Yes, there were other Big 10 games played yesterday while you were basking in the afterglow of 35-3. So Wha Happened? Well, one step forward, two steps back...
Shouldn't these guys be used to this by now?
Southern Cal 18, Ohio State 15
Let's be clear: this was not another face-plant like the Buckeye losses in the 2007 and 2008 National Championship Games or the game against USC in Los Angeles last year. In those games, Ohio State looked fat, slow, and overmatched physically and tactically. This game bore a greater resemblance to the 2009 Fiesta Bowl, where an underdog Ohio State team used a physical defense and a solid running game to control the tempo and keep things close. As they did in that game, the Buckeyes held a lead late in the fourth quarter, only to piss it away. In the Fiesta Bowl, it was Colt McCoy who dissected the Buckeye defense and led a game-winning drive; last night it was Joe McKnight and the mammoth USC offensive line (and not the golden child Matt Barkley, despite the fawning praise he's received, although he did make a pair of clutch throws on the drive) who ground the Buckeyes to dust on the game-winning drive. For much of the night, Ohio State looked like the better team: USC had only three drives of more than 41 yards all night (and only one of those resulted in points, the game-winning drive).
Then again, the Buckeye offense was arguably as bad as it's ever been in a big game: they had only one run longer than 8 yards all day, only three pass plays longer than 20 yards (all in the first quarter), were aggressive when they probably should have been more conservative (two incomplete passes on their final drive of the first half gave USC enough time to mount a drive for a game-tying FG at halftime) and too conservative when they should have been more aggressive (such as their second-to-last drive, when they punted from the USC 36). Pyror (11/25, 144 yds, 0 TDs, 1 INT, 10 rushes, 36 yds) was as inconsistent as ever and continues to look like a round peg that Tressel is determined to hammer into a square hole. In the moral victory stakes, Ohio State (and the Big Ten) came out ahead simply by not getting obliterated, but moral victories feel pretty damn hollow. Only actual wins over top teams will kill the "Big 10 sucks" meme.
Will this protect me from the impending shitstorm? No? Fuck.
Michigan 38, Notre Dame 34
On the other hand, the Big Ten's other big showcase non-conference game went much better. In what was easily one of the best games of the season, Michigan continued to look remarkably improved in Year Two of the RichRod Era. In Tate Forcier, Rodriguez clearly has the right trigger-man for his offense; Forcier went 23/33 for 240 yds and two touchdowns (including the game-winner in the final seconds) and ran for 70 yds on 13 carries (including one jaw-dropping touchdown run where he juked a Notre Dame defender into the next county) and, most impressively, looked nothing like a true freshman in directing the game-winning drive. He'll still make some freshman mistakes (the interception he threw was an awful read), but he looks like a force and he's by far the biggest reason why the Michigan offense no longer wheezes along like a crippled asthmatic.
Of course, there are caveats to any "MICHIGAN IS BACK !!!1!" headlines, namely the strength of their defense. The Domers ripped up Michigan's defense to the tune of almost 500 yards (despite being a massive douchebag, Clausen still managed to go 25/42 for 336 yds and 3 touchdowns and Golden Tate and Michael Floyd abused the Michigan cornerbacks pretty much all day), including 154 yards on the ground to what had been a moribund rushing attack for quite a while. And it is still just Notre Dame. They haven't beaten an actual good team since... um... does that almost-win over USC still count? At the very least, they're no longer the LOLverine outfit that looked so pathetic last year; exactly how good they are remains to be seen.
They're Ducks - of course they can fly.
Oregon 38, Purdue 36
So guess who's the leading offense in the Big Ten after two weeks? Penn State? Nope; the Spread HD has definitely been downgraded to SD at this point. Illinois? Not after that shitfest they put forth against Missouri. The answer, of course, is Purdue. Picked to battle Indiana for the cellar in the Big Ten, Purdue has instead looked rather frisky through the first few weeks of the season, particularly on offense. One week after racking up 52 pts and over 500 yds of total offense against Toledo, the Boilermakers headed out to usually inhospitable Autzen Stadium and continued to steamroll defenses: 36 pts, 451 yds of offense (281 through the air, 170 via the ground), and a 13-minute advantage in time of possession; if not for a pair of costly turnovers returned for touchdowns by Oregon, they would have won this game comfortably. In fact, if not for a missed XP that forced Purdue to attempt a 2-pt conversion at the end of the game, they would have had an opportunity to win the game in overtime in spite of those turnovers. So what to make of these new-look Boilermakers? Well, their defense is still struggling and it's unclear just how good either Toledo or Oregon truly are. And I don't know if I can really believe in a team whose main offensive star is named Ralph.
