Big Ten Best and Worst of the Weekend
Michigan over Notre Dame- The first game under the lights in “The Big House” did not disappoint. The Wolverines were able to score 28 points in the fourth quarter, including a pair of touchdowns in the final two minutes. There were eight turnovers and each defense gave up over 450 yards, but Saturday’s game was worth the hype. The Wolverines gave Brady Hoke has his first signature win as head coach and helped the Big Ten save some face. Hoke had his team play for the win instead of the tie, something that losing Big Ten coaches were hesitant to do on Saturday.
Wisconsin- In week one the Wisconsin defense failed to impress against a subpar UNLV team. They must have gotten the memo. Against Oregon State the Badger defense had three sacks and held the Beavers to 23 yards rushing on 24 attempts. That is the same Oregon State team that ran for 266 yards in week one. Wisconsin’s offense continued to be dominant and they once again looked like the team to beat in the Big Ten this season.
Kain Colter- For the second week in a row Northwestern was without heralded QB Dan Persa. Once again it didn’t matter. While beating Eastern Illinois is no huge feat, Kain Colter shined. The sophomore ran for 109 yards and three touchdowns and threw for 104 on 10-for-13 passing. Persa is still without a timetable for his return from his Achilles injury so Colter showing he can carry the load is huge for the Wildcats.
Running Quarterbacks- Kain Colter wasn’t the only dual threat quarterback that was great on the ground for Big Ten schools on Saturday. Taylor Martinez ran for 166 yards and two scores in a Cornhusker victory over Fresno State. Denard Robinson led Michigan with 108 yards rushing and a touchdown while Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase ran for 93 yards and two scores in a win. Marqueis Gray led the Golden Gophers in rushing with 110 yards and a touchdown. Big Ten defenses will have trouble stopping all 5 of these guys on the ground this season.
Iowa- The Hawkeyes traveled to Ames on Saturday to play in-state rival Iowa State. Unfortunately the defense didn’t make the trip. Iowa gave up 473 yards and 44 points to a Cyclone offense that only put up 20 points on FCS Northern Iowa in week one. The pass rush was non-existent for Iowa and when the Iowa d-line did finally break through, ISU QB Steele Jantz would simply sidestep the rush. Jantz ended up with 321 yards of total offense and 4 touchdowns while making Hawkeye players look silly all day. Marcus Coker did run for 140 yards but it took 35 carries and he again showed issues with ball security. James Vandenberg and his receivers couldn’t get on the same page and didn’t execute when it mattered. Questionable decision making by the coaching staff left many Hawkeye fans with an especially bitter taste in their mouths following the loss.
Big Ten Bottom Feeders- Indiana, Purdue, and Minnesota are the worst teams in the conference this year and showed it on Saturday. The conference and those schools were embarrassed by a trio of disappointing loses. A come from behind win by Virginia over the Hoosiers was the first road win for the Cavaliers under second year coach Mike London. Indiana now moves to 0-2 under Kevin Wilson. Purdue had a field goal to win the game but it was blocked and they fell 22-24 to Rice. It was the first win for Rice over a BCS conference opponent since a 2001 victory over Duke and the first over a Big Ten team since 1997. Minnesota went to 0-2 after losing to New Mexico State but the real story was what happened to head coach Jerry Kill. With 20 seconds left in the game Kill had a seizure and collapsed on the sideline, leaving a stadium full of Gopher fans holding their breath. Kill was taken away by ambulance and was said to be in stable condition.
Running Quarterbacks Throwing the Ball- Anyone that watched Denard Robinson lobbing up pop flies on Saturday night had to get a little queasy every time “shoelace” stepped back to pass. According to one person on twitter, “Denard Robinson has the purest arm punt I’ve ever seen”. Robinson threw 3 interceptions and was fortunate that his receivers were better at playing center field on his 11 completions. Ann Arbor wasn’t the only place that duck hunting was taking place though. Taylor Martinez was 10-for-21 with 2 interceptions amd a big reason Fresno State made it such a close game. Marqueis Gray threw two interceptions in the loss to New Mexico State. On one play Gray was about to be sacked so he chucked the ball as high as he could straight up in the air, something most quarterbacks learn not to do in middle school.
Michigan State- The Spartans have flown under the radar the first two weeks despite outscoring their opponents 72-6. Kirk Cousins brings an accurate arm and veteran leadership while the duo of running backs Le’Veon Bell and Edwin Baker will be difficult to contain for most Big Ten schools. Disappointing performances by the Iowa, Nebraska, and Michigan defenses could mean the Spartans have just become the favorite to win the Legends division. Next week they face their first real challenge as they visit a Notre Dame team that is desperate for a win.
Illinois Running Game- Under Ron Zook the Illini are always one of the top rushing teams in the nation but they took things to another level against South Dakota State. In 50 attempts the Illini ran for 364 yards and 6 touchdowns. Three players averaged over 9 yards per carry and eight different players carried the ball on Saturday. Next week the Illini will see if the yards will be as easy to come by against #22 Arizona State.
Montee Ball and Russell Wilson- Ball has been transcendent in the first two games this season. The Junior RB has 6 total touchdowns and has ran for 181 yards on only 28 carries. He is well on his way to his first 1000 yard season and will likely be an All-Big Ten selection. His teammate Russell Wilson is completing nearly 80% of his passes and was the Big-Ten Offensive Player of the Week in week one. With matchups against Northern Illinois and South Dakota in the next two weeks, Ball and Wilson will have ample opportunity to stuff the stat sheet some more.
Ohio State Offense- The Buckeyes struggled to put away Toledo and needed a last minute stop to come up with a 27-22 victory that made many scratch their heads. Ohio State only averaged 3.3 yards per carry against a Toledo team that allowed FCS New Hampshire 4.6 yards per carry in week one. The Buckeyes failed to execute when it mattered, going 3-for-12 on third downs. If the offense continues to struggle next week against Miami, who was off this week, OSU could fall in Coral Gables.
Iowa Defense- Normally the defensive line is the strength of Norm Parker’s defense but that was not the case on Saturday. The Cyclones dominated at the point of attack and Steele Jantz was able to stand back and pick apart the Hawkeye defense. The secondary did what they could but it is impossible to cover receivers for over 5 seconds every play. Junior corner Greg Castillo struggled to hold his own and the linebackers looked slow compared to the backfield of Iowa State. The Hawkeyes still have to play speedy run first Quarterbacks on teams like Northwestern, Nebraska, Michigan, Minnesota and Purdue. If Iowa doesn’t figure things out soon it could be a rough year for the black and gold.
Big Ten- After this weekend’s action the Big Ten is going to take a beating from the national media. Michigan coming up with the win in the national game of the week helped the conference save face but the bottom line is that the Big Ten went 7-5 this weekend. The five teams that beat Big Ten opponents combined for a 25-36 record in 2010. Without Alabama the combined records of those teams is 15-33. Against BCS opponents the Big Ten was 2-3. Ohio State and Nebraska had lackluster performances that could drop them in the rankings. All the buzz that came from adding Nebraska will be cancelled out if there isn’t a Big Ten team with one loss or less at the end of the season.