Game Balls: Stars aplenty in bounce back Week 2
Last week, it was tough to hand out a bunch of atta-boys. To say it was a disappointing opening week for the Big Ten was an understatement.
Week 2, however, was a different story. I know I predicted that the Big Ten would run the table this week. Maryland and Rutgers didn’t feel like making me look smart, but other than that, the conference passed some important tests.
No. 5 Michigan State won its huge non-conference showdown against No. 7 Oregon, Iowa won a road game against a Power Five team, Michigan came alive in Jim Harbaugh’s home debut and Ohio State’s defense reminded everyone that they’re as good as it gets.
All those snickers from SEC fans were hushed. At least for a week.
So instead of “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly,” I decided to hand out a bunch of atta-boys. Here are my game balls for a 12-2 week in the Big Ten.
-Michigan State’s front 7
The Spartans had to make life difficult for Vernon Adams. In his first game against an elite pass rush, Adams looked human. Chris Frey and Riley Bullough were everywhere. Shilique Calhoun and Lawrence Thomas each took down Adams in the backfield. Malik McDowell had a pair of hurries and was the key stopper on Sparty’s all-important fourth-down stand. Michigan State still has issues in the secondary, but the big boys up front rose to the occasion and delivered in one of Sparty’s biggest non-conference wins in program history.
-De’Veon Smith, Michigan RB
We were all wondering if the Wolverines were going to establish an offensive identity in Week 2. Smith took it upon himself to do that. He finished the day with 126 yards and three scores to lead the Wolverines to a convincing 35-7 victory in the home opener. He also showed a little versatility with a key 20-yard catch on fourth down. It’s just one game, but there might be a legitimate feature back in Ann Arbor.
-Darron Lee, Ohio State LB
It’s almost unfair to pick just one Buckeye because they all delivered in the shutout effort. Lee, however, stood out the most. He came flying on off the blind side and destroyed Max Wittek twice, one of which forced a fumble that the Buckeyes recovered inside the Hawaii five. He was at the center of a dominant defensive day in Columbus.
-Janarion Grant, Rutgers KR/PR/WR
In only two games, Grant leads the country with three touchdown returns. He took a kickoff 100 yards to the house and then returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown. Both of Grant’s scores came in a wild fourth-quarter. He also led Rutgers in receiving and had a 21-yard run, just for good measure. By day’s end, Rutgers didn’t have a victory, but Grant had the school’s all-purpose yardage record with 337 yards. Not bad for a day’s work.
-Matthew Harris, Northwestern CB
It’s always nice when a quarterback drops a ball right in your lap. That’s what Harris had happen to him when Jalen Whitlow decided to flip the ball to an unknown receiver. Harris promptly took it 71 yards to the house. Harris finished the day with two interceptions and starred in another stout Northwestern performance.
-Austin Appleby, Purdue QB
The Purdue quarterback did something Drew Brees didn’t even do. He threw three touchdown passes of 50-plus yards. After his four-interception clunker against Marshall, Appleby needed to have a big bounce-back game against an FCS school. He definitely did that.
-Terrell Newby, Nebraska RB
Ameer who? The Husker I-back ripped off a career-high 198 yards and three touchdowns in a dominant Nebraska victory. He also had his first career receiving touchdown in the blowout win. The fact that Imani Cross didn’t get a carry until the middle of the third quarter said something about Mike Riley’s confidence in Newby as his feature back.
-Big Ten road quarterbacks
How about the clutch performances we saw from C.J. Beathard and Mitch Leidner? Beathard led the Hawkeyes to a pair of late touchdown drives to bring the Cy-Hawk Trophy back to Iowa City. Leidner delivered perhaps the most clutch drive of his career with a touchdown pass to K.J. Maye in the final minutes against Colorado State. Both of those guys have more on their plates this year, and when their teams needed them to lead late, they delivered.
–Tanner McEvoy, WR/Safety
McEvoy went full high school mode and started both ways for the Badgers. He picked off a pass and caught three as a receiver. He even had a 2-yard rush. I want to know what this guy can’t do. If you’re aware of one of McEvoy’s weaknesses — and don’t say he can’t play quarterback because he did so at the Division I level — feel free to enlighten me.