So much went on in the Big Ten this week that it was easy to forget Nebraska had the conference’s first canceled game of the season.
The first game of the Big Ten slate featuring Minnesota and Maryland is what I’d briefly like to expand upon before we jump into this week’s power rankings. I’ll be the first to admit when I’m wrong, and man was I wrong about the Golden Gophers’ prospects entering this year.
As it turns out, losing seven defensive starters from a year ago cannot be overshadowed by an effective offense. Minnesota learned that the hard way in its 45-44 overtime loss to the Terrapins last Friday, as head coach PJ Fleck’s squad showed glaring deficiencies in all phases of the game.
Minnesota’s offense stalled at both the beginning and end of the game, allowing the Terrapins to open up an early 14-0 lead after a long Maryland scoring drive on the first drive of the game led to a Minnesota three-and-out, followed by another quick Terrapin score. Leading 38-21 in the fourth quarter, Minnesota’s offense again couldn’t stay on the field, giving Maryland the opportunity to score 17 unanswered points and send the game into overtime.
Things were much worse defensively, as Minnesota gave up 675 total yards to sophomore quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa and the Maryland offense — the same offense that mustered just three points in week one against Northwestern. The Golden Gophers also couldn’t stop the run, as senior running back Jake Funk ran for 221 yards and a touchdown.
As alluded to earlier, Minnesota’s defense imploded late in the game to blow a 38-21 fourth-quarter lead. How Minnesota ultimately lost Friday’s game was through special teams, an area in which it struggled mightily in their week one loss to Michigan as well. The unit did perform better against Maryland, but sophomore kicker Brock Walker missed what would’ve been the game-tying extra point in overtime to clinch a shocking defeat for the Golden Gophers.
My point is this: Minnesota is nowhere near the Big Ten West contender I imagined it being at the beginning of the year. And thanks to the other results in the division this weekend, the west is quickly shaping into a free-for-all where multiple teams have a chance to vie for a place in the conference championship game.
Let’s take a look around the conference and see where things stand in this week’s Big Ten power rankings.
1. Ohio State Buckeyes (2-0)
Ho-hum, another dominant performance by the No. 3 Buckeyes.
Ohio State was in command for all four quarters in a 38-25 road victory over then-No. 18 Penn State last Saturday night. Junior quarterback Justin Fields had another spectacular performance while getting his Heisman Trophy campaign off the ground, completing 28-of-34 passes for 318 yards and four touchdowns.
The Buckeye running back core, specifically sophomore running back Master Teague III, found much more success on the ground than they did in week one against Nebraska. Teague had 23 carries for 110 yards and a touchdown, while senior running back Trey Sermon carried the ball 13 times for 56 yards.
Junior wide receiver Chris Olave and sophomore wide receiver Garrett Wilson both had productive outings for the second consecutive week. Olave had seven catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns, while Wilson and Fields connected 11 times for 111 yards.
Defensively, the Buckeyes limited Penn State to 44 rushing yards, compared to the Buckeyes’ 208. In a conference centered around running the ball, a dominant performance like that from Ohio State’s front seven can spell trouble for future opponents.
Ohio State hosts Rutgers this week, looking to build on its strong start. The game kicks off at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday, and the game can be seen on Big Ten Network.
2. Wisconsin Badgers (1-0)
Maybe the decision to cancel last Saturday’s game against Nebraska was a good call.
Wisconsin’s COVID-19 outbreak is now up to 22 players and staff members, according to Badger athletic director Barry Alvarez. The Badgers’ scheduled game this weekend against Purdue could be in jeopardy, and as of now it’s unknown whether or not the game will be played.
How this interruption will impact Wisconsin is still yet to be seen, but the No. 10 Badgers are still a very good team with serious Big Ten Championship ambitions. If Wisconsin can play this weekend, Saturday’s home contest with Purdue kicks off at 2:30 p.m. on ABC.
3. Indiana Hoosiers (2-0)
Everybody expected Ohio State to be undefeated through its first two games. Almost nobody expected Indiana to be right with the Buckeyes in the standings.
The Hoosiers are undefeated after a dominant defensive performance sparked a 37-21 road victory over Rutgers. Indiana’s defense intercepted former Nebraska quarterback and current Rutgers senior Noah Vedral three times and held him to just 130 passing yards.
Indiana sophomore quarterback Michael Penix Jr. was much more efficient than he was in the Hoosiers’ week one victory over Penn State, completing 17-of-26 passes for 238 yards and three touchdowns against the Scarlet Knights. He added 20 yards and a score on the ground. Senior wide receiver Whop Philyor was Penix’s favorite target on the afternoon, catching five passes for 137 yards.
