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Wha Happened? Week One Around The Big Ten

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?

MICHIGAN 30, UCONN 10 (coverage)
It's Denard Robinson's world; we're all just renting space in it.  The ridiculously nicknamed "Shoelaces" ascended to the top spot on the Michigan depth chart yesterday and put on the sort of performance that assured that he won't be leaving it anytime soon: 19/22, 186 yards, 1 TD in aerial production and 197 yards and another TD on 27 carries in terrestrial production.  He was a terror to behold on the ground, slicing and dicing the Huskie defense for yards with ease.  His passing numbers were also a marked improvement on last year's sub-.500 efforts, with the caveat that he was mostly completing very short, safe passes yesterday.  On the other hand, Robinson's breathtaking one man show obscured the fact that he didn't get much consistent help from the Michigan running backs (Vincent Smith went 14-51-1, while Michael Shaw went 15-48-1).  And having your quarterback run the ball twenty-seven times is also a recipe for disaster in any league, and especially in a league as hard-hitting as the Big Ten.

On the surface, the much-maligned Michigan defense looked remarkably competent against UConn, but they were assisted by the fact that the Huskie offense was both incompetent (multiple receivers dropped wide-open passes) and unlucky (UConn fumbled in the third quarter as they were on the cusp of scoring and making it 24-17). Tactically, the UConn offense was also ill-suited to exploiting Michigan's greatest defensive weakness (the horrifying tire fire that is their secondary), since they prefer to line up and smash away with their running game.  So we're still pretty skeptical about the Michigan defense.  Perhaps the most interesting news out of the game was the revelation that not only was Tate Forcier no longer the starter, he wasn't even the back-up (true frosh Devin Gardner came in briefly after Robinson took a hard hit).  Despite what Papa Forcier says, we're pretty sure some mid-major is about to pick up an undersized QB with a bitchin' website.

NOTRE DAME 23, PURDUE 12 (coverage)
Robert Marve: possibly not the savior for OUR NEW MOST-HATED RIVAL.  He went 31/42 for 220 yards, 0 TD/2 INT and did tack on a 23-yard scoring run for Purdue's only touchdown of the day, but his actual play seemed a bit worse than those stats would indicate and his excessive celebration penalty (for the unspeakable crime of diving into the end zone on his touchdown run) kept Purdue in bad field position situations for much of the remainder of the game.  The Fightin' Danny Hopes were also stymied by the lack of a running game in the absence of Ralph Bolden, last year's surprise almost-1000 yard rusher.  Their leading rusher today was a fullback, Dan Dierking, who rumbled for 56 yards on 9 carries.  In any event, the rules of schadenfreude demand that we take joy in the suffering of OUR NEW MOST-HATED RIVAL, so LOL PURDON'T, your skill at making things (in this case, the ovoid pigskin known colloquially as "the football") boil (in this case, moving said pigskin object across the white line that demarcates the "end-zone," or scoring area, from the field of play, also known as "the goal-line") was sub-standard in yesterday's sporting competition. 

MISSOURI 23, ILLINOIS 13 (coverage)
For about a half, it looked like Illinois was going to shock the punditocracy (and Vegas) by battering a more highly-touted Mizzou team.  They led 13-3 at the half, thanks to some powerful running from Mikel LeShoure (who finished with 112 yards on 20 carries), solid play from freshman QB Nathan Scheelhaase, and a defense that swarmed around the Mizzou offense.  Then Scheelhaase remembered he was a freshman and the Illini remembered that Ron Zook was still their coach and it all went to hell.  Scheelhaase threw two interceptions in the second half (9/23, 81 yards, 1 TD/3 INT overall) and Illinois went three-and-out three times in that half, running just four plays all half on the Mizzou side of the field. Meanwhile, Mizzou put together four scoring drives, never went three-and-out, and never turned the ball over in the second half.  But, hey, they covered the spread, so the Zooker is one-up on the rest of the conference in moral victories (sadly, aside from Purdue, they all remain one-up on him in actual victories).

WISCONSIN 41, UNLV 21 (coverage)
The only thing that kept this game close for a half was Wisconsin's careless attitude toward turnovers (UNLV had a pick-six and an 82-yard fumble recovery that they immediately turned into another score) and an offense that slowed to a crawl in the second quarter while John Clay scoured the buffet tables for the sweetest crab legs and juiciest cuts of prime rib.  But Tolzien had an efficient day outside of that lone TOLZIENBALL (15/20, 197 yards) and when he wasn't gobbling down bacon-wrapped shrimp, Clay did manage to run for 123 yards and two scores on 17 carries.  Montee Ball tacked on 79 yards and two scores on 16 carries.  The turnovers kept the game close for a while, but Wisco thoroughly dominated this game: until deep in the third quarter, Wisconsin had more total points than UNLV had total yards.  Occasionally, Wisconsin does manage to lose a game that they dominate statisticallybecause of untimely turnovers, but that was never going to happen against this hapless UNLV squad.

