Sports Q&A Big Ten Quick Hits Week: 2

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

 

Big Ten East Division:

Indiana Hoosiers 1-1 (0-1)

After a tough loss last week, Hoosiers fans were hoping to avoid a loser hangover in facing the lowly Virginia Cavaliers but the Indiana offense did not score until midway through the second quarter — a 29-yard touchdown from quarterback Peyton Ramsey to wideout Simmie Cobbs. That score seemed to energize the team and Indiana scored two more times to take a 14-point lead which eventually ballooned to a 34-17 victory on the road. Ramsey, a redshirt freshman, was thrown into action after Richard Lagow was pulled due to ineffectiveness — Lagow only completed 3-of-10 pass attempts and seemed to still be focused on the OSU loss. Despite only giving up 17 points, the Hoosiers’ defense left a lot to be desired as well. It allowed 22 first downs, 259 passing yards, did not force a turnover, and a cornerback, Johnathan Crawford, led the way in tackles with 10. Indiana has two out-of-conference games to get things together or it could be a disappointing first season for new coach Tom Allen.

Maryland Terrapins 2-0 (0-0)

New quarterback, same result for the Maryland Terrapins. This week the victim was the lowly Towson Tigers but the Terrapins were ready and easily won 63-17. Starting in his first collegiate game quarterback Kasim Hill missed only three of his 16 passes on the way to 163 yards and two touchdowns. Knowing he had to protect his young quarterback, head coach DJ Durkin leaned heavily on his run game and six different non-quarterbacks had a carry led by Ty Johnson’s five rushes for 124 yards — as a team Maryland rushed for 367 yards and six touchdowns. Linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. is becoming the lynchpin of the defense and had eight tackles and two tackles-for-loss. Junior cornerback Darnell Savage Jr. also made his presence known with a 75-yard interception for a touchdown. Coach Durkin has the Terrapins trending in the right direction but the schedule gets a little more difficult over the next three games as the team hosts UCF and travels to Minnesota and Ohio St.

Michigan Wolverines 2-0 (0-0)

It was more of the same for the Michigan Wolverines in Week 2 as the defense carried a struggling offense to a 36-14 win over the Cincinnati Bearcats. Big Ten defensive players of the week safety Tyree Kinnel had nine tackles, one sack and one of the two interception returns for touchdowns for a Wolverines defense that kept Cincinnati offense guessing all afternoon. “Viper” linebacker Khaleke Hudson continued his great start to the 2017 season with two sacks and six tackles. The defense had to will have to continue to play over its head if the team continues to get suspect quarterback play from Wilton Speight like it did on Saturday. Speight didn’t have any interceptions this week, but he had a botched handoff that resulted in a turnover and continued to overthrow receivers on his way to 221 yards on 17-of-29 attempts. Senior running back Ty Isaac is making the most of his senior season and rushed for a career-high 133 yards on 20 carries — including a long 53-yard run. Head coach Jim Harbaugh seems not to be worried about Speight but the fans are looking for anyone to replace the beleaguered signal caller.

Michigan St. Spartans 2-0 (0-0) 

It looks as if the Michigan St. Spartans are getting their swagger back on the defensive side of the ball as it limited the Western Michigan Broncos to only 116 rushing yards and had four sacks — the most in one game since 2015. Lineback Joe Bachie had another double-digit tackle game and true freshman cornerback Josiah Scott had the first interception of his young career. The MSU offense piled up 496 total yards — 296 coming from the rush offense — but that side of the ball still has to figure out some continuity in the passing game as quarterback Brian Lewerke passed for only 161 yards and had an interception. Spartans fans may not have a problem with the low passing yardage if LJ Scott (86 yards, one touchdown), Gerald Holmes (eight carries, 35 yards), Madre London (eight carries, 28 yards) and even Lewereke (nine carries, 81 yards, two touchdowns) continue to churn out the yardage on the ground.

Ohio St. Buckeyes 1-1 (1-0) 

Ohio State fans kept waiting for that offensive outburst against the Oklahoma Sooners… but it never happened as the Buckeyes suffered its first home loss since 2015, 31-16. J.T. Barrett came into the season as a legitimate Heisman candidate but that took a big hit as he continued to struggle with the long ball and only completed 54% of his passes for 183 yards and one interception. Maybe it’s the lack of chemistry with his receivers but something continues to seem awry with the redshirt senior. There were rumblings that head coach Urban Meyer preferred freshman running back J.K. Dobbins (13 carries, 72 yards, one touchdown) over returning starter Mike Weber and after seeing Weber only get three carries despite a 9.7 yard-per-carry average, it may be some truth to it. With the offense struggling, the defense was asked to do more than usual and even with the celebrated depth, it seemed like that side of the ball wore down in the second half. Sam Hubbard and Nick Bosa each had one sack on the evening but when two of your top three tacklers — Damon Arnette and Damon Webb — are defensive backs, something is wrong. The OSU are used to losing early in the year and still finding success at the end, but Cardale Jones isn’t walking through the tunnel this year to save the offense.

