2017 Cotton Bowl Preview: Western Michigan Versus Wisconsin
The final game for the 2016-17 season’s of the Wisconsin Badgers and Western Michigan is near. Both teams had fantastic campaigns with the Badgers going 10-3 overall with the heart-breaking 38-31 loss in the Big 10 Championship.
Western Michigan had a magical season in which they went 13-0 and won the MAC Championship. They defeated two Big 10 opponents on the road in Northwestern 22-21 and Illinois 34-10. Wisconsin is a clear step up in competition, but the Broncos will not be apprehensive in this contest.
The Cotton Bowl will be played on Monday, January 2, 2017 at 1 PM Eastern Time and can be seen on ESPN. The game will take place at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, which is home of the Dallas Cowboys. Below is a preview of what we believe are the biggest keys to the game for both teams.
1. The Wisconsin Secondary – The Badgers’ secondary was constantly burned by Penn State in the Big 10 Championship game. However, that problem was evident prior to the Penn State tilt as noted against Georgia State, Purdue, and Minnesota. The Badgers have allowed 206.1 yards per game through the air and guys like Leo Musso, D’Cota Dixon, Derrick Tindal, Lubern Figaro, and Sojourn Shelton will need to improve.
Western Michigan is led by quarterback Zach Terrell, who is both accurate and limits his turnovers. He has thrown for 3,376 yards (70.8% completions) with 32 touchdowns against only 3 interceptions. His main target, and the main threat against the Badgers porous secondary, is Corey Davis. Davis has 1,427 yards and 18 touchdowns on 91 catches while the second leading receiver, Michael Henry, has a respectable 61 catches for 760 yards and 4 touchdowns.
If the Badgers have fixed their secondary leaks, hold Davis in check, and can force a turnover or two from Terrell, they will have a great chance at winning this game comfortably.
2. The Wisconsin attitude towards playing in the Cotton Bowl – The Badgers are coming off a tough loss in the Big 10 Championship game where they held a big 28-7 lead late in the second quarter only to see it slip away. How will the team react to that loss? They have had several weeks to recover from the sting of that game and this will be their first time playing in the Cotton Bowl.
Wisconsin has also had some slow starts this year such as against Georgia State, Purdue, and Minnesota. If they start slow against an opponent like Western Michigan, who will be hyped up to play this game, the Badgers may find themselves in a close battle throughout this game.
3. Western Michigan needs to stop the Badgers’ rushing attack – We have harped on the Badgers actual and potential deficiencies coming into this game, but they have a serious advantage in the rushing attack against the Broncos defense. The Badgers average 204.5 yards per game rushing this year and since their 71 yard rushing performance against Michigan, they have averaged 231.4 yards per game. In the final 8 games, only twice did they not eclipse 200 yards rushing as a team: against Iowa (167) and Northwestern (190). They won both of those games.
Between Corey Clement (1,304 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 4.5 yards per carry), Dare Ogunbowale (484 yards, 4 TDs, 5.6 YPC), Bradrick Shaw (457 yards, 5 TDs, 5.2 YPC), and Jazz Peavy (268 yards, 1 TD, 14.9 YPC), there are plenty of rushing options for Wisconsin.
The Broncos rush defense allows 151.2 yards per game and 4.7 yards per attempt. The Broncos front four averages 6 feet, 3 inches and 272 pounds and they are going against an offensive line that averages 6 feet, 6 inches and 314 pounds. The Badgers have a distinct advantage and just like the Big 10 Championship Game, they will probably emphasize the run game early and quite often.
4. The Red Zone – Wisconsin’s offense has struggled in the final 20 yards converting just 34 touchdowns in 53 opportunities (64%). Overall, they have come away with points 45 out of 53 trips (85%). Their defense employs a bend, but do not break mentality allowing just 15 touchdowns out of 35 chances (43%) and points 27 of 35 times (77%).
If Western Michigan is to win, they will need to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals. Their offense has scored 47 touchdowns out of 65 trips (72%) and come away with points 62 out of 65 times (95%). The defense has allowed only 18 touchdowns on 30 red zone chances (60%) and allowed points on 26 of 30 trips (87%). A field goal battle will suit the Broncos better (see #6 below), but the Badgers offense will eventually wear down the defense.
5. Western Michigan will need to prep for both Quarterbacks – It appears that both Alex Hornibrook and Bart Houstonwill play in the Cotton Bowl. Hornibrook did not play against Penn State after he suffered a head injury against Minnesota in the November finale.
Neither quarterback is overwhelming for the Badgers. Hornibrook has thrown 8 touchdowns against 7 interceptions while completing just 58.1% of his passes (1,243 yards on the season). Houston has thrown 5 touchdowns against 3 interceptions with a completion percentage of 65.9 (1,086 yards passing this year). The Broncos best chance will be when these two are throwing the ball. Whether it is forcing an interception, a fumble, or sack, Western Michigan has to do something to create more possessions and limit the amount of time the Badgers have the ball on offense.
6. Special Teams could be pivotal – There are many ways that special teams could impact a game. It could be a blocked field, a missed field goal, punt yards, or even return yardage. For field goals, Wisconsin has to be worried because Andrew Endicott has been shaky. He has connected on only 12 of 18 kicks with a long of 52 yards. Western Michigan feels solid about Butch Hampton and his 18 of 23, but he has a long of 47 and one kick was blocked.
The Broncos use two punters with both averaging over 40 yards per boot. James Coleman has 25 punts with 15 fair catches and 9 inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. They have not had any punts blocked. The Badgers will rely on Anthony Lotti who averages 37.5 yards per punt with 12 fair catches and 24 inside the opponent’s 20 yard. Flipping the field will be important, especially if a drive stalls near midfield.
The Badgers return game is another part of the team that is not overwhelming. They average just 6.8 yards per punt return and 20 yards per kickoff return. Wisconsin will have to worry about DariusPhillips, who averages 12.3 yards per punt return and 22.7 yards per kickoff return. He has both a punt and kickoff return for a touchdown. The Badgers’ kickoff coverage has been good this year, but has had the occasional breakdown. A big part will be P.J. Rosowski who has 47 touchbacks on 74 kickoffs for Wisconsin.
Each team had a month to prepare for this game, which means plenty of things to practice that have been seen on film and off film. The Badgers will unleash their typical rushing attack and will have success against the Broncos. Western Michigan should have some success passing, but it will not be enough. We like the Badgers to win in their first Cotton Bowl appearance, 34-21.
We are closing in on week eight and there are some big games this week. Miami (FL) is at Virginia Tech, TCU is at #12 West Virginia, #6 Texas A&M travels to face #1 Alabama in the biggest game of the week, #17 Arkansas is at #21 Auburn, #2 Ohio State plays Penn State on the road, and #23 Ole Miss is at #25 LSU.
Those are big games, but we will take a look at some of the games not listed above that could have an impact on week eight and beyond. Note that these games are listed in order of when they will be played and all times listed are Eastern.
1. Oregon at California (10/21 at 10:30 PM) – This game will be nationally televised, but the implications are huge. Oregon is on a four game losing streak and sits at 2-4 overall. They had a bye last week and one can only assume the defense was the focal point (Oregon has given up at least 35 points each game during their losing streak).
California has alternated between wins and losses this year to get to 3-3. Their offense has been very good this year too with Davis Webb at the helm (2,256 yards at 60.8% with 22 touchdowns and 7 interceptions), which presents a great opportunity against Oregon’s porous defense. Oregon’s defense gives up 522 yards per game including 284 yards through the air.
Oregon needs this win more than California, but the road to end the season for both teams is not easy. Oregon faces Arizona State, USC (away), Stanford, Utah (away), and Oregon State (away) after the Cal game. How many wins are there for the Ducks with this defense?