It never hurt like this against Carolina, did it?
Penn State 28, Syracuse 7
Ho-hum. Another game, another easy win. It seems churlish to complain too much about a pair of 20+ pt wins, especially when Daryll Clark is completing almost 70% of his passes and has a 3:1 TD:INT ratio, but there have been some definite question marks: the running game has been sputtering (only 214 yds and 2 touchdowns total through two games) and the fact that they've given up five turnovers and only forced three of their own. On the bright side, the defense continues to look stout: they've given up 200 yds or less in both games so far and only 14 pts total. They continue to look like one of the top teams in the Big Ten (if only because they've managed to avoid any ugly close calls against lesser opponents), but they certainly aren't giving off a "world beater" vibe these days.
All twelve fans in attendance congratulated their hero for besting mighty Eastern Michigan.
Northwestern 27, Eastern Michigan 24
Schadenfreude... denied. Sigh. The LOLcats jumped out to a 21-0 lead and then... took the rest of the game off, apparently. Eastern Michigan, who lost their home opener to Army of all teams last week, took advantage of this gracious surrender on the part of the LOLcats and ground away at the lead, until they had managed to tie the game at 24-all late in the 4th quarter. Stefan Demos kicked a 49-yard field goal with six seconds to go (after the 'cats had been backed up to 1st-and-35 at the 50 during the drive courtesy of some ill-advised penalties). Offensively, jNWU was thoroughly mediocre: Kafka went 14/24 for 158 yds and an interception, while the running game mustered just 185 yds on 48 carries. Just an ugly, unimpressive win all around.
Wisconsin 38, Fresno State 35 (2OT)
Bucky is not amused, Bret. One week after holding off a furious fourth-quarter rally by Northern Illinois, Wisco needed a pair of overtimes and some shoddy kicking from Fresno State's kicker to pull out another win over a mid-major foe. Like so many other Big Ten teams yesterday, the Badgers got outgained by their opponent (468 yds to 413 yds) and didn't look particularly good at defending the run or the pass. Offensively, Scott Tolzien continued his relatively strong start to the season (17/28, 225 yds, 1 TD) and John Clay (re-)emerged as the main man at RB (although his stats are deceptive: 21 carries for 143 yds, but one of those was a 72-yd gallop; 20 carries for 71 yds doesn't look all that impressive), but it's tough to have much faith in our cheese-eating neighbors right now.
Central Michigan 29, Michigan State 27
Third-best team in the Big Ten, my ass. The offense put forth another anemic effort (316 yds, including 101 rushing yds on 34 carries for a meager 3.4 ypc), and while the defense smothered the Chippewa running game (66 yds on 29 carries), the secondary got ripped up by LeFevour (33/46, 328 yds, 3 TD/1 INT). The Chippewas scored ten points in the game's final minute (thanks in part to one of the most perfectly executed onside kicks you'll ever see) and Sparty looked helpless to stop them. Not exactly good news when they have to head to South Bend to take on JIMMAH & Co. next week. On the plus side, their QB derby may be over unless Dantonio is even more stubborn than he looks: Keith Cousins went 13/18 for 164 yds and a touchdown, while Keith Nichol went 3/8 for 51 yds and a touchdown (and looked markedly less effective, according to most accounts). Then again, why do I care if he does the sensible thing and settles on one quarterback in time for Big Ten play? Keep riding the quarterback carousel, Mark! It's a foolproof plan! It certainly can't sink your season and send you tumbling into the Insight Bowl or anything. Nope. Not at all. Not a chance.
