The Big Ten faced a difficult weekend taking on a team from the ACC, SEC and Big 12, along with three teams heading west to take on Pac 12 squads. The Big Ten has not faired well in regular season contests on the road against Pac 12 schools, having won just five games all-time. After Saturday, the conference still only has five wins. In all, six teams fell Saturday as the league went just .500 in Week 2.
Illinois started the game in a hole, playing without starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, so offensive difficulties were foreseeable. What was not foreseeable was the absolute dog of a performance the defense would put up. The Illini D let Arizona State run and throw all over them, all day, to the tune of 511 total yards. The Sun Devils racked up 318 yards through the air (at an 11 yard per pass rate), while completing 79-percent of their passes. As bad as that was, the onslaught wasn’t just through the air. Illinois also gave up 193 rushing yards (at a 5.1 average). What a nightmare. The QB backups in place of Scheelhaase went a woeful 14/24 for 101 yards, one score and three picks. Pathetic.
Hard to be too jazzed about beating a team as bad as UMass when it cost the Hoosiers their starting quarterback. Tre Robinson has reportedly broken his leg and will be lost for the season. The positives have to be over six hundred yards of total offense for Indiana, as well as backup QB Cameron Coffman replacing Robinson and playing well. The minus reflects the interception by Robinson and a horrid performance on third down; 5 of 16 won’t cut it once league play starts.
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A D+ on a day when you throw two ugly INTs, are outgained, have a ton of penalty yards, record just 2.4 yards per carry, are held to six points and lose? Have I gone soft? No, the Iowa defense played a gem of a game and nearly won this for the Hawks despite the offensive ineptitude. Iowa forced four turnovers, stoned Iowa State in the red zone repeatedly after ISU was given short fields due to an awful day in the field position battle, and made amazing adjustments. ISU marched right down the field in the opening possession, but was held to a field goal. After that, nothing. A week after I called him out on this very blog, James Morris had a great day with a huge goal-line interception, a fumble recovery, 12 tackles (8 solo) and a tackle for loss. If, and this seems like wishful thinking, that offense ever gets going, this Iowa team may live up to expectations since the defense (a presumed weakness) is on fire.
Let’s start with the negatives: UM lost the turnover margin, the defense struggled all day and was terrible on third downs, and oh-by-the-way, Fitz Toussaint was held to seven yards rushing…on eight carries. The positives, other than the win against a scrappy Air Force team with a tough triple option to stop, was Denard Robinson’s bounce-back game. He hit 56% of his passes. Not a great percentage for the average QB, but for Robinson you’ll take it in a heartbeat. He tossed for 208 yards and two scores and added 218 yards and two more scores with his feet.
Michigan State: A+
I hate to give A pluses, especially when taking on a cupcake like Central Michigan, but the Spartans deserve it. They opened the game up with a 41-0 advantage and, until CMU scored with under two minutes left against the kids way down the depth chart, they held the Chips in check. Maxwell bounced back from the Boise State game with a 20-for-31 performance and two scores. Le’Veon Bell was not needed once the game was out of hand, but when he did play, he racked up 70 yards and two scores. The D picked off two balls and the special teams even made contributions. Dan Conroy made 2/3 FGs and all five PATs, and punter Mike Sadler put both of his punts inside the twenty. Complete and utter domination, and a perfectly executed game plan by Michigan State.
A week after a shaky performance, especially on third down, the Gophers moved the chains 11 times on 17 third down tries. The passing game was efficient, but the ground game really set the tempo in the 44-7 blowout of FCS New Hampshire.
Tempting to drop the Huskers to a D since they gave up nearly 700 yards of offense, let the Burins have nearly 40 minutes of possession and had two giveaways, but the fact is, the offense played well enough to keep them in this game. Nebraska had 438 yards of offense and scored 30 points, more than enough to win a college game. Converting just one third down (on 11 tries) is unforgivable, even if the Huskers had managed the comeback.
This might not have been an A game on the field, as Colter only hit on 46% of his passes for a 4.3 yard average and the ‘Cats were outgained by Vanderbilt. However, the end results deserve an A, along with a fired up Northwestern defense. The weak-link of this team came up big on a day when the offense really struggled. Northwestern’s much-maligned defense gave up a huge play late, but forced Vanderbilt to a game-tying kick after a big gain put Vandy in great field position. After the ‘Cats regained the lead, the defense forced the game-clinching fumble. The intensity the unit had during the fourth quarter heroics was apparent all day, as they held the dangerous Zac Stacy to just 36 yards of total offense.
Ohio State: B-
Central Florida made it a game, but the Buckeyes were also sloppy. Ohio State committed three turnovers and double-digit penalties, but the Buckeyes did force three turnovers of their own and picked up a win against an underrated squad. I would like to see a running back get more carries. I know Braxton Miller is a big kid, but he had 27 carries for 141 yards. Do Buckeye fans really want him taking that kind of pounding? The next best performance yards-wise for OSU was wide receiver Philly Brown, who totaled 33 yards. Bri’onte Dunn only had five touches. Banged up Carlos Hyde only had 7. Not good enough.
Penn State: D+
The defense played well for 95% of the game, aka the entire game until Virginia’s final drive, and forced four turnovers. The offense outgained the Cavs and made several trips to the red zone, but the special teams killed the Nittany Lions. Sam Ficken was just one of five on field goals and missed a PAT. Reverse one of the FGs and PSU wins, reverse the point after miscue and at worse this one goes to OT. Like OSU, this team desperately needs a running back to step up. Their leading two rushers needed 28 carries to produce just 77 yards. A meager 2.75 yards per carry won’t beat anyone, unless you are one of those vintage WAC teams of the 80s, which passes sixty times a game.
The Boilermakers played well enough to win in spite of QB Robert Marve going down with an injury, however, the defense cost Purdue this one, which is unfortunate since they are a “nice” unit on paper. The rushing attack needing 30 carries, spread among six players, to yield just 90 yards didn’t help the cause. Purdue’s defense couldn’t get off the field all day, letting Notre Dame convert 11/19 third down plays. And they couldn’t get off the field when it mattered most, tied at 17 with two minutes left. Gritty performance by Purdue, but they must be kicking themselves the way they let this one slip away. A credit to the Boilermakers that they can play so poorly and still nearly pull off a win.
Danny O’Brien had a horrible game, but the play calling was even worse. Montee Ball only had fifteen carries? That is at least ten below what he should have received. The Badgers third down conversion rate, 2-for-14, is unforgiveable. Two turnovers is another demerit. Oregon State had eight (8) penalties for 80 yards to the Badgers’ 3-for-18, yet the swing of sixty-two yards didn’t matter in the end. The defense played well, just not well enough to bump the grade, like Iowa’s did.
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