Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, September 8, 2015
Thank goodness for Ohio State.
The Buckeyes? impressive win vs. Virginia Tech helped salvage what was a disappointing opening to the 2015 season. The Big Ten finished with an 8-6 mark. But against the Power Five leagues, the Big Ten was just 2-4.
Here?s a look back at Week 1:
Biggest surprise: Northwestern. Who saw the Wildcats beating Stanford, which was ranked No. 21? The Wildcats were coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons and had a lot to prove with a redshirt freshman quarterback at the helm. NU looked strong along the offensive line, taking a 16-6 decision and beating the Cardinal at it own game. The Wildcats allowed just 240 yards and two field goals.
Biggest disappointment: Penn State. In a demoralizing loss at Temple, the offense looked at lot like it did last year, when it ranked No. 111 in the nation (335.3 ypg). QB Christian Hackenberg struggled working behind a line that still is a work in progress. How bad was it? Hackenberg was sacked 10 times a year after he was sacked 44. PSU took a 10-0 but punted on six consecutive possessions after that and saw Temple score 27 unanswered points to take a 27-10 win.
Play this again: BYU?s visit to Nebraska was a heart-stopper, as the Cougars stunned the Cornhuskers by connecting on a 42-yard Hail Mary with no time on the clock to steal a 33-28 victory and ruin Mike Riley?s debut. And BYU pulled it off with a backup quarterback making the heroic heave. (Nebraska beat Northwestern with a Hail Mary on this same field in 2013 with Ron Kellogg hitting Jordan Westerkamp with a 49-yard strike.) It was a tough night for the Nebraska defense, which allowed 511 yards. The Huskers battled back from a 24-14 halftime deficit to take a 28-24 lead into the fourth quarter. Alas, Nebraska could not hold on as it had its 29-game winning streak in season openers snapped.
Never play this again: Rutgers? 63-13 win vs. FCS Norfolk State was a mismatch that turned non-competitive after Norfolk State took a 7-0 lead. It was 21-13 RU at halftime. After that, the Scarlet Knights outscored Norfolk, 42-0, in the second half, fueled by three – count 'em, three – Leonte Carroo third quarter touchdown grabs.
Best play: Let?s go with Braxton Miller?s wickedly good 53-yard TD jaunt in the third quarter to give Ohio State a 28-17 lead over Virginia Tech. The highlight of the wondrous run was a 360-spin-or-rama that dropped America?s collective jaw and reaffirmed the notion that Miller is super human. Miller, who also scored on a 54-yard TD catch in the third quarter, looks like a natural playing on the edge of the offense.
WEEK 1 GRADES
Michigan State: B
Ohio State: A
Penn State: F
Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the first unanimous No. 1 in AP poll history, coming off a national title. And, Ohio State did nothing in a demolition of Virginia Tech to quell the notion that it?s the Buckeyes? world-and everyone else is just living in it.
Illinois. Fire the head coach a week before the opener? Have the opener delayed a day because of bad weather? No problem! Illinois showed great focus in staying on track, smashing Kent State, 52-3. Credit interim head coach Bill Cubit, whose team built a 38-0 halftime lead and never looked back.
Northwestern. Raise your hand if you had the Wildcats taking down No. 21 Stanford. No hands, right? Right. Well, the Wildcats carded arguably the Big Ten's most impressive victory of the opening week by shutting down the Cardinal, 16-6. Confidence must be high, and this is a team that can use it as it pursues its first bowl game since the 2012 season. Get excited, Northwestern fans!
Indiana. Yes, Indiana found a way to make a play to snuff out Southern Illinois? game-winning 2-point attempt in the final moments. Still, having to hang on to win a wild 48-47 shootout vs. a FCS team on your home field does not inspire confidence. Yes, several defensive players were suspended, including Darius Latham and Tegray Scales, but IU still allowed 659 yards.
Nebraska. One second stood between Nebraska and victory. Alas, BYU connected on a Hail Mary to win the game. It was a gut-wrenching way for Mike Riley to debut. How will this impact the Cornhuskers? psyche? South Alabama visits next Saturday before a trip to Miami (Fla.).
Wisconsin. Beating Alabama with a healthy team would have been tough enough. But a banged up Badger team? Not a chance. That was Wisconsin?s plight in Arlington, Texas, vs. the mighty Crimson Tide. Few expected the Badgers to win. But, being a little more competitive would have been nice. UW almost beat LSU in its opener last year in Houston. This season, the Badgers were whipped up front-and in every facet of the game.
WEEK 1 TOP PERFORMANCES
Ohio State H-back/WR Braxton Miller starred in his first game in his new role. He ran six times for 62 yards and a TD and caught two passes for 78 yards and a TD. Sensational.
Maryland?s Will Likely set a Big Ten record with 233 punt return yards in a blowout of Richmond. The previous record holder? Iowa Heisman winner Nile Kinnick in 1939. Likely ran back eight punts, including taking one 67 yards for a TD. The 5-7 junior also had two kickoff returns for 63 yards, giving him 296 yards in kick returns for the afternoon.