California has USC (away), Washington, Washington State (away), Stanford, and UCLA after playing Oregon. Their schedule is tough as well and a win will help both teams if they want to make a bowl game.
2. Indiana at Northwestern (10/22 at 12 PM) – On paper, Northwestern seems like the favorite given their back-to-back road wins over Iowa and Michigan State. As of this posting, the Wildcats are favored by a point and a half. Indiana is a scrappy team though and they could make things interesting.
The key in this game, and for Northwestern’s offense, is Justin Jackson. He ran for 339 yards and 3 touchdowns (all in the opener) on 83 carries through his first four games for an average of 4.1 yards per carry. Against Iowa and Michigan State, he has rushed for a combined 359 yards and 3 touchdowns on 60 carries for an average of 6 yards per rush. In turn, he allows the passing game to flourish especially if the ball is headed towards Austin Carr. Carr has 5 touchdowns in the last two games, but he has been producing all season long (at least 5 catches and 73 yards in every game).
For Indiana, this year’s team is different. It is no longer just about out-scoring the opponent and hope the defense can make a stop or two. The defense is a cohesive unit that can consistently play well in 2016. For 2015, the defense gave up 37.6 points per game compared to 25.3 points per game through six games this year. The hiring of Tom Allen has no doubt improved the defense and they will have their hands full with Justin Jackson this week.
Both teams enter this game at 3-3 and it is clear the winner will be in a very good position to make a bowl. However, a loss can be overcome with both teams having 3 winnable games in their final five contests.
3. Akron at Ball State (10/22 at 3 PM) – This is not the biggest game of the week for the MAC. That is listed two slots below, but this is a big game for both teams in their respective division.
Akron is currently a joint-first with Ohio in the MAC East at 2-1 in conference play. They are coming off a shellacking at the hands of the top MAC team Western Michigan 41-0. It was not pretty as the offense put up 283 yards of offense and the defense gave up 585 yards. The offense did not get into Broncos’ territory until late in the first half.
Ball State got their first conference win this year over Buffalo after losses to Northern Illinois and Central Michigan. James Gilbert, who has been good this year, had a monster game with 264 yards rushing and 2 touchdowns on 34 carries. It was his fourth 100 yard rushing game this year and third in a row (at least 2 rushing touchdowns in the last three games as well). It is worth noting that Jarvion Franklin ran for 281 yards and 1 touchdown in Western Michigan’s win over Akron in week 7.
How good is Ball State? How will Akron respond to their drubbing? Those questions will be answered this week and beyond in Ball State’s case. At this point, Akron can only have one more loss prior to their game at Ohio to end the season if they want to have a chance at winning the MAC East. Ball State still has to face Western Michigan, Eastern Michigan, and Toledo this year, so a win may be crucial this week just to try to make a bowl game.
4. Memphis at Navy (10/22 at 3:30 PM) – This is a big AAC West Division tilt. Memphis is 2-0 in the AAC while Navy is 3-0 in conference. Plus, Navy has the win over Houston from their last game so a win here would really help the Midshipmen given their schedule to end the season.
The defense for Memphis has been solid this year giving up 19.3 points per game and 140 yards rushing per game. The latter is more pertinent against the triple option of Navy. Navy’s offense puts up 32.2 points per game and 262.4 yards rushing per game. In last year’s game, Navy put up 374 yards rushing against Memphis, but that offense included Keenan Reynolds and and Chris Swain, both of whom are no longer there.
Memphis had Paxton Lynch in 2015 and now Riley Ferguson has taken over at quarterback. Ferguson has done well throwing for 1,596 yards (65.5%) with 12 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Memphis’ toughest opponent this year has been Ole Miss, a game in which Ferguson threw for 343 yards, but with no touchdowns and three interceptions. If he can continue to be accurate and avoid interceptions, this team has a good chance of winning.
Memphis still has to face Tulsa, SMU, South Florida, Cincinnati, and Houston to end the season so a win here will help and give them some confidence. Navy will play South Florida, Notre Dame, Tulsa, East Carolina, SMU, and Army to end the season.
5. Eastern Michigan at Western Michigan (10/22 at 3:30 PM) – Here is another MACtion game, but this one is the marquee matchup this week.
Eastern Michigan has been a surprise this year. They are 5-2 and sit one win away from their first bowl game since 1987. They defeated MAC East contender Ohio on the road last week 27-20. BroganRoback threw for 347 yards and 3 touchdowns with no interceptions to lead the Eagles.
Western Michigan has been a surprise too, but on a national level. They defeated both Northwestern and Illinois on the road in their first three games. They have looked like the best team in the conference to this point and have a legitimate chance at making a big bowl if they go undefeated and win the MAC Championship. Zach Terrell has been fantastic this year throwing for 1,597 yards with 17 touchdowns and ZERO interceptions. He also has 142 yards on the ground and 5 touchdowns. Jarvion Franklin has been good the last three weeks, which coincides with Jamauri Bogan missing time due to an ankle injury. Franklin has 582 yards and 4 touchdowns on 87 carries the last three games (6.7 yards per carry).
This will be the toughest team Eastern Michigan has faced this year in MAC play (possibly all year if one wants to consider WMU better than Missouri). They will have their hands full, but could keep it interesting. A win for Western Michigan would put them in a commanding position for the MAC West title until their game against Toledo in the season finale.
6. Old Dominion at Western Kentucky (10/22 at 7 PM) – Old Dominion enters this game at 4-2 while Western Kentucky is 4-3. The Monarchs two best opponents so far this year have been Appalachian State and North Carolina State, which ODU lost. Those two games were played on the road and the combined final scores were 80-29. Their other four games have all been 2+ touchdown margin of victories.
As for Western Kentucky, they played #1 Alabama and obviously got crushed, 38-10. However, their other two losses were to Vanderbilt 31-30 in overtime and 55-52 against Louisiana Tech. They have close wins against Middle Tennessee (44-43 in 2 OT last week) and Miami (OH) 31-24.
Old Dominion runs a balanced offense (yardage is 53% passing and 47% rushing). David Washington leads the offense and while his numbers are not impressive, he is efficient. He has thrown for 1,250 yards with 12 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions. He also has 158 yards and a touchdown on the ground. He completes only 56.4% of his passes, but has only had 1 game with a negative TD to INT ratio (Appalachian State when he threw 1 INT and no touchdowns). The running game will be led by Jeremy Cox (420 yards and 9 touchdowns) and Ray Lawry (373 yards and 3 touchdowns).
Western Kentucky is led by former South Florida quarterback MikeWhite. He has thrown for 2,098 yards with 16 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. In two seasons at USF, he threw for 2,722 yards with 11 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. His favorite targets are Taywan Taylor (54 catches for 870 yards and 5 touchdowns) and Nicholas Norris (43 catches for 647 yards and 8 touchdowns).
If Old Dominion’s pass defense, which gives up 224 yards per game, can stop Western Kentucky’s offense that puts up 372 yards passing per game (and 526 yards of total offense per game), they will have a chance. The more time they run off the clock, the better chance they have of winning this game.
With both teams in the thick of the C-USA East division race, this game will be important. ODU has yet to face FlU and will also play Marshall and Southern Miss. Western Kentucky will also play FIU and Marshall, but have one loss already in C-USA.
Check back next week for the week nine edition of Under The Radar Games. In addition, you can find the previous columns below.
Many of the top matchups are getting most of the press and rightfully so. LSU versus Wisconsin, USC versus Alabama, Notre Dame at Texas, Ole Miss versus Florida State, Georgia versus North Carolina, Clemson at Auburn, and Oklahoma versus Houston are all tantalizing on paper. All of those games will be fun to watch, but let’s take at some of the games that may not be on the radar.