Sophomore kicker Charles Campbell rounded out an impressive afternoon in all three phases of the game, making all three of his field goals and all four of his extra points.
The No. 13 Hoosiers look impressive through two weeks, but head coach Tom Allen’s team gets their first real test this weekend. Indiana hosts No. 23 Michigan on Saturday at 11 a.m. on FS1. A win would further cement Indiana as a serious player in the Big Ten East and adds a lot of importance to their meeting with the Buckeyes on Nov. 21.
4. Northwestern Wildcats (2-0)
Last Saturday’s game at Iowa could not have started worse for head coach Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats.
Northwestern found itself down 17-0 in the first quarter after a slow start on offense coupled with a fumble by junior running back Isaiah Bowser allowed the Hawkeyes to race out to an early advantage. From there, Northwestern’s rushing attack and defense took over.
The Wildcats got back in the game in the second quarter by going on two touchdown-scoring drives that lasted about six minutes each. Senior wide receiver Kyric McGowan capped off the first of such drives with a 3-yard touchdown run to make it a 17-7 Iowa lead, and senior running back Jesse Brown finished off the second with a 1-yard run to cut Iowa’s lead to 20-14 before halftime.
In the second half, Northwestern’s defense intercepted Hawkeye sophomore quarterback Spencer Petras three times while shutting out Iowa’s offense. A 3-yard touchdown run from Brown in the third quarter proved to be the deciding score, as the Wildcat defense was able to do just enough to emerge from Iowa City with a 21-20 victory.
Northwestern senior quarterback Peyton Ramsey turned in a below-average performance, completing 11-of-18 passes for 130 yards and an interception, but it was enough to help deliver a massive result in the hierarchy of the Big Ten West.
The Wildcats have a critical three-game stretch upcoming, and it starts with a home game on Saturday against Nebraska at 11 a.m. on BTN.
5. Purdue Boilermakers (2-0)
Purdue does deserve credit for its 31-24 victory over Illinois last Saturday, but it comes with an asterisk, as the Illini were without senior starting quarterback Brandon Peters, who tested positive for COVID-19.
Still, Purdue rode a strong offensive and defensive performance to a 31-10 lead over Illinois by the end of the third quarter. The Illini responded with two touchdowns in the game’s final quarter and were approaching the game-tying score on the game’s final drive, but the Boilermaker defense stopped Illinois in the red zone to preserve the victory.
Boilermaker junior quarterback Aidan O’Connell starred, completing 29-of-35 passes for 371 yards and two touchdowns, while junior running back Zach Horvath and sophomore wide receiver David Bell had productive outings for the second game in a row. Horvath totaled 22 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown, while Bell hauled in nine passes for 122 yards and a score.
Purdue’s defense forced four Illinois turnovers, all four by Illinois sophomore quarterback Coran Taylor. Taylor fumbled twice, one of which was returned for a Purdue touchdown, and tossed two interceptions. The Boilermakers rode a strong defensive performance to victory, but they were perhaps aided by facing Taylor instead of the more experienced Peters.
Regardless of circumstance the Boilermakers are still undefeated, and they will look to continue their strong start to the season when they host Wisconsin on Saturday.
6. Michigan Wolverines (1-1)
Head coach Jim Harbaugh’s squad looked much more human last Saturday against Michigan State.
The Wolverines dropped the Paul Bunyan Trophy and the game in a 27-24 defeat in which Michigan looked flat. It’s almost never a good sign when a team’s quarterback throws the ball more than 50 times, and Wolverine junior quarterback Joe Milton did just that on Saturday.
Michigan could not finish drives and was playing catch-up for a majority of the game. Michigan’s defense, meanwhile, could not slow down the connection between Spartans junior quarterback Rocky Lombardi and freshman wide receiver Ricky White.
Lombardi completed 17-of-32 passes for 323 yards and three touchdowns. White hauled in eight of those passes for 196 yards and a touchdown. Michigan’s secondary struggled mightily against a Spartan passing attack that had its own issues in a week one defeat to Rutgers. Michigan also didn’t force a turnover after forcing two in its week one victory over Minnesota and after the Spartans turned the ball seven times against the Scarlet Knights.
The No. 23 Wolverines will look to rebound on Saturday, but it won’t be easy against No. 13 Indiana.
7. Penn State Nittany Lions (0-2)
The Nittany Lions remained winless after a 38-25 loss to Ohio State last Saturday, but I’m confident that Penn State can beat the remaining teams below it on this list.
