Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, Alex Roux, BTN.com editor, October 12, 2017
Can you believe we're just about halfway through the 2017 regular season? It feels like it just started yesterday, until you reminisce and realize that each week has brought its own unique thrills and impressive wins.
But which win by a Big Ten football team has been most impressive so far this season? That's this week's Dot Commentary topic for BTN.com's Tom Dienhart and Alex Roux to debate.
Dienhart: Penn State over Iowa
There have been some impressive wins by Big Ten teams so far this year. Maryland?s victory at No. 23 Texas in the opener was memorable. And just last Saturday, we saw Michigan State take down No. 7 Michigan in Ann Arbor.
But I?m going with Penn State?s heart-stopping triumph at Iowa on September 24. This game had it all, a spectacular performance by a superstar player and an exhilarating finish that catapulted an elite team to victory. The game got off to an inauspicious start, with Penn State leading 3-0 after one quarter. And at halftime, the Hawkeyes led, 7-5. Few could have anticipated what was ahead in the second half ? or the high drama that was about to unfold.
The Nittany Lions took control in the third quarter on a field goal and a TD to take a 15-7 edge entering the final stanza. But that?s when Iowa began to strike, even though it was dominated in most every statistical category. First, Hawkeye running back Akrum Wadley scored on a 70-yard touchdown catch. Then, Wadley scampered to paydirt on a 35-yard run with 1:42 left in the game. And, just like that, unranked Iowa led, 19-15, over the No. 4 team in the nation. The Hawkeyes were poised once again to knock off a highly-ranked foe in Kinnick Stadium.
But never count out Trace McSorley, Saquon Barkley and Penn State, the defending Big Ten champs. The Nittany Lions went on a 12-play, 65-yard march that ended with McSorley hitting wideout Juwan Johnson for a seven-yard touchdown pass as the clock stuck triple zeroes.
Final: Penn State 21, Iowa 19.
Hat?s off to Barkley, who had 211 yards rushing and 94 yards receiving for the Nittany Lions, who outgained Iowa 579-273 but nearly blew a game that could've been crippling to their postseason dreams. So, just when you thought the Nittany Lions were dead, they showed the heart of a champion. This was a statement game for a Penn State squad that looks like it?s on a mission to defend its league title ? and earn a College Football Playoff spot.
Roux: Michigan State over Michigan
I agree with Mr. Dienhart that Penn State's win was impressive, as any nighttime victory against a Kirk Ferentz-led team at Kinnick usually is. But Penn State is a Top 5 squad. They were supposed to win that game, and it would've been an upset had the Hawkeyes hung on for four more seconds. I've got to go with a true upset for this pick, and Michigan State's 14-10 win at Michigan was impressive in every sense of the word.
I don't think this is recency bias, either. This past Saturday's result was thrilling to watch from a neutral standpoint, but despite it being a rivalry matchup, the outcome was hardly expected. The Spartans were nearly two-touchdown underdogs heading into the Big House, and for good reason. Sure, Michigan State looked much-improved to that point following their 3-9 disaster last season, but still had a lopsided loss to Notre Dame blemishing their record. Michigan hadn't looked bad yet, and not many were doubting their status as the No. 7 team in the nation. They also held the No. 1 total defense in the nation at the time and 110,000 strong behind them.
But the oddsmakers didn't factor in the miserable weather, and they likely didn't factor in a now undeniable skill Spartans head coach Mark Dantonio has when it comes to preparing for and then skewering his in-state rival. Dantonio is now 8-3 against Michigan since taking over in East Lansing, and it was his defense that got the best of Jim Harbaugh and Don Brown this round. As they often are, turnovers were the difference in this one, with some likely brought about by a torrential downpour in Ann Arbor. The Spartans forced five turnovers–two fumbles and three picks–while losing zero to the Wolverines. Michigan State did fumble twice, but surrendered neither.
QB play factored into the turnover equation–at least on Michigan's side–and it was also another key factor in the outcome. For some reason, Michigan decided to pass with second-string QB John O'Korn 35 times despite the conditions, while the Spartans tucked it and passed just 22 times. But Michigan State hurler Brian Lewerke emerged with better numbers, accounting for both Sparty touchdowns on the evening. O'Korn could've flipped the script had his Hail Mary tumbled into the right hands in the final seconds, but the ball bouncing around for a mini-eternity was only a tease before hitting the ground.
It's hard to look good in the type of weather they played through, but Michigan State did just enough to bring the Paul Bunyan Trophy back into their possession. And considering the circumstances, it was the most impressive win by a Big Ten team so far.