Note, these games are listed in order of when they will be played.
1. South Carolina at Vanderbilt (9/1 at 8 PM EST) – This probably does not strike as much, but it could be a game that determines if one of these schools reaches a bowl game in 2016. This will be Will Muschamp’s first game at South Carolina and he inherits just nine returning starters (four on offense and five on defense). It will be interesting to see if Vanderbilt’s offense can improve from 2015 and the impact Muschamp has on the South Carolina team.
2. Kansas State at Stanford (9/2 at 9 PM EST) – A Friday night game at the Farm featuring Heisman hopeful Christian McCaffrey against a formidable Bill Snyder coached Kansas State defense is worth watching. Heck, just a chance to see McCaffrey in action is a game worth watching. Can the K-State defense keep McCaffrey somewhat in check? How will Stanford’s new quarterback play? Can K-State keep the game close and provide some worry to the Stanford fans? There are a lot of things that will be interesting to keep track of in this one.
3. Western Michigan at Northwestern (9/3 at 12 PM EST) – Western Michigan is a team that could make some serious noise in the MAC West in 2016. A game against a team like Northwestern will be a very good measuring stick. The Broncos have offensive weapons like quarterback Zach Terrell (3,510 yards with 67% completions as well as 29 touchdowns and 9 interceptions), Jamauri Bogan (1,051 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns), Jarvion Franklin (735 yards rushing and five touchdowns), and receiver Corey Davis (90 catches for 1,436 yards and 12 touchdowns). Meanwhile, how Clayton Thorson progressed for the Northwestern offense is a big question because they cannot rely solely on Justin Jackson (1,418 yards rushing and 5 touchdowns).
4. Missouri at West Virginia (9/3 at 12 PM EST) – Missouri had one of the top defenses from last year (gave up 16.2 points and 302 yards per game) while West Virginia averaged 34 points and 480 yards per game. The contrasting styles and how each team can effectively make adjustments will be exciting to see.
5. UCLA at Texas A&M (9/3 at 3:30 PM EST) – UCLA is coming off an 8-5 season and is considered one of the favorites for the Pac-12 and Pac-12 Title. They are led by sophomore Josh Rosen (3,668 yards with 23 touchdowns and 11 interceptions) and have nine starters back on defense. Kevin Sumlin may be under the microscope more than usual this year after back-to-back 8-5 seasons. Two former Sooners will be in the back for the Aggies as Trevor Knight and Keith Ford. The Aggies will also have back the top five receivers from 2015 and this could be a fun game to watch if the offenses explode.
6. BYU versus Arizona(9/3 at 10:30 PM EST) – BYU may appear on this list quite often given their schedule. Taysom Hill is back for yet another season and he goes up against an Arizona team that went 7-6 last year and returns 15 starters. This game will also be Kalani Sitake’s first game in charge of BYU after 11 years of Bronco Mendenhall. This game will be a fun one to watch between Arizona’s Anu Solomon and Hill.
7. FCS Teams versus FBS Teams – These matchups are always worth keeping an eye on because they can produce some shocking results (see Portland State winning not once, but twice in 2015 against FCS teams). It is always great to see the FCS teams holding a late lead and see if they can complete the upset.
Check back next week for under the radar games for week two.
The Big Ten had a full week of non-conference games before starting its conference schedule next week. It was a positive Saturday overall with the conference going 12-2, but, as always, there is room for improvement. Each game is broken down below.
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Result: Nebraska Win 36-28 (Saturday, September 26)
Nebraska improved to 2-2 on the season, but it was another poor performance from the defense that should cause concern in Lincoln. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong went 23 of 35 for 368 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. He was also effective in the running game with 63 yards and a touchdown on 7 carries.
Wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp had another big game with 11 catches for 118 yards and a touchdown. Brandon Reilly had a few big plays, as he caught 3 passes for 112 yards. Terrell Newby had 76 yards on 18 carries to lead the Huskers in rushing. Andy Janovich was quietly effective with just five carries, but went for a total of 68 yards.
While the offense was good by racking up 610 yards, it was not very effective when it needed to be. Kicker Drew Brown attempted 7 field goals and connected on five. An 8 point win could have been a lot more comfortable had they converted two or three of those field goals into touchdowns. The offense went 4 of 13 on third down.
The defense largely held the Southern Miss running game in check with only 11 yards allowed, but gave up 447 yards through the air. Most worrisome is that the defense gave up three touchdown drives of at least 53 yards and 21 points. It has been a constant them for the Huskers that their defense is giving up quite a few points in the fourth quarter and we have already seen it cost them one game on the final play.
Nebraska faces Illinois next week on the road in their conference opener.
Kansas Jayhawks at Rutgers Scarlet Knight
Result: Rutgers Win 27-14 (Saturday, September 26)
Rutgers took care of business against Kansas, one of the weakest (if not the weakest) teams in all of FBS. That makes it hard to judge the performance, but a win is a win.
Chris Laviano had a decent game going 18 of 25 for 201 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. The rushing game was very good for the Scarlet Knights as they rushed for 312 yards and 2 touchdowns on 58 carries as a team. Josh Hicks led the way with 113 yards and 2 touchdowns on 21 carries while Robert Martin also broke the century mark at 102 yards on 17 carries. Overall, the offense was very effective with 513 yards, but converted on 8 of 12 third downs as well.
Defensively, it is hard to gauge this effort. They held Kansas to 342 yards of total offense including 64 yards on the ground. They forced just one turnover, but did not have a lot of trouble overall. Perhaps this will give them some confidence as they continue on in the Big Ten conference schedule.
The Scarlet Knights are off next week. Rutgers will have a stern test at home in two weeks against Michigan State.
#22 BYU Cougars at Michigan Wolverines
Result: Michigan Win 31-0 (Saturday, September 26)
Michigan looked incredible on Saturday against BYU, a team that had impressed the first three weeks. The defense was particularly impressive for the Wolverines.
Jake Rudock had a solid game with 14 of 25 passing for 194 yards and a touchdown. There were no interceptions or fumbles from him and he accounted for another two touchdowns on the ground (10 carries for 33 yards). De’Veon Smith had 125 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries while his bruising 60 yard touchdown run was the highlight of the game. Smith did leave the game in the second half and did not return, but he is expected to be fine for next week’s game.
Amara Darboh had 4 catches for 57 yards and a touchdown including a wonderful one handed catch in the first half. Nine different players caught a pass for Michigan in a very equal passing game by Rudock.
The real story for Michigan was the defense. They allowed 105 total yards of offense to BYU with 55 through the air and 50 on the ground. BYU went 4 of 15 on third down and had just 8 first downs the entire game. The Wolverines did not allow them to get into a rhythm and this is what we expect from a JimHarbaugh coached defense.
Michigan travels on the road next week to face Maryland.
Central Michigan Chippewas at #2 Michigan State Spartans
Result: Michigan State Win 30-10 (Saturday, September 26)
Michigan State looked far from the #2 team in the nation on Saturday against Central Michigan, but they got the job done.
Connor Cook went 11 of 19 for 143 yards and a touchdown, but the offense did not always look great. Madre London ran for 73 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries while Gerald Holmes rushed for 22 yards and 2 touchdowns (both coming in the fourth quarter) on 4 carries.
The defense also had its issues against the Central Michigan offense. Cooper Rush threw for 285 yards and a touchdown on 26 of 39 passing. The trio of Jesse Kroll, Anthony Rice, and Corey Willis all had at least 5 catches and 57 yards.
Shilique Calhoun was disruptive for the Spartans on defense and also blocked a field goal. That was one of two blocked field goals by the Spartans. More worrisome for Michigan State is the possible losses of JackConklin, RJ Williamson, and Josiah Price.
