1 B1G takeaway for every team in Week 5
Here is 1 takeaway from each Big Ten team in Week 5.
Iowa — The Hawkeyes are winning in the trenches
During Iowa’s 3-game winning streak, which includes the win at Penn State on Saturday, it has dominated up front. The Hawkeyes have had one of the worst passing attacks in the Big Ten this season, so opposing defenses know they want to run it — and they still can’t stop it. That’s a testament to the Hawkeyes’ offensive line, which paved the way for Iowa’s running back duo of Tyler Goodson and Mekhi Sargent to run for 179 yards on 35 carries (5.1 average). Considering Iowa has only passed for 476 yards over the last 3 games (15 less than Indiana threw for on Saturday alone), it’s impressive the Hawkeyes have still been able to run it. They have 12 rushing TDs and 2 passing TDs during the win streak.
Minnesota — Tanner Morgan got his mojo back
A casual glance at the box score would have you believe that the ground game carried the Golden Gophers once again, as they rushed for 5 TDs. But really, Minnesota won against Purdue because Tanner Morgan played his finest game of the season, completing 15-of-22 passes for 264 yards (and because the refs called a phantom pass interference penalty, but that’s beside the point). Morgan averaged a ridiculous 12 yards per attempt, and he earned those yards, too. On 3rd or 4th down when Minnesota needed at least 6 yards, Morgan was 5-of-6 for 111 yards. He also could’ve easily had 3 TD passes as a receiver was tackled inside the 3 on 3 occasions.
Northwestern — The Wildcats are probably going 8-0
Northwestern (5-0) has played the 3 toughest teams in the West (Iowa, Purdue and Wisconsin) and has beaten all 3 by a combined 18 points. All that stands between the Wildcats and an undefeated regular season is Michigan State (1-3), Minnesota (2-3) and Illinois (2-3). Northwestern could lose one of those and still make the Big Ten Championship Game against Ohio State, as the win against Wisconsin gives the Wildcats a 2-game lead over the Badgers. They have a 3-game lead over everyone else. Life is good for Pat Fitzgerald and the Wildcats.
Illinois — Brandon Peters is the guy for now
Illinois has to play for the here and now, as Lovie Smith’s job could be on the line this year. That means he isn’t looking at the future or trying to get former 4-star recruit Isaiah Williams more experience, even after winning in his only career start at Rutgers last week. Peters and the Illini put a beating on Nebraska, winning their first game in Lincoln since 1924 (but only breaking a 5-game losing streak) and scoring the most points (28) in the first half against a B1G opponent since 2010. After a rocky start, Illinois (2-3) is in the midst of a mid-season surge just like 2019.
Michigan — It’s time to see what Cade McNamara can do
Two weeks in a row, the redshirt freshman has relieved a struggling Joe Milton and provided an instant spark. Last week, Jim Harbaugh waited until the 3rd quarter. On Saturday against Rutgers, McNamara entered in the 2nd quarter with Michigan trailing 17-0. He threw 4 TD passes and had Michigan up 8 late before eventually leading the win in triple overtime. McNamara has done more than enough to earn an extended look. He is owed that much after saving Michigan the embarrassment of losing to Rutgers.
Ohio State — There are issues in the secondary
Clearly, Ohio State has some work to do defensively. That was obvious from the beginning when the Buckeyes had to take a timeout 5 seconds into the game. Indiana QB Michael Penix Jr. threw for 491 yards, nearly becoming the first QB to throw for 500 against the Buckeyes since 1981. It’s obvious that this Ohio State defense is nowhere near the level of last year’s unit that was arguably the best in the country. When you lose the top 2 defensive players taken in the NFL Draft, yeah, there’s a drop-off, even at Ohio State. Defensive coordinator Kerry Coombs has his work cut out for him. The Buckeyes let up 300 passing yards just once last season, to Michigan. While Shaun Wade made a great play on the pick-6, he has been far from a sure thing on the outside. Ty Fryfogle had his way with him.
