1 B1G takeaway for every team after Week 1
It was a wild opening week in the Big Ten, so let’s break it down, starting with the 7 winners.
Michigan — New offensive line? No problem
There was a ton of intrigue heading into Michigan opener at a variety of spots. Most had come to believe that Joe Milton was going to be pretty good (and he was), but the offensive line was a major question mark. Only Jalen Mayfield returned.
After one game, Jim Harbaugh and Josh Gattis have to be thrilled. The Wolverines ran for 252 yards on 31 carries (8.2 yards per carry). After a shaky start that included allowing a sack on a 3-man rush, it was a dominating performance.
Michigan is now 2-7 against ranked foes on the road under Jim Harbaugh. If Michigan hadn’t missed 3 field goals, its 49-24 performance would look even better.
Ohio State — Justin Fields is locked in already
Justin Fields wanted a season, and he got a season. Now he’s taking full advantage. Fields was as crisp as he’s ever been as a passer, completing 20-of-21 for 276 yards and 2 TDs. This was the question mark on him coming into last season. Could he be a consistent pocket passer? He has answered those questions with authority. If you were a defensive coordinator, what would you do against him? Hint: There are no right answers.
Wisconsin — Jack Coan may never start again
The first game of the Big Ten season turned into a personal showcase for the highly touted Graham Mertz, who completed his first 17 passes and finished 20-of-21 for 248 yards and 5 touchdowns in his first career start. Incumbent starter Jack Coan, who is out indefinitely, may be out of the starting lineup indefinitely even when he’s healthy. That’s how good Mertz was, and it was all the more impressive considering that Wisconsin really struggled to run the ball with just 182 yards on 54 attempts (3.2 average).
Wisconsin was one-dimensional, and that dimension was the QB. Imagine that?
Coan was solid last season for Wisconsin, but he was not the kind of QB who would win the game. He led the Big Ten in completion percentage at 69.6, but he was a game manager. Maybe that’s all Wisconsin wanted with Jonathan Taylor in the backfield.
Mertz is no game manager. The No. 3 pro-style QB in the 2019 class introduced himself to the college football world in a big way, and he’s going to be an exciting player to watch in the coming years.
Indiana — This program is going to continue to overachieve under Tom Allen
Fresh off its best season since 1993, what would Indiana do for an encore? How about upset the No. 8 team in the country for its first top-10 win since 1987 to break a 42-game losing streak in such games, which was the longest streak in B1G history.
This is a monumental win for the Hoosiers, regardless of whether Michael Penix actually got in on that final 2-point conversion. Maybe the best news for Indiana is I think it can play a whole lot better. It was outgained 488-211 and lost the time of possession battle 40:25-19:35. I have no idea how Indiana won, but it speaks to the heart of this team that it continued to fight through unlikely circumstances.
Tom Allen instructed his players to allow Devyn Ford to score, and he took the bait. It was the only move that Allen could make, and it worked. After coming so close for so long, Indiana has the right coach that will maximize its chances to win.
Rutgers — The Arkansas vibes are real
As I watched College GameDay on Saturday morning, a comment from Chris “The Bear” Fallica caught my attention. He not only picked Rutgers to cover the 13-point spread at Michigan State, but he thought they would win. He said the Scarlett Knights gave off some Arkansas vibes, and he was spot on.
Just as a new coaching staff has invigorated SEC dormant Arkansas, Greg Schiano is doing that in his return to Rutgers.
Schiano had his team ready to play, and it was plenty convincing in breaking its 21-game B1G losing streak. The Scarlett Knights forced 7 turnovers and looked nothing like the pushover it has been in recent years. They didn’t come within 21 points of a Big Ten team last season, and now I’m thinking they will win at least a few games. I’d take them over Illinois and Maryland, for sure, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see them give some other heavily favored opponents a close game.
Purdue — The culture is strong
No team was decimated by injuries like Purdue was in 2019. At certain points, the Boilermakers were playing almost all freshmen, and yet, they were strangely competitive. They lost to quality teams like Minnesota, Iowa and Indiana by 1 score despite being severely short-handed. They beat Nebraska and Northwestern. They weren’t a bowl team, but they were fun to watch. They had heart, and it was clear the culture was strong.
That has carried over to this season. On Saturday, Purdue was without its best player (Rondale Moore) and its head coach (Jeff Brohm), the latter of which was quarantining due to COVID-19. And yet the Boilermakers rallied for an impressive win against an Iowa squad that was viewed by some as a dark horse in the West.
Northwestern — It pays to have a QB
Apparently, getting competent quarterback play makes a difference. That’s the lesson from Northwestern’s demolition of Maryland. After suffering through a miserable offensive season in 2019, Peyton Ramsey’s arrival from Northwestern was a welcome sight as he helped lead Northwestern’s largest margin of victory in 50 years.
Ramsey’s numbers (23-of-30 for 212 yards and a TD) were nothing spectacular, but he was in command of the offense from the beginning. He had several big runs, too, including a 12-yarder for a TD.