Michigan State takes on Purdue next week at home in their Big Ten opener.
Bowling Green Falcons at Purdue Boilermakers
Result: Bowling Green Win 35-28 (Saturday, September 26)
Purdue slumped to 1-3 this year thanks to a loss to MAC opponent Bowling Green. It was not the worst loss for Purdue, as there was a good sign of improvement at quarterback.
David Blough was named the starter for this game and he did well. He went 29 of 39 for 340 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. He also ran for a touchdown, but the Boilermakers were not good rushing with just 77 yards on 38 carries as a team.
The defense was all or nothing in the first half. Bowling Green scored a touchdown, then lost a fumble, scored a second touchdown, was intercepted, and ended the first half with a third touchdown. Purdue was able to turn one of the turnovers into a touchdown, but missed a field goal on the other.
The defense was better overall in the second half, but still could not do enough to hang on for the win. They allowed 539 yards of offense and also allowed Bowling Green to convert 11 of 16 third downs.
It will be a tall task next week for Purdue with a road trip to Michigan State.
Indiana Hoosiers at Wake Forest Demon Deacons
Result: Indiana Win 31-24 (Saturday, September 26)
Indiana got a road win to open the season 4-0 and sit just two games away from bowl eligibility. The defense was improved, but there is still plenty of concern on that side of the ball.
Nate Sudfeld had pedestrian numbers considering his normal output. He went 19 of 34 for 205 yards with 2 touchdowns. Jordan Howard had another big rushing game with 168 yards and a touchdown on 33 carries. The offense converted 7 of 17 third down opportunities.
The defense played well early on for Indiana. The first three drives for Wake Forest yielded just one yard. The Hoosiers did allow 10 points in the second quarter, but held a 17-10 lead at the break. The defense played well again after halftime. A 20 yard pick six early in the fourth quarter by Kendall Hinton put the Hoosiers up 31-10. The concern is that Wake Forest scored two touchdowns on the next two drives. They did hold the Demon Deacons to 363 yards of offense including 99 on the ground and 4 of 18 on third down.
Indiana goes from facing Wake Forest on the road to Ohio State at home next weekend.
Maryland Terrapins at West Virginia Mountaineers
Result: West Virginia Win 45-6 (Saturday, September 26)
The worst Big Ten performance of the week belongs to Maryland. It was terrible performance, particularly from the quarterbacks.
Caleb Rowe went 10 of 27 for only 67 yards, no touchdowns, and 4 interceptions (!). Daxx Garman came in and threw for 86 yards with one touchdown and one pick. Brandon Ross did well to pick up 130 yards on 15 carries, but he was the lone bright spot in a dismal offense.
The defense struggled to put up any resistance to the West Virginia offense. The Mountaineers put up 601 yards of offense and it was nearly even with 297 through the air and 304 on the ground.
Maryland may find themselves struggling to get offense going again next week. They face Michigan at home, a team that has been solid on the defensive side of the ball.
North Texas Mean Green at Iowa Hawkeyes
Result: Iowa Win 62-16 (Saturday, September 26)
Iowa completely crushed North Texas to finish their non-conference schedule 4-0. It was a complete domination by both sides of the ball for Iowa.
C.J. Beathard was deadly accurate and efficient. He went 18 of 21 for 278 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Jordan Canzeri had a field day running the ball as well. He had four rushing touchdowns to go along with 115 yards on 22 carries. Tevaun Smith had 4 catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.
The defense had only two turnovers, but both were interceptions returned for touchdowns. First, it was Josey Jewell for a 34 yard pick-six late in the third quarter. The second one came late in the game with BoBower taking a pick 88 yards to the house.
Big Ten play begins next week with one of the toughest games on their schedule. Iowa travels to play Wisconsin in Madison with the winner having an early inside track on the Big Ten West.
Ohio Bobcats at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Result: Minnesota Win 27-24 (Saturday, September 26)
For the second week in a row, Minnesota escaped at home against a MAC foe. This week, at least there was more scoring.
Mitch Leidner had a solid day going 22 of 32 for 264 yards with no touchdown or interceptions. He also ran for 22 yards and a touchdown on 8 carries. Rodney Smith had a solid day as well with 94 yards on 16 carries, but Shannon Brooks emerged with 10 carries for 82 yards and 2 touchdowns including the game winner late. The offense looked much better this week and they put up 468 yards of offense and had only one turnover.
In an odd twist, the defense did not play as well as we have seen. They certain were not terrible, but it was not as stout as they were in the first three games. They allowed 8 of 16 on third down conversions and also gave up 345 yards of offense. They allowed 10 points in the fourth quarter that made it way too uncomfortable for the Gopher faithful.
Another worry, at least late, was the special teams. A muffed punt by Cody Grilliot was recovered by Ohio and led to a touchdown. They also gave up a massive kick return with less than 30 seconds remaining to Ohio after they just took the lead.
Minnesota finished their non-conference slate at 3-1 and they will have a defensive battle next week against Northwestern on the road.
Western Michigan Broncos at #1 Ohio State Buckeyes
Result: Ohio State Win 38-12 (Saturday, September 26)
Ohio State may have decided on a quarterback, but it still does not look like the Buckeyes we saw in 2014.
Cardale Jones went 19 of 33 for 288 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. His second half left a lot to be desired as he completed only 6 of 14 passes. Ezekiel Elliott, unsurprisingly, was good with 124 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Curtis Samuel had 2 carries for 55 yards including a 40 yard run for a touchdown just before the midway point of the fourth quarter. The offense still managed to put up 511 yards with 288 passing and 223 on the ground. They did go 8 of 13 on third downs, which is a big improvement over the 2 of 13 they managed against Northern Illinois last week.
The defense was very good for Ohio State. They did not allow Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell to get into a rhythm. He finished 18 of 33 for 169 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception. That interception was returned 20 yards for a touchdown by Adolphus Washington. The Buckeyes did allow Daniel Braverman to catch 10 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown, but they clamped down in the second half.
Ohio State begins the defense of their Big Ten title next week on the road at Indiana.
San Diego State Aztecs at Penn State Nittany Lions
Result: Penn State Win 37-21 (Saturday, September 26)
Penn State relied on their running backs last week to get the offense going, but it was Christian Hackenberg that woke up the dormant offense this week. Hackenberg threw for 296 yards and 3 touchdowns on 21 of 35 passing.
Saeed Blackwell led the Nittany Lions with 4 catches for 101 yards while Chris Godwin had 5 receptions for 78 yards with a touchdown. The running game was dealt not one, but two blows, thanks to injuries. Saquon Barkley and Akeel Lynch both left leaving Nick Scott and Mark Allen to try and pick up the slack. Allen ran for 5 yards on 5 carries, but did catch 2 passes for 29 yards and a touchdown. Scott had 6 carries for 9 yards. Those numbers will surely need to improve or Hackenberg will be primary target number one if Barkley and Lynch miss any time.
The defense was decent, but the highlight went to Austin Johnson. The defensive tackle ran (rumbled?) 71 yards for a fumble return touchdown that put Penn State up 34-21 early in the fourth quarter. The defense did only allow 242 yards of offense to SDSU including a poor 10 of 29 for 141 yards throwing.
The special teams is still a question mark after week four’s performance. They gave up a 100 yard kick return, fumbled a punt return that led to a touchdown, and also missed a field goal.
Unlike much of the Big Ten, they have not completed their non-conference schedule. Army visits next week in an early kickoff.
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders at Illinois Fighting Illini
Result: Illinois Win 27-25 (Saturday, September 26)
Illinois bounced back from last week’s thrashing at North Carolina, but it was not easy by any means. They needed a last minute field goal from Taylor Zalewski and also needed a missed field goal from Middle Tennessee with seconds remaining to pull out the win.
