It was a good week for the Big Ten. In fact, if not for expansion, the league could have had a rare, undefeated 12-0 performance this week. THANKS A LOT, MARYLAND AND RUTGERS. But everyone but the league newbies won this week, most teams won decisively, and the state of Michigan decisively won the Michigan-Oregon challenge. Let's break it down.
YOU DONE GOOD
MICHIGAN STATE 31, OREGON 28
Oregon made a furious comeback at the end and nearly finished it off with a win -- Vernon Adams just overthrew a wide open receiver for what would have (probably) been the game-winning touchdown -- but mostly they were second-best against Michigan State all night. Oregon took a 7-0 lead early, but Michigan State answered immediately and never trailed the rest of the way. They had a counter-punch for every punch that Oregon threw at them, mostly thanks to their strength along the offensive and defensive lines. The big uglies on offense paved the way for MSU to run for 197 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 37 carries (a solid 5.3 yards per carry average), while on defense they held the Ducks rushing attack (one of the best in the nation) to 2.9 yards per carry and harassed Oregon QB Vernon Adams all night long. You can win a lot of games with good line play and MSU looks very, very solid there. Start the countdown to Michigan State-Ohio State now.
MICHIGAN 35, OREGON STATE 7
Oregon State went 79 yards in 7 plays on their opening drive and opened up a 7-0 lead on Michigan. It looked like Jim Harbaugh's Big House debut was going to be spoiled by a Pac-12 team, just his road debut was last week. Not so fast, my friends... After that good opening drive, the Beavers managed just 59 yards on 46 plays (that would be 1.3 yards per play) the rest of the way. Even the '85 Bears tip their hat at that kind of defensive performance. With a defense like that for the final three and a half quarters, it really didn't matter what the Michigan offense did, but they were fine, rolling up 405 yards and 35 points on their way to a big win. De'Veon Smith did most of the damage, racking up 126 yards and three touchdowns on 23 carries. Jake Rudock was mostly OK: 18/26 for 180 yards and an interception.
YOU WERE FINE
ILLINOIS 44, WESTERN ILLINOIS 0
NORTHWESTERN 41, EASTERN ILLINOIS 0
Based on the first two games, Illinois and Northwestern have two of the stiffest defenses in all the land, which means that the annual LOLHat trophy game this year is going to be a 0-0 tie and go into five overtimes before one team finally scores on a fumble returned for a touchdown. You know this to be true. Illinois continues to prove that the BECK-MAN BOUNCE is a real thing, pulverizing Western Illinois 44-0 in their second game of the Post-Beckman Era. The Illini might not have played anyone worth a damn yet, but they have beaten the pants off their opponents (outscoring them 96-3 through two weeks). Taylor Barton had two interceptions, Illinois blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown, and held the Leathernecks to 141 yards of offense and five first downs (WIU went 1/15 on third down). That's a pretty smothering defensive performance against anyone. Meanwhile, Northwestern pitched a shutout of their own and one-upped Illinois on the defensive front they held EIU to just 138 yards and 0/11 on third downs. On offense, Clayton Thorson had a quiet day passing the ball (11/16, 152 yards, 1 TD/0 INT), but Northwestern ran the ball 69 times for 344 yards and three touchdowns. Six players ran the ball at least five times and four had over 50 yards on the ground.
PENN STATE 27, BUFFALO 14
The good news? Christian Hackenberg didn't get sacked in this game -- not even once! Turnstile and banana peel really upper their game yesterday. The bad news? The PSU passing game still looked pretty lackluster -- Hackenberg went just 14/27 for 128 yards and a touchdown. And this was against the mighty Bulls of Buffalo. Akeel Lynch struggled to get much going in the running game, either (19 carries, 46 yards), but Saquon Barkley added some pop on the ground for the Nittany Lions -- 12 carries, 115 yards, 1 TD. PSU erased the taste of last week's historic loss to Temple, but they still don't exactly look impressive.
PURDUE 38, INDIANA STATE 14
We didn't cover Purdue in this space last week because they played (and lost to) Marshall on Sunday, after this post went up, so here's a belated LOL Purdue, who blew a late lead and still managed to lose by double digits. Well done, OMHR. But our intrepid train-lovers bounced back with a win yesterday, handling Indiana State pretty easily. Purdue had over 500 yards of offense and 38 points and a comfortable 24-7 lead at halftime. Austin Appleby ended the game against Marshall with some nightmarish interceptions, but he was just fine in this one: 20/34, 289 yards, 4 TD and no picks.
WISCONSIN 58, MIAMI (OH) 0
No Corey Clement (out with an injury)? No problem for the Wisconsin offense. The Badgers rustled up 451 yards and 58 points against the RedHawks and cruised to an easy win. The bigger surprise was how they did it -- through the air. Joel Stave went 19/30 for 236 yards, 3 TD/1 INT, with Robert Wheelwright being his favorite target (6 receptions, 79 yards, 2 TD). But don't worry: Wisconsin still had a 100-yard rusher (16 carries, 112 yards, 1 TD), so the world isn't completely off its axis.
