Hickey: 1 thing I learned about every Big Ten team in Week 4
After a largely humdrum early and late afternoon, the late-night window of Big Ten football in Week 4 gave us a trio of the most compelling finishes we’ve seen in years.
The headliner, of course, is No. 6 Ohio State’s 17-14 win at No. 9 Notre Dame on Chip Trayanum’s 1-yard touchdown run with 1 second left in the game.
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But at virtually the same time, Northwestern was completing an incredibly unlikely 21-point fourth-quarter comeback to go to overtime with Minnesota. The Wildcats then finished the comeback on Ben Bryant’s walk-off 25-yard touchdown pass to Charlie Mangieri for a stunning 37-34 win.
Consider this: Vegas set the over-under for this game at a combined 39.5 points and both teams nearly cleared it on their own.
At the same time that was happening, Indiana was avoiding a loss to Akron when the Zips missed a 32-yard field goal at the end of regulation. The Hoosiers survived for a 29-27 win in 4 overtimes, ending the MAC’s 16-year streak of at least 1 win against Big Ten opponents.
Who’s ready for next week?
Probably not Iowa fans. But maybe the rest of us.
Illinois: If Luke Altmyer plays smart, he’s good
Luke Altmyer hurt Illinois as much as he helped in its first 3 games with 7 interceptions against just 3 touchdown passes. And he had another turnover early against Florida Atlantic when he lost a fumble while getting sacked.
But Altmyer had a clean game the rest of the way, and the results were jarring compared to the rest of his season — 25-of-36 for 303 yards and a touchdown in a 23-17 win.
If Altmyer can manage the game without mistakes, the Illini are a factor in the very weak West.
Indiana: Tayven Jackson has lots of work to do
Facing a MAC defense, Jackson was mostly terrible. He finished 11-of-26 for 190 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Jackson frequently made the wrong choice on his throws, including an all-timer that should have come back to bite the Hoosiers. Indiana’s best weapon, Jaylin Lucas, was wide-open in the end zone for a walk-off win and Jackson didn’t even look his direction.
Justin Fields in at QB for Indiana pic.twitter.com/fD8i437jip
— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) September 24, 2023
Iowa: Brian Ferentz has to go
This is nothing new, of course. But the Brian Ferentz Error reached its nadir in a 31-0 loss at Penn State — Iowa’s first time being shut out since 2000.
The stats are stunning. Penn State had possession for 31 more minutes than the Hawkeyes, running 97 plays to Iowa’s 33. The Nittany Lions finished with 27 first downs to Iowa’s 4.
That also means Penn State had more first downs than Iowa had rushing yards (20).
There’s no way this charade should continue for Iowa. But it will.
Maryland: Seems incapable of playing for 60 minutes
The Terrapins finally stopped their string of slow starts, jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first half after falling behind 14-0 in each of their past 2 games. And then traded it in for a slow finish.
Maryland didn’t add another point until a field goal with 11 minutes left, and didn’t put Michigan State away until a touchdown with 3:18 remaining provided the final margin of 31-9.
Maryland may be 4-0, but it’s not going to beat any of the Big Ten’s best playing this way.
Michigan: The defense is legit
There was no reason to think Michigan’s defense isn’t among the nation’s best, but a tissue-paper soft nonconference schedule left a lot open to interpretation. We got a few more definitive answers against Rutgers.
Scarlet Knights running back Kyle Monangai, who came in as the league’s leading rusher, was limited to 27 yards on 11 carries.
There will be far sterner tests, but the Wolverines proved they were ready for a step up in competition.
Michigan State: Mel Tucker sure saved MSU a lot of money
The Spartans are a really bad football team. But luckily, they no longer have to worry about the concern of paying Tucker for another 8 years’ worth of guaranteed contract.
Michigan State was much improved on defense after a record-setting number of yards allowed against Washington, but this time the offense proved a failure as the Spartans committed 5 turnovers that led to 21 of Maryland’s 31 points.
It’s hard to see more than a couple more wins — at most — on the rest of the schedule.
Minnesota: Sink the Boat
If you thought blowing a 31-point lead to Texas Tech in the 2006 Insight Bowl was the low point of Minnesota’s recent football history, the Gophers may have just topped it.
At least that Minnesota defense was facing an always-dangerous Mike Leach offense.
