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Wha Happened? Week Two Around The Big Ten

Pop goes the Hurricane.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Pop goes the Hurricane. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Wha Happened? is the weekly round-up of the rest of the games that were in the Big Ten -- you know, the ones that were going on while you were shotgunning that beer, or watching Iowa, or sleeping off that early-morning tailgating.  Who won?  Who lost?  Who made us quiver with fear?  Who made us laugh hysterically?  In short... Wha Happened?  Now with new-and-improved performance ranking system!

#2 OHIO STATE 36, #12 MIAMI 24 (coverage)
So what is the dominant narrative from this game?  Did Ohio State again grind its big game demons under heel and roll to a fairly comfortable victory over a speedy, but mistake-prone Miami squad?  Or did the Buckeyes underwhelm in the national spotlight again, albeit in a winning effort this time?   They did intercept four Jacory Harris passes and roll up over 400 yards of total offense.  They never trailed after an early deficit in the second quarter, led by as much as 36-17 late in the third quarter, and held Miami to just one offensive touchdown.  They didn't look remotely outmatched by Miami's athleticism (the way they were in the '07 National Championship Game blowout to Florida or the '08 loss to USC, or the '08 National Championship Game loss to LSU to a lesser extent), they were well-coached enough to avoid too many critical errors, and they made plenty of necessary defensive stops in the fourth quarter to end any Miami comeback bid.  

None of which is to suggest that there isn't plenty for Ohio State to be concerned about from this game.  Their special teams coverage was abominable, giving up touchdowns on both a kickoff and a punt return.  Their offense was proficient at moving the ball downfield, but they bogged down inside the red zone: they attempted six field goals (making five), including four from within the Miami ten-yard line.  And Terrelle Pryor... oh, Terrelle Pryor.  He was, in essence, quintessential Pryor in this game: he used his undeniable athleticism to gallop around Miami defenders and rack up 113 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries on the ground and he threw for 233 yards (including a handful of pinpoint passes) and a touchdown (to no interceptions) through the air.  That's good.  The 44.4% completion percentage on 12/27 passing is decidedly less good.  That inconsistent passing was a big reason why the Buckeyes had to settle for so many field goals instead of the touchdowns that could have turned this game into an all-out rout.  It's also the sort of glaring -- and persistent -- weakness in Pryor's game that prevents him from becoming an elite quarterback... and gives hope to every team that has Ohio State coming up on the schedule that the Pryor that pissed the game away against Purdue is still around, just waiting to sabotage Ohio State's season yet again. 

As we said last week, right now it's Denard Robinson's world and we're all just renting space in it.  Quibble all you want with the caliber of defense he's been facing or the long-term effects of maintaining his present workload; you have to be drinking Haterade by the gallon to deny that he's the breakout player of the year thus far.  He's accounted for a frankly preposterous amount of Michigan's total yardage (885 yards out of roughly 1000 total yards), he's comfortably leading the entire FBS in rushing yards, and his stat lines look like the sort of thing you might log on NCAA Football '11... on easy mode.  Per Doc Saturday

"Shoelace" was responsible for running or throwing on 68 of the Wolverines' 81 offensive snaps, for 499 of their 529 total yards.

He had yet another stunning touchdown run, led Michigan on a clutch late game comeback, and again failed to turn the ball over, despite handling the ball a frankly absurd number of times.  He's been spectacular and there's no way around that.  

And yet... despite getting that sort of over-the-top production out of Richardson Robinson, Michigan was a breath away from losing.  The fact that they even needed that aforementioned late game comeback in light of a performance like that is a red flag.  No Michigan running back has as many carries in two games so far as Robinson has had by himself in each game.  He's not getting much help at all and while virtuoso one man performances make for entertaining viewing spectacles, they're an utterly disastrous way to try and win over the long haul.  Robinson's already missed brief periods in both games this season because of minor injuries; given anything more substantial, Michigan's entire season could be riding on the shoulders of true freshman Devin Gardner.  Robinson's been a magician so far, but even he can't totally obscure the fact that Michigan's supporting cast is paper-thin, the offense bogs down repeatedly even with his brilliance (they punted ten times against Notre Dame), and the defense is still a grease fire-in-waiting (see: Dayne Crist's 95-yard rainbow to Kyle Rudolph that briefly gave Notre Dame the lead).  In other words, color us still skeptical about this iteration of the Michigan resurgence.

#11 WISCONSIN 27, SAN JOSE STATE 14 (coverage)
Two admittedly ho-hum performances, but we're loathe to give too much love to the wins over I-AA squads that constituted the other Big Ten wins on the day.  Sparty won their neutral site game with the Fightin' Schnellenbergers by once again (surprisingly) relying on a dominant ground game.  Edwin Baker and Le'Veon Bell combined for 232 yards and a pair of scores on 25 carries (numbers which are goosed a bit by Baker's 80-yard scoring run, but still), while Kirk Cousins had another mediocre day throwing the ball, going 9/17 for 142 yards, a score and a pick.  The book on MSU going into the season was that they had arguably the league's best quarterback and perhaps the league's best passing attack; through two games that hasn't been true at all, but it also hasn't mattered since they've ran the ball very well indeed.  