Wes Lunt went 29 of 49 for 238 yards with 1 touchdown and no interceptions. The large amount of incompletions are a bit worrisome, especially after he went 15 of 32 against North Carolina a week ago. Josh Ferguson ran for 83 yards on 20 carries while Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 80 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Geronimo Allison easily led the team in receiving with 10 catches for 128 yards. Desmond Cain was also involved in the passing game with 7 catches for 48 yards. Coming into the game, Cain had 8 catches for 53 yards on the year.
The defense gave up only 38 yards rushing to Middle Tennessee thanks largely to -30 yards rushing by the Middle Tennessee quarterback on sacks. They allowed 330 yards through the air as well as 3 touchdowns. The defense allowed 13 fourth quarter points as the Blue Raiders moved down the field with ease.
The special teams unit was good overall. There was a missed field goal, but a blocked punt subsequently allowed Illinois to build a 14-3 in the second quarter. Clayton Fejedelem fell on the ball in the end zone for the score.
Illinois enters Big Ten play 3-1 and they immediately get Nebraska next week at home. It is a potentially big game, as Illinois needs three wins to make bowl eligibility.
Ball State Cardinals at #17 Northwestern Wildcats
Result: Northwestern Win 24-19 (Saturday, September 26)
Northwestern was able to hang on against Ball State in a deceivingly good second half from the offense. The first half left a lot to be desired from the Wildcats, especially at the quarterback position.
Clayton Thorson looked like a freshman during the first half. He lost a fumble after a nice run, which led to a field goal for Ball State. He also threw an interception (led to a missed field goal), but his fumble late in the first half allowed Ball State to score a touchdown and take a 10-7 lead at halftime.
The second half was like a whole new ball game for the Wildcats on offense. Their first three drives resulted in 17 points and a 24-10 lead. Thorson finished the game going 18 of 31 for 256 yards with 3 touchdowns and the interception. He also ran for 45 yards on 9 carries. Justin Jackson had a big game rushing the ball with 184 yards on 33 carries. Dan Vitale easily had his best game of the year with 5 catches for 108 yards and 2 touchdowns. His emergence really helped Thorson in the final 30 minutes.
The defense played solidly and it is worth noting that they kept the game close while the offense struggled in the first half. They recovered a fumble deep in their own territory and forced a total of four field goals from Ball State. Ball State missed two field goals, which would have been the difference.
Northwestern is likely to have a defensive battle next week at home in their Big Ten opener against Minnesota.
Hawaii Rainbow Warriors at #22 Wisconsin Badgers
Result: Wisconsin Win 28-0 (Saturday, September 26)
Taiwan Deal rushed for 147 yards and 2 touchdowns on 26 carries while Dare Ogunbowale had 15 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. The Badgers rushed for 326 yards and 3 touchdowns as a team on 54 carries. Most importantly, the offense looked to have gotten their running game back, if only for this week. The offense nearly held a 2-1 advantage in time of possession, another good sign.
Joel Stave was not overly impressive, but he was smart with the ball and did not force unnecessary throws. He went 14 of 23 for 164 yards and a touchdown. In no surprise, Alex Erickson was his top target with 9 catches for 87 yards. Austin Traylor had 2 catches for 23 yards and a touchdown and is quietly becoming a big red zone target for Stave.
The defense did not make any big plays, but they did not allow any type of rhythm for the Hawaii offense. Hawaii’s longest drive was 60 yards, but the defense held firm on fourth and three at the Wisconsin 33. Another drive got as close to the Wisconsin 1 yard line, but a series of penalties by Hawaii resulted in a missed 49 yard field goal. In the last three games, Wisconsin has allowed a total of 3 points and has two shutouts.
Wisconsin faces Iowa at home in their Big Ten opener next week.
Check back next Sunday for a look at the Week 5 Big Ten Roundup. There will be plenty of Big Ten Conference action that is dissected.
Below are some thoughts from each game that a Big Ten team participated in from the opening week of College Football. One thing to keep in mind is that was only week one, which means there is plenty of room for improvement for both winners and losers in the game.
Michigan Wolverines at Utah Utes
Result: Utah Win 24-17 (Thursday, September 3)
The most visible thing about Michigan’s opening week loss and Jim Harbaugh’s debut to Utah was the three interceptions by quarterback Jake Rudock. His most egregious was the pick 6 he threw midway through the fourth quarter that gave Utah a 24-10 lead.
Outside of the interceptions, Rudock played solidly. He missed some wide open throws, but his touchdown pass to Jake Butt late in the third quarter (into triple coverage) showed he has the ability to make good. Speaking of Butt, he had a good game by making 8 receptions for 93 yards. Also playing well was AmaraDarboh, who had 8 catches for 101 yards and a touchdown.
Another concern for Michigan was the running game and offensive line. The Wolverines gained just 76 yards on 29 carries as a team for only a 2.6 yards per carry average. The offensive line also has issues getting a good push, especially in short yardage situation.
Overall, it was not the worst start for Michigan. There were positives and they have three consecutive home games versus Oregon State, UNLV, and BYU.
#2 TCU Horned Frogs at Minnesota Golden Gophers
Result: TCU Win 23-17 (Thursday, September 3)
There is a lot to take out of this game for Minnesota. They played a top ranked offense from 2014 and held them to 23 points and forced two turnovers.
The Gophers were able to get a solid game from Rodney Smith, who ran for 88 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. That was good considering their opponent and they lost David Cobb from last year’s squad. Mitch Leidner played well with 197 yards and 1 touchdown through the air, but he also lost a fumble midway through the first quarter that led to a TCU touchdown. One final note is that Rodrick Williams had a fumble as he was about to score that cost the Gophers points.
Then there was the Gophers’ defense that played a bend, but do not break style. They gave up 449 yards to TCU’s offense and were able to get an interception off Trevone Boykin that stopped a scoring threat. They also forced a fumble inside their own red zone to save more points. It was a really good performance for Minnesota given how many yards they allowed.
Minnesota will be on the road next week to play Colorado State.
#5 Michigan State Spartans at Western Michigan Broncos
Result: Michigan State Win 37-24 (Friday, September 4)
Michigan State had a tricky game to open the season against a talented Western Michigan squad. ConnorCook looked good throwing for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns, but completed only 15 of 31 passes. The running game for the Spartans looked really good between freshman LJ Scott (13 carries for 77 yards), Madre London (13 carries for 59 yards and 2 touchdowns), and Gerald Holmes (9 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown). Aaron Burbridge had an excellent showing at wide receiver catching 4 passes for 117 yards.
There will probably be some worry about Michigan State giving up 24 points to Western Michigan, but the duo of quarterback Zach Terrell and running back Jarvion Franklin are good. The Spartans were solid in the running game holding Franklin to just 23 yards on 8 carries before he left midway through the third quarter with a head injury. Overall, the Spartans allowed only 18 yards on 23 carries. The Spartans did give up over 100 yards to the receiving couple of Corey Davis (10 catches for 154 yards and a touchdown) and Daniel Braverman (13 catches for 109 yards). However, the Spartans played well on the road and shut down the running game forcing the Broncos to play catch up.
Michigan State has a massive game next weekend against Oregon at home.
#21 Stanford Cardinal at Northwestern Wildcats
Result: Northwestern Win 16-6 (Saturday, September 5)
The high point for the Big Ten was right around 2 PM Central Time on Saturday with Northwestern’s 16-6 victory over Stanford. It was a dominating performance from the Wildcats in a statement game for a team that is coming off back-to-back 5-7 seasons.
