Big Ten Bites: O-H-I-No! Oh No, Buckeyes

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Oh what a difference a week makes. Week one was great for the Big Ten, with Michigan beating Florida, Maryland embarrassing Texas, and Purdue nearly beating Louisville.

Then week two hit. O-H… oh no. The Buckeyes got smoked… at home… in their worst loss in the ‘Shoe in nearly two decades. Michigan struggled, Northwestern got smoked, Nebraska laid an egg in Eugene… all unpleasant results on big, televised stages.

The biggest story, clearly, is Ohio State’s loss to Oklahoma. Many assumed, especially after last year in Norman, this was another stop on the way to an undefeated season and a trip to the College Football Playoff. Then Baker Mayfield planted the Sooner flag in about the same spot the OSU band dots the I.

Is there a top dog (or in this case cat) of the conference? Let’s breakdown what happened in the second week of the season in the Big Ten Bites.

Illinois: Well look at you, Lovie Smith. If any of you had Illinois at 2-0 to start the season, stop lying. After squeaking by Ball State in week one, the Illini pulled an upset over Western Kentucky. It’s sad when a B1G team beating a Sun Belt foe is considered an upset, but that’s what happened in Champaign Saturday. Illinois’ defense smothered WKU’s attack, and the Illini used a steady dose of the run game in an effort to control time of possession. Kudos to true freshman running back Mike Epstein, who carried the ball 21 times for 111 yards. Could Illinois go 3-0? It gets a lot tougher with a trip to South Florida… we’ll keep an eye on that game to see what impact Hurricane Irma has on Illinois’ scheduled trip to Tampa.

Indiana: Could there really be a quarterback controversy in Bloomington? A week after Richard Lagow was praised by the country for throwing all over Ohio State (in the first half) in week one, the senior slinger was abruptly yanked from IU’s game at Virginia after a terribly slow start that included an interception. Insert redshirt freshman Peyton Ramsey, who completed his first 11 passes on his way to leading the Hoosiers to a 34-17 win over the Cavaliers. After the game IU coach Tom Allen insisted Lagow is the starter but this doesn’t bode well for him moving forward. It doesn’t help a quarterback when he’s constantly looking over his shoulder.

Iowa: Wow. Who expected 80-plus points in a game involving the Iowa Hawkeyes? That’s exactly what happened in the battle for the Cy-Hawk trophy, won once again by Iowa in a 44-41 overtime game at Iowa State. Sophomore quarterback Nate Stanley was the star in this one. Stanley completed passes to nine different receivers and ended with a very impressive stat line: 27-of-41 for 333 yards, five touchdowns, and zero interceptions. That was good enough to earn Stanley B1G Co-offensive Player of the Week Honors. And get this, Stanley is only the second QB in Iowa history to throw for 300-plus yards and five TDs in a single game. The other, by the way, was Chuck Hartlieb in 1987.

Maryland: So, what do you have for an encore? The Maryland Terrapins avoided a Longhorn hangover by crushing Towson 63-17. It’s the first time in school history the Terps have scored 50-plus points in back-to-back games to start a season, and 63 is the most points Maryland has put on the board since 1954. This was a good way to break in true freshman Kasim Hill at quarterback, who is now the guy after starter Tyrell Pigrome tore an ACL. Hill was helped by a heaping helping of the running game; Maryland racked up 367 yards on the ground. The Terps have a bye coming up before a trip to Central Florida. When that game comes around, take the over.

Michigan: Fickle fans in the Big House. You could hear boos from the crowd as Michigan struggled to put away Cincinnati. Give me a break, and feel free to give me your tickets if you want to boo a young team in week two still trying to put it all together. Sure, this wasn’t Michigan’s best performance, but the Wolverines got a 36-14 win. And, more importantly, Big Blue is 2-0, which is not something you can say about many Big Ten teams, including some rival Michigan has to the south. Michigan is a work in progress, but the victors did pull away when it mattered most behind a career-high 133 yards rushing from Ty Isaac. The Wolverines should have plenty of time to work out problems against Air Force Saturday.

Michigan State: You know what, good for Michigan State. After a tumultuous season in 2016, followed by an off-season filled with controversy and police blotter, the Spartans have started 2017 season 2-0, including a 28-14 win over Western Michigan which many considered an upset. WMU looked dangerous against USC in week one, but the Spartans defense stymied the Broncos, and MSU quarterback Brian Lewerke was the unsuspecting star of this game. Lewerke got the scoring started with a 61-yard scamper off a play-action fake. Lewerke, not known for his legs, said after the game “I thought I was going to get caught from behind.” He didn’t. And neither did the Spartans, who have a week off before taking on Notre Dame.

Minnesota: So what do you do when you have a quarterback competition with neither QB looking particularly impressive? If you’re Minnesota, you run the ball. A lot. The Gophers ran the ball 56 times, and won the time of possession battle with a whopping 38-plus minutes on offense. Rodney Brooks had 30 carries for 92 yards.  Shannon Brooks added 91 yards and three touchdowns. Minnesota threw the ball just eight times, and quarterback Connor Rhoda completed seven of them. It all added up to an impressive 48-14 win at Oregon State. UM coach P.J. Fleck wouldn’t say who his starting QB is going forward, but someone will have to throw more than 8 times during conference play.

