Scouting The Big 10: Week 1

Week One:

Conference Roundup: 8-4, 0-1 against ranked teams
The conference as a whole performed well against subpar opponents. A slate
fraught with the pedestrian likes of Southern Illinois, Richmond, Norfolk
State, Kent State, Illinois State, Temple and Western Michigan resulted in
a few expected blow outs, some closer-than they should be shootouts, and a
devastating and demoralizing loss (looking at you Penn State).
Northwestern notched an impressive win over a tough Stanford Team, in the
process reminding the country you can never sleep on the Wildcats. On the
other hand, Michigan lost to an underappreciated Utah team, but showed the
essentials for a program rebirth. Ohio State won a closer-than-the-score-indicates 

victory over an always-difficult FrankBeamer coached Virginia Tech team that showed

the reigning champions are, in fact, not immortal. Meanwhile, Minnesota nearly 

knocked off number two TCU and showed they will be a legitimate contender in 

the Big Ten—as long as they can just start making plays.

Quick Hits

Champs Shaky on Defense, Quarterback Still Not Settled, Braxton Can Ball
For a moment it looked like the defending national champions would succumb
to a similar fate as they had last year: a week one loss to an unranked
team that could sink their season before it even began. The defense lacked
its typical staunch attack, while freshly-appointed starting quarterback
Cardale Jones did nothing to put an end to the off season’s most
intriguing position battle. Jones proved what he had in his previous three
starts: a big arm, improving game, and great legs for a man his size. He
also had a completionless streak that frustrated every Buckeyes fan and
even had head coach Urban Meyer thinking about making the move to T.J.
Barrett at half time. Granted, Virginia Tech was an underrated team on
both sides of the ball, Ohio State is so loaded with weapons that the
struggle should spark some concern. As for Braxton Miller’s debut after
switching from quarterback to wide receiver, it is safe to say the man can
play football. A Madden-esque spin move was the highlight of Miller’s
display of athleticism as he reminds the college football world about the
speed and agility that made him a two-time Big Ten Offensive Player of the
Year. He flashed better hands than expected, showcased on a nice diving
grab, and proved himself as the Buckeye’s x-factor of the season.

Michigan Looking up, Still Has Work to Do
One game will not speak too much about Jim Harbaugh’s impact on Michigan.
But let’s dive into what we did find out. The defense held up well against
one of the better running backs in the country, Devontae Booker, to 69
yards on 22 carries. They held Travis Wilson to 208 yards and one
interception. It was a quality showing for a defense that will have to
carry this team. On offense, the Wolverines still struggle to run the
ball, an issue that plagued them for the majority of last season. A senior
laden offensive line, they must create larger holes for this offense to
function. Jake Rudock, who beat out former-star recruit Shane Morris for
the starting job, mustered a miserable 32.6 QBR while throwing more
interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2) and left the door open on the
competition. This was not the debut expected of  a graduate transfer
quarterback, but he should improve with more time in the offense. The good
news is that Jake Butt, a junior with big-time potential, showed up in
Harbaugh’s tight end friendly offense with 8 catches for 93 yards and a
touchdown. Amara Darboh had a huge game, hauling in eight grabs of his own
for 101 yards and one touchdown to quell some of the worries about the
receiving corps. There is still plenty of work to do for Harbaugh to
return Michigan to the promised land, but despite the loss, there are
reasons to be excited in Ann Arbor.

Nittany Kitties Don’t Have Bite
This pains me to write. I like Penn State. I like the school, I like the
history. I even had a dear friend that attended Penn State. I love the
talent on the roster, and I want to see the Nittany Lions return to their
fearsome form. But this was heartbreaking. Christian Hackenberg spent more
time on his back than he did on his feet, and when he did get the ball of
it was to receivers who either could not get open or could not catch. Now,
lets not pretend that Hackenberg is absent of any responsibility. No
matter how much I love his talent, I always seem to come away disappointed
in his play. The putrid performance put forth by this offense would be
enough to crush the hopes of even the most casual Penn State fan.
Unfortunately, that was not even the worst of the night. The defense,
which boasts NFL-caliber talent on every level, was entirely useless
against an offense that finished last season 119th in total offense (tenth
worst in the nation). Sure, they held the Owls to 168 passing yards, but
forced only five incompletions in 21 throws. Perhaps the worst mark of the
night is the 135 rushing yards and two touchdowns surrendered to Temple
running back Jahad Thomas, who led the team in rushing last season with
384 yards. If you’re keeping count, that means he recorded 35 percent of
last year’s total in this one game. Look, it was not all bad. Akeel Lynch
found success in the running game with 78 yards on ten carries (though
outside of one 42 yard run he managed only 36 yards on nine carries).
Chris Godwin had a nice first game after a promising freshman season. But
you have to expect more from a team this talented. I still believe in Penn
State, they have too much veteran talent to have a season of this quality,
but this has to shake even the most faithful of Penn State fans.

