Big Ten football beat writers pick 2015 top plays/moments
With the 2015 college football regular season complete and the start of Big Ten bowl season exactly one week away, it’s time to relive the season from the perspective of Big Ten beat writers.
BTN.com recently asked a beat writer for every team to answer four questions, as part of our annual beat writers’ season recap.
Up first: Top play/moment. Coming up: Most improved player, most valuable player and player to watch in 2016.
Wes Lunt touchdown pass to Geronimo Allison to beat Nebraska in the final minute. Game looked lost, but Nebraska quarterback Tommy Armstrong threw an ill-advised pass, giving Lunt one more drive.
Nate Sudfeld’s 72-yard touchdown pass to Andre Booker in the fourth quarter at Purdue sealed Indiana’s third consecutive win in the Old Oaken Bucket Game and clinched bowl eligibility for the first time since 2007. That deep ball to Booker also made Sudfeld IU’s all-time passing leader with 7,490 career yards.
Narrowing down a season like this to one moment is difficult, but Marshall Koehn’s 57-yard field goal as time expired to beat Pittsburgh has to top the chart. It had perfect weather, it was the first night game at Kinnick since 2012, a tough opponent and the atmosphere was electric. Plus, there wasn’t a dry eye in Iowa when Brett Greenwood led the pre-game Swarm to midfield as the honorary team captain.
When middle linebacker Jermaine Carter Jr. led a host of tacklers to stop Rutgers running back Robert Martin by the slimmest of margins on fourth-and-1 in the season finale, it sealed a wild 46-41 comeback win for the Terps. But it also snapped an eight-game losing streak, gave interim coach Mike Locksley a victory and ended an otherwise lost season with a memorable moment.
This is a toss-up for me. Both game-winning plays by the Michigan defense against Minnesota and Indiana were huge for obvious reasons. I think the top play of the season was the game-winning stop on Mitch Leidner’s sneak on the very last play of the game. Getting the Little Brown Jug back was huge and gave a confidence boost to that team that had struggled on the road in the past.
It has to be the fumbled punt and Jalen Watts-Jackson return for the winning touchdown at Michigan. That counts as one of the most incredible finishes in college football history and made it possible for MSU to be here.
On Oct. 10, with the Gophers leading 10-6 at Purdue, freshman Shannon Brooks took a handoff, stiff-armed safety Leroy Clark to the ground and weaved 71 yards for a touchdown. Six Purdue defenders put hands on Brooks but couldn’t bring him down, and Minnesota went on to win 41-13.
The Hail Mary in the BYU opener, full of fate and symbolism for this coaching staff and team. They never recovered mentally. How would things be different if ball had fallen to the turf?
There are plenty to choose from, but I’m going to go all the way back to Week 3 and Solomon Vault’s kick return touchdown at Duke. Northwestern’s offense was totally lost, and Vault bailed it out — and, you could argue, changed the course of the season.
It’s not a spin move or a touchdown – it’s Ezekiel Elliott’s 66-yard run against Michigan. After the loss to Michigan State, Elliott put in his foot down and cut upfield on a wide first-quarter run that looked like a play from Ohio State’s 2014 national championship postseason and made it clear the Buckeyes would bounce back against their rivals.
DT Austin Johnson’s 71-yard touchdown rumble against San Diego State won’t soon be forgotten in Happy Valley. The 323-pounder scooped up the fumble in the fourth quarter and chugged his way along the sideline much to the delight of his teammates who were pleased with his athleticism and that the touchdown made it a two-possession game.
The win over Nebraska. Granted, the Huskers turned it over five times but the Boilermakers cashed those in and scored a much-needed victory. Let this sink in – Purdue had a 26-point lead against a program that ranks fourth in all-time victories.
After allowing 52 points to Indiana in 2 ½ quarters, the last thing anyone expected out of Rutgers defense was four straight stops to close the game. But that’s what happened as Rutgers scored 28 unanswered points to capture a school-record-tying 25-point comeback victory, 55-52, on a walk-off 26-yard field goal.
Joel Stave fumble at the goal line against Iowa. In the Big Ten opener against Iowa, Wisconsin was a yard away from taking a fourth-quarter lead when quarterback Stave got stepped on by an offensive lineman and fumbled trying to get the ball to running back Taiwan Deal. The Hawkeyes recovered and went on to win 10-6, leaving Wisconsin to wonder what could have been as Iowa ran the table and won the West Division.