Penn State Nittany Lions 2-0 (0-0)

It may not help them get over last year’s loss but the 33-14 victory over in-state rival the Pitt Panthers had to feel good for the Nittany Lions. After jumping out to a 14-0 lead, Penn St., led by running back Saquon Barkley’s 88 yards and one touchdown on 14 carries, seemed to be in control most of the afternoon. The defense harassed Pitt quarterback Max Browne constantly and forced five sacks — two by junior defensive end Shareef Miller — and two interceptions. If there was one thing to be concerned with, it would be the average day from quarterback Trace McSorley who passed for only 164 yards on 15-of-28 attempts. As head coach James Franklin said this was another game for his players and everyone is entitled to an off-game — especially when the team still wins comfortably.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 0-2 (0-0)

After a promising game against Washington last week, expectations were high for the Scarlet Knights to get its first win against a low-end MAC opponent in the Eastern Michigan Eagles. Too bad it didn’t happen and the Eagles escaped out of Piscataway, NJ with a 16-13 win when time expired after quarterback Kyle Bolin was sacked on third down. Bolin had issues all afternoon and did not seem to be the confident signal caller from just the week before. He missed on 20 of his 37 attempts and tossed two interceptions. Despite having success running the ball with running backs Robert Martin (13 carries, 68 yards) and Gus Edwards (12 carries, 56 yards), head coach Chris Ash put his faith in Bolin, despite not having earned it yet. Receiver Janarion Grant continues to be the lone bright spot for the Scarlet Knight. Against the Eagles, he had eight receptions for 91 yards and averaged 14.7 yards-per-return. Big Ten fans have questioned the addition of Rutgers to the conference from the beginning and a loss like this isn’t helping validate membership.

Big Ten West Division:

Illinois Fighting Illini 2-0 (0-0)

This was a game that many — including myself — pegged as an upset special in the conference but the young Illinois team showed fight and grit on its way to a 20-7 victory over Western Kentucky. Looking for stability within the position, head coach Lovie Smith turned to true freshman Mike Epstein to be the lead running back… and he responded nicely with a 111-yard performance on 21 carries. With the team relying on the run game —  rushing for 193 yards as a team — that took the pressure off of quarterback Chayese Crouch to have to win the game. He still only passed for 107 yards and finished with a paltry 4.3 yards per attempt average but the offense spent most of the day with “third and manageable” which resulted in it converting 50% of its conversions. 244 total yards, two third-down conversions allowed in 12 attempts, and two forced turnovers… another good game for the Illinois defense. Freshman defensive linemen Bobby Roundtree had two sacks and looks to be a young difference maker up front.

Iowa Hawkeyes 2-0 (0-0)

As the saying goes, you can throw out the records and expectations when it comes to rivalry games and the Hawkeyes needed a late 46-yard pass from quarterback Nathan Stanley to running back Akrum Wadley to tie the score and force overtime. Stanley had one of the better performances in this short college season on Saturday as he completed 65% of his passes for 333 yards and FIVE touchdowns. In addition to the long pass to Wadley — who is embracing his role as the feature back with another 100-yard performance — Stanley connected with eight other Iowa players; Nick Easley had seven catches for 48 yards and two of Ihmir Smith-Marsette’s four catches went for touchdowns. The offense had to carry this game as the defense allowed an uncharacteristically high 467 total yards and nine “chunk plays” (plays of 15+ yards.) Part of the defensive issue could be traced to a lack of pressure up front as the team had only one sack and three tackles for loss. Defensive end Parker Hesse finished the day with seven tackles and an impressive interception that set up a Hawkeyes score in the fourth quarter. Iowa St. is improved but there is no reason why the Hawkeyes shouldn’t have had a more comfortable victory.

Minnesota Golden Gophers 2-0 (0-0)

Now, this is what many expected out of Minnesota in Week 1. The 48-17 blowout win over Oregon St. showcased a number of things and give Gophers fans hope of being able to contend in the Big Ten West Division. 58 carries, 253 yards, and five touchdowns. If you didn’t know after the first week, we know now that the Gophers will lean heavily on the run game throughout the season. Running back Rodney Smith had the bulk of the carries finishing the day with 30 for 92 yards and Shannon Brooks finished off the battered Oregon St. defense with 91 yards and three touchdowns on only 17 carries. Led by linebacker Jonathan Celestin’s 10 tackles the defense had a good showing in Corvallis, OR and forced three fumbles that the offense converted into 17 points. The Beavers may not be a top-tier PAC-12 program, but it still is an impressive win for head coach PJ Fleck and a Minnesota team that is breaking in a new quarterback in Conor Rhoda (158 yards on 7-of-8 completions.)

