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Two weeks in, Big Ten ball is both exciting and depressing

NCAA Football: Minnesota at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

This week in the Big Ten East, Ohio State flexed, Michigan bounced back, and Michigan State fell flat on its face. This and more in the latest episode of How the Big Ten Turns...

Indiana

The Hoosiers played a Power 5 opponent in Virginia. The Hoosiers nearly lost. The important point here is that the Hoosiers didn’t actually lose, and that’s both a literal win and a metaphorical one. The 20-16 win over the Wahoos was the first time in five tries that Indiana actually won a game decided by one possession, and that momentum should help the program in the coming weeks.

The soggy day absolutely belonged to running back Stevie Scott. He had 204 yards on 31 attempts along with one touchdown. In the second half, Scott did most of the work to help the Hoosiers pull off long, clock-killing drives that sealed the victory.

This is Indiana’s first 2-0 start in four seasons. They’ll try to go 3-0 on Saturday against Ball State.

Maryland

Maryland is 2-0 after a 45-14 win over Bowling Green. The first win was an unexpected one over Texas. The second game of the season shaped up to be a classic letdown game, with the Falcons taking a 7-0 lead and later increasing it to a 14-10 lead at halftime, mostly due to penalties and sloppy play from the Terps. The second stanza was all Maryland, however.

The Terps’ running game finally got untracked and Maryland ran Bowling Green right over. Ty Johnson had 124 yards and a score and Tayon Fleet-Davis added another 102 yards and two touchdowns. All total, Maryland had 444 rushing yards to just 15 for Bowling Green. That’s about as comprehensive a rushing performance as Maryland has seen this season.

Expect more of the same when the Terps host Temple on Saturday.

Michigan

Michigan is back! Or at least as back as a 49-3 thrashing of Western Michigan would suggest. This of course prompted immediate paeans to Michigan’s greatness even if the Wolverines only did what was required and expected against a MAC team.

Quarterback Shea Patterson had a decent outing, throwing three touchdown passes on a 12/17 passing day with 125 yards. The first, a 44-yard strike to Nico Collins, ended a long drought of Michigan receivers not catching TD passes. The rest of the work was done by Karon Higdon who had 156 yards (including 140 yards and a score in just the first quarter).

Michigan plays SMU on Saturday. The Mustangs are absolutely terrible, fwiw.

Michigan State

SPARTY NOOOOOO!

Michigan State lost to Arizona State 16-13 and thereby became responsible for keeping the Herm Edwards meme alive for much longer than anyone thought possible.

In classic Michigan State fashion, the Spartans were only leading 3-0 at the half. It was not a great offensive day for the Spartans with drives stalling out in the red zone due to penalties and with turnovers throwing off momentum when it was most needed. Brandon Lewerke (27/39, 314 yards), who grew up in the area, finally threw a touchdown pass late in the third quarter and Michigan State opened up a 10-point lead. But the Spartans couldn’t hold on to the lead, and Manny Wilkins’ 380-yard passing effort helped set up the Sun Devils’ game-winning field goal.

Michigan State is now 1-1 and has lost 12 of 13 regular season games played out west. Things don’t get easier for the Spartans from here on out, though they do get a bye week to lick their wounds and get into a proper panic about the state of the program.

Ohio State v Rutgers

So Rutgers? We need to talk. You are permitted to lose to Ohio State. Indeed, it is expected of you. But you are not permitted to simply roll over and let the Buckeyes flatten you as part of their revenge tour of college football. This 52-3 loss was way more embarrassing than even that scoreline suggests.

You, Scarlet Knights, were supposed to catch Ohio State looking ahead to next week’s matchup with TCU. Instead, you made Dwayne Haskins, Jr. look like a Heisman Trophy candidate, with a stat line of 20/23 for 233 yards and four touchdowns. Even Haskins’ backup, Tate Martell, had a banner day, with a 100% pass completion rate to boot.

But to make matters much, much worse, Rutgers, your freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski went down with a serious injury in the first half. Of course, you catch a bit of a break this week since you’re playing Kansas, and well...

Penn State

For an entire half of football, Penn State played Pitt as if this was a real rivalry game against a quality opponent. The score was 14-6 at the half in the Nittany Lions’ favor. Then, Penn State remembered who they really were, and stomped all over a team that is “like Akron”, easily winning the game 51-6.

After a scare against Appalachian State in the first week, the Nittany Lions were once again slow out of the gate, but scored 37 points in the second half. with 21 points coming in the fourth quarter alone. Quarterback Trace McSorley was just ok, but it was running back Miles Sanders who did most of the heavy lifting, carrying the ball for 118 yards. KJ Hamler managed to do a bit of everything in this game, rushing for a touchdown and catching a pass for another.

Penn State should be heavily favored against Kent State when the Golden Flashes visit Happy Valley.

Meanwhile, in the Big Ten West, Purdue’s flirtation with football success came to an end as did Northwestern’s tryst with contender status. Oh, and the Scott Frost era officially began at Nebraska.

