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Ohhhhh, Nebraska...

Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten football is back!  So who won?  Who lost?  Who impressed?  Who disappointed?  Wha happened?  Let's dig in.

(NOTE: Technically the Big Ten's week isn't over -- Purdue travels to Marshall today and Ohio State ventures to Virginia Tech tomorrow night -- but enough games have been played for us to recap the action.  I'll try to edit in the results of the Purdue and Ohio State games later.)



The Big Ten's lone win over a ranked opponent this weekend came from... Northwestern?  Yes, Northwestern.  Y'all lost to a team coached by a man in shorts, Stanford.  What the hell, Trees?  Stanford gained 62 yards on their opening drive (settling for a field goal); they gained 176 yards over the remainder of the game and much of that (122 yards, to be precise) came in the fourth quarter.  Inbetween?  A whole lot of nothing.  RB Justin Jackson led the Wildcat offense with 134 yards on 28 carries and newbie QB Clayton Thorson (as Northwestern-y a name as any jNW QB has had in recent memory) scored the game's lone touchdown on a 42-yard scamper in the second quarter, but he had a mediocre day passing the ball (12/24, 105 yards).  He did manage to avoid any crippling turnovers, though, which was key in such a low-scoring game.  But the story of the game was clearly Northwestern's defense, which completely smothered Stanford for much of the game.


A day late and a coach short, Illinois finally played their 2015 season opener... and they blew the doors off a Kent State team that looked woefully overmatched.  Illinois led 28-0 after the first quarter, 38-0 at halftime, and 45-0 before the Golden Flashes finally got on the board.  All hail The Beck-man Bounce!  On the other hand, maybe we should slow our roll just a little: Illinois scored four touchdowns in the first quarter, but their longest scoring drive covered all of 38 yards.  They inherited stellar field position time and again; to their credit, they cashed in those chances, but they probably aren't going to get that many chances deep in enemy territory in every game. Illinois gained just 342 total yards, averaged 3.7 yards per carry, and went 3/13 on third down in the game.  The defense did legit shut down Kent State, though -- 245 total yards, 59 yards rushing on 39 carries (1.5 ypc), four forced turnovers. So that was nice.



Normally, a loss wouldn't belong in the "fine" category, but in this case an exception seems warranted.  Minnesota hosted the #2 team in the country on Thursday and they... kept it closer than anyone expected, frankly.  The Vegas line was TCU -17 and nearly every pundit expected a double-digit Horned Frog win.  Even The Daily Gopher predicted a 14-point TCU triumph.  But that didn't happen -- Minnesota lost by just six and actually had the ball with a chance to drive and win at the end of the game.  They came up short in that effort, but their overall effort shouldn't be disparaged.  The Gopher defense gave up a lot of yards to TCU (449, almost evenly split between the pass and the run), but they forced a few timely turnovers and tightened up near the goal line.  The biggest culprit in Minnesota's loss was the offense, which sputtered throughout.  The running game cobbled together 144 yards on 39 carries (a 3.7 ypc average), while QB Mitch Leidner was 19/35 for 197 yards, with many of his yards coming late in the game. The misfiring Gopher offense may put a ceiling on what this team can achieve, but if the defense plays like this throughout the season, they'll be a tough out for most of the teams on their schedule.


Michigan State won comfortably on Friday night, but it certainly wasn't a flawless debut performance.  The rush defense was on point, holding the Broncos to 18 yards on 23 carries, thanks in part to seven sacks on WMU QB Zach Terrell. But when the pass rush didn't get to Terrell, he was able to do some damage -- he threw for 365 yards, 2 TD/2 INT on 33/50 passing.  Sparty better shore up that pass defense in a hurry.  Offensively, MSU was successful running and throwing the ball.  QB Connor Cook went 15/31 for 256 yards, 2 TD/0 INT, which is a solid day of work. Meanwhile, MSU running backs combined for 196 yards and 3 touchdowns on 40 carries.  PJ Fleck had WMU well-prepared for this game and they did what they could, but after an early 7-7 tie, MSU took over and led by double-digits for the final three quarters.


Rutgers trailed 7-0 just a minute and a half into this game and led just 21-13 at halftime; at that point Rutgers seemed prime to implode and bring further shame upon themselves and the Big Ten.  And then the second half happened.  Rutgers ran the opening kickoff back for a 80 yards and a touchdown, pushing their lead to 28-13.  Then Leonte Carroo took over, scoring three touchdowns in seven minutes (game time), including two 50+ yard bombs.  Rutgers added a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter to complete the rout, but the third quarter was where they blew the game wide open.  Carroo was the hero of the day, grabbing three catches (all for touchdowns) for 129 yards.  Rutgers has all sorts of other problems to work through (like the fact that they kicked five players off the team earlier in the day), but it's hard to find too much fault with this 50-point win.


The story of this game was obvious: Will freaking Likely.  Maryland's stud cornerback set a Big Ten record for punt return yards in this game, returning 8 kicks for 233 yards (and one touchdown).  In doing so, Likely broke a record that had been held since Nile Kinnick set it for Iowa back in 1939.  On one hand: BOO FOR BREAKING NILE'S RECORD.  On the other: you know you did something pretty impressive if you broke a record that had stood since NILE FREAKING KINNICK set it.  Records are made to be broken and this one stood for 76 years -- that's not too shabby.  And Likely is a hell of a player.  Like Rutgers, the Terps had some issues in the first half -- they led just 22-14 at the break and actually trailed 14-13 at one point.  But Maryland rolled off 28 straight points in the second half to put the game on ice.  Outside of Likely, the Maryland running game was the big star: it amassed 341 yards on 45 carries (7.6 ypc) against the Spiders.


