1 B1G takeaway from every team in bowl games
One last time for the 2021 season, here’s 1 B1G takeaway from each team from its bowl game:
Michigan — Simply not good enough
Michigan was the best team in the Big Ten, but it was obviously not on par with Georgia (or Alabama). There’s no debating that. It doesn’t mean Michigan didn’t deserve to be there, either. For whatever reason, Michigan didn’t show up, with several plays where it seemed to quit.
— Rovell is a clown (@DripJorgen) January 1, 2022
But I don’t know if it mattered. Georgia was so superior in every way that I’m not sure this Michigan team beats that Georgia team even on its best day. At least not after what we saw Friday night — a 27-3 halftime deficit, getting out-gained by nearly 200 yards and never seriously threatening. Michigan’s award-winning offensive line didn’t stand a chance against Georgia’s front 7, and Cade McNamara was incapable of exploiting the secondary anywhere near the way Bryce Young did.
There was a lot for Michigan to be proud of, but the way this one went will assuredly leave a bad taste in the offseason.
Ohio State — Jaxon Smith-Njigba will be the country’s top receiver in 2022
So many intriguing storylines in this one (Ohio State’s soft defense is one of them), but Smith-Njigba stole the show with an unbelievable performance in Ohio State’s 48-45 win over Utah in the Rose Bowl. His 15 catches for 346 yards and 3 TDs set a bowl record for receiving yards and tied for the 5th most yards in any game in FBS history. Should we be surprised? Not at all. This guy already led Ohio State in receiving with 2 future 1st-round picks on the roster. So when both of those guys aren’t in the lineup, of course Smith-Njigba kicked it up a notch. Garrett Wilson already said Smith-Njigba is the best he’s ever seen, and he backed that up with a historic performance.
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JAXON SMITH-NJIGBA IS DIFFERENT @OhioStateFB
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) January 2, 2022
CJ Stroud wasn’t too shabby himself, by the way, with 573 yards, 6 TD passes and an INT. If Saturday was any indication, these guys will be a fun duo to watch. And with Marvin Harrison Jr., Emeka Egbuka and Julian Fleming set to step in for Wilson and Chris Olave, this explosive Ohio State offense will be just fine.
Penn State — Sean Clifford is being asked to do too much
It became painfully obvious that Penn State lost all confidence in its running game as the season went on, and that culminated in the 24-10 loss to Arkansas in the Outback Bowl in which the Nittany Lions gave their running backs a total of 11 carries. And the strange thing was that they actually had a little success, as Keyvone Lee, Noah Cain and Devyn Ford combined for 73 yards (6.6 yards per attempt). Sean Clifford ran 11 times and attempted 32 passes, completing just 14 with 2 interceptions. Clifford is a nice player who has gutted through some injuries, but he has a limited ceiling. In 2022, Penn State must figure out its run game for a more consistent offense.
Iowa — Spencer Petras is not the answer
Iowa does a lot of things well, as we saw in the 20-17 loss to Kentucky in the Citrus Bowl. The Hawkeyes had 6 sacks and allowed just 1 TD after an opening-drive score. They had one of their best rushing games of the season despite not having starter Tyler Goodson, amassing 173 yards and averaging nearly 6 yards per rush. But once again, Iowa’s quarterback play was simply not good enough. Spencer Petras threw 3 interceptions, 2 of which directly affected the outcome. One led to a Kentucky field goal and the other ended the game as Iowa was nearing a game-tying field goal. Petras also badly overthrew a wide open receiver for what would’ve been at least a 40-yard gain, if not more. Iowa played well enough to win, but its QB did not. Kirk Ferentz chose to go with Petras over backup Alex Padilla, who has shown flashes of potential, and that was the difference.
Michigan State — Life without Kenneth Walker III will be a challenge
The Spartans just won 11 games in Mel Tucker’s second season, a year in which the media predicted them to finish last. That’s quite a season. But duplicating it will be tough, as we learned in the 31-21 win over Pitt in the Peach Bowl. The final score didn’t tell the story, as the Spartans trailed by 11 in the fourth quarter and tacked on a late pick 6 from Cal Haladay with Pitt in field goal range to tie the game. Michigan State’s rushing numbers looked exactly like they did BW (before Walker). Without Walker, the country’s No. 2 rusher this season, the Spartans had 56 rushing yards on 36 attempts. Jordon Simmons led them with 23 yards on 16 carries. From 2018-20, Michigan State had the No. 13 rushing offense in the Big Ten, even averaging less than 100 yards in 2020. This game looked a lot like those, with the difference being the playmaking ability of Jalen Nailor and Jayden Reed.