Penn State — Sean Clifford has done his time, but he needs another chance
Penn State has been playing football for 127 years and has never been 0-5 — until 2020. That means it’s time to look at the future, and that has to be Sean Clifford. With all due respect to Will Levis, who was pulled in the 3rd quarter Saturday, he has never shown that he is a Big Ten QB. Clifford, on the other hand, has. I understand that James Franklin needed to send a message that Clifford’s play was unacceptable, and he benched his 2nd-year starter for about a game. With 4 games left in 2020, Penn State needs its QB of 2021 to get his confidence back. Clifford came on in the 3rd quarter and threw TD passes of 28 and 68 yards on his first 2 attempts, though he did have 2 interceptions late as Penn State was trying to come back.
Wisconsin — Graham Mertz is a freshman
Yes, the Wisconsin QB has been listed as a freshman on Wisconsin’s roster all along, but he sure hadn’t played like it — well, until Saturday’s loss at Northwestern. Mertz made the mistakes that a freshman is expected to make, against a defense playing at the top of its game. Mertz turned the ball over 4 times after not doing so once in his first 2 games. Mertz deserves a break, as he was without his 2 starting wideouts, Danny Davis and Kendric Pryor.
Purdue — An unstoppable offense with Rondale Moore
Finally! Rondale Moore — after opting out, opting in and then sitting the first 3 games with no explanation as to why — returned to the Purdue lineup. And he was every bit as electric as the last time we saw him over a year ago. Moore tallied 15 receptions for 116 yards, plus 20 rushing yards and a TD. The Boilermakers manufactured touches for him with short shovel passes and swing passes, and he showed no rust. David Bell was still his dominant self with 8 catches for 104 yards and 2 TDs. Purdue finished with 492 yards despite playing without starting QB Aidan O’Connell. Not to discount Jack Plummer’s ability (he was really good on Friday), but there are NFL QBs who would love to throw to those 2.
Indiana — The Hoosiers are for real
Make no mistake about it, Indiana could have beaten No. 3 Ohio State. It wasn’t a fluke that the Hoosiers were within a score on the final possession at Ohio Stadium. No one likes a moral victory, but after being down 35-7 and looking like it was about to get run out of the stadium, Indiana showed the fight and determination that have become hallmarks of the Tom Allen era. Penix will be kicking himself for throwing the pick-6, as that was ultimately the difference, but he played the best game of his career. If not for a few bad drops, he would have easily had 500 yards and then some. Indiana’s defense flummoxed Justin Fields in a way no defense has. The Hoosiers are leading the country in interceptions per game for a reason–they are very good.
Nebraska — Maybe the problem isn’t the QB
Nebraska can rotate QBs all it wants, but the bottom line is that there are so many things wrong in Lincoln that it doesn’t matter if it’s Luke McCaffrey, Adrian Martinez or Patrick Mahomes at QB. OK, well maybe Mahomes would make a difference, but it’s not going to make a difference between McCaffrey and Martinez. McCaffrey was bad, for sure, as he turned it over 4 times and was pulled for Martinez. Nebraska, though, couldn’t stop the run (Illinois ran for 285 yards), its defensive backs don’t find the ball in coverage, its offense is sloppy (how do you get a holding penalty on the 1-yard line?) and its special teams are clueless.
Gonna need an oral history of this fake punt pic.twitter.com/YSnPCkjacj
— CJ Fogler #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) November 21, 2020
Rutgers — There are no more pushovers in the Big Ten
Ah, the days when Rutgers and Maryland were the whipping boys of the East. Those days are no more, and I can say confidently, I don’t miss them at all. Rutgers may be the most entertaining 1-4 team I’ve ever seen. Between their trick plays and propensity for the dramatic, it’s always fun watching Rutgers. And it has to be annoying for teams like Michigan that think they are coming in for an easy win. Greg Schiano has the Scarlet Knights playing hard.