Ohio State and Indiana are both top-15 teams, and while Penn State may not be on that level yet, losses to two quality sides don’t necessarily equate with a big slide in the power rankings. What is concerning, however, is the Nittany Lions’ rushing attack. With crippling injuries to junior running back Journey Brown (out indefinitely with a medical condition) and sophomore running back Noah Cain (out for the season with a leg injury), Penn State has had to dig deep into the rotation.
Penn State, most likely due to the fact it found itself trailing for a majority of the game against the Buckeyes, totaled just 44 yards on the ground. Sophomore running back Devyn Ford, who will likely see an increased role the remainder of the season with both Brown and Cain out, carried the ball eight times for 36 yards.
The blame for last Saturday’s loss can be pointed towards an abysmal defensive effort, as Penn State gave up 526 total yards to the Buckeyes. As a result, the Nittany Lions are off to their worst start to a season since 2012.
Head coach James Franklin’s squad will look to right the ship when they host Maryland on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. on BTN.
8. Maryland Terrapins (1-1)
Two things are true regarding the Terrapins’ 45-44 upset victory over Minnesota last Friday.
The first is that the Golden Gophers blew it, specifically on the defensive end. Minnesota had every chance imaginable to bury the Terrapins after going up 38-21 on the road, and failed to do so. The second is that Tagovailoa was absolutely spectacular, turning in a gutsy performance to lead the Terrapins to a victory.
Tagovailoa completed 26-of-35 passes for 394 yards and three touchdowns, adding 59 yards and two touchdowns on the ground — including Maryland’s lone touchdown in overtime. Funk averaged 10.5 yards per carry and ran for the game-tying score in the fourth quarter, while junior wide receiver Dontay Demus Jr. and sophomore wide receiver Jeshaun Jones both eclipsed 100 receiving yards.
While the Terrapins did notch a nice victory, I have my concerns about them on the defensive side of the ball. Maryland won without forcing a Minnesota turnover, and Golden Gopher junior running back Mohamed Ibrahim carried the ball 41 times for 207 yards and four touchdowns.
Maryland will not be able to win many more games if the defense cannot stop the run, and it’s unclear whether or not the Terrapins will be able to replicate this sort of victory against other teams in the conference. The Terrapins will be a massive underdog for the second consecutive week this Saturday, when they visit winless Penn State.
9. Michigan State Spartans (1-1)
It’s hard to play worse than first-year head coach Mel Tucker’s squad did two Saturdays ago against Rutgers, but the Spartans responded perfectly against Michigan.
Michigan State didn’t turn the ball over against its rivals after turning the ball over seven times against Rutgers. Lombardi and White both turned in impressive performances against a beleaguered Wolverine secondary, and perhaps most importantly, Michigan State’s defense was able to prevent Michigan’s offense from finishing drives with points.
One such example of this was perhaps one of the most critical drives of the game. Michigan State missed a 40-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter after a 10-play, 75-yard drive. The Spartans could’ve taken a 23-17 lead, instead the Wolverines faced a 3-point deficit with a chance to take the lead.
Michigan State’s defense stopped Milton and the Wolverine offense at midfield to force a punt, and Michigan State went on an 11-play, 92-yard touchdown drive to put the game out of reach. Michigan State’s 27-24 victory was an impressive bounce-back showing, and the Spartans will look to build on their momentum on Saturday at Iowa.
Michigan State’s contest with the Hawkeyes kicks off at 11 a.m. on ESPN.
10. Iowa Hawkeyes (0-2)
Things are falling apart for head coach Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes.
Iowa blew a 17-point first-quarter lead in its 21-20 loss to Northwestern last Saturday, and the Hawkeyes are now 0-2 for the first time since 2000. Like Milton and the Wolverines, Petras attempted 50 passes in a losing effort. He completed 26-of-50 attempts for 216 yards, one touchdown and three second-half interceptions that ultimately contributed to the Hawkeyes’ demise.
The Hawkeyes rushed for just 77 total yards and were nothing short of inept offensively in the second half, as the Hawkeyes failed to score after leading 20-14 at halftime. To make matters worse, one of the Hawkeyes’ most dynamic offensive players, senior wide receiver Ihmir Smith-Marsette, was arrested the next day on a charge of operating a vehicle while intoxicated. Ferentz suspended Smith-Marsette for Saturday’s game with Michigan State, which has become a must-win for the reeling Hawkeyes.
Rest of the Big Ten
11. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (1-1)
12. Nebraska Huskers (0-1)
13. Minnesota Golden Gophers (0-2)
14. Illinois Fighting Illini (0-2)