Nebraska Cornhuskers 1-1 (0-0)

You can’t give up 42 points and expect to win, but the Nebraska Cornhuskers almost pulled off a historic comeback in the 42-35 loss to the Oregon Ducks. After performing well in his first Nebraska game, this is the Tanner Lee many saw during his time at Tulane. Lee only completed 46% of 41 attempts and had four interceptions — one of which came as the team was trying to tie the game late in the fourth quarter. Inconsistent quarterback play is something that Cornhuskers fans have seen the past few years and if the defense continues to give up this many points and yards, it will be a long season for head coach Mike Riley. If you are looking for a glimmer of hope to take from this game, it has to be the fact that the defense held Oregon scoreless in the second half and forced two turnovers — a fumble recovery and interception by defensive back Aaron Williams.

Northwestern Wildcats 1-1 (0-0)

The 41-17 loss to the Duke Blue Devils may be the worst game by a Northwestern Wildcats team in a long time. Other than freshman linebacker Paddy Fisher’s 18 tackles its hard to pull anything positive from that performance. Quarterback Clayton Thorson was hailed as one of the better-returning quarterbacks in the Big Ten but after his 11-of-29 for 120 yards and two interception performance, pundits may have to rethink that high praise. You would think with Thorson struggling, the Wildcats would at least be able to lean on star running back Justin Jackson…nope. The senior running back had 18 yards on seven carries. Trailing 21-10 early in the third quarter, the Wildcats’ were still in it but a costly interception ended a drive and the defense couldn’t hold the fort anymore. Sometimes you need a bad loss like this to refocus because the primary goal, a Big Ten West Division championship, is still an achievable goal.

Purdue Boilermakers 1-1 (0-1)

After losing a tough game to Louisville, many wanted to see how Purdue would respond. The 44-21 win over Ohio let the conference know there would be no loss-hangover for the Boilermakers as they handled the MAC foe in dominating fashion. Quarterback David Blough continues to benefit from head coach Jeff Brohm’s high-octane offense and passed for 235 yards and three touchdowns on only 13 attempts. With the passing game going well that created more opportunities for the Purdue rushing attack to thrive and running back Tario Fuller took advantage with 16 carries for 142 yards. The defense still has to tighten up some things — allowed 396 total yards and 23 first downs — but those things can be easily corrected through scheme adjustments.

Wisconsin Badgers 2-0 (0-0)

Saturday’s 31-14 win over the Florida Atlantic Owls was the Jonathan Taylor show. The talented freshman running back rushed for 223 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. Coming into the season there were questions about who would replace Cory clement at running back and Taylor has answered that question with two great games to start his collegiate career. With Taylor playing so well, it was easy to overlook an average performance from quarterback Alex Hornibrook (16-of-28 for 201 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.) After surrendering 14 points in the first half the Badgers’ defense tightened up and played up to expectations. Linebacker Chris Orr had eight tackles and one sack and in the second half, the Badgers defense only allowed one drive to extend beyond five plays. So far so good in Madison, WI but I am interested to see how both sides of the ball will respond to being challenged by a good team.

 

Sports Q&A Big 10 Player of the week:

Jonathan Taylor-RB Wisconsin: You can’t rush for 223 yards and not be recognized. The young true freshman has brought stability to the Wisconsin offense and looks to continue the trend of top-flight Badgers runners that eventually find their way to the NFL.

 

Game of the Week:

Purdue vs. Missouri

The Boilermakers head to Columbia, MO looking for the first signature win in the Jeff Brohm era. Offensively Purdue has the firepower to put up points — if it is able to limit turnovers. The question is on the defensive side of the ball. Can the Purdue defense slow down Mizzou quarterback Drew Lock? He may not throw for 500 yards like he did against Missouri St. but he won’t struggle like he did against South Carolina last week. The offense keeps Purdue in the game but the defense eventually gives up a few big plays that cost them the game. Missouri 38 Purdue 27

Week 3 Picks: (Week 2 record: 8-6)

South Florida over Illinois (Friday)

Michigan over Air Force

Iowa over North Texas

Indiana over Florida International

Nebraska over Northern Illinois

Wisconsin over BYU

Minnesota over Middle Tennessee St.

Rutgers over Morgan St.

Ohio St. over Army

Penn St. over Georgia St.

Northwestern over Bowling Green

MSU BYE

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