The big takeaway from Minnesota's narrow escape from getting murdered in Murfreesboro?  Their offseason training regimen appeared to consist of repeated trips to Old Country Buffet, with occasional excursions to Steak 'n' Shake. (In related news, John Clay is incredibly jealous and considering transferring to Minnesota if he can get a hardship waiver approved by the NCAA.)  But good lord are Minnesota's linemen fat.  In fairness, their massive girth came in handy during the fourth quarter when the offensive line was able to use their immense size to simply overpower their counterparts, allowing the Gopher running backs to gobble up precious yards and clock on the game-clinching touchdown drive.  But any sort of athletic defensive line is going to give them fits.  Similarly, quick athletic offenses could pose a huge problem for the new-look Gopher defense, as they were getting shredded by the Blue Raiders and their back-up quarterback in the second and third quarters.  We'd also be remiss if we didn't mention that the hero of the day was fullback Jon Hoese, who rumbled for all three Minnesota touchdowns just days after his father suffered a massive stroke.  That detail makes even our blackened, Gopher-hating hearts swell a little.

Kirk Cousins had a quiet afternoon (13/21, 186 yards, 1 TD/0 INT), but it hardly mattered, since Sparty pounded away for 297 yards and 4 touchdowns on 37 carries on the ground.  Western Michigan threatened to make things interesting after tying the game up at 7-all at the end of the first quarter, but MSU used 21 second-quarter points (including a pair of touchdowns in the last four minutes) to put things decisively out of reach.  The Sparty ground attack was paced by a pair of 100-yard rushers, one expected (Edwin Bell, who went for 117 yards and two scores on 17 carries) and one not (Le'Veon Bell, who picked up 141 yards and two scores on 10 carries).  MSU was expected to have a two-headed rushing attack in Bell and Larry Caper; they may have a three-headed monster if Bell keeps this up.

just NORTHWESTERN 23, VANDERBILT 21 (coverage)
Sigh.  Northwestern winning a closer-than-it-ought-to-be game against an inferior opponent?  With the aid of a controversial helmet-to-helmet penalty?  And repeated blunders on point-after attempts?  Looks like the Evil Wizgerald dug into his book o' spells for some old favorites this week.  The good news for the jNW faithful is that Dan Persa looks like yet another good Northwestern QB: 19/21, 221 yards, 3 TD/0 INT through the air and 82 yards on 17 carries on the ground.  The bad news is that he doesn't appear to have much help; nominal starting RB Arby Fields ran for -7 yards on 10 carries and as a unit, the jNW running backs chipped in only about 60 yards.  Their defense gave up over 400 yards to one of the SEC's most anemic offenses and were gashed on quick touchdown drives in the second half.  Oh, and their placekicking adventures continued, with last year's Outback Bowl goat Stefan Demos missing an extra point in this game, too.  

OHIO STATE 45, MARSHALL 7 (coverage)
Notable only for introducing us to what will likely be the narrative for every Ohio State game this fall: "Look at the improvement/maturation Terrelle Pryor has made!  Doesn't he look ready for the Heisman?"  His numbers did indeed look pretty good: 17/25, 247 passing yards, 3 TD, 0 INT.  By jove, it looks like Tressel feels more comfortable trusting Pryor to fling the pigskin around the field, doesn't it?  Lock your doors and fire up the air raid sirens; Pryor's flingin' bombs and the BUCKEYOCALYPSE is comin'. 

But, hey, what did Pryor's stat line look like a year against a comparable opponent to Marshall?  Glad you wondered, rhetorical question-asker!  Against Toledo in 2009, Pryor put up this stat line: 17/28, 262 passing yards, 3 TD, 2 INT. The big difference there is the interceptions, but before we take the "0" Pryor logged this week as a sign of hugely improved decision-making/mechanics/whatever, let's keep in mind that he still heaved some bad passes -- he just got away with them thanks to bad play from the Marshall defensive backs or heady play from the Ohio State receivers.  Let's wait and see how Pryor looks against a quality defense like Miami next week -- and how Tressel gameplans for the 'Canes.  If he's back to letting Pryor only throw 15 passes and pounding away with his running backs for 50 carries, then nothing's really changed.