The Wildcats decided to let freshman Clayton Thorson handle the quarterback duties and he played mistake-free in his first start. He threw for 105 yards on 12 of 24 passing, but was impressive with a 42 yard dash for the lone touchdown of the game. He finished with 8 carries for 68 yards and that touchdown. Also helping Thorson out was running back Justin Jackson, who had 28 carries for 134 yards.
On both sides of the ball, Northwestern was the more physical and dominant team. The Wildcats rushed for 225 yards as a team compared to just 85 for Stanford. The defense for Northwestern had a rough first drive giving up 64 yards and a field goal, but were clearly best after that. The defense was led by AnthonyWalker’s impressive performance. He finished with 10 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery, and 2 pass breakups.
Northwestern already looks like a handful after one game, but it is useful to remember that is has been only one game. The Wildcats have Eastern Illinois at home next weekend.
Illinois State Redbirds at Iowa Hawkeyes
Result: Iowa Win 31-14 (Saturday, September 5)
Most games against FCS competition do not yield much in the way of impressions, but this is different. Illinois State made the FCS National Championship in 2014, but lost narrowly to North Dakota State 29-27. They have a high powered offense, but were held to just 14 points and 231 yards.
C.J. Beathard looked good for Iowa going 15 of 24 for 211 yards and 1 touchdown. His top two targets were Jordan Canzeri (4 catches for 80 yards) and Matt VandeBerg (6 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown). The nice surprise was LeShun Daniels‘ 123 rushing yards on 26 carries.
The defense was very good for Iowa until the final quarter. They gave up 152 yards in the fourth quarter as well as the 14 points that Illinois State scored. However, they were able shut down Tre Roberson, who had just 49 yards on 5 of 12 passing before leaving with cramps. Marshaun Coprich had only 32 on 13 carries.
Yes, it was only the FCS Illinois State Redbirds, but this was a good start. Iowa has an in-state rivalry game next week on the road at Iowa State.
Richmond Spiders at Maryland Terrapins
Result: Maryland Win 50-21 (Saturday, September 5)
Maryland took a while to get going against Richmond, but eventually all phases of the games got in gear. Quarterback Perry Hills had an okay game going 12 of 21 for 138 yards with 2 touchdowns and 1 interception.
The running game was excellent for the Terps by gaining 341 yards on 45 carries and scored 3 touchdowns. Brandon Ross led the team 150 yards and a touchdown, Ty Johnson had 83 yards and 1 touchdown, and Wes Brown ran for 74 yards and a touchdown.
The star on Saturday for Maryland was return man William Likely. He had 2 kickoff returns for 63 yards, but did his damage on punt returns. He had 8 returns for 233 yards including a 67 yard return for a touchdown.
The defense is a bit of a concern having given up a lot of yards in the first half, but they settled down nicely in the final 30 minutes. The Terps will be playing Bowling Green next week at home.
Norfolk State Spartans at Rutgers Scarlet Knights
Result: Rutgers Win 63-13 (Saturday, September 5)
Of all the games this weekend, this was the hardest to decipher if anything significant happened. Rutgers demolished a sub par Norfolk State team, but they looked good doing it. Both quarterbacks were excellent with Chris Laviano going a perfect 4 for 4 with 138 yards and 3 touchdowns. Hayden Rettig threw for 110 yards and a touchdown on 9 of 11 passing. Neither passer hurt their chances of winning the job against Norfolk State.
Josh Hicks ran the ball well with 118 yards and 2 touchdowns on 18 carries while Paul James had 15 carries for 82 yards. Leonte Carroo had a field day by catching 3 passes for 129 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The defense was pretty solid after giving up 75 yards and a touchdown to start the game. For the game, Rutgers allowed only 196 yards and actually held Norfolk State to -3 yards rushing.
Kent State Golden Flashes at Illinois Fighting Illini
Result: Illinois Win 52-3 (Saturday, September 5)
Another Big Ten team that was in turmoil to start the season was Illinois. They were originally scheduled to play on Friday night, but constant lightning forced the game to Saturday afternoon. That proved to be no issues as the Illini crushed Kent State.
Wes Lunt was efficient by throwing for 162 yards and 4 touchdowns on 11 of 19 passing. The offense scored touchdowns on both of the first 2 drives courtesy of Lunt’s arm. Josh Ferguson ran for 76 yards and a touchdown to lead the Illini while Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran for 43 yards and a score. 10 different receivers caught a pass with the most catches by one player being 2 (four different receivers had two catches). Geronimo Allison led the team in receiver with 57 yards and a touchdown on 2 catches.
The defense was determined for Illinois as they forced 4 turnovers and allowed only 245 yards. MasonMonheim, Eaton Spence, and Taylor Barton were the trio that picked off passes. V’Angelo Bentley looked dangerous in the return game with 3 punt returns for 85 yards with a long of 48.
The Illini showed no effects of losing Tim Beckman as their head coach and Bill Cubit had them ready. They will take on Western Illinois at home next week.
Penn State Nittany Lions at Temple Owls
Result: Temple Win 27-10 (Saturday, September 5)
This game marked a negative turning point for the Big Ten for the opening weekend. Penn State was out of sorts against Temple as they suffered a bad defeat.
By now, most people know how this went. The offensive line was horrendous by giving up 10 sacks. Christian Hackenberg had no time to throw and it showed by his stat line of 11 completions on 25 attempts for 103 yards and an interception. That interception was a terrible throw by Hackenberg that nearly resulted in a pick 6. The Owls did score a touchdown as a result.
Akeel Lynch was decent for Penn State by gaining 78 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Brandon Polk was electric on his two carries with a total of 50 yards including a 33 yarder. The Nittany Lions finished the game with 77 yards rushing and only 180 yards of total offense.
Penn State’s defense was not terrible early on was they forced 4 punts and a fumble to start the game. They did give up a 93 yard drive that ended in a touchdown for Temple in the second quarter. The second half was much worse as they were constantly on the field.
Penn State has a chance to fix their issues next week at home with Buffalo going to Happy Valley.
BYU Cougars at Nebraska Cornhuskers
Result: BYU Win 33-28 (Saturday, September 5)
The Penn State game was bad for the Big Ten, but the ending to this game was brutal. A Hail Mary by BYU’s Tanner Mangum fell into the waiting arms of Mitch Mathews for the 33-28 win and a crushing blow to Nebraska in Mike Riley’s Nebraska debut.
Nebraska’s offense was pretty good especially Tommy Armstrong. He threw for 319 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception on 24 of 41 passing. The Cornhuskers ran for 126 yards as a team, but Terrell Newby was the high mark at 43 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. Jordan Westerkamp was all over the field with 7 catches for 107 yards and a touchdown. BrandonReilly also had 5 catches for 70 yards.
The real issue for Nebraska, as it has been for many years now, was the defense. They allowed 511 yards to BYU and that includes a stretch when the Cougars were without Taysom Hill. It has to be disconcerting to see Nebraska’s defense constantly be unable to finish a game. Another worrisome issue has to be kicker Drew Brown, who missed both of his field goals on Saturday.
Nebraska welcomes South Alabama to Lincoln next week.
Southern Illinois Salukis at Indiana Hoosiers
Result: Indiana Win 48-47 (Saturday, September 5)
Indiana did everything they could to not win against Southern Illinois, but managed to win 48-47 thanks to stopping a 2 point conversion in the final minute of the game.
The Indiana offense was scoring at will with Nate Sudfeld throwing for 349 yards and a touchdown. UAB transfer Jordan Howard ran for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns and wide receiver Ricky Jones caught 6 passes for 186 yards and a touchdown.
