepared to execute. Stanford dropped passes left and right, killing their own drives more than once. That said, Northwestern gifted Stanford a second life on several occasions thanks to dropped INTs. The yin and the yang of smart-guy football.
NW quarterback Clayton Thorsen (who shall henceforth be known as CT3 because "Clayton Thorsen III" sounds perfectly Northwestern) played error-free ball all afternoon. None of his numbers are staggering, but he made all the plays he needed to make. His 42-yard scamper for a TD put Northwestern up 10-3, and his 4th-quarter strike to Miles Schuler dug the Cats out of a big hole (the drive led to the final 3 points). The game was over when Kyle Queiro picked Kevin Hogan in the endzone...though he should've kept running. Northwestern next up: EIU.
Richmond at Maryland // Maryland wins 50-21. Forgive your humble "writer" if we breeze through this game. There were some dim spots, for sure. Maryland's choice of Perry Hills as the best of the QB bunch seems suspect at best. The youngster went 12-21 for 138 yards against...well...Richmond. It wasn't so much the numbers as it was the quality of the passes themselves. Hills seemed to sort of huck the ball in a general area, and expect that it would magically result in yardage. The high points for Maryland were notable as well. Brandon Ross ran for a career-high 150 yards. Will Likely returned 8 punts for 233 yards--shattering a B1G record that had stood for 76 years. Why the Richmond coaches insisted on kicking to him time after time is beyond any explanation. Masochism comes to mind, but this is a family blog. Maryland next up: at Bowling Green.
Norfolk State at Rutgers // Rutgers wins 63-13. Again, let's not belabor the point. This game was over before it began. Laviano and company utterly dismantled a Norfolk State team that really had no business playing a foe of Rutgers' caliber (chew on that for a moment). With the biggest news of the week coming off the field for the Scarlet Knights, it was probably nice to be able to thump some skulls for 60 minutes. Despite suspending basically the entire secondary for some fairly heinous crimes (that happened in April, oddly), the game was never in question. Laviano (who was suspended for the first half) and backup Hayden Rettig combined for 248 yards passing, backed up by another 291 on the ground. This one was over by the half, and Rutgers had plenty of time to consider their options going forward. As of yesterday, the 5 suspended players had been dismissed from the university. The season just got a whole lot longer in Piscataway ("New Brunswick"). Rutgers next up: Wazoo.
Kent State at Illinois // Illinois wins 52-3. Catharsis comes in many forms, and this one felt like John Coffey breathing out the remnants of a cancer/demon/rotten lasagna. The Golden Flashes are one of the worst teams in football. For the long-suffering Illini, that's just what the doctor ordered. A healthy Wes Lunt heaved four TDs, while KSU offered three INTs in return. The Golden Flashes couldn't get out of their own way and the Illini could seem to do no wrong. Save for one pick thrown by backup Chayce Crouch, the orange offense was a scoring machine. Illinois led 38-0 at the half, and didn't take their foot off the gas until well into the fourth. Good for them. If any set of kids needed to go out and vent their frustrations on the gridiron, it was Illinois. Is winning a "nice thing"? Yes, but even Illinois needs a break from being Illinois once in awhile. The question is whether it will last. Illinois next up: Western Illinois.
Illinois State at Iowa // Iowa wins 31-14. Ferentz's brand of ball can be a snoozer in a tight game. A runaway win for Iowa is nearly unwatchable outside Iowa City. The Hawkeyes didn't let Illinois State see the scoreboard until the scrubs took the field in the 4th, with the Hawkeyes already leading 24 to zilch. With the specter of Rudock gone to Michigan, erstwhile backup-slash-starter-slash-backup CJ Beathard took the reins in earnest. Beathard finished 15-of-24 for 221 yards, and Iowa's runners pushed the offense to 431 on the day. As so often happens, this game told us nothing about Iowa except that they're much, much better than Illinois State. Ferentz's perennial nemesis ISU may also tell us nothing, other than that Ferentz sometimes tosses his junk on the floor and sees if the Cyclones can push him over it. Iowa next up: Iowa State.
SIU at Indiana // Indiana wins 48-47. While the Indiana State Police mount a manhunt for both team's missing defenses, let's focus on the positives. Nate Sudfeld is back! The architect of the 2014 SEC East Championship team has returned from injury to do a lot of throwing. Because that's what he's good at, as 349 yards passing might indicate. Overall, the Hoosiers put up an impressive 595 yards of total offense. That number is actually fairly amazing. The only problem is that they let FCS foe Southern Illinois put up a school-record 517 yards as well. Without UAB transfer Howard, who scored the final three TDs to get Indiana to 48, things would be a bit gloomier in Bloomington. We knew the team would miss Tevin Coleman, but somehow all of yesterday's problems were on defense. The Hoosiers seemed to have the game all locked up 48-41 after coming back from an 11-point deficit at the half. Instead, they let SIU go 75 yards in five plays, only seeing fit to stop them on the two-point try. Without an earlier missed PAT by SIU, the Hoosiers would've likely been doomed. To be fair, coach Kevin Wilson suspended nine players before the game for misconduct. That said, unless all 9 of them are defensive starters, there's a lot to answer for on the IU defense. Indiana next up: FIU.
