Week 8 B1G Game Balls
I try not to be biased toward quarterbacks.
It’s easy to shine when you get the ball in your hands on every play. A decent quarterback performance is going to stand out more than a decent offensive line performance.
But you couldn’t help but be impressed the gutty quarterback play we saw around the conference. We had guys step into the spotlight as the main option for the first time in 2015. We had three-year starters put their teams on their backs and light up the scoreboard. We even had one use his legs to win his first B1G road game.
It’s no surprise that four of the five winning quarterbacks earned game balls for their efforts on Saturday. But they weren’t the only ones to shine in Week 8.
Connor Cook, Michigan State QB — That game showed every reason why people love the Michigan State signal-caller. A career day for Cook saw him throw for 398 passing yards when the Spartans running game was non-existent for most of the afternoon. He set the MSU single-game total yardage record and helped his team avoid a letdown after that improbable win in Ann Arbor last week. Hopefully the bye week will be kind to some banged up Spartans and give Cook some more help, not that he needs it.
Dean Lowry, Northwestern DE — What a day it was for the big fella. Lowry set a Northwestern record with six tackles for loss, which was the sixth highest single-game total in B1G history. Tommy Armstrong simply could not shake Lowry or Anthony Walker. When Nebraska needed third down conversions down the stretch, Lowry was there to shut the door. The Wildcats got back to the smash-mouth style that led to a 5-0 start and Lowry was certainly a major reason why.
Alex Erickson, Wisconsin WR — There was no denying who the best football player on the field was. It was the guy who led his team in rushing and receiving. Erickson had an impressive 177 all purpose yards playing alongside a backup quarterback all while operating without Robert Wheelwright down the stretch. Wisconsin lost skill player after skill player but Erickson refused to let that hold the Badgers back from a must-win game.
Bart Houston, Wisconsin QB — Speaking of the lost Badger skill players, it could’ve been a disastrous turn of events when starter Joel Stave went down with a head injury. Instead, Houston stepped in admirably and led the Badgers to a hard-fought road win. He did throw two picks, but for a guy that had just 63 passing yards entering Saturday, he did more than enough to make sure the Badgers didn’t skip a beat. Even if Stave is healthy, expect to hear the Houston supporters loud and clear.
Clayton Fejedelem, Illinois S — The Illini defense didn’t lose because of Fejedelem. It was only an 11-point loss because of Fejedelem. The safety racked up 19 (!) tackles and picked off Houston to keep Illinois close. In his first year as a starter, the senior has been one of the B1G’s most improved players.
Christian Hackenberg, Penn State QB — If I told you Hackenberg would only complete 13 passes, Saquon Barkley would rush for three yards per carry and the PSU defense would allow nearly 500 yards, you’d be quite concerned for the Lions. Well, that doesn’t take into account how good Hackenberg and the PSU receivers were on deep balls. Hackenberg became the program’s all-time passing leader on a day he threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns. Credit Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton and Geno Lewis for making some impressive adjustments on the ball.
Brandon Bell, Penn State LB — The Lions defense relied on its playmaking ability to force five turnovers. At the center of that effort was Bell, who had a team-high 3.5 tackles for loss, one of which was an absolute shot on Perry Hills that led to a Penn State fumble recovery. Bell often gets lost in the shuffle with the likes of Carl Nassib and Anthony Zettel, but he was a star on Saturday.
Gareon Conley, Penn State CB — It’s tough to single out one guy on a Buckeye defense that pitched a shutout for 59 minutes and 47 seconds. But Conley was plenty worthy. He forced a rare Ohio State turnover on an impressive interception and he blocked a punt. One of the potential question marks of this defense coming into the season looks like a strength now.
J.T. Barrett, Ohio State QB — So this Barrett kid looked pretty good for someone making his first start of 2015. From start to finish, Barrett and the Buckeye offense dominated. If you’re keeping track, make that 12 touchdowns in three games for the sophomore. The Buckeyes looked every bit like the defending champs on Saturday thanks in large part to Barrett.