Nebraska: Remember that new, exciting defense Nebraska was going to have this year with defensive guru Bob Diaco coming to Lincoln to run the show? Yeah, about that. The Huskers have given up 78 points in two games. 42 of those came against Oregon in Nebraska’s 42-35 loss. Now, the Huskers did not give up a point in the second half, but who knows if that was success making halftime adjustments or Oregon taking its foot off the gas. Whatever the case, Nebraska made a valiant comeback attempt foiled by a late interception that helped the Ducks put the game away. Something to keep an eye on for Nebraska is the health of running back Tre Bryant. Bryant, who has looked very impressive through two games, left the field with a knee injury Saturday.

Northwestern: Clunk. Thunk. Thud. Those are the sounds you heard during Northwestern’s 41-17 pounding at the hands of Duke. This was embarrassing for the Wildcats, thought by many to be a sleeper team in the Big Ten in 2017. The ‘Cats looked like they were asleep at times in this game as Blue Devils’ quarterback Daniel Jones racked up 413 yards of total offense. Northwestern came out of the gate throwing the ball a ton, and Clayton Thorson was not at all effective. Afterwards, NU coach Pat Fitzgerald said, “We got outcoached, out-executed, and out-played.” That’s two weeks of bad offense for the Wildcats, who will look to get it together at home against Bowling Green.

Ohio State: Oh people are up in arms in Columbus. Ohio State got throttled by Oklahoma in battle of top-five teams. Combine that with getting shutout last year by Clemson and struggling in the first half against Indiana, and people in and around the Ohio State program are starting to ask questions. Towards the top of that list is “should J.T. Barrett get benched?” OSU coach Urban Meyer got a lot of that after Barrett’s performance against the Sooners: 19-of-35 (with just 1 of those 19 going for longer than 15 yards), 183 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. Meyer said he’s not going to point the finger at his quarterback, but also said Barrett is “the head dog” and “is accountable.” Barrett, despite all of gaudy stats and career accolades, has struggled big time on the big stage. A frustrated Meyer said Saturday “We have to get the damn thing fixed.” Yep.

Penn State: Is there a new king of the hill in the B1G? Penn State, the defending conference champion, is now 2-0 and the highest-ranked Big Ten team after taking care of in-state rival Pittsburgh 33-14. It was a feeling of revenge for the Nittany Lions after Pitt upset them a year ago. Well, except for PSU coach James Franklin, who said afterwards “I know last year for their win it was like the Super Bowl but for us this was just like beating Akron.” Shots fired. But then again, there’s some truth to that considering what Penn State is set up to accomplish in 2017. Pitt was, and should be, just another notch in the belt for a team with championship aspirations. As for the game, Trace McSorley was fantastic with his arm and legs, and Saquon Barkley chipped in a rather pedestrian (for him) 88 yards rushing – but he did only have to carry the ball 14 times.

Purdue: The Boilermakers shined under the Friday night lights of Ross-Ade Stadium in a 44-21 trouncing of Ohio. Don’t look now, but Purdue could be a lot better than most people expected. The Boilers gave Louisville all it could handle, and scored 44 on a Bobcats team known for its defense. It was Purdue’s passing game that set the tone. Quarterback David Blough started the game 6-for-7 for 172 yards (29 yards per completion) and ended it 11-for-13 with three touchdowns. The running game, non-existent for a long time in West Lafayette, was a huge boost to the Boilers; racking up 263 yards on the ground. It will be very interesting to see what happens when Purdue travels to Missouri in week three.

Rutgers: Dang it, Rutgers, you had one job. Your job was to go out on your home field and beat a middling Eastern Michigan team that gave up gobs of points a year ago. Instead, you puked all over Piscataway in a 16-13 loss. And let’s pour some salt into that gaping wound – this was Eastern Michigan’s first-ever win against a Big Ten team (in 39 tries) and first-ever win against ANY “Power 5” conference team in 59 games. This was described by one writer as the biggest win for Eastern Michigan in 126 years of football. Well, that’s sad for Eastern Michigan, but wow, Rutgers, that was just a terrible loss. Head Coach Chris Ash said “However you want to look at it, we need to play better.” No kidding, coach. Rutgers is now 0-2. The Scarlet Knights can’t actually lose to Morgan State this week, can they? Stay tuned.

Wisconsin: Wisconsin is 2-0 and has an impressive freshman running back that has broken onto the scene, but there is a haze looming over the Badgers. Neither win has been particularly impressive, including the 31-14 victory over Florida Atlantic. This game was pretty close in the first half, and never turned into the blowout most thought it would be (UW was a 32-point favorite). All eyes are on the performance of quarterback Alex Hornibrook. The sophomore looked overwhelmed and underqualified at times Saturday – underthrowing receivers, throwing behind his targets, and tossing an interception. Freshman running back Jonathan Taylor, on the other hand, looked ready for primetime, piling up 223 yards and three touchdowns. The passing game needs to improve before B1G play starts, and a trip to BYU should be a good test.