As usual, the worry is all about the defense for Indiana. They allowed a whopping 659 yards off offense including 411 through the air. Mark Iannotti threw for all 411 of those yards as well as 4 touchdowns on 24 of 31 passing. He also led the Salukis in rushing with 106 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries bringing his offensive yardage total up to 517 for the game.
#20 Wisconsin Badgers versus #3 Alabama Crimson Tide
Result: Alabama Win 35-17 (Saturday, September 5)
The main showcase for the Big Ten on Saturday was Wisconsin and Alabama squaring off in Arlington, Texas. It was not a good showing for Wisconsin as they wilted in the second half.
The Badgers were crushed in the trenches on both sides of the ball. They managed just 40 yards rushing on 21 carries for the entire game with Alex Erickson’s 25 yard rush making him the leading rusher. Corey Clement had 16 yards on 8 carries, but was hampered by injuries that caused him to miss significant playing time.
Despite the poor rushing performance, the Badgers got to see a pretty good game out of Joel Stave. He went 26 of 39 for 228 yards with 2 touchdowns and an interception (which came late in the fourth quarter with the outcome determined). He still has a good target in Alex Erickson, who also led the team in receiving with 73 yards and a touchdown on 6 grabs.
The defense for Wisconsin gave up 502 yards, but the game was all about Derrick Henry for Alabama. He ran 147 yards and 3 touchdowns on 13 carries and made the Badgers’ defenders look silly. The defense will need to get much better, especially on the line. It is also worth noting that safety Michael Caputo left after getting hit in the had making a tackle in the first half.
The Badgers get some serious competition relief with Miami (OH) going to Madison next week. The Badgers will be delighted to have them in town to work on their issues.
Purdue Boilermakers at Marshall Thundering Herd
Result: Marshall Win 41-31 (Sunday, September 6)
Purdue continued the Big Ten’s downward slide, but they had a chance to pull the upset as a touchdown underdog. A couple of interceptions thrown by Austin Appleby were returned for a pick six. The first happened on the opening play of the game and the other happened as the Boilermakers were mounting a drive to have a chance to tie the game or take the lead. Both times it was Tiquan Lang who brought the ball back to the house for Marshall.
If you take away the two pick sixes, Appleby played pretty well. He went 29 of 45 for 244 yards with 1 touchdown and he also had another touchdown on the ground on a sneak. He made smart decisions for the most part (again outside of the two pick sixes). He did throw two other interceptions with one coming late in the game after the pick 6 put the game beyond a doubt.
DeAngelo Yancey led the team in receiving with 5 catches for 78 yards while Anthony Mahoungou was second with 4 catches for 59 yards. Nine different receivers caught a pass for Purdue, which is good news for the depth.
The rushing game for Purdue was good with D.J. Knox leading the team with 102 yards and a touchdown while making himself very difficult to tackle. Markell Jones ran for 72 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries as well. Overall, the offense seemed to have a good rhythm going between the two pick sixes, but it fell apart with those turning points.
The defense was okay for Purdue. They gave up 397 yards, but were able to recover two fumbles and got an interception. However, the interception was squandered by the offense with a missed field goal. In crunch time, the defense allowed Marshall to go down the field on an 11 play, 84 yard drive to make it a 34-31 lead for Marshall. It was a decent performance that is better than the 41 points would indicate.
Purdue faces Indiana State at home next weekend.
#1 Ohio State Buckeyes at Virginia Tech Hokies
Result: Ohio State Win 42-24 (Monday, September 7)
Ohio State ended the bad run for the Big Ten, but they were not without some nervous moments. The Buckeyes rushed out to a 14-0 lead thanks to a touchdown pass from Cardale Jones and an 80 yard run by Ezekiel Elliott. After that, the offense stalled for the rest of the first half thanks to adjustments by Virginia Tech and turnovers. Virginia Tech came back to scored 17 unanswered points while the Hokies took a 17-14 lead at halftime.
Elliott finished the game with 122 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries, but the game plan was not conducive to him running a lot. Jones settled down after his interception and finished with 186 yards and 2 touchdowns on 9 of 18 passing. He also ran the ball for 99 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
The biggest performance came from former quarterback Braxton Miller who was in the wildcat and catching passes. His first catch was an excellent diving grab for 24 yards before he caught a 54 yard touchdown pass early in the second half. Then there was his incredible spin on a rushing play that went for 53 yards and a touchdown. JT Barrett also saw action in the fourth quarter at quarterback. He had a 26 yard touchdown pass and also had a nice run of 40 yards.
The offense was solid early and in the second half, but Jones will need to cut down on the turnovers and bad decisions (his interception was tipped and intercepted on a bad decision to throw). The Buckeyes finished with 572 yards of total offense and were only 3 of 9 on third down. Nevertheless, the offense is going to be incredible the rest of the year.
The Ohio State defense was solid early on, even with the absence of Joey Bosa. They did let some receivers get free on the touchdown drives, but were pretty good outside of those. One area of concern is that Virginia Tech was 8 of 17 on third down conversions and also lost contain at times. The latter will be helped with the return of Bosa next week.
Ohio State has a quick turnaround with a home game against Hawaii in week two.
Check back next week for thoughts from the Big Ten performances in week two.
The success started under Jerry Kill has been continued by Dave Doeren (2011 and 2012) and continued under Rod Carey who will be in his third season in 2015. The last five years have been impressive for North Illinois; five straight MAC Championship appearances, three MAC Championships, and five straight seasons with at least 11 wins.
2014 saw a precipitous drop in points per game by the offense. After averaging at least 38 points per game each season between 2010 and 2013, 2014 saw only 31.5 points per game and that was with 9 starters returning. In 2015, the offense loses the top rusher (Cameron Stingily – 971 yards and 14 touchdowns) as well as their top receiver (Da’Ron Brown – 68 catches for 1,065 yards and 6 touchdowns). Offsetting those losses are the return of the now experienced quarterback in Drew Hare. Hare threw for 2,322 yards (59.5%) with 18 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. He also was the team’s second leading rusher with 900 yards and 8 touchdowns. The Huskies also return the #2 running back as well as they #2, #3, and #4 receivers from 2014. The offense should continue to plug along.
Defensively, the Huskies see 8 starters return from a unit that gave up 25.6 points per game in 2014. That number could be 7 depending on what happens to linebacker Rasheen Lemon, who was suspended in April for domestic battery. The loss of Lemon would hurt at LB, but the defensive line and secondary both return 3 starters each, which should help NIU improve on their numbers from 2014 (392 total yards per game, 163 rushing yards per game, and 229 passing yards per game).
NIU has a tough out of conference slate that segues into the start of conference play. NIU faces Ohio State on the road September 19, Boston College on the road September 26, and Central Michigan on the road October 3. They draw Miami (OH) (away), Buffalo (away), and Ohio (home) from the East, which is manageable. Their two toughest MAC West foes are Toledo (away on Nov. 3) and Western Michigan (home on Nov. 18). The game against Toledo will probably decide the winner of the MAC West.
Another double-digit win total is not out of reach for Northern Illinois.
2. Toledo Rockets
Matt Campbell has done well at Toledo in his first three seasons. He has guided the Rockets to a winning record all three years and made two bowl appearances (1-1 record in those 2 games). Now is the time for him to put Toledo back in the MAC Championship game for the first time since 2004.
The offense has only 5 returning starters and have to replace the entire offensive line. That means the Rockets will lean heavily on the skill position players early on including the electric Kareem Hunt at running back. He ran for 1,631 yards and 16 touchdowns while averaging an astounding 8 yard per carry in 2014! Handing him the ball will most likely be former Alabama player Phillip Ely, who tore his ACL in the second game last season. The top two receivers return for Toledo and they will definitely help the offense continue to average over 30 points per game in 2015.
