Dienhart: 10 things I learned in Week 1

It was a busy first week of action, as we saw coaches make debuts (Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen and Purdue’s Darrell Hazell) and quarterbacks, too (Iowa’s Jake Rudock and Penn State’s Christian Hackenberg). Here are 10 things I learned in Week One.

1. Special teams are special. A coach told me years ago that special teams always are an issue the opening week. Why? Schools usually don’t rep special teams live in training camp for fear of injury. Sure enough, we saw several big special teams plays/gaffes involving Big Ten teams.

  • Minnesota blocked a field goal and ran it back for a touchdown and also ran back a kickoff for a TD.
  • Michigan blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown.
  • Indiana ran back a punt for a TD.
  • Illinois ran back a kickoff for a score.
  • Northwestern was burned for a fake field-goal TD.
  • Purdue recovered a muffed punt return by Cincinnati to set up its lone TD.

2. Illinois has a pulse. Was the win over SIU impressive? No. Doesn’t matter. The Illini found a way to win. And that’s all the mattered. Ding dong, the Illinois nine-game losing skid is. Yes, the Salukis are a FCS team. Still, the Fighting Illini needed to just taste victory. Any kind of victory—even one as ugly as this, as SIU was throwing into the end zone in the final minute with a chance to forge a tie.  The last time Illinois won? It was Sept. 15, 2012, when the Illini dumped Charleston Southern, 44-0, another FCS team.

[ MORE: View BTN.com's Week 1 standouts ]

3. The targeting rule didn’t have the impact I thought it would in the first week. I thought we’d see a couple players per game get tossed. Alas, there were scant few. Hmmm. Stay tuned.

4. Wisconsin has the best trio of running backs in the Big Ten. The triumvirate of James White, Melvin Gordon and Corey Clement each eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark vs. UMass. Gordon had 144; White 143; Clement 101. Wow. The trio at Nebraska also looks good: Ameer Abdullah; Imani Cross; Terrell Newby.

[ MORE: Dienhart: Gary Andersen 'perfect fit' at Wisconsin ]

5. Michigan State’s offense still has a lot of work to do. Yes, Michigan State beat Western Michigan, 26-13. But, it wasn’t pretty. In fact, the Spartan offense looked like it has picked up where it left off in 2012. And, that’s not a good thing. MSU managed 297 yards. The rushing game showed some life with 181 yards. But the passing game? Ugh. The Spartans had just 116 yards. Andrew Maxwell started and hit just 11-of-21 passes for 74 yards; Connor Cook hit 6-of-16 passes for 42 yards.

6. Ohio State didn’t miss suspended running back Carlos Hyde. Not a real shocker, considering the Buckeyes’ foe was Buffalo. Still, Jordan Hall stepped in and ran for a career-high 159 yards and two scores.

7. The Buckeyes like trickery on extra points. Not once, but twice, Ohio State used gimmick plays to gain two points—with each trick play coming after the first two touchdowns. I guess future foes now have something to think about.

[ MORE: Dienhart: Tom's Weekly Take | Week 2 Power Rankings ]

8. Penn State wideout Allen Robinson is a legit difference maker. That is, if you didn’t already know it after he paced the Big Ten in receptions, receiving yards and receiving scores in 2012. He didn’t play the first half, and the school isn’t saying why. But, boy, did Robinson play the second. And it opened up the PSU offense. He finished with seven grabs for 133 yards as the Nittany Lions cruised past Syracuse.

9. Iowa has found a quarterback in Jake Rudock. Yes, he threw that killer pick at the end of regulation that set up Northern Illinois for the game-winning field goal. Still, Rudock played well in his first career game. He hit 21-of-37 passes for 256 yards with two touchdowns. Things just may be OK in Iowa City.

10. Nebraska still has worries on defense. Yes, Wyoming has a good offense that poses issues for many teams. Still, the Huskers got shredded for 602 yards, renewing worries about the stability of a unit that got ripped by UCLA, Ohio State and Wisconsin last season.

