One day after the first round of Big Ten games, we know as much about the league as we did on Friday.
In a microcosm of their respective seasons, Nebraska and Wisconsin displayed enough highs and lows to make one wonder if either can play a complete game against a contender. Michigan State’s offense is ordinary at best, and Minnesota’s ascension was a mirage.
After a pedestrian performance against Central Michigan, Iowa proved it has the potential to make strides. And Northwestern and Purdue could their best crack at a Big Ten title in perhaps the next decade.
This is an unpredictable campaign, in part because of Ohio State’s ineligibility. The Buckeyes stopped Michigan State 17-16 Saturday in East Lansing. Ohio State is 5-0 and clearly the league’s best team, yet the Buckeyes are banned from the postseason and cannot compete for the Big Ten championship. Likewise Penn State, which put together a power-packed, balanced performance in a 35-7 win at Illinois, won’t reached a bowl game for four seasons.
That leaves four teams eligible in the Leaders Division, two of which are inconsistent and the other two are N.G. (not good). Purdue led Marshall by 28 points at halftime but coasted throughout the second half to hold on 51-41. Wisconsin led Nebraska by 17 points early in the third quarter only to fall apart on both sides of the ball in a 30-27 loss.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Wisconsin Coach Bret Bielema said. “You could feel that momentum change in the second half, something our guys could never really get a grasp of. I thought their offense did a nice job coming out.”
Wisconsin’s surprising problems running the football continued. The Badgers rushed for just 56 yards on 41 attempts. Wisconsin converted just one third-down opportunity in the second half and were 4-of-15 on third down overall.
Nebraska rebounded after a porous first half to produce the second greatest comeback in school history. The Cornhuskers rushed for 259 yards, the fifth straight game the team has exceeded 250 yards on the ground. Nebraska stuck with the run in the second half despite trailing 27-10, rushing 29 times for 191 yards after halftime.
Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini was proud of the defensive effort against the run. Three weeks ago Nebraska gave up 344 rushing yards on 56 carries in a 36-30 loss to UCLA.
“Contrary to what you guys think, I haven’t forgotten how to coach defense and how to stop the run,” Pelini said.
On the surface Michigan State appears to be in real trouble. The Spartans lost talented center Travis Jackson for the season with an MCL tear and a broken leg. Le’Veon Bell, who perhaps was the Big Ten’s MVP for the non-conference season, rushed for 45 yards on 17 carries. Bell fared much better than the team, which ran for 34 yards on 22 attempts. Quarterback Andrew Maxwell threw for 269 yards and a score, but barely completed half of his passes — 22-for-42.
But the Spartans remain confident despite the loss.
“Obviously we can still win our side of the conference, we still have a chance to go to Indianapolis and we still have a chance to go to Pasadena,” Maxwell said. “I think it starts with keeping our hope there and knowing that our goals are still in front of us. If we play like we did today, if we play Michigan State football the way that we trained to and we stay together, we’re going to win our fair share and have a chance at it.”
Iowa bounced back from an ugly loss to Central Michigan to crush previously unbeaten Minnesota 31-13. Sophomore running back Mark Weisman produced his third straight 100-yard game and brings a physical style of play the Hawkeyes find fulfilling. Weisman was the team’s starting fullback until he was thrust in as the primary runner in week three because of injury. Now, it’s doubtful he’ll be dislodged.
“After one game, you’re kind of like, ‘Hmm, hope I’m seeing it right,’” Iowa Coach Kirk Ferentz said. “Then after two, you start thinking, ‘This guy might not be bad.’ After three games, I think a lot of us are starting to think, maybe this guy is a running back. His fullback days may be numbered. He may be retiring from that spot.”
Minnesota Coach Jerry Kill bemoaned his team’s youth and inability to prevent Iowa from making big plays.
“I think most of it had to do with momentum,” Kill said. “I don’t think there is any question that they got some momentum early in the game and we couldn’t get it switched off.”
Northwestern rolled up a school-record 704 yards and are 5-0 for the third time in five seasons with a 44-29 win against Indiana. The Wildcats produced 36 first downs. In true Northwestern fashion, the Wildcats shifted their players around based on match-up. Quarterback Kain Colter rushed for 161 yards and four touchdowns and caught nine passes for 131 yards while throwing only three passes.
“Kain is Kain. He is unbelievable,” Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “He is the most dynamic young man, I think, in this conference. … I’m very proud of the way he’s playing, but none of us are surprised.”
Northwestern started Trevor Siemian at quarterback, and he completed 22-of-32 passes for 308 yards. Fitzgerald said the decision to move Colter to multiple spots rested with offensive coordinator Mick McCall.
“If I said it was me, I’d be lying,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s really our offensive staff. I’m quality-controlling, but I trust Mick wholeheartedly. We make those decisions pregame, but we then see how the game is flowing. Obviously, with Kain’s involvement in the offense (Saturday), we knew he was going to get a little bit worn down. We knew there were times that we wanted to give him some rest and when we would see some things schematically, we would take advantage of Trevor.”
Purdue improved to 4-1 but gave up 45 completions and 439 passing yards in a 51-41 win against Marshall.
“Even though it was a really good offense, I thought we played kind of down today,” Purdue cornerback Ricardo Allen said. “The only thing you can’t take back is a loss, and we don’t have that today. So we’ll get working on some things this week and come back next week as a better team.”
Allen returned an interception 39 yards for a score to set the Boilermaker record for pick-6s at four. He broke a previous tie with Rod Woodson and Mike Rose.
“It’s an unbelievable honor, but it all goes to my team,” Allen said. “I couldn’t do anything without my team.”
STARS OF THE WEEK
Iowa running back Mark Weisman rushed for 177 yards and a score in Iowa’s win against Minnesota. He rushed 21 times and did not have a carry for loss in the game. … Purdue quarterback Caleb TerBursh completed his first nine passes toward career highs in yards (294) and touchdowns (four). … Northwestern all-purpose back Kain Colter ran for 161 yards and four touchdowns, and caught nine passes for 131 yards.
Penn State linebacker Michael Mauti returned two interceptions for 105 yards — but no touchdowns — against Illinois. He also recorded six tackles and half a sack. … Michigan State linebacker Max Bullough recorded a career-high 12 tackles. He also had a quarterback hurry and forced fumble. … Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller ran for 136 yards and passed for 161 yards. … Indiana wide receiver Kofi Hughes caught five passes for 110 yards and a score. … Nebraska running back Ameer Abdullah totaled 252 all-purpose yards for the Cornhuskers. He returned five kickoffs for 142 yards, including an 83-yard kickoff return that set up a first-quarter field goal. He also returned three punts, rushed 10 times for 70 yards and hauled in three catches for 22 yards. … Wisconsin running back Montee Ball ran for three touchdowns, his 20th multi-touchdown game and 12th game he’s scored at least three touchdowns. … Minnesota was held without a sack for the first time this year after entering Saturday’s game with 11. … Illinois wide receiver Ryan Lankford caught seven passes for 104 yards.
1. Ohio State 5-0 1-0
2. Nebraska 4-1 1-0
3. Northwestern 5-0 1-0
4. Michigan State 3-2 0-1
5. Michigan 2-2 0-0
6. Purdue 3-1 0-0
7. Iowa 3-2 1-0
8. Wisconsin 3-2 0-1
9. Penn State 3-2 1-0
Defense one of the league’s best and O’Brien has team focused
10. Minnesota 4-1 0-1
11. Indiana 2-2 0-1
12. Illinois 2-3 0-1