The current Minnesota defense was facing a Northwestern offense that hadn’t scored more than 13 points in its past 6 Big Ten games going back to last year. And still the Gophers managed to squander a 31-10 fourth-quarter lead, making this among the worst choke jobs in B1G history.
PJ Fleck needs to plug some leaks in his boat to prevent this from becoming the turning point of his coaching tenure. It has the potential to be that devastating.
Nebraska: Heinrich Haarberg is your new running back
How would the Huskers make up for the season-ending injuries to running backs Rahmir Johnson and Gabe Ervin Jr.?
By using quarterback Henrich Haarberg as their new top running back, naturally. Haarberg was Nebraska’s leading rusher against Louisiana Tech with 157 yards on 19 carries, including a 72-yard touchdown.
Northwestern: Maybe David Braun is the answer
David Braun, unexpectedly thrust into the head coaching role this summer despite a) never being a head coach and b) never coaching in any context for an FBS team, just may prove himself worthy of keeping the job.
Anybody who can keep a team confident enough to rally from a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit — especially this Wildcats team — is obviously connecting with his players.
There are a lot of factors going into this hire outside of Braun’s control. But he’s doing a very good job with those things that are in his control.
Ohio State: The Bucks passed their gut-check
Ryan Day may still literally have steam coming from his ears. Seconds after 1 of his best career wins, he made it quite clear that former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz’s critique of Ohio State’s toughness during Day’s coaching tenure rubbed him the wrong way.
Ryan Day never doubted his team's toughness. pic.twitter.com/bPfyp1CvqA
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) September 24, 2023
Here’s the thing, though — Holtz wasn’t exactly out of bounds with his critique.
Day has only 6 career losses and 3 regular-season losses since 2019, but the Buckeyes were pushed around a bit in those defeats. The manner in which Ohio State won this game — a defensive struggle that required a late comeback — makes this the best win of his tenure.
There’s no questioning Ohio State’s toughness now.
Penn State: This is the B1G’s best defense
It’s not unusual for the best defense in the Big Ten to be on display during an Iowa game.
But for the other team to have that defense? Not an everyday occurrence. Yet there was no doubt it was the case on White Out night in Happy Valley.
Iowa’s offense was even worse than usual without tight end Luke Lachey and 2 of its top 3 running backs, but Penn State’s performance was still stunningly dominant. The Nittany Lions allowed 76 total yards and 4 first downs while forcing 4 turnovers.
In the second half, Iowa had 13 yards on 12 plays.
As the season unfolds, perhaps Michigan or Ohio State’s defense will prove sturdier than the Nittany Lions. But at the moment, a group with 11 takeaways in 4 games is playing as well as any defense in the nation.
Purdue: The Boilers are poorly coached
A mere 4 games into Ryan Walters’ head coaching tenure, it’s fair to begin wondering if he’s in over his head. Purdue has made at least 1 head-scratching in-game decision in each of its 3 losses, but even more troubling is the team’s complete lack of discipline.
A week after committing 11 penalties for 127 yards against Syracuse with a side of 7 fumbles, the Boilers committed 7 penalties for 73 yards and 3 more turnovers. The final giveaway was most egregious — running back Devin Mockobee was stripped when he stopped playing before hearing a whistle.
Wisconsin scored a touchdown and 2-point conversion on the ensuing possession to go up 38-17.
Rutgers: A good QB away from being a very good team
I believe that Rutgers, not Maryland, is the team we should be talking about as the B1G East’s best behind the Big 3 of Michigan, Ohio State and Penn State. But because there is such an enormous gap between the teams at quarterback, Maryland is still more likely to finish 4th in the division.
Gavin Wimsatt is a nice athlete but has never shown any signs that he’s capable of completing even 55% of his attempts. The Scarlet Knights would have a much higher ceiling — think 9-3 — with a more capable passer.
Wisconsin: Purdue will always fix what ails you
It doesn’t matter what condition Wisconsin is in. Play Purdue, and all the problems are solved.
The Badgers looked uneven in their wins and were straight-up beaten up by Washington State. But Friday’s 38-17 win at Purdue was a glimpse into what most of us expected to see in Luke Fickell’s first season. Wisconsin achieved a near-perfect balance of 209 rushing yards and 193 passing yards.
The Badgers have now won 17 straight over the Boilers, who might not beat Wisconsin with a 12th man on the field for every down.