Bashing the Big Ten football has become as old hat as bashing Congress. But like our legislators in Washington, the Big Ten's football teams deserve a good razzing.
The league finished 10-2 on its opening weekend but most teams failed to impress. Nearly all preconceived notions about the league's teams rang true this weekend. Nebraska's defense continued its porous run. Michigan State's offense was mediocre. Indiana can score but its defense is still suspect. Iowa once again loses a heartbreaker.
Let's start with Nebraska. Before a record crowd of 91,185 and its 326th consecutive sellout, the Cornhuskers held off Wyoming 37-34. Nebraska gave up 602 yards to a team that was 4-8 last year and ranked 72nd in total offense. It appears there's no drop-off in mediocrity from the Huskers' defense, which has surrendered 149 points and 1,831 yards in its last three games.
"There were a couple things we didn't react very well to and a couple times we just didn't make plays," Nebraska Coach Bo Pelini said. "I think we'll learn a lot from it. I haven't changed my assessment of what this team needs to be defensively. I still think we're gonna be just fine. It wasn't like we just got overpowered at times. There were just some things that we didn't react to, which was an experience thing."
Michigan State held Western Michigan to just 11 rushing yards and scored two defensive touchdowns in a 26-13 win Friday. But the Spartans completed just 17 of 37 passes for 116 yards. Michigan State was 5-of-19 on third-down conversions and put together just one offensive touchdown drive, which was aided by Western Michigan pass interference and holding penalties.
"We've got to convert on our offensive possessions," Michigan State Coach Mark Dantonio said. "We had too many possessions that we're getting the ball around the 40 or 50 and not converting that into points. We've got to be able to do that."
Indiana posted perhaps the most impressive debut in a 73-35 win against Indiana State. The Hoosiers gained 632 yards almost evenly divided between the running and passing attacks. But Indiana also was a bit sloppy in allowing two defensive scores against it. The Sycamores put up a pedestrian 306 offensive yards, but it's difficult to gauge what the Hoosiers can do defensively against Big Ten offenses.
"There are a lot of positives, but a boatload of negatives," Indiana Coach Kevin Wilson said. "The old adage, the coach-speak, from game one to two so it's exciting. We got some stats that look cool. I thought the effort was outstanding. I thought the defensive effort, we got worked a couple of times, but it was significantly better."
Iowa rallied from a 10-0 deficit to take a 24-17 halftime lead. But its offense stalled in the second half against Northern Illinois. Four times Iowa drove or began inside NIU territory in the second half, yet came away with only three points. With the score tied 27-27 and only 1:24 left, Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock was intercepted by NIU safety Jimmie Ward, who returned it to the Iowa 30. The Huskies kicked the game-winning field goal three plays later.
Iowa got back into the game after linebacker Christian Kirksey forced a fumble and returned it 48 yards for a touchdown. It provided a spark but ultimately wasn't enough to push the Hawkeyes to victory in 163-degree on-field heat.
"It was something that we could have capitalized on a little more and get some momentum and make it a two-score game and put teams away," Iowa linebacker James Morris said. "That’s something we need to understand as an offense, and a defense and do better in the future."
The Big Ten did have some nice performances by Northwestern (44-30 at California), Wisconsin (45-0 over UMass) and Michigan (59-9 against Central Michigan). But sluggish debuts by Ohio State (40-20 over Buffalo) and Illinois (42-34 against Southern Illinois) plus Purdue's 42-7 beatdown by Cincinnati perpetuates the Big Ten's overrated national image. As of right now, it seems accurate.
Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey scored his third career touchdown on a 48-yard fumble return. Kirksey forced the fumble and recorded a game-high 14 tackles -- all on his 21st birthday. ... Penn State's Allen Robinson hauled in seven passes for a conference-best 133 yards. ... Indiana's Tevin Coleman rushed for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 14 attempts (12.1 yards per attempt). ... Michigan State safety Kurtis Drummond scored a touchdown on a lateral from a teammate and recorded a circus one-handed interception.
Ohio State's Jordan Hall ran for 159 yards and two touchdowns. ... Wisconsin running backs Melvin Gordon (144 yards, one TD), James White (143 yards, one TD) and Corey Clement (101 yards, one TD) all rushed for at least 100 yards and a touchdown. ... Nebraska's running duo of Ameer Abdullah (114 yards) and Imani Cross (105 yards, two TDs) also ran for more than 100 yards. ... Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner compiled 214 total yards (162 passing, 52 rushing) and three touchdowns. ... Minnesota defensive tackle Ra'Shede Hageman registered five tackles -- including one for loss -- broke up a pass and blocked a field goal that was returned for a score. ... Purdue defensive tackle Bruce Gaston had seven tackles, including 1.5 for loss. ... Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 416 yards and two touchdowns. ... Northwestern's Treyvon Green rushed for 129 yards and two scores.
1. Michigan 1-0 0-0
2. Ohio State 1-0 0-0
3. Wisconsin 1-0 0-0
4. Northwestern 1-0 0-0
5. Indiana 1-0 0-0
6. Michigan State 1-0 0-0
7. Penn State 1-0 0-0
8. Minnesota 1-0 0-0
9. Nebraska 1-0 0-0
10. Iowa 0-1 0-0
12. Illinois 1-0 0-0
12. Purdue 0-1 0-0