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Around the Big Ten, Week One — The good, the bad and the Illinois

Let’s recap a truly wild weekend of football, shall we?

Syndication: Journal Sentinel MARK HOFFMAN/MILWAUKEE JOURNAL SENTINEL via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Penn State’s big play ability helps them steal a win at Wisconsin

The game of 1,000 Twitter quips, as two upper-echelon-but-not-Ohio-State teams squared off at Camp Randall Stadium. The Badgers must have left this game full of regret in how they let this one slip away. Wisconsin ran an astounding 95 offensive plays compared to 51 for Penn State, and in time of possession they held a 42-to-18 minute edge over the Nittany Lions. A low-scoring grudge match during which the Wisco offense has the ball for over two-thirds of the game script this program traditionally follows to victory.

However, red zone incompetence via an untimely interception, a miscue on a routine handoff and a blocked field goal allowed the boom-bust nature off Penn State’s offense to win the day 16-10. Two of those three mistakes belonged directly to Graham Mertz, who has seen his prestige precipitously decline ever since his disastrous downfall in Evanston last year. That only grew worse on Saturday, as his missteps cost his team a very winnable game.

Don’t look now, but Iowa might be scary good

Had I told you that Michael Penix Jr. and Ty Fryfogle would finish as the leading passer and receiver in this contest, most would have thought the Hoosiers played a close game on the road, if not won outright. Yet turnovers and big plays are a cruel mistress. Just a minute in, Iowa landed a jab straight to the head with a perfect call that caught Indiana with too many of their 11 defenders on the wrong side of the field.

Just a minute later, an easy pass bounced off a receiver’s hands and gifted the Hawkeyes a pick six and a 14-0 lead. Indiana was almost able to hold on with just over five minutes left in the first half, but Iowa was able to convert and 4th & 2 to keep an eventual touchdown drive alive, which was then followed by a horrible misread from Penix that cost him his second pick six on the day. Add it all up, and you get a 28-3 halftime lead for the black and gold despite only having outgunned their opponents by 81 yards up to that point.

While most came away from this result having concluded that Indiana is clearly an overrated mess, I lean the other way. Sure, the Hoosiers have problems, but Iowa has a very real claim as the second best team in the conference right now. They only lost two games last year by a combined five points, and have done nothing but pound their opponents to a a pulp ever since falling to Northwestern in Iowa City last year, making their matchup this week with No. 9 Iowa State all the more enticing.

Maryland 30, West Virginia 24

Honestly the best game from a pure entertainment standpoint of the entire Big Ten slate, as the Terps got a quality win over the Mountaineers at home. After Maryland went up 17-7 early in the second quarter, West Virginia roared back behind a long kickoff return and a drive right before half to enter the break up 21-17 (of note, Maryland gave up not one, not two, but THREE long kickoff returns on Saturday that nearly cost them the game, a small error that the team needs to clean up moving forward).

Behind multiple well put together drives and a deep shot touchdown to Rakim Jarrett, the Terrapins were able to complete a miniature comeback and escape with the win. Taulia Tagavailoa has grown a lot since his horrific debut vs. the ‘Cats last season. The sophomore quarterback finished the game 26-for-36 for 332 yards through the air and three touchdowns, and was willing to air the ball out through traffic over the middle of the field while also putting good touch on said intermediate throws, a necessity against the many good defenses he’ll face.

Maryland also saw good production from the lone senior starting on their defense, as defensive end Sam Okuayinonu flashed multiple times throughout, first with a bruising sack in the first half, and later with a TFL on a critical third down early in the third quarter, during which he absolutely dusted the West Virginia right tackle with his hands and speed.

There’s still a long road ahead, but Maryland football might finally be trending in the right direction.

Purdue 30, Oregon State 21 in a game meant for the sickos

There is no way it should have been legal for these two nonsensical programs with such a history for making chaotic football a normality this late on the first Saturday night of the college football season. That’s how you get whatever the heck this is.

The score was locked at 13-7 Boilermakers for a long while before both offenses opened up, with the Beavers routinely playing catch up and failing in the fourth quarter.

Purdue had several positives throughout the night, such as a stellar performance from kicker Mitchell Fineran (3-for-3 on kicks from 48-, 39- and 22-yards away), a breakout performance from tight end Payne Durham (seven catches, 120 receiving yards and two touchdowns, aided by some very shaky late game defense from OSU) and the ever intimidating play of George Karlaftis. No. 5 in black continually got into the Beavers’ backfield, and made one of the biggest plays of the night when he blew up a crucial fourth down attempt despite the offense specifically trying to run away from the monstrous defensive end.

After some pegged him as a Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year candidate entering the last two seasons, the junior has kickstarted his campaign quite well.

Rutgers has some moxie now?

Not actually as bad of a beatdown as the final score of 61-26 indicated, but an impressive showing from the Scarlet Knights nonetheless. The Rutgers offense was pretty dormant early on, but regardless, a 26-0 lead was established after:

  • Terrible pocket management from Temple D’Wan Mathis resulted in a safety and a 2-0 Rutgers lead.
  • An interception that bounced right off a receiver’s hands set RU up inside the five-yard line before they punched it in and went up 12-0.
  • A fumble on the freaking kickoff again let Rutgers start inside their opponent’s red zone. Make that 19-0.
  • Temple somehow coughing the ball up again just three plays into their next drive, handing Noah Vedral and the Rutgers’ offense another short field from the 23-yard line. That’s how you get a 26-0 lead despite the winners only having 116 yards of total offense up to that point in the game.

The Owls made it 26-14 at half with some solid play, but more miscues led to a 35-0 blowout in the second half as Rutgers cruised to their 47-point win.

Let’s give credit where credit is due, however, as this Greg Schiano-led team displayed confidence and fire that has been missing during the program’s time in the Big Ten. A third-string running back should not have thirst for violence so late in a game, yet Kyle Monangai had no regard for human life last Saturday and committed near murder on the field, leveling No. 28 on Temple on his path to the end zone.

Rutgers ... might be good?

Time to laugh at Illinois (HAT)

The actual story of this game is that UTSA is full of talent with an NFL-caliber running back, a quarterback possessing both a big arm and fluid movement skills and entered Champaign with a great gameplan to steal the victory.

But that logic does not fit the narrative we desire, and thus must be false. Illinois is bad and they lost to a team called the Roadrunners.

One thing that stuck out was how Bret Bielema’s squad kept spamming the same passing concept over and over again — two receivers stacked to the left, with a third going from right to left via a jet motion into a wheel route. It’s a fine play call, and one that got them an important touchdown after going behind 14-0 early.

However, UTSA caught onto their over reliance and was able to disrupt this play by sitting on it with multiple defenders several times in the later portions of the game, including this crucial third down attempt with Illinois trailing by six.

Overall, UTSA’s RPO-heavy scheme and fast-paced attack was better executed than the Illini’s slow, methodical form of attack, and the orange & blue don’t quite have the talent needed to overcome getting outschemed by a Group of 5 opponent. HAT baby.