Did you realize the Big Ten staged an impromptu ACC-B1G Challenge over the weekend? To be more precise, it was really an ACC Coastal-B1G West Challenge -- five ACC Coastal division teams (Miami, Duke, North Carolina, Pitt, and Virginia Tech) played five B1G West opponents (Nebraska, Northwestern, Illinois, Iowa, and Purdue, respectively). What an utterly baffling and wonderful scheduling quirk. Let's do it again sometime. The ACC took the challenge, 3-2, thanks to Nebraska's furious comeback in Coral Gables coming up short. Thanks for nothing, Nebraska.
Anyway, on to the recap of the week that was in the Big Ten...
YOU DONE GOOD
NORTHWESTERN 19, DUKE 10
Someone had to go in this category and Northwestern was the Big Ten's only non-Iowa team to defeat a fellow Power 5 conference team this week -- and they did it on the road, no less. Northwestern has undoubtedly been one of the surprises of the season thus far, rolling out to a 3-0 start despite one of the more challenging non-conference schedules in the league (Stanford in Week One, a visit to Duke in Week Three). Their success on Saturday, like their success all season, came on the back of their defense -- the Wildcats held Duke to 327 yards of offense (4.4 yards per play) and forced three turnovers. Which is good because the Wildcat offense is still scuffling -- they mustered just 271 yards versus Duke, highlighted (or lowlighted?) by Clayton Thorson averaging a fairly ghastly 2.9 yards per pass attempt (he went 9/23 for 70 yards and two interceptions). Justin Jackson ground out 120 yards, but needed 35 carries to do so. Northwestern's scoring came on two big plays a -- a 55-yard run ripped off by Warren Long and a 98-yard kickoff return by Solomon Vault. There are certainly things to be concerned about re: Northwestern -- but hey, 3-0 is 3-0 and the defense does look stout.
YOU WERE FINE
MARYLAND 35, SOUTH FLORIDA 17
Maryland suffered an ugly fourth quarter implosion in a blowout loss to Bowling Green a week ago, so kudos to them for bouncing back against USF this week. The Terps jumped out to a 21-10 lead at halftime and put the clamps on USF in the second half. The defense, last seen getting turned inside and out by BG QB Matt Johnson and his receivers, answered the challenge in this one, holding the Bulls to 300 yards of offense, including just 60 yards through the air. Maryland QB Caleb Rowe threw for almost 300 yards (21/34, 297 yards) and four touchdowns... but he also threw three interceptions. Baby steps. Hey, Maryland managed to win a game without Will Likely making big plays -- that's a positive.
MICHIGAN 28, UNLV 7
Michigan briefly showed glimpses of excitement in the second quarter -- a 36-yard touchdown run by Jehu Chesson, followed by a 76-yard touchdown run by Ty Isaac -- but went back to methodically strangling the game away in the second half. The running game was the most successful part of the Michigan offense -- 39 carries for 254 yards and all three touchdowns. Jake Rudock was... OK-ish: 14/22, 123 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT. They're probably going to need a bit more than out of the passing game to beat non-UNLV opponents, but Saturday was a day for the defense and running game to show their wares and they did just that.
MICHIGAN STATE 35, AIR FORCE 21
35-21 is a comfortable final margin for a game and, if anything, it overstates how close this was for Air Force -- Michigan State used an aerial assault to open up a 28-7 lead at halftime and Air Force's final touchdown of the game came with two minutes left in the game (aka, deep in garbage time). Connor Cook was quite good (15/23, 247 yards, 4 TD, 0 INT), but Aaron Burbridge really stole the show: 8 receptions, 156 yards, 3 TD. And he did so in spectacular fashion. If you want to pick nits, you could start with the Spartan running game, going for a meager 77 yards on 40 attempts (1.8 ypc). But wait for performances like that to recur before getting too concerned.
WISCONSIN 28, TROY 3
Is there any better compliment that you can pay a Wisconsin QB than "efficient"? I think not. And Joel Stave was very efficient on Saturday -- 13/17, 202 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT. He's definitely looked better than he did a season ago when he was reportedly dealing with the "yips," although the competition Wisconsin has faced post-Bama certainly leaves plenty to be desired. After a no-show performance a week ago, the Badger running game was in better form this week -- 35 carries, 199 yards, 3 TD. Those are still fairly pedestrian numbers compared to what the Badger menace has done to teams on the ground in recent years, though. Wisconsin also lost the time of possession battle to Troy pretty handily -- 33:22 to 26:38. There's something not quite right about the Badger offense this year. The defense has put the clamps down on poor opposition the last two weeks (just 3 points combined versus Miami (OH) and Troy), but if Wisconsin is still the front-runner in the Big Ten West, it's only by the slimmest of margins.