Wisconsin — Graham Mertz has improved
I thought about making my takeaway that Braelon Allen is 17 years old, but I think the secret is out on that one. In all seriousness, Mertz played one of his best games of the season in the 20-13 win over Arizona State in the Las Vegas Bowl. The numbers weren’t particularly special (11-of-15 for 137 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT), but he made some big-time throws. This 30-yard completion on third-and-12 kept alive what turned out to be an 18-play drive in which Wisconsin kept the ball for the final 10 minutes of the game.
— ✯✯✯✯✯ (@FTB_Vids_YT) December 31, 2021
Mertz was 4-of-5 for 88 yards on third down. The Badgers will take that every day of the week. They don’t need him to put up numbers like CJ Stroud, they just need him to make timely throws when asked as they lean on Allen. Remember how tough that was at the beginning of the season against Penn State and Notre Dame?
Purdue — A pathway to success post-Bell/Karlaftis
While Michigan State struggled some without its star player, Purdue went out and beat an SEC team without its 2 star players, David Bell and George Karlaftis. The Boilermakers were the B1G’s biggest underdog at 7.5 points (aside from Rutgers, which doesn’t count because it was a fill-in), but it took down Tennessee 48-45 in an OT thriller in the Music City Bowl. Since this was a game involving Tennessee, there was plenty of controversy, like Purdue repeatedly “getting injured” on defense to slow down the Vols’ up-tempo attack. And Tennessee probably should have scored in overtime on this play.
SHOULD THIS HAVE BEEN A TENNESSEE TD?#CFB
— PFF College Football (@PFF_College) December 31, 2021
But if you’re Purdue, who cares? This was a chance to prove that it could still be relevant without 2 early-round NFL Draft picks, and it passed the test with flying colors. This was a Tennessee program that badly wanted to win, that had a great crowd in Nashville, that played well. And Purdue won. That speaks volumes of Aidan O’Connell, who threw for 534 yards despite also missing No. 2 wideout Milton Wright in addition to Bell. The arrow is pointing up for this program.
Minnesota — Defense improved immensely
It’s crazy to think about how much Minnesota’s defense improved — not just from last year to this year, but just in the span of the last few months. Minnesota held its final 7 opponents under 300 yards, including the 18-6 win over West Virginia in the Guaranteed Rate Bowl. That was quite a difference from the first 6 games, when Minnesota allowed 4 of 6 opponents 340 yards or more. Defensive coordinator Joe Rossi isn’t resting on his laurels after getting that extension. West Virginia’s Jarret Doege, who has basically been a starting QB for 5 years including his time at Bowling Green, managed a season-low 4.5 yards per attempt.
Maryland — This is what happens when you have a defense
Everything came together for Maryland in the 54-10 romp of Virginia Tech in the Pinstripe Bowl. Granted, the Hokies are in transition with a new head coach coming in and a bunch of starters either opting out or transferring. But that’s kind of been the theme of this Maryland season as the Terps have beaten the teams they should and lost to everyone else. This was arguably the most impressive, though, as the Terps out-gained the Hokies 481-259. That was a season-best against an FBS opponent for Maryland’s defense, which had allowed 400 or more in 8 of the last 9 games. This was an all-around gem for Maryland as it scored on defense and special teams, plus got 265 yards and 2 TDs on 20-of-24 passing from Taulia Tagovailoa.
Rutgers — Valiant effort, but offense must improve
This was as tough as it gets for Rutgers, which had a little over a week to prepare for a team that went to the ACC Championship Game. So I can’t be too harsh on the Scarlet Knights, who fell to Wake Forest 38-10 in the Taxslayer Bowl. Rutgers had 2 great drives to start the game, getting a TD and a field goal, but it did little else. That’s somewhat disappointing against a defense that had allowed 4 of its last 5 opponents to score 42 points or more. Rutgers played 4 QBs, including QB of the future Gavin Wimsatt, who early enrolled. Wimsatt went only 7-of-16 for 30 yards and an INT, but it was good experience for the would-be high school senior. I did enjoy the creativity of using Johnny Langan as a passer (2-of-2 for 21 yards), a runner (6 carries for 20 yards) and a receiver (6 catches for a team-high 57 yards).