I’ve always loved when teams run the ball.
A beautifully placed pass or an amazing catch are impressive, sure, but nothing beats a soul-crushing run.
When the offensive line manhandles the defensive front, the running back finds the exact right hole, or a great juke — that to me is the beauty of football.
In middle school, my football coach had an offensive philosophy: “Run the ball down their throats until they are sick of it, and then run the ball some more.”
While I certainly don’t expect college football teams to adhere to the same offensive principles as a middle school football team, this approach always struck a chord with me.
When the Huskers joined the Big Ten, I was excited for what changes I might see. Forget the spread offenses and five wide receiver sets of the Big 12, here comes good ole smash-mouth football.
I sure didn’t care when Texas Tech would play Oklahoma State and put up gaudy scores like 52-45.
I grew up watching 11 a.m. Big Ten games on ESPN, where Wisconsin would beat Minnesota 13-10 with 20 total pass attempts between both the teams.
But when I look at the scope of the Big Ten now, it feels like it has lost its identity.
The perfect example of this is the game between Ohio State and Indiana on Thursday, Aug. 31. I can hardly imagine what legendary Big Ten coaches like Woody Hayes would think watching that game.
The Buckeyes ran the ball well, gaining 292 yards on 51 carries. The Hoosiers, however, had a grand total of 17 rushing yards in the game. Indiana’s quarterback, Richard Lagow, racked up 68 pass attempts, a new school record.
To be fair to Indiana, perhaps that was the best strategy to beat a tough, top-ranked opponent.
However, against Louisville, Purdue adapted a similar strategy, rushing for 51 yards and throwing 57 attempted passes.
Illinois squeaked by Ball State with 71 rushing yards, although they only gained 216 yards in total.
Some teams, like Northwestern and Minnesota, gained respectable rushing totals but were dwarfed in comparison to their passing numbers.
It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Michigan State ran the ball 46 times for 215 yards, Penn State ran it 34 times for 246 yards, Wisconsin ran 45 times for 234 yards and Nebraska ran it 38 times for 225 yards.
Nonetheless, all these results came against opponents that were heavy underdogs, like Bowling Green, Akron, Utah State and Arkansas State.
Come conference play, I fear the high-powered rushing attack will disappear and teams will adopt similar strategies to Indiana.
As teams across the country began to throw the ball more and more, the Big Ten was perhaps the last holdout.
The crisp, cold morning air, the fearless middle linebackers, but most of all the powerful running game is what I love in the conference.
It makes the Big Ten distinctly unique from any other conference in the country.
At least, it used to.