INDIANA 38, WESTERN KENTUCKY 35
Indiana is 3-0? Indiana is 3-0! Everyone's favorite #CHAOSTEAM keeps finding themselves on the right side of the butterfly flutter -- they could easily have lost all three of the games they won -- and a bowl game is starting to look like not such a crazy possibility after all. Seriously: they have games remaining against Wake Forest, Maryland, Rutgers, and Purdue. As expected/hoped for, this game featured plenty of points (73 combined) and yards (Indiana had 639 yards of offense, while the Hilltoppers put up 568 yards) and exciting action. Nate Sudfeld had an excellent day flinging the rock for the Hoosiers (20/27, 355 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT) and Jordan Howard gave the Badgers some much-needed balance on the ground (31 carries, 203 yards). The Hoosier defense bled yards and points all day, but they did come up with a few key plays, namely two second half interceptions when WKU was threatening to pull away.
PENN STATE 28, RUTGERS 3
There were LOLs aplenty at Penn State's offensive line after they gave up 10 (!) sacks against Temple in the season opener and deservedly so -- when you give up a sack to a two-man rush, you earn all the shit you get. But since then? Since then ol' Turnstile, Traffic Cone, Banana Peel, and friends have pitched a shutout -- neither Rutgers nor Buffalo has been able to sack Christian Hackenberg. Well done, fellas -- credit where credit is due. That's not to say that the PSU passing game has been great, though -- Hackenberg didn't get sacked on Saturday night, but he went just 10/19 for 141 yards, no touchdowns, and an interception against a Rutgers team that dismissed most of its starting secondary a few weeks ago. But, hey, who needs a secondary when you can run for 330 yards and four scores on 41 carries the way PSU did on Saturday? Saquon Barkley led the way with 21 carries for 195 yards and two scores, but Akeel Lynch added 120 yards and another score on 10 carries. So the running game was good and the defense was also good, completely putting the clamps on the Scarlet Knight attack. Rutgers didn't score until kicking a field goal in the fourth quarter when they were already down 21-0, taking a three-score deficit and making it... a three-score deficit. But, hey, at least they didn't get shut out.
YOU HAVE BROUGHT SHAME ON THE FAMILY
NORTH CAROLINA 48, ILLINOIS 14
This game was just 13-7 early in the second quarter after Josh Ferguson capped off a 75-yard Illinois drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. Then North Carolina scored the next 35 straight points in the game, before Chayce Crouch added another 1-yard touchdown run for Illinois with under a minute to play in the game. In fairness, the final score might be a bit misleading -- Illinois gained almost 400 yards of offense (399, just 72 less than UNC), dominated time of possession (35:47 to 24:13, which further proves how much of a lie T.O.P. often is), were even in the turnover department (each team had one). But fairness can only go so far -- if you give up 48 points in regulation, you got your butt kicked. So what went wrong for Illinois? They weren't able to get stops -- North Carolina punted just three times and scored touchdowns the last four times they touched the ball (not counting their final victory formation drive). Illinois missed two field goals and turned the ball over on downs early in the game; if you can't get stops, you damn well better be able to keep up in the scoring column; Illinois couldn't on Saturday and their 2-0 start came to a screeching halt as a result.
MINNESOTA 10, KENT STATE 7
OHIO STATE 20, NORTHERN ILLINOIS 13
It's rare to find yourself in this category after a win, but wins also rarely come as uninspired as the wins Minnesota and Ohio State posted on Saturday. Let's start with the Gophers, who mustered 10 points and held on for a 10-7 lead against a team that Illinois whitewashed 52-3 just a few weeks ago. The transitive property may be bullshit when applied to college football, but... yeesh. It's not as if the Gopher offense was able to move the ball and just struggled to put it in the end zone or through the uprights -- they managed just 284 yards of offense (4.1 yards per play). Against Kent State. Mitch Leidner was very Leidnery-y -- 17/27, 184 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT -- but the running game was D.O.A. (44 carries, 104 yards, 2.4 yards per carry). The Gopher defense remains pretty darn legit -- they held the Golden Flashes to 142 yards (2.4 yards per play) of offense (Kent State's only touchdown came on an 80-yard fumble return) -- but it's a big question mark if that defense can overcome the ineptitude of their offense. According to Bill Connelly's S&P+ rankings, Minnesota has a top-10 defense... and a barely top-100 offense. And that sounds about right at the moment.