Illinois

So Illinois is 2-0 now, with a 34-14 win over Western Illinois, but not for lack of trying. Much like on the opening weekend, the Illini tried very hard to give this game away. The team struggled mightily in the first half, trailing the Leathernecks by a score in the first quarter and losing quarterback AJ Bush to injury.

But somehow, rallying behind freshman backup MJ Rivers, Illinois managed two second-quarter touchdowns to open up a 14-7 lead and then never looked back. Running back Mike Epstein had a 100-yard rushing day, and wide receiver Edwin Carter hauled into two touchdown passes in the first half as well. In the second half, a blocked punt returned for a touchdown keyed the scoring for the Illini, and Reggie Corbin scored on a short run after a Western Illinois pass was picked off.

This victory was hard-earned and also Pyrrhic. Not only did the Illini lose their starting quarterback in this game, but also lost wide receiver Edwin Carter to a knee injury. This is after Mike Dudek was already declared out for the season.

The Illini and their thinning roster will take on USF on Saturday at Soldier Field, a venue that has not been kind to Illinois in the past.

Iowa

Iowa and Iowa State played an non-conference game and a Big Ten game broke out. Iowa prevailed 13-3 and the game was exactly as boring as you’d imagine. They don’t call it ElAssico! for nothing, and the Hawkeyes are now four-time consecutive winners of the Children of the Corn trophy or whatever they call that thing the teams exchange.

Thanks to both teams playing well on defense, but thanks mostly to both offenses being generally incompetent, the halftime score was a 3-3 tie. The Hawkeyes tacked on another field goal in the third quarter, but it wasn’t until late in the fourth stanza that Iowa finally put together a sustained drive (83 yards, 13 plays) to score the game’s lone touchdown.

Iowa continues its victory lap of its own state with a game against Northern Iowa on Saturday night.

Nebraska

Scott Frost actually coached a game in Lincoln! Nebraska played! Nebraska won!

Wait. No. Oh. Nebraska lost to Colorado 33-28 in the first meeting of the two former rivals since they both decamped the Big 12. Early mistakes by the Huskers helped the Buffs open up a 14-0 lead, but Nebraska quarterback Adrian Martinez led the comeback with two first half touchdowns that put the Huskers ahead 21-14, and then provided some insurance in the third quarter with a 57-yard pass that made it 28-20.

Alas, Martinez had to leave the game with an injury and somehow the Buffs stuck around, miscues, missed field goals and all, and dealt the final blow to seal the Huskers’ fate.

Afterwards, Frost claimed he didn’t want to make excuses, but made them anyway. Chief among them is that CU deliberately injured Martinez and that losing the opener to the weather gods didn’t help his team.

Oh well. At least Nebraska probably will beat Troy this weekend. Or maybe not?

Northwestern

In the 2018 edition of this annual battle of nerd schools, Northwestern was outplayed by Duke for an entire quarter and lost 21-7. While this wasn’t as much of a beatdown as last season, it showed that Northwestern isn’t quite ready for primetime.

Both quarterbacks—Clayton Thorson and TJ Green—looked less than stellar against the Blue Devils. Thorson did lead the Wildcats down the field for the game’s first score, but both Thorson and Green threw costly interceptions that killed any offensive momentum Northwestern had, and the defense was torched by Duke’s play action and RPO-oriented offense in the first half of the game.

In fact, so incensed was Pat Fitzgerald by this game that he likened RPO to “the purest form of communism.” Nobody knows exactly what Fitz meant, but I’ll let our Hoosier cousins speak for us instead:

Northwestern takes on Akron, a MAC team used to taking Big Ten money if nothing else.

Purdue

Oh, Purdue. Losing a non-conference game is ok. Losing a non-conference game to a MAC team is less ok. Losing a 20-19 non-conference game to Eastern Michigan is pretty much unforgivable.

There’s not much sense in rehashing the loss. Suffice to say the Boilers let Eastern hang around long enough to kick a game-winning field goal. What’s much more galling is that the good vibes Jeff Brohm had accumulated last season with a three-game winning streak and a great recruiting class appears to have died on the vine. 2018 may well be a rebuilding year in West Lafayette.

So what’s next for Purdue? An SEC team comes calling as Mizzou plays at Purdue on Saturday.

Wisconsin

Wisconsin beat the heck out of New Mexico in a 45-14 romp, for the school’s 41st consecutive home non-conference game, the longest streak in football. The final score is a bit misleading though, because the halftime score was only 10-7 in the Badgers’ favor, and indeed the Lobos actually led the game 7-3 for much of the first half, before a 16-yard touchdown run from Jonathan Thomas with less than three minutes to go put Wisconsin up for good.

Unfortunately for New Mexico, the Badgers pretty much ran all over the field in the second half. Taylor added two more touchdowns and had a total of 253 yards on the day. Wide receiver AJ Taylor caught passes for 134 yards and a score. All in all, Wisconsin had 568 yards of total offense, including 148 yards through the air for quarterback Alex Hornibrook.

So do the Badgers have any weaknesses at all? Well, wide receiver Danny Davis is back on the team after serving a two-game suspension, so there’s that. There’s also the fact that Wisconsin’s next opponent has a pulse. Even so, it’s unlikely BYU can mount a serious challenge, so Wisconsin will just on and on.