Badgers Closer than Score
On the bottom end of a 35-17 score, one may think Wisconsin got thoroughly
outplayed by Alabama. Those people would be wrong. Alabama was absolutely
impressive, but so too were the Badgers. Embattled Joel Stave, who I will
admit to be excruciatingly critical of, really impressed. Against a
Crimson Tide team as laden with NFL talent as the state of Wisconsin is
with farmers, Stave never looked out of place. He stayed calm as a
makeshift offensive line held up respectably against a fierce Tide
defensive front. Whether the Badgers just got a good game from the
inconsistent Stave, or this is a sign that he has finally turned the
corner, you cannot help but be happy with the way he played. What is
concerning is the running game.  Corey Clement managed 16 yards on eight
first half carries before exiting the game with an injury. The replacement
party of Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale did no better, recording 23 yards
on nine carries. Alex Erickson, the team’s best receiver, led the team in
rushing with one carry for 25 yards. That is not the Wisconsin we have
come to know. No matter how tough the defense, there was more expected of
the Badgers’ backs. Defense is where the most encouraging signs were. They
allowed plenty of yards, 264 passing yards and 238 running yards. Derrick
Henry ripped off a couple of long runs that showed off a lack of tackling
ability from the Badgers. However, their pass rush was exceptionally
impressive against an Alabama offensive line that is one of the best in
the nation. Joe Schobert and Vince Biegel wreaked havoc on the edges the
entire game. Meanwhile, Sojourn Shelton looked much improved from a
disappointing sophomore season. He was sticky in coverage and should lead
the Badgers’ secondary with Michael Caputo.

Gophers’ Climb Nearly Complete
Hats off to Jerry Kill. The man has worked wonders at every stop, and has
officially raised the Gophers to national scene. For two seasons they have
been proving themselves, and after nearly toppling #2 TCU, it is safe to
say they are nearly ready to really challenge the country. Though Tevone
Boykin was able to amass 246 yards against the Gophers’ defense, the team
still boasts two excellent cornerbacks and was able to force an
interception. Minnesota’s run defense was lacking, allowing 92 yards to
Boykin and 88 to Aaron Green, but they managed to keep an electric offense
to 23 points. On offense the team ran the ball well, managing 144 yards,
while the passing game seems to be okay without Maxx Williams. If only
they had a quarterback. Mitch Leidner has shown promise, and is a capable
runner. But his inability in the passing game may have cost his team the
game. If the offense can find a playmaker, it may be enough to push this
team to the next level. Until then, Kill’s build continues in stunning
fashion. And after back-to-back eight win seasons, the Gophers could find
themselves in the Big Ten Championship game at the end of the season.

Game to Watch: #5 Michigan State (1-0) vs. #7 Oregon Ducks (1-0)
The classic battle of old school versus new school; strength against
speed. Michigan State and its stout defense and game management style
offense against the Ducks hurry up, spread offense. It should be a hell of
a fight. Connor Cook is one of the nation’s best quarterbacks, while Vernon
Adams is one of the country’s most exciting newcomers to the big stage
after spending last season at Eastern Washington. A dual threat
quarterback, Adams accounted for 246 passing yards and 94 rushing yards in
his debut. Star running back Royce Freeman rushed for an additional 180
yards and three touchdowns. That is a tall order for a Spartan defense
that allowed 365 passing yards to Western Michigan. Michigan State has
plenty of talent on defense, but they will be in for a challenge. On
offense, the Spartans will have to contain DeForest Buckner, but they have
a talented and veteran offensive line that should be up to the task. LJ
Scott, Madre London and Gerald Holmes will have to provide a solid running
game to take the pressure off Cook. If you are going to watch one game
this weekend, this is a good one to pick.

Conference Scores (week 1)
Iowa 31, Illinois State 14
Maryland 50, Richmond 21
Northwestern 16, Standford 6
Rutgers 63, Norfolk State 13
Illinois 52, Kent State 3
BYU 33, Nebraska 28
Temple 27, Penn State 10
Indiana 48, Southern Illinois 47
#3 Alabama 35, # 20 Wisconsin 17
Utah 24, Michigan 17
#5 Michigan State 37, Western Michigan 24
#1 Ohio State 42, Virginia Tech 24


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