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Wha Happened? Week Two Around The Big Ten

lol (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
lol (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images

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?  

What a strange, baffling, exhilirating game.  It had one of the most brain-meltingly dramatic endings in recent memory, as both teams forgot how to cover anything on defense and Michigan turned the keys of the offense over to Denard and told him to go all backyard football on the Irish.  For the second straight year, Notre Dame had no answers for Robinson, who amassed 446 yards of total offense (including 11 pass completions at an utterly absurd 31 yards per completion rate) and was responsible for all five Michigan touchdowns.  After pledging to be more devoted to the running game and attempting to develop actual running backs to complement Robinson, Michigan running backs ran the ball eight times for 10 yards on Saturday.  So much for that. 

In the passing game, Robinson spent three quarters being mostly awful (4/14, 136 yards, 1/2 TD/INT) before being mostly brilliant in the fourth quarter (7/10, 202 yards, 3/1 TD/INT).  Yet his approach still seems to boil down to "heave it and hope."  It worked more often than not in the fourth quarter against Notre Dame, but it's the sort of thing that could (and should) be exploited by stronger pass defenses.  As for Michigan's own defense, they once again got gashed on the ground (33 carries, 198 yards, 1 TD) and through the air (27/39, 315 yards, 3 TD), but they managed to survive long enough for Denard to pull some magic out of his dreads by once again getting timely turnovers -- Notre Dame turned the ball over inside the red zone on a handful of occasions.  But much like Denard's approach to passing, the Michigan defense's approach to, uh, defending is playing with fire -- sooner or later they're going to wind up a bunch of briquettes out there.  Still, this game will probably serve as the model for a lot of Michigan games this year: wild, back-and-forth shootouts.  I'll bring the popcorn.

Well.  I guess Sparty worked out the kinks after sleepwalking through their opener against Youngstown State, eh?  A 44-0 win with over 400 yards of offense are impressive enough accomplishments, but holding the Owls to just 48 total yards of offense and one first down?!  That's just sick.  Sure, FAU may very well be one of the worst teams in D-I this year (it's going to be a sorry send-off for Schnelly), but that level of bitchmaking is worth a tip of the cap no matter who the opponent.  Well done, Sparty.

So much for Oregon State being more of a challenge for the Big Red Badger Machine; they were barely a speed bump.  Russell Wilson was again almost flawless (17/21, 189 yards, 3/0 TD/INT) and Montee Ball continued his rampage against the nation's run defenses (118 yards and 2 TDs on 18 carries).  Even the defense was improved, pitching a shutout.  Through two weeks, Wisco hasn't done anything to change my opinion that they're the frontrunners in the Big Ten.

BY GAWD, THE JACKRABBITS HAVE A FAMILY!  THEY HAVE A FAMILY GODDAMMIT!  SOMEONE THROW IN THE DAMN TOWEL!  The Zooker indulged his inner Ming the Merciless in dismembering the Jackrabbits on Saturday; they were up 35-3 at halftime and pulled their starters halfway through the third quarter.  Suffice to say, things were clicking for the Illini, especially on the ground, where five players had at least seven carries and they had over 350 yards and six touchdowns.  Oh, and their defense wasn't too shabby, either: they held SDSU to under 100 total yards of offense.  

Someday, Ohio State will lose to another team from Ohio and their century-plus winning streak over their fellow Buckeye State teams will come to an end.  That day wasn't Saturday, though, despite a very game effort from the mighty Rockets.  Eric Page did more than his part for Toledo (12 catches, 145 yards, 2 TDs), but he didn't get much help.  Meanwhile, Ohio State QB Joe Bauserman game managed his way to a ho hum performance (16/30, 189 yards, 1/0 TD/INT), while the OSU ground game could scratch out only 112 yards on 34 carries.  Still, there's not much point in harping on OSU close calls when they're still a suspension-induced shell of a team; it's going to be a while before we get a reliable sense of the quality of this year's Buckeye squad.

Paging the Blackshirts, paging the Blackshirts on line one... if there are any Blackshirts in Lincoln, would they please pick up the red courtesy phone?  Coming into the year, we expected Nebraska's offense to be shaky: they switched coordinators in the offseason didn't really have a reliable weapon outside of Taylor Martinez's magic feet.  We did not expect their defense to be shaky, though -- it was supposed to be the solid backbone that would enable the team to contend for a Big Ten title.  Based on Saturday's evidence, though, they're going to need to up their game significantly for Nebraska to make a bid for the B1G crown.  They gave up almost 450 yards of total offense and struggled to get Fresno State off the field; the 'dogs had commanding advantages in first downs (24 to 16), total plays (81 to 56), and time of possession (37:12 to 22:48).  But the most alarming stat may have been the fact that they allowed Fresno to rack up almost 200 rushing yards at an almost 5.0 ypc clip.  That sort of olé run defense will spell big trouble when league play gets underway.