Toledo has 8 starters back on defense. Similar to the offense, there is an entire unit that needs to be replaced and that is at linebacker. The three projected starters made only 4 starts in 2014, but they will have plenty of experience around them on the defensive line and secondary. Defensive end Trent Voss was a machine last year by recording 77 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks, and intercepting one pass. This unit, despite the inexperience at linebacker, should help the Rockets contend in the MAC West.
Toledo has a difficult looking non-conference schedule (Stony Brook, at Arkansas, Iowa State, and Arkansas State), but could conceivably go 3-1 if they upset Iowa State and take care of Arkansas State. Toledo has a brutal ending to the regular season with a home game against Northern Illinois (Nov. 3) followed by back-to-back road games at Central Michigan (Nov. 10) and Bowling Green (Nov. 17). They end the season with Western Michigan at home on November 27. That four game stretch will ultimately decided where the Rockets finish in conference. Expect Toledo to go bowling again in 2015 and wins over Northern Illinois and Bowling Green could send them to the MAC Championship.
3. Western Michigan Broncos
The dark horse candidate in the MAC West division goes to Western Michigan. PJ Fleck is one of the up and coming coaches in the FBS and he has 16 starters returning from 2014. 9 of those starters are on offense including the MAC Freshman and MAC Offensive Player of the Year in running back JarvionFranklin. Franklin was a workhorse by accumulating 1,551 yards and 24 touchdowns on 306 carries, Quarterback Zach Terrell also returns after throwing for 3,443 yards (67.9%) with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The top 8 receivers also return for Western Michigan, which makes this unit dangerous against any defense.
The defense saw incredible improvement between year 1 and year 2 under Fleck. In 2013, the Broncos gave up 35.4 points and 419 yards per game with 7 returning starters. In 2014, those numbers were down to 24.9 points and 371 yards per game despite only five starters returning. 7 starters return for 2015 led by middle linebacker Grant DePalma. DePalma was second on the team in tackles with 102, recorded 5.5 tackles for loss, and had 2.5 sacks. There are some worries about the secondary (lost two big starters) that may hurt the Broncos on defense, but the defense should be fine overall.
The Broncos are probably staring at a 2-2 non-conference schedule with games against Michigan State, at Georgia Southern, Murray State, and at Ohio State. They have an incredibly tough conference schedule thanks to drawing Ohio (road) and Bowling Green (home) from the MAC East. They also have to play at Northern Illinois and at Toledo, which is why they are being placed behind them. It would be a surprise if the Broncos did not reach a bowl game in 2015.
4. Ball State Cardinals
Ball State has seen some success over the last decade. Brady Hoke led the Cardinals to back-to-back bowl games in 2007 and 2008 while current coach Pete Lembo did the same in 2012 and 2013. Ball State lost all four of those bowl games and are 0-7 all time in bowl games. What does 2015 have in store?
The offense returns 10 of its starters from last season. The one position they have to fill is a big one at running back. In 201, Jahwan Edwards ran for 1,252 yards and 12 touchdowns while helping out the inexperienced quarterbacks. Now it will be up to Jack Milas to help the inexperienced running back. Milas threw for 1,302 yards with 9 touchdowns and 5 interceptions as a redshirt freshman. The top three receivers return, which should make this offense potent.
On defense, Ball State has 8 starters coming back including their top five tacklers from 2014. The secondary is a slight concern with two starters gone, but the front seven appears to be the strong point of the defense. Linebackers Zach Ryan and Ben Ingle were #1 and #2 in tackles respectively in 2014 and will be raking in the tackles again in 2015. There may be some issues defending the pass in 2015, but with 8 total starters back the defense should be fine.
Ball State has their non-conference schedule strewn across the season. The open with VMI and a road trip to Texas A&M before starting MAC play. Between Texas A&M on September 12 and Northern Illinois on October 10, the Cardinals have 4 road games in 5 weeks. The one lone home game during that time? Toledo. The Cardinals end the season with back-to-back games against MAC East foes Ohio (road) and Bowling Green (home). It will not be an easy task for Ball State to reach 6 wins in 2015.
5. Central Michigan Chippewas
Central Michigan had a lot going for them in 2014. They returned 18 starters and were in year five of the Dan Enos era as well as some winnable non-conference games against Chattanooga, Purdue, Syracuse, and Kansas. They ended up splitting those 4 contests and finished 7-6 overall after a crushing last second loss in the Bahamas Bowl to Western Kentucky.
Enos is now gone and John Bonamego comes in with a tough task in his first season. Only five starters return on offense, but one of them is quarterback Cooper Rush. He threw for 3,157 yards (63.6%) with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. He will not have his first and third leading receivers from 2014 to throw to and will also be missing his starting running back. The offensive line does return three starters, but they will be hard-pressed to top their 27 points per game average of 2014.
Just like the offense, the defense only returns five starters from a unit that gave up 25.2 points and 355 yards per game in 2014. The strength will be up front with three of the four starters returning from a unit that allowed only 123 yards rushing per game. The entire linebacking unit has to be replaced and only two of the starters return in the secondary. The defense will probably perform much worse in comparison to last season.
The first year under a new head coach can be difficult especially when there are not a lot of starters returning. The Chippewas will face Oklahoma State and Monmouth at home to open the season before road games at Syracuse and Michigan State. They did not draw the most difficult opponents from the MAC East with Buffalo, Akron, and Kent State making appearances on the schedule. Still, this appears to be a rebuilding season for Central Michigan.
6. Eastern Michigan Eagles
2014 was not a good year for Eastern Michigan under the first year of head coach Chris Creighton. All of their losses were by at least double digits, but the Eagles were able to win 2 games against Morgan State and Buffalo. 2015 appears to have a better team for the Eagles, but will that translate on the field?
Offensively, five starters return from a team that averaged only 15.2 points and 290 yards per game in 2014. That can only improve especially with the dynamic Reggie Bell behind center. He is a dual threat quarterback who led the team in passing (1,297 yards with 8 touchdowns and 6 interceptions) and rushing (562 yards and 4 touchdowns). He loses his top target, but does have his #2 and #3 receivers from 2014 to throw to. With a year in the system complete, the offense can only do better.
There is plenty of room for improvement on defense, but 2014 was actually better than 2013. In 2013, the Eagles gave up 45.2 points and 511 yards per game with 5 starters returning. 2014 had 4 starters return and the Eagles gave up 40.9 points and 499 yards per game. 2015 should see those numbers continue to decline with 8 starters back. The front six in this 4-2-5 system looks like it will be better with all six coming back from last season. The back five only returns two starters, but adds in a former quarterback and two upperclassmen are expected to start. The defense will not be overwhelming, but there should be continued improvement over the past two seasons.
Eastern Michigan does not have the toughest non-conference schedule with games against Old Dominion (home), Wyoming (road), Army (home), and LSU (road), but it will be tough for them to eke out even a victory. From the MAC East, they do draw Akron, Miami (OH), and Massachusetts, which could provide a victory for them. 2015 is another year of rebuilding for Eastern Michigan.
Just like the MAC East, the West appears to be a two-horse race between Toledo and Northern Illinois. Western Michigan is a dark horse in this race, but their MAC schedule is brutal. They will probably make it to a bowl game while the bottom trio of Ball State, Central Michigan, and Eastern Michigan will battle to stay out of the cellar. Below is a recap of the predicted order of finish.
1. Northern Illinois
3. Western Michigan
4. Ball State
5. Central Michigan
6. Eastern Michigan
The predicted MAC Championship will be Ohio versus Northern Illinois. Northern Illinois will be selected as the preseason pick to win the MAC Championship.
Check back on Tuesday, July 7 to see the Mountain West Conference – Mountain Division Preview.