WIN FIGHT GOOD EFFORT LEMON DROPS MISSED TACKLES STILL 2-0!!!
Minnesota 20, Air Force 13
A momentous win for our LOLpher friends - they knocked off the #1 team in the nation! What a day for Brewster. He's being uncharacteristically modest about it, though - not even a peep about it on Twitter yet. So strange. Aside from that, though, it was yet another pretty unremarkable win for the Gophers. Adam Weber was improved over the Syracuse game (20/29, 219 yds) and Eric Decker was a beast (10 catches, 113 yds). But the running game was only so-so (24 carries, 108 carries) and they got outgained by Air Force (386 yds to 327 yds) and mashed on the ground; Air Force rushed for 261 yds. An opportunistic fumble return for a TD was the difference between a win and a roll of the dice in OT. Next up? Cal, averaging over 50 PPG and led by Jahvid Best, who knows a thing or two about running the ball. Oh, and one other thing: those fucking uniforms? Atrocious. Why would you open up a nice new stadium and wear those yellow turds?
Illinois: for once not the ugliest-dressed team on the field.
Illinois 45, Illinois State 17
Indiana 23, Western Michigan 19
Benn sat out, Juice got hurt on the first series of the game and sat out the remainder of the game... and, lo, the Illinois offense still rolled. In fact, it looked like the high-powered attack most people were predicting it would be before the season started -- 550+ yds and 45 pts. Interestingly, with McGee in charge the offense reverted to more of a 2007-style rushing attack and racked up 384 yds on the ground. Funny how that approach seems a bit more effective than the pass-happy approach with Juice. Then again, let's not get the idea that Illinois State is any good: they got beat by the Fightin' Christensons of Eastern Illinois last week, 31-6. And Illinois' pass defense looks a little suspect still; one week after giving up 300+ to Blaine Gabbert and Missouri, they gave up 354 to the Redbirds. As far as Indiana... they're Indiana. They barely beat Western Michigan (who falls to 0-2 against Big Ten teams this year; WHY COULDN'T THEY HAVE SUCKED AGAINST THE BIG TEN TWO YEARS AGO? FUCKERS. Nope, not at all still bitter about that game.). Have they given any indication that they're going to be anything other than bottom-feeders in the Big Ten? No. Let's move on.
BETTER KNOW A NON-CONFERENCE OPPONENT CORNER:
That's Nic Grigsby, No.2 RB in the nation right now. Iowa might want to tackle him.
Arizona 34, Northern Arizona 17
Nic Grigsby: as if his surname alone wasn't enough to cause shudders in Hawkeye fans, his stat line from last night's game should -- 15 carries, 207 yds, 2 TDs. He's the second-leading rusher in the nation after two weeks (behind only our friend Ralph Bolden at Purdue), and he's no fly-by-night success story, either: he ran for over 1150 yds and 13 touchdowns last year. Given the fact that less-talented running backs from Northern Iowa and Iowa State have racked up respectable rushing totals against Iowa (74 yds for Carlos Anderson of UNI, 100 yds for Alexander Robinson of ISU) and that the defense has shown a worrisome tendency to go for arm tackles rather than wrapping up, he's definitely someone to be a bit concerned about this week. On the other hand, their young quarterback, Matt Scott, didn't wow anyone: 14/20, 150 yds, 1 TD/1 INT. Forcing him into mistakes and keeping Grigsby in check will be vital, since the Arizona defense (which held Northern Arizona to a measly 226 total yds, a week after wrapping up the Central Michigan team that knocked off Sparty yesterday) will be by far the most difficult challenge yet for Iowa's inconsistent offense.
Nebraska 38, Arkansas State 9
A week after rushing for 600 zillion yds against a punching bag opponent, the Indians ran for only 143 yds against Nebraska. Their defense proved to be no impediment to the Nebraska offense, either: Zac Lee went 27/35 for 340 yds and 4 touchdowns, and the running game tacked on 28 carries for 136 yds. This game looks like what you would expect to see when a Sun Belt team goes on the road to play a solid BCS team; hopefully the same holds true for Iowa when A-State comes to Kinnick in three weeks.
(All photos courtesy of the Associated Press.)