No Persa?  No problem.  Kain Colter went 10/13 for 104 yards and added another 109 yards and 3 TDs on 15 carries on the ground.  Sure, this effort was just against the Fightin' Bob Spoos of Eastern Illinois, but Colter played pretty well last week in jNW's opener at Boston College: their ability to develop capable back-up quarterbacks is absolutely uncanny.  The outcome was only briefly in doubt (EIU cut the lead to 14-7 early in the second quarter), but the jNW defense wasn't exactly an impenetrable wall against EIU -- they gave up 21 points and 341 yards.  Still, it was a comfortable win over an FCS opponent -- not really too much to quibble with there.

And now for the B1G bad.  For a while Saturday was shaping up to be as dire for the Big Ten as January 1 (and the 0-5 bowl record) was -- if not worse, since aside from Alabama, most of the losses were to middling teams from lesser conferences.  Wins by Michigan and Nebraska kept things from completely falling to pieces, but it was still a pretty bad day for the league.

#3 ALABAMA 27, #23 PENN STATE 11
What did we learn from this game?  That Penn State isn't equipped to compete with a truly elite team?  That may be, but they also aren't going to have to deal with a team on par with Alabama in Big Ten play.  They certainly aren't going to have to deal with a defense as beastly as the one that smothered the Penn State offense on Saturday (that defense could easily be one of the best of the last ten years; it's dripping with talent and experience at every level).  Penn State's own defense wasn't bad by any means -- they kept Alabama in check early on, but eventually the lack of support from the PSU offense wore them down.  The one thing we probably did learn is that JoePa & Co. really ought to scrap this "rotating quarterback" nonsense.  Once again, McGloin looked woefully overmatched by a top-tier defense (1/10, 0 yards).  Bolden had his own struggles (11/29 for 144 yards and 0/1 TD/INT), but he did lead Penn State on both of their scoring drives and holds far more upside than McGloin.  It's past time to send the Ginger Avenger back to clipboard duty.

For a while, this game seemed like it was going to be a bog standard Indiana loss: they dug themselves a 23-3 hole partway through the third quarter and had nothing going their way.  And then: BAM POINT EXPLOSION OUT OF NOWHERE!  They rattled off 28 unanswered points in the form of a handful of clutch defensive plays (no, really) and a sudden explosion of offensive competence.  Alas, they left just enough time on the clock for their dominant identity as "Indiana football" to re-assert itself, giving up eleven points in the final minute and a half.  After the loss, Kevin Wilson stalked off the field to find a troupe of hobos to slaughter in their inebriated slumber; look, you, me, and the state of Indiana might find that "morally reprehensible" or "illegal," but sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do to get over a tough loss.

It feels a little cruel to take delight in Minnesota's pratfall in light of Jerry Kill's frightening seizure, so I'll just say this: losing to a mid-major bodybag like New Mexico State is no way to build on the feel good moral victory vibes of last week's USC loss, Gophers.

Purdue's adventures in mediocrity against middling non-BCS schools continued this week with a trip to that noted hostile environment, Rice Stadium.  A week ago, Purdue needed a touchdown in the final minute to slip by Middle Tennessee State.  Their luck ran out this week as Carson Wiggs had a 31-yard game winner blocked as time expired, handing the mighty Owls their first win over a BCS opponent in almost exactly ten years.  While I'm sure the Owls appreciate Purdue's generosity, Danny Hope probably doesn't -- each stomach-churning loss bring him (and his mustache) closer to a pink slip.

Also, the state of Indiana's weekend in football:
Indiana: L, 34-31, Virginia (lost on last-second field goal)
Purdue: L, 24-22, at Rice (lost on last-second field goal block)
Notre Dame: L, 35-31 at Michigan (lost on last-second touchdown pass)
Ball State: L, 37-7, at South Florida (down 30-0 at halftime)
Indianapolis Colts: L, 34-7, at Houston Texans (down 34-0 at halftime)

A lonely Hoosier State wonders how long it is 'til basketball season tips off.