About Tom Dienhart BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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11 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (11 Comments)
huskerfanbb on 9/1/2013 @ 12:50pm EDT Said:

The main thing I learned over the weekend is that ALL the B1G teams have serious issues outside of Ann Arbor, Hoosier country, and Madison.

Ohio State–the anointed of the B1G–struggled with BUFFALO for God’s sakes. The only thing that makes that look even acceptable is…

Nebraska’s defense getting SHREDDED by Wyoming. UCLA is licking their chops.

California gave Northwestern fits into the 4th Quarter.

Michigan State’s offense was absolutely anemic–they got THREE picks from their D and still couldn’t score 4 touchdowns.

Ditto for Minnesota. Good special teams, but their defense was unimpressive and their offense pretty lackluster.

Despite Dienhart’s assessment, I don’t think the Illinois win was all that impressive.

Penn State just a 6 point win over ‘cuse. At least with a freshman at QB, they are likely to get better.

Beyond that–Iowa and Purdue LOST.

Not an auspicious start for the B1G. Kudos to the Wolverines, Hoosiers, and Badgers. Everyone else–you pretty much stunk it up–some more than others.

SteveInEvanston on 9/1/2013 @ 2:14pm EDT Said:

@Huskerfanbb, Dude, this early in the season, when you win there is always a bright side.
That’s because it’s early and you really do not know how good your week one opponents really were until after week 3.

Kathy on 9/1/2013 @ 7:14pm EDT Said:

I’d wager Wyoming goes undefeated the rest of the season with their QB rocking stadium after stadium, Meanwhile, Bo Pelini has ordered giant “cool-air misting” devices for the home team. Nice equipment Wyoming brought with them – probably made a huge difference.

huskerfanbb on 9/1/2013 @ 9:12pm EDT Said:

@Stan

Oh yeah, as lackluster as they looked, it’s still some better in East Lansing and even Lincoln than it is in Iowa City or Lafayette.

bob jones on 9/1/2013 @ 10:09pm EDT Said:

Husker defense will improve, hopefully fast. Half a dozen first year players had significant playing time and they improved as the game went on and actually showed a ton of promise with several big time plays despite the overall yardage given up. This unit should improve in a hurry. Stanley Jean Baptiste had a huge game as did Kenny Bell, who had a great game receiving, returning kickoffs, covering kicks and in his overall leadership. Newby had a nice debut at running back and Imani Cross looked like a feature back. Opener was a bit disappointing, but lots of things to build on and they need to get it in to high gear this week as UCLA is on the way.

shookwriter27 on 9/2/2013 @ 12:10am EDT Said:

I’ve been saying all along, Illinois will be better. Scheelhause made better decisions yesterday. The defense needs to improve, but they need to stop the turnovers.

Doug Masters on 9/2/2013 @ 7:38am EDT Said:

@Huskerfanbb, we didn’t come close to struggling as much as your f-ed up team 20 point win versus a close win I’ll take the 20 anyday, tOSU game was over in the 1 st Qtr when we were leading 23-0, so struggling better look at your own team there dude.

WoodyHayes on 9/2/2013 @ 10:08am EDT Said:

Michigan State’s offensive problems can be summed up in two words. Jim Bollman.

huskerfanbb on 9/2/2013 @ 11:51am EDT Said:

@Doug

Um, I was harder on my team than anyone’s there. Try reading.

dave on 9/2/2013 @ 2:32pm EDT Said:

I happened to stay up and watch the california/northwestern game, since the buckeyes play both in upcoming weeks..I think the buckeyes will need to come up with something against california and their quick passing attack. Don’t think they will get a sack in this one. Northwestern isn’t as quick to release the ball,but they have skill players that can find the open spaces.

Caleb_H on 9/2/2013 @ 11:30pm EDT Said:

I couldn’t be happier with the way the badgers defense played. Yes, the 45 points were great, but that’s expected against a team like UMass. I think that the shutout they threw says more than anything about them. If they beat OSU I see a fourth rose bowl in the future.