INDIANA 51, TOWSON 17 (coverage)
Congratulations, you beat your I-AA punching bag teams handily; hooray for meeting expectations.  Penn State struggled for most of the first half, trailing 7-6 until late in the second quarter, but they scored ten points in the final 1:30 of the half and returned the opening kickoff of the second half for a score and effectively wrapped the game up. Robert Bolden shook off his rocky start to go 20/29 for 239 yards, with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception; as a reward, now he gets to go to Tuscaloosa to play Alabama.  Yay!  Perhaps the only down note was that Penn State again struggled to establish a running game at times, with Evan Royster picking up just 40 yards on 11 carries. Stop sign and turnstile will need to be open up much better holes next week.  

Indiana wins the prize for scoring the most points in week one among Big Ten teams, and while Ben Chappell was solid (16/23, 182 yards, 2 TD/0 INT), Darius Willis was good (14-102-2) and Damarlo Belcher filled in admirably for the injured Tandon Doss (7-92-1), there were still a few warning signs in this win over a dreadful Towson squad. Indiana was just 2/10 on third downs and was actually outgained by the Tigers (392 to 360).  Towson also had a lot of success running the ball (43 attempts for 227 yards, 5.4 ypc), which is not an encouraging sign for the Indiana defense.


The biggest takeaway from this game was the news that if Northern Illinois is really one of the best teams in the MAC this year, then the MAC is absolutely goddamn dreadful.  On defense they frequently struggled to keep up with Iowa State's receivers and were often unable to wrap up on tackles, while on offense they were hampered by a brutally one-dimensional gameplan (run, run, let QB DeMarcus Grady throw a five-yard pass) and wretched QB play (Grady went 14/29 for 93 yards, 0 TD, 3 INT).  It's difficult to say how good the Iowa State pass defense is because they were so rarely tested downfield and because Grady was so inaccurate on the short passes (based on his predilection for throwing bounce passes, the NIU basketball coach may want to give him a call).  They had a few issues with NIU's running game, so A-Rob and Jewel may be able to do some damage if the offensive line can open up some space for them.

On offense, Arnaud looked pretty much like the same quarterback we've seen for the last few years: 27/36, 265 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT, plus 45 yards and a score on the ground (no doubt thanks to the powerful thighs that the FSN announcers were gushing over).  He was mostly accurate on the short, dink-and-dunk passes and made a few nice throws on deeper balls, but he was also still prone to those brain-meltingly bad decisions to try and place the ball in a tight spot... which is how he wound up with two interceptions.  Given how much Iowa State likes to exploit the middle of the field (and, based on last night, use the tight end; Collin Franklin had five catches for 75 yards), Tarpinian/Johnson and Nielsen could be very busy this Saturday; though if they can get their hands up in the passing lanes, they could cause quite a lot of havoc.  Evil A-Rob looked decent: he had 97 yards and two scores on 19 carries, but one of his runs was for 63 yards -- he wasn't consistently pounding away for 4-5 yards a pop.  Still, he should be a good early test for the Iowa rush defense.  Finally, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention the fact that Grant Mahoney had one of the worst field goal misses you're likely to see all year, hooking a 44-yard attempt at least 15-20 yards to the left and not coming within a mile of the uprights.  

ARIZONA 41, TOLEDO 2 (coverage)
Well that's not being very hospitable to those gracious Ohioans at the Glass Bowl in Toledo.  Arizona put up one of the more impressive performances of the opening weekend by going on the road and utterly throttling an inferior opponent.  Nick Foles again looked very good (32/37, 360 yards, 2 TD/1 INT) and Nic Grigsby tacked on 53 yards and a pair of scores on eight carries.  Arizona ran the ball just 25 times for 105 yards, so it seems safe to say that they're primarily going to be attacking Iowa's defense through the air.  Juron Criner was the primary beneficiary of Foles' passes (11-187-1); we dearly hope Shaun Prater's gimpy hammy is healed up and ready to go for that game because we'd be a little concerned about matching Greg Castillo or Micah Hyde on him at this point.  Still, Arizona ultimately just did what they were supposed to do and mauled a bad MAC team and we won't learn much more about them next week when they take on The Citadel, either.

Meh.  The game was tied at seven apiece at halftime, until Ball State rattled off 17 unanswered points in the third quarter to pull away.  The Cardinals did almost all of their damage on the ground (243 yards, 3 TDs); QB Kelly Page was an uninspiring 10/17 for 85 yards and an interception.  The only mild surprise was that Ball State's supposed top running back, MiQuale Lewis (he went for 1700+ yards and 22 TDs in their 12-2 2008 campaign), was held to 42 yards and no scores on 13 carries.