Penn State at Temple // OMFG Temple. I mean this in all sincerity: James Franklin is a buffoon. Pardon me...he's a record-setting buffoon. Last year, it was the first home loss to Maryland...ever. This year, it was the first loss to Temple since the earth cooled. Now, I don't say he's a buffoon for losing. Losing happens. Teams fall apart, the ball caroms the wrong way, aliens, etc. A coach can't win every game, especially in a rebuilding program. I level that accusation at the Franklion based solely on the fact that Christian Hackenberg should not be alive this morning. Ten sacks. Ten. That's one more than nine, and that's terrible. Loyal PSU fans, do not take this as random PSU hate from this SMCD soapbox. No, no. If you had told me that PSU's offensive line would be worse this year, I'd have been the first to tell you that you're crazy. And yet, ten sacks and 77 yards rushing later, here we are.
The Temple Owls came to play ball and the Nittany Lions did not. There's little that can be said to explain away this grizzly scene:
That's a two-man rush sacking Hackenberg for the 27th time (I lost count). Temple had a gameplan and stuck to it. PSU's gameplan seemed to be "show up and be PSU and Temple will just lose." Worst of all, the Nittany Lions lost star LB Wartman-White to a season-ending leg injury. In retrospect, it's hard to fathom a way in which this game could've been more costly to the program. Even losing Hackenberg wouldn't be worse, since it appears the PSU offensive line will prevent an incredibly talented young man from being effective in any way this season. Perhaps the time to question the tenure of James Franklin is sooner rather than later. PSU next up: Buffalo.
BYU at Nebraska // BYU wins 28-27. In the poignant words of Northwestern "writer" LincolnParkWildcat, "live by the Hail Mary, die by the Hail Mary." The cackles and gasps for air were edited out in the name of brevity. The Mike Riley era opened in fits and starts. On the offensive side, Nebraska chugged along on an upward arc for most of the game, with Tommy Armstrong Jr. becoming visibly more competent in executing the new offensive scheme. Clearly, the lack of standout De'Mornay Pierson-El did the Huskers no favors, but Armstrong Jr. found 319 yards through the air regardless. The Nebraska running attack was a shadow of the Ameer Abdullah days, with seven different Huskers amassing only 126 yards collectively. Oh, how rich we were.
The big story of the day was the Nebraska defense--specifically the lack thereof. For all the recent twitter ballyhoo about the earning of black shirts, the Husker defenders had no answer for BYU's Taysom Hill. Sadly for the young man and the BYU faithful, Taysom fell to yet another season-ending injury. For a man who's spent so much time hurt, one wonders if he'll play again. When he was in the game, he gave Nebraska fits. Hill racked up 340 all-purpose yards (268 throwing) before his exit. Backup Tanner Mangum picked up where the starter left off, throwing for another 111 yds. Of that, the biggest chunk game on no-time-left heave that probably left Nebraskans saying words that polite Nebraskans do not say. Riley seems like a good coach and all signs point to success in the B1G West...but this was downright heartbreaking. Nebraska next up: Univ. of South Alabama
Wisconsin at Bama (in Texas) // Bama wins 35-17. It's hard to say whether this was better than expected or worse than expected. The spread aside, there are arguments to be made in both directions. On the plus side, Joel Stave threw passes we haven't since Joel Stave throw since his name was Russell Wilson. Tight spirals, pinpoint accuracy (mostly), and good check-downs made him look like the class of the B1G West in terms of throwing ability. The flipside is that the class of the B1G West doesn't hold a candle to the best defense in the SEC West. Stave was left to do much of the heavy lifting, as Wisconsin's running game was absolutely smothered by the Bama front seven. The Badgers tallied a pathetic 40 yards on the ground against the Tide. For a run-first team, that spells doom. Of course matters weren't helped any by the departure of Corey Clement after a groin injury flared up. The scene of the best runner on the sidelines inspired flashbacks to last year's befuddling loss to LSU in Houston. Moral of the story: don't play the SEC in Texas if you like your running backs.
Wisconsin's defense was left smarting, too. Unquestioned leader and star DB talent Mike Caputo left the game early after getting his bell rung so hard that he went to the wrong side of Bama's huddle to line up. Kudos to the Wisconsin staff for confiscating his helmet and ignoring his pleas to get back in the game. In the end, the Bama offense functioned on a level Wisconsin could not counter. FSU transfer Jake Coker threw with impunity to his corps of lanky receivers, and RB Derrick Henry threw a one-man debut party to the tune of 147 yards and three TDs. It's hard to wonder if T.J. Yeldon shouldn't have gotten so many touches last year. Another high-profile game, another big Wisconsin loss. This one felt better than the last two big flops, and there's plenty of reason for positivity in Madison. Wisconsin next up: Miami University.
One thing can be said of the B1G: we're not afraid to open big. With two games yet to be played in the this opening week, six of the 14 teams in the B1G opened with a P5 opponent (counting BYU). Compare that to four in the SEC, four in the ACC, five in the Pac-12, and only two in the Big XII. The downside is that the B1G stands likely to finish 2-4 against those P5 opponents. Not the beginning we had hoped for, but we've seen worse. Nebraska's loss was literally a toss-up. Minnesota couldn't have played the #2 much harder, and Northwestern dropped a ranked Stanford. The Temple loss, though...that didn't do the B1G any favors.
It's been an interesting 5-day opening slate thus far. In preparation for this two final B1G tilts, I leave you with what appears to be a Jayhawk performing a favor. Because at least we aren't the Big XII.