Big Ten Recap: Michigan, the Sick Man of the Midwest

By Nicholas Jervey on September 28, 2014 at 7:15 am
Indiana couldn't defend Hep's Rock against Maryland.

Following last week's excellence, most of the Big Ten played their first conference games in Week 5. Among other things, Maryland made a successful debut, Northwestern spoiled Penn State's undefeated dreams and Minnesota ensured that 2014 will be Brady Hoke's last year at Michigan. With the exception of Iowa games, there's nary a dull moment in the Big Ten.

Minnesota 30, Michigan 14

Minnesota took advantage of many Michigan miscues to win the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 2005.

Coming into this game, Michigan was nearly a two-touchdown favorite, but new starting quarterback Shane Morris struggled tremendously and the offense couldn't move at all. In the third quarter, the Golden Gophers converted excellent field position and consecutive Wolverine turnovers into a 27-7 lead, and the rout was on.

Last week was supposed to be the nadir for Michigan sports; this week was worse. For example:

Minnesota dominated Michigan in every dimension.
The Gophers reclaimed the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 2005.
  • After outgaining its first four opponents, Michigan was outgained 373-171 by Minnesota.

  • The Wolverines ran only 24 plays in the first half.

  • Michigan's turnover margin is -12, worst in the Big Ten.

  • When the PA announcer claimed 102,000 fans were in attendance (thus keeping Michigan Stadium's 100,000+ attendance streak alive), Wolverine fans booed the obviously fraudulent number.

  • Michigan fans chanted “Fire [Dave] Brandon” during the game, perhaps the first time a football crowd has prioritized firing the athletic director over the head coach.

  • Brady Hoke put a woozy, limping Shane Morris back on the field after being concussed.

The last bullet point is by far the worst. Letting a player with a concussion (and a likely ankle sprain to boot) back on the field is reprehensible, a fireable offense. Were it Rich Rodriguez and not Hoke in this position, the Detroit media would have excoriated him. At 2-3 with road trips to Ohio State and Michigan State remaining, Brady Hoke's goose is cooked. The only question is if Dave Brandon goes down with him.

It is unfortunate for Minnesota that its performance is overshadowed by Michigan's immolation. With Mitch Leidner and Maxx Williams back from injury the Golden Gophers have a semblance of a passing game, making them more formidable on offense. Next up are three gimme games in a row (Northwestern, Purdue, at Illinois). Jerry Kill, the one good MAC coach in the Big Ten, will have Minnesota in the top 25 before long.

Northwestern 29, Penn State 6

In the most surprising upset of conference play to date, Northwestern capitalized on numerous Penn State miscues to mar the Nittany Lions' undefeated record in Happy Valley.

Although the Wildcats took a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, it was assumed that Christian Hackenberg would lead a comeback win. But Penn State could manage only two field goals through three quarters, and consecutive turnovers in the fourth quarter (including a pick-six) drove PSU to its doom.

Aside from Donovan Smith, Penn State's offensive line is green and terrible. Hackenberg is spotty, and the running backs aren't offensive threats. How will the Nittany Lions improve? By not blocking each other, for one.

aka "Pulling a Florida"

While it wasn't a great offensive or special teams performance, Northwestern was opportunistic. The Wildcats defense was amped up, and the front seven destroyed Penn State's hapless offensive line. Please keep your thoughts with Matthew Harris, the Northwestern cornerback who sustained a serious neck or head injury in a collision with Hackenberg and had to be carted out.

Rutgers 31, Tulane 6

Rutgers learned in the lead-up to the Tulane game that starting running back Paul James would miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL. They showed no need of him on Saturday, as the Scarlet Knights put away the Green Wave with little trouble.

NovaWatch: Did Gary Nova keep Rutgers from winning? No, he didn't! He had three early touchdowns, threw a fourth and became Rutgers' all-time career leader in touchdown passes. Well done, Gary.