Northwestern LB Anthony Walker was all over the place, finishing with 10 tackles, including three for loss, 0.5 sacks, two pass breakups and a fumble recovery in the upset of No. 21 Stanford.
Iowa DE Drew Ott registered a pair of sacks on former Indiana quarterback Tre Roberson. All of the talk about Big Ten defensive linemen revolves around Joey Bosa, Shilique Calhoun and Anthony Zettel, but don't sleep on Ott.
The Michigan State defense allowed 24 points at Western Michigan, but it also notched seven sacks, including three from Riley Bullough.
Indiana WR Ricky Jones exploded for six receptions, 186 yards and one touchdown in the Hoosiers' narrow season-opening win vs. Southern Illinois. Jones, a junior, entered the game with four receptions and 60 yards in his career.
Rutgers WR Leonte Carroo was suspended for the first half for a curfew violation but came on in the third quarter and caught three TD passes in a 63-13 win vs. FCS Norfolk State. Carroo now has a school-record 22 TD grabs.
Indiana RB Jordan Howard rushed for 145 yards and three TDs in his debut after transferring from UAB.
Illinois QB Wes Lunt threw four touchdown passes before leaving in the third quarter of a blowout vs. Kent State.
Nebraska QB Tommy Armstrong hit 24-of-41 passes for 319 yards with three TDs and a pick. He also delivered this fantastic block that essentially took out three defenders on Jordan Westerkamp's highlight-reel touchdown.
Michigan TE Jake Butt looked spectacular, making 8 catches for 93 yards and a score at Utah. Amara Darboh also had 8 grabs for 101 yards and a TD.
WEEK 1 TOP NUMBERS
76, yards rushing for Michigan on 29 carries at Utah. That comes to 2.6 yards per tote. And, that won?t get it done. The Wolverines have a veteran front that needs to get a better push so Jake Rudock doesn?t have to throw 43 passes-as he did vs. the Utes.
3, picks thrown by Michigan?s Jake Rudock. And, the third interception was run back for a touchdown which essentially iced the game for Utah.
9, games in a row Michigan State has scored 30 or more points. They broke the school mark set in the 1978 and 1979 seasons.
134, rushing yards on 28 carries for Northwestern?s Justin Jackson vs. Stanford. It was his fourth straight 100-yard rushing game.
150, career-high rushing yards for Maryland?s Brandon Ross, helping the Terps score 37 points in a row after falling behind, 14-13, to win 50-21. UM finished with 341 yards rushing.
5, seasons in a row Purdue has opened with a new starting quarterback.
2012, the last year Maryland QB Perry Hills started a game. He hit 12-of-21 passes for 138 yards with a pick.
80, yards Rutgers? Janarion Grant ran back the opening kickoff of the second half for a TD.
59, rushing yards allowed by Illinois. It ranked last in the Big Ten vs. the run by allowing xxx yards per game.
1977, the last year when Minnesota beat a top-10 team at home. The Gophers fell to No. 2 TCU, 23-17.
349, passing yards for Indiana?s Nate Sudfeld.
29, season-opening wins for Nebraska dating to a loss to Florida State in 1985. The streak ended on Saturday with a stunning Hail Mary defeat vs. BYU, 33-28.
4, TD passes by Illinois? Wes Lunt, who hit 11-of-19 passes for 162 yards.
122, yards rushing for Ohio State?s Ezekiel Elliott on just 11 carries. He had an 80-yard TD run.
31, wins in a row for Penn State vs. Temple, a streak that ended on Saturday with a 27-10 loss in Philadelphia. The Nittany Lions hadn?t lost to the Owls since a 14-0 defeat in 1941.
2, pick sixes tossed by Purdue?s Austin Appleby in a 41-31 loss at Marshall. Going back to last season, he has 5 touchdown passes and 11 interceptions in a 5-game stretch.
14, winning streak for Ohio State.
WEEK 1 QUOTES
"I'm not going to come in here and be defensive and make excuses. We've got to get it done." - James Franklin, on Penn State's loss at Temple
"I thought this team became galvanized. I am proud of them. Those young men down in the locker room did an excellent job this week of focusing on the task at hand." - Kyle Flood, on Rutgers' opening win vs. Norfolk State
"We unleashed a caged bull today." - Dean Lowry, on Northwestern?s defensive effort
"It was probably one of the best performances I've seen our `D' play top to bottom against a ranked team maybe in my time." - Pat Fitzgerald, on Northwestern's defensive effort vs. No. 21 Stanford
"After the third one, I was like, `I probably won't get that many opportunities.' Then he kept kicking it, so I said, `OK.'" - William Likely, on his Big Ten-record 233 punt return yards
"I don't know if there are enough superlatives to use in regard to Will Likely. He's a weapon back there." - Randy Edsall, on his do-it-all star Terrapin
"We clean up a few things here and there and we know we're going to be great." - Mitch Leidner, on Minnesota's narrow loss vs. No. 2 TCU
"OK. Am I supposed to make an opening statement after that? Or do you want to go ahead and ask questions? - Mike Riley, in press conference following last-second loss to BYU
|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.
And if you want to leave a comment on this post, use the box below. All comments need to be approved by a moderator.