Penn State — It was never beating Ohio State anyway
A controversial ending on Michael Penix’s 2-point conversion puts a little bit of a damper on the Penn State-Ohio State clash that was supposed to decide the East. While the folks over at ABC are surely disappointed that they won’t have a top-10 showdown in primetime next Saturday night, Penn State fans and those rooting against the Buckeyes can take solace in the fact that the Nittany Lions were never winning that game anyway.
That much was obvious after Saturday. Penn State did not look like a top-10 team — or even a top-25 team, really — until the very end of the game, so even if Devyn Ford takes a knee and Penn State escapes with the victory, it wouldn’t give the Nittany Lions a better chance next week against Ohio State.
Sean Clifford battled, but his 2 interceptions led to 10 points, and the offense never appeared to be in rhythm. To top it off, the Nittany Lions had 10 penalties for 100 yards.
Nebraska — A better year is ahead
I wrote in the preseason that it wasn’t going to be fair to judge Nebraska in this opening game. But I am changing my mind on that. If I were a Husker fan, I wouldn’t be calling this a moral victory, but I would be encouraged about what Nebraska showed before the game got out of hand. The Huskers were tied at 14 in the 2nd quarter and frustrated Ohio State’s defense with its combination of Adrian Martinez and Luke McCaffrey.
Don’t get too worked up about anything Justin Fields did, because he’s going to do that to about everyone. But it seems noteworthy that Nebraska, which has finished in the bottom 4 of the Big Ten in rush defense in 3 straight seasons, held up well against a very good Ohio State offensive line. Trey Sermon and Master Teague, the Buckeyes’ running back duo, combined for just 89 yards on 23 carries. Not bad.
Nebraska needs some good news in Scott Frost’s 3rd season, and I think it got some Saturday against a team that will probably win the Big Ten.
Iowa — An offensive letdown
I was expecting much more offensively from Iowa. The last time we saw the Hawkeyes, they were putting up 49 points against USC in the Holiday Bowl. And all the guys that scored those touchdowns were back this season. Against a Purdue squad that was 13th in the B1G in total defense last season, Iowa underwhelmed.
Spencer Petras was OK in his 1st start, but he needs to get his best weapon, Ihmir Smith-Marsette, more involved.
Minnesota — We don’t know how good the Golden Gophers are yet
The Golden Gophers were just out of sync without a bunch of key players, and it led to a bunch of odd situations. They didn’t have their regular punter, so they tried a fake deep in their own territory. They didn’t have their regular kicker, so they had to do pooch kicks and give Michigan favorable field position, like when Michael Barrett returned one 64 yards to set up a TD.
On top of that, Minnesota was playing without the right side of its offensive line and had just one lineman in his normal position, left tackle Sam Schlueter.
Tanner Morgan did not look like the same guy he was in 2019. There weren’t enough deep shots to Rashod Bateman, and Morgan seemed to lack touch on a lot of his passes.
But it was just a weird night, so I’m going to reserve judgment on Minnesota until it is playing with a full deck.
Illinois — Lovie Ball can only take you so far
Illinois prides itself on playing “Lovie Ball.” The Illini emphasize not only getting takeaways, but turning those takeaways into points. They did just that on Friday at Wisconsin with Tarique Barnes’ scoop and score. But it was the lone bright spot on a dreary night.
The Illini are going to need their defense to score a lot more if they plan to give up that many points. Illinois scored 6 defensive TDs last season and was 4th in the country in takeaways. But the Illini were still 10th in the B1G in scoring defense and 11th in total defense. Those trends continued in the opener as it allowed a Wisconsin offense missing its stud running back, stud wide receiver and starting QB from last season to look like the Kansas City Chiefs.
It was a sloppy performance from start to finish. Illinois fumbled on the second play of the game and Brandon Peters completed 36% of its passes, compared with 95 percent for Graham Mertz. That’s incredibly disappointing when you consider Illinois is a veteran team led by redshirt senior at QB and Wisconsin has a redshirt freshman.
Michigan State — A winless season may be on the horizon
In our annual Crystal Ball series, I picked Michigan State to win just 1 game. Well, this was the game, and it was not all that close. The Spartans were dominated by a Rutgers team that entered with a 21-game losing streak in the Big Ten. Michigan State had a whopping 7 turnovers.
Michigan State is rebuilding, yes. But so is Rutgers! The expectations were already low for the Spartans, and somehow after 1 game against the Big Ten’s worst program, they are now even lower.
Maryland — Worse than we thought
This figured to be a tough opener for the Terps, who are one of the youngest teams in the league and going to the most experienced team in the league. But the disappointing part was that there really weren’t any positives to take away. Taulia Tagovailoa threw for just 95 yards and 3 INTs.
For Michigan State and Maryland, this season is all about improving. Well, they are starting about as low as you can go, so it’s only up from here. I think.