I debated between putting this here and putting his in the next category, but ultimately beggars can't be choosers -- especially Indiana football.  The win's the thing, no matter how ugly and dumb it may be.  Indiana escaped with a 48-47 win over the Salukis because SIU failed to convert a two-point conversion with seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. This very much felt like the same old Hoosiers under Kevin Wilson.  The offense is dynamite: 595 yards of total offense, 48 freaking points.  Nate Sudfeld didn't show much rust, throwing for 349 yards on 19/32 passing.  UAB transfer Jordan Howard picked up right where Tevin Coleman left off a year ago, motoring for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns on 20 carries.  Also unchanged?  The Indiana defense, which remains a complete disaster.  They gave up 659 yards and 47 points to the Salukis, led by SIU QB Mark Iannotti, who put together a stupefying stat line: 24/31, 411 yards, 4 TD/0 INT through the air and 106 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries on the ground.



One sack, two sacks, three sacks, four sacks, five sacks, six sacks, seven sacks, eight sacks, nine sacks, ten sacks!  Ten sacks!  Ten!  T-e-n!  That would be the number of sacks that Penn State's porous offensive line conceded to the mighty Temple Owls yesterday.  I gotta say, I don't think it was a good idea for James Franklin to dig up some more eligibility for scarecrow, turnstile, traffic cone, and banana peel.  They're just not B1G quality.  Or even American Athletic Conference quality, frankly.  Christian Hackenberg got beat to a pulp behind that line, but he wasn't very good even when he wasn't getting driven into the ground -- 11/25, 103 yards, 0 TD/1 INT. Akeel Lynch had a 42-yard TD run that put Penn State up 10-0 in the first quarter... and that was pretty much it as far as good things done by the PSU offense.  If the Nittany Lions can't plug the holes on their leaky line, though, it's not going to matter who else plays on offense -- this whole season is sunk before it even begins.


Did you hear what happened?  No?  You should go watch the play.  It's OK, we'll wait.

That was pretty great, wasn't it?  Let's listen to the BYU radio call of the play.

Ohhhhh, Nebraska.  That was delicious.  The Mike Riley Era in Lincoln got off to a wonderfully awkward start, thanks to the Hail Mary gods deciding to turn against Nebraska.  Tommy Armstrong had a good game for Nebraska, going 24/41 for 319 yards, 3 TD, and 1 INT, although it seemed like he could (should?) have had several more turnovers given how poor his mechanics seemed to be at times (so many back foot heaves...).  But the Nebraska running game was poor (126 yards and one touchdown on 37 carries) and their defense was even worse, conceding 511 and 33 points to BYU.  Taysom Hill and freshman Tanner Mangum (the Hail Mary tossing hero) combined to go 28/46 for 379 yards, 2 TD, and 1 INT and BYU ran for over 5.0 yards per carry.  Not exactly a great debut for the vaunted Blackshirt defense.


This loss isn't really that disappointing from a big picture standpoint -- the game was in Salt Lake City, Utah was favored to win, and frankly the Utes are farther along in their development curve than the Wolverines are at this point. That said, they're still Michigan and this was the much-hyped debut of the Harbaugh Era.  And, well, it looks like Big Jim's intensity and khaki pants aren't going to be an immediate cure-all for Big Blue (unsurprisingly).  Months of mystery ended with the predictable decision to name Jake Rudock the starting quarterback; the better question is how long he lasts in the role.  Rudock's numbers weren't bad -- 27/43, 279 yards, 2 TD/3 INT -- but they weren't great, either (and many of the yards came on a last-ditch scoring drive late in the game after Michigan had gone down 14 points).  Not all of the interceptions were his fault, but the final one (which ended up providing the final margin of victory for the Utes) certainly was -- it was a ghastly pick-six on a out route that was probably a bit familiar to Iowa fans. More alarming than Rudock's up-and-down performance might have been the running game, which was D.O.A. -- 76 yards on 29 carries (2.6 ypc) with a long of 7 yards.


Speaking of B1G teams not expected to win... no one really expected the Badgers to beat the Tide, not with a new coach, several new offensive linemen, and no Melvin Gordon.  But maybe they could have kept it more competitive? It was only 14-7 Bama at halftime, but it felt like more and when Alabama scored quickly after halftime to push the lead to 21-7, the game felt over, even if they was plenty of time remaining.  Bama rolled up 502 yards, including 238 yards on the ground, with Derrick Henry using his wicked combination of speed and power to brutalize the Badgers for 147 yards and 3 touchdowns on 13 carries.  Lord knows what he would have done with 20-25 carries... Joel Stave was a pleasant surprise for Wisconsin, going 26/39 for 228 yards, 2 TD/1 INT, but Wisconsin isn't going to beat anyone rushing just 21 times for 40 yards.  On the other hand, Wisconsin probably won't see many front sevens as good as Alabama's, either.  We'll see how Wisconsin looks over the next month or so, when they face several teams they could (or should) beat.

NEXT: Michigan State welcomes Oregon to East Lansing for a primetime showdown, Michigan hosts Oregon State, Minnesota heads to Colorado State, Rutgers hosts Washington State, and pretty much everyone else hosts MAC or FCS opponents.