OHIO STATE 38, HAWAII 0
The final score looks like a run-of-the-mill blowout for the Buckeyes, but this was an ugly, close game for quite a while -- OSU led just 14-0 at halftime and 17-0 after three quarters. The Buckeye offense never really clicked all day -- they mustered only 363 yards and looked pedestrian through the air (20/34, 5.0 yards per pass attempt) and on the ground (182 yards on 49 carries, 3.7 yards per carry). Luckily, the OSU defense kept the Rainbow Warriors from doing much of anything -- 165 yards, 2.7 yards per play, 4 turnovers. Ezekiel Elliot was the star of the day for the offense, picking up 101 yards and 3 touchdowns on 27 carries. OSU looked great in turning on the afterburners in the second half against Virginia Tech; maybe a letdown was inevitable in a short week.
MINNESOTA 23, COLORADO STATE 20 (OT)
In a week where most Big Ten teams welcomed teams from lower divisions or non-Power 5 conferences for lopsided blowouts, Minnesota deserves credit for playing one of the trickier games of the week -- a road tilt in Fort Collins against a game Colorado State team. This isn't quite the very good CSU outfit that catapulted Jim McElwain to the Florida job, but they're still a solid squad. So it shouldn't be too surprising that they were in a nip-and-tuck game with the Rams before prevailing in OT. Once again, it was the Gopher defense that led the way: they held CSU to 314 yards and forced four turnovers, including a critical one on the first play of overtime. The Gopher offense was... OK? Rodney Smith had another 100-yard day on the ground (21 carries, 108 yards) and Mitch Leidner had 233 yards and two touchdowns and no turnovers. I don't think Minnesota will win many games when Leidner has to throw the ball 45 times, though.
NEBRASKA 48, SOUTH ALABAMA 9
Remember when Nebraska couldn't run the ball a week ago against BYU last week? About that... Terrell Newby blew up for 198 yards and 2 touchdowns on 28 carries against South Alabama. The standard "because South Alabama" caveats apply, but that's still a mighty fine job running the ball. Tommy Armstrong was just fine through the air as well, going 21/30 for 270 yards, a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions. Of some concern for Nebraska maybe? The Blackshirts still looked a little leaky through the air: South Alabama quarterbacks combined to go 26/45 for 313 yards, a touchdown, and an interception.
INDIANA 36, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL 22
Indiana spent a lot of this game trailing -- they didn't take their first lead until 19-14 late in the third quarter and gave that up swiftly in the fourth quarter, going down 22-19. Turnovers saved the day for the Hoosiers, though -- an FIU fumble shortly after Indiana tied the game at 19-19 set Indiana up with a short field; they promptly turned that into a touchdown and a 26-19 lead. Then when FIU marched down the field and looked to be getting ready to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, the Hoosiers grabbed an interception and returned it 96 yards for the game-sealing touchdown. Hooray for timely turnovers, but Indiana still gave up 406 yards of offense to FIU. Nate Sudfeld went 19/33 for 234 yards, a touchdown, and an interception, and UAB transfer Jordan Howard had another solid game, going for 159 yards on 27 carries.
YOU HAVE BROUGHT SHAME ON THE FAMILY
BOWLING GREEN 48, MARYLAND 27
If teams finally wise up and stop kicking to Will Likely, Maryland might not win any more games this year. Likely had another punt return for a touchdown (85 yards this time) on Saturday. Then again, the bigger problem for Maryland is probably their defense: they gave up 692 (!) yards to Bowling Green, including 491 yards (!) through the air. Bowling Green also held the ball for almost 16 (!) more minutes than Maryland, 37:57 to 22:03. That's... not great. Despite all that, this game was actually tied at 20-all through three quarters. It was even tied 27-all with 12 minutes to go -- then Bowling Green ended the game on a 21-0 run. The Terps have a whole lot of problems.
WASHINGTON STATE 37, RUTGERS 34
The ending of this game came at the same time as the Iowa-Iowa State game was going on, which was unfortunate because this sounded like some prime-grade DRUNJ FOOTBALL. Washington State had a humdrum 20-12 lead on Rutgers through three quarters... then the molly hit. WSU and SUNJ combined for 39 points in the fourth quarter and the lead changed five times in that stretch, including twice in the final 90 seconds. Janarion Grant returned two kicks (one kickoff and one punt) for touchdowns in the final twelve minutes and set a Rutgers school record for all-purpose yards (339 yards, including 195 yards on kick returns alone)... in a losing effort. With much of the Rutgers secondary getting kicked off the team in the last few weeks, it was no surprise that Wazzu targeted the Rutgers pass defense early and often, nor that they had great success doing so: 47/66, 478 yards, 4 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Big Ten quarterbacks should be salivating at the prospect of playing Maryland and Rutgers.
NEXT: Illinois finally gets a real (?) test with a game against North Carolina in Chapel Hill, Northwestern faces another Quiz Bowl showdown (against Duke in Durham, NC), Nebraska renews one of the best rivalries of the '80s (against Miami), and Virginia Tech takes a second crack at beating a Big Ten play this year (against Purdue). Oh, and league play starts! Penn State takes on Rutgers.