No. 9 Michigan State 56, Wyoming 14

Continuing its run as the Big Ten's most consistent team, Michigan State ended its nonconference slate with a blowout of Wyoming. Jeremy Langford rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown, while backup QB Tyler O'Connor ran for a touchdown and passed for another.

If there are any nitpicks for the Spartans, it's allowing a long touchdown run and 7.8 yards per pass. Even so there's little doubt who the Big Ten favorite is after five weeks.

No. 21 Nebraska 45, Illinois 14

Make me.
Nebraska wants you to fear Ameer.

Nebraska entered its prime time game against Illinois as the Big Ten's last undefeated team. The Cornhuskers ran all over the Illini to stay that way.

Illinois put up a fight in the first half, but it was quickly overwhelmed. Ameer Abdullah had 208 of Nebraska's 458 rushing yards and scored the Cornhuskers' first three touchdowns. Illinois made it 28-14 with a long Geronimo Allison touchdown reception, but Nebraska scored the last 17 points of the blowout.

The game must have been frustrating for Illini fans, who have seen marginal improvement in year three of Tim Beckman. At least they have a really good punter.

Iowa 24, Purdue 10

In an ugly game both teams deserved to lose, Iowa begrudgingly accepted a road win at Purdue.

The Boilermakers struck first with a pick-six by Frankie Williams and a field goal to go up 10-0, but nobody on Purdue's anemic offense (2.3 yards per pass, 2.8 yards per rush) besides Akeem Hunt could do a single thing to protect the lead. Behind new starting quarterback C.J. Beathard, even Iowa's plodding attack was more than enough to post the last 24 points of the game. Throw the tape of this game down the memory hole and burn it.

No. 19 Wisconsin 27, South Florida 10

Wisconsin sleepwalked for most of the first half, but they came around to beat South Florida.

Melvin Gordon continued to stake a claim as Big Ten MVP, rushing for 181 yards and two touchdowns. Alex Erickson had six catches for 91 yards, and the Badgers turned a boring 3-3 halftime tie into an iffy win. You'll have to excuse me if I'm not impressed by their offense; slow down Gordon and Corey Clement (easier said than done) and Tanner McEvoy can't beat you.

Maryland 37, Indiana 15

B1G Power Rankings, Week 5
School W-L rank prev
Nebraska 5-0 (1-0) 1 2
Michigan State 3-1 2 3
Maryland 4-1 (1-0) 3 6
Minnesota 4-1 (1-0) 4 11
Ohio State 3-1 5 4
Rutgers 4-1 (0-1) 6 9
Wisconsin 3-1 7 5
Northwestern 2-2 (1-0) 8 12
Iowa 4-1 (1-0) 9 8
Indiana 2-2 (0-1) 10 1
Illinois 3-2 (0-1) 11 13
Penn State 4-1 (1-1) 12 7
Michigan 2-3 (0-1) 13 14
Purdue 2-3 (0-1) 14 10

Indiana would have liked to follow up on last week's statement win over Missouri, but C.J. Brown and Caleb Rowe combined for 361 passing yards as Maryland brushed the Hoosiers aside to win its first-ever Big Ten game.

Even with injuries to the offense, the Terrapins have been one of the most consistent Big Ten teams so far (one pass defense meltdown against West Virginia aside). Their home game next week against Ohio State will demonstrate where in the conference's pecking order they fall. And with three road wins to date, Maryland is the senior day opponent nobody wants to play.

For Indiana, it's back to the drawing board. The defense had coverage breakdowns all day, Nate Sudfeld's throws were erratic, two touchdowns were called back on penalties and the team MVP was placekicker Griffin Oakes – never a good sign for the offense. On the bright side, Tevin Coleman kept his streak of games with 100+ rushing yards alive and the Hoosiers still have several gimme games to get to bowl eligibility.

That does it for Week 5. I'll see you around for Week 6, where Nebraska-Michigan State is the undisputed game of the week.

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