Week 12 B1G Grades
Maybe I’m just in a good mood.
I don’t think I’ve dealt out five aces all year. If I have and you actually know that, you’re quite dedicated to this weekly column.
But five teams did more than meet expectations on Saturday. I rewarded all of them.
The Illini had a chance to clinch bowl eligibility in the Twin Cities, but couldn’t contain Shannon Brooks. Illinois also turned the ball over three times and allowed Minnesota to convert over half of its third downs. Those are not the type of numbers that win you games on the road.
In a must-win game for its bowl hopes, IU was up against it. Falling behind three touchdowns on the road and losing their best player would’ve been all she wrote for the Hoosiers of years past. Instead, Nate Sudfeld stepped up and not only led the Hoosiers back to a win, but to a convincing one. And the IU defense held true after it was torched by Brandon Ross early. Maryland or not, it was an impressive in-game response.
For a team that isn’t very “flashy,” Iowa sure can light up the scoreboard in a hurry. No other team in the B1G has six straight games of at least 29 points. And the one game everyone wants to talk about, the 10-point effort on the road against the fourth-rated Wisconsin defense, was the only time all year the Hawkeyes have been held under 27 points. In freezing conditions, C.J. Beathard, Jordan Canzeri and the Iowa line still found a way to catch some late fire and improve to 11-0.
Brandon Ross dominated, Maryland didn’t throw one interception and jumped out to its biggest lead in B1G play. So what happened? Well, the Terps couldn’t really tackle or cover anyone for the final three quarters. That’s why IU turned a three-possession deficit into a three-touchdown victory.
Oh, so that’s the defense we’ve all grown accustomed to seeing. Michigan put the clamps down and got back to the style that fueled its dominant start to B1G play. The Wolverines harassed Christian Hackenberg, bottled up Saquon Barkley and minimized Anthony Zettel. Those are three good things to do if you want to beat Penn State.
Michigan State: A+
I wonder what the spread would’ve been had we known that Connor Cook wouldn’t play on Saturday. I’m thinking three touchdowns easy. But the MSU defense delivered one of the all-time great performances holding the Buckeyes to just 132 yards, which was the lowest offensive output ever by an Urban Meyer-coached team. Nobody in America has a more impressive win — given the circumstances — than the Spartans, and they have their defense to thank.
Most of this grade is to the defense, which once again got monster performances from Anthony Walker and Dean Lowry against a quality opponent. The Wildcats turned the Badgers over five times on the road, and Justin Jackson did the dirty work for the NU offense. Perhaps the only knock was the fact that NU couldn’t capitalize off of those turnovers and distance the lead.
Ohio State: D+
Where should I start? How about the five total first downs? What about the 132 yards of offense? How about the two second-half carries for Ezekiel Elliott? The Buckeye defense deserved better, but even it couldn’t win the line of scrimmage in the fourth quarter. Ohio State had a chance to pick up a cheap top-10 win given the fact that MSU was without Connor Cook and it wilted.
Penn State: C-
Michigan makes a lot of teams look bad, but Penn State didn’t help itself. It lost the battle of the line of scrimmage and Christian Hackenberg paid the price. He and Saquon Barkley both couldn’t get anything rolling, and without Carl Nassib to rush the passer, the Lions struggled to slow down the Wolverines in the fourth quarter.
Give the Boilers credit. It could’ve turned into a rout when David Blough took a shot from Jordan Lomax. Instead, Markell Jones and Co. helped weather the storm and actually made it a game in the second half. Against a top-five team on the road, Purdue showed it hasn’t given up on this season.
Talk about a team desperate for a win. I get that it was Army, but Rutgers was depleted and without much to play for. Without Leonte Carroo, Paul James stepped up and gave the Scarlet Knights a spark they haven’t had much all year. And against a one-dimensional Army attack, Rutgers delivered its best defensive effort in two months.
I know what you’re thinking. How could Wisconsin not get a ‘D’ for that effort? Well, the defense deserved an ‘A’ for the way it dealt with short fields and not getting much of a break. This unit is as good as there is in the country, but without a healthy running game and with Joel Stave shooting the Badgers in the foot, you’d never know it.