Meanwhile, Wisconsin came nowhere close to covering their (admittedly outrageous) 38-point spread and continued to behave like a team utterly bored with their competition.  They slogged their way to a 17-0 halftime lead and pushed that to 20-0 before giving up a pair of touchdowns to make the final score look pretty respectable for the Spartans.  Still, given the way the 2009 Hawkeyes often slept through games against lesser opposition only to come through in a big way in the important games, we're loathe to write off the 2010 Badgers just yet.  After all, they copy everything else from Iowa. 

#1 ALABAMA 24, #18 PENN STATE 3 (coverage)
Let's be frank: Penn State going into this game with a true freshman quarterback making his second-ever start (and first-ever road start) was the equivalent of sending out a horse to run a race with a blindfold and a gimpy leg.  When you give yourself that kind of handicap before the action even gets underway, you're pretty well boned.  Robert Bolden put up pretty much the stat line you'd expect -- 13/29, 144 yards, 0 TD/2 INT -- and the Penn State running game was once again anemic (Evan Royster carried nine times for 32 yards, while Stephon Green went for 13 yards on five carries).  Trent Richardson juggernaut'd the PSU defense to the tune of 144 yards and a score on 22 carries, while Greg McElroy was an efficient 16/24 for 229 yards, 2 TD/0 INT.  Four turnovers and a litany of missed tackles didn't exactly help the Penn State cause, either.  Only a fourth quarter field goal helped them avoid the ignominy of a shutout.  On the other hand, pretty much everyone expected a rebuilding PSU team to be overmatched by the defending national champions; it can hardly be much of a surprise that that's exactly what happened.

Statistically speaking, the Big Ten's representatives from Blagojevichistan were the most impressive winners of the week, racking up 34 and 32-point victories over the overmatched in-state little brothers and, sure, we're not going to wholly dismiss that, not after Iowa's close call against UNI last year or Minnesota's latest pratfall against a team from the Dakotas, but still: you played I-AA punching bags and you punched them a lot.  Huzzah.  Though we probably should also pay a little extra respect to the Fightin' Zookers since the Saluki team they throttled was ranked second in FCS-land (by comparison, the James Madison team that sent Hokieville into a further spiral of despair was ranked 11th).  

SOUTH DAKOTA 41, MINNESOTA 38 (coverage)
Holy hell, Minnesota, you are a goddamn mess.  41 points to an FCS team?  To an unranked South Dakota squad that went 5-5 a year ago and got crushed by Central Florida a week ago?  With a quarterback making his second-ever start?  Against UCF, USD QB Dante Warren went 10/19 for 104 yards, 0 TD/0 INT and had no rushing stats to speak of.  Against Minnesota, Warren went 21/30 for 352 yards, 3 TD/2 INT and added 81 yards and two scores on the ground on 10 carries and made it look effortless.  Jesus, Minnesota.  The loss dropped Brewster's record against I-AA squads to a scintillating 2-2 and just 1-2 against teams from the Dakotas (and given how close they were to losing to South Dakota State last year, he's damn close to being 0-3 against teams from the Dakotas); Glen Maturi may want to rethink that whole "rivalry with South Dakota" thing.  Up next: USC!  Even the current depreciated Trojans should have a field day with this hilariously bad Gopher defense.

While we cherish the schandefreude of Minnesota losing to South Dakota, we cannot help but be pained at the knowledge that this may be the proverbial last straw for the Tim Brewster Era; WIN FIGHT TRY is making its seemingly inevitable transition into LOSE FAIL FIRED.  If our rodent-loving friends had any faith left in Our Man Brew before the season began, it's officially evaporated -- they're just counting the days and pining over replacements now.  "The Bank" was clearing out before the end of the third quarter yesterday and that's sure to be a common sight the rest of the year.  If by some miracle Brewster is still employed next year, the Gophers' fancy new stadium is going to look like even more of a ghost town (though as Iowa fans seeking tickets, we fervently support this development).  At this point, Brewster probably needs to win at least two of his remaining monster home games (USC, Penn State, Ohio State, Iowa) or the Wisconsin road game and, hey, didn't Kansas just provide us with ample evidence that "ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE~!" is alive and kicking in college football?  Sure, but Brewster-led Minnesota teams have never beaten a rival, never won a trophy game, and never beaten a ranked team.  So it could happen.  And our fantasy of becoming Roger Sterling could come true, too.


LIBERTY 27, BALL STATE 23 (coverage)
Ball State sucks.  Let's move on.

ARIZONA 52, THE CITADEL 6 (coverage)
Another week, another blowout for Arizona.  Nick Foles was efficient (17/22, 214 yds, 1 TD/1 INT) and they rolled up 214 yards rushing and five touchdowns on the ground.  So what do we know?  We know Arizona's good and we know they can utterly destroy much weaker competition.  Beyond that?  Not much.