Ohio State played better MAC opposition -- alongside Oregon, NIU is the only team in the country to win at least 11 games each of the last five years -- but when you're the Ohio State, you're not supposed to be hanging on to beat any MAC team at home. (And while NIU will likely be a very solid team again this year, they don't appear to be up there with the Big Ben Miami (OH) teams or the recent NIU teams that were BCS busters in terms of truly upper echelon MAC teams.) But here we are. For the second week in a row "hot mess" remained the default setting for the Buckeye offense. Urban Meyer rotated hot shot quarterbacks, but neither J.T. Barrett (11/19, 97 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) nor Cardale Jones (4/9, 36 yards, 0 TD, 2 INT) were particularly effective. About the only good thing on offense for OSU was (again) Ezekiel Elliot, who put up another 100-yard rushing day (108, to be precise), but needed 23 carries to do so. As a team, OSU managed just 162 yards rushing on 37 carries (4.4 yards per carry) -- that's pretty lackluster for a team with the talent advantage they have. That said, while everyone wrings their hands about the unimpressive OSU offense (and, no doubt, it has been very lackluster the last two weeks), the Buckeye defense has been rock solid -- they held NIU to 190 yards of offense (2.6 yards per play), forced two turnovers, and prevented NIU from ever mounting a really serious threat to win the game. NIU's lone touchdown came on a short field set up by an interception; they had a few chances late to tie the game, but all required them to drive the length of the field -- and that just wasn't happening against OSU's defense.
MIAMI 36, NEBRASKA 33 (OT)
Oh, Nebraska. Ohhhhh, Nebraska. Nebraska's the runaway leader in gutpunch losses this season and they found a fun new way to cause themselves pain on Saturday. After looking utterly hapless for three quarters -- they trailed 17-0 after the first quarter, 20-3 at halftime, and 33-10 early in the fourth quarter -- the Huskers staged a stunning comeback that had banner-plane pilots in Miami thanking their lucky stars. Tommy Armstrong threw three touchdown passes in the final 8:36 of the game and Nebraska converted a pair of two-point conversions (also via Armstrong's arm) to tie the game at 33-all and send it to overtime. And then he threw this pass on the first play of overtime. Tommy giveth, and Tommy taketh. (Which was the story of Armstrong's game: good Tommy threw for 309 yards and 4 touchdowns; bad Tommy went just 21/45 and had 3 interceptions.) Even better? He was intercepted by CORN ELDER. EVEN CORN HAS TURNED AGAINST YOU, NEBRASKA. I hope Nebraska keeps finding inventively brutal ways to lose each and every week this season. Or at least against Iowa.
VIRGINIA TECH 51, PURDUE 24
Funny, but true: Purdue actually led this game 14-10 in the second quarter after Danny
Ezechoochoo Ezechukwu returned a VT fumble 90 yards for a score. Hell, they even had the game tied at 17-17 late in the second quarter. But a late Hokie touchdown right before half opened the floodgates -- Tech outscored Purdue 27-7 in the second half. It doesn't take an engineering major to know that adds up to a sad night in the depot for Purdue fans. Purdue can take solace in the fact that this was a total team loss, though -- they got beat on offense, defense, and special teams by the Hokies. In fact, Tech scored a touchdown on offense, defense, and special teams -- the reports of Beamerball's demise may have been premature (at least when playing Purdue). Tech QB Brenden Motley was a cool 15/24 for 220 yards and a pair of touchdown, while the Hokie ground game gobbled up 238 yards and two touchdowns (albeit on an unimpressive 4.2 yards per carry). Meanwhile, Austin Appleby went 9/28 for 110 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions for Purdue. Woof.
NEXT: The non-conference portion of the schedule wraps up with a slew of games against MAC opponents (and other non-Power 5 opponents). In fact, the only Power 5 non-conference opponents on the slate are Kansas (playing Rutgers) and Wake Forest (playing Indiana). Ugh. The intriguing game of the day is BYU's trip to Michigan. And it gets easier for Purdue as they face... wait, they're playing the Bowling Green team that waxed Maryland? Welp.