Big Ten Recap: Penn State and Michigan State Flex for the East Division, and Maryland Bags Its Annual Non-Conference Prey in the First Full Weekend of Football

By Jason Priestas on September 5, 2021 at 7:50 am
Penn State wide receiver Jahan Dotson
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

The fans are back.

And let me tell you how great it was to see them again. Even “Mayo Man.”

Behold, Jump Around in Madison:

For the first time in 20 months, college football felt real again. The fans, the bands, the sounds, and the sights – everything about this amazingly dumb sport we all love so much.

In our own backyard, all 14 Big Ten teams saw action over the weekend with the added bonus of two top-20 conference matchups in the opening week of the season.

It was the realest Saturday I've experienced in a long time. Let's get to it!

No. 19 Penn State 16, No. 12 Wisconsin 10

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
#19 PENN STATE 0 0 7 9 16
#12 WISCONSIN 0 0 7 3 10

Ten months ago, Penn State lost their season opener in overtime at Indiana. They went on to lose their next four games, too, starting 0–5 for the first time in program history.

It wasn't always pretty. In fact, it was rarely pretty, but the No. 19 Nittany Lions knocked off No. 12 Wisconsin on the road, 16-10, to flip last year's script and end the Badgers' 25-game winning streak in home openers.

The game didn't see its first points until nearly three minutes into the third quarter, becoming the first Big Ten game to enter halftime scoreless since Michigan-Northwestern in 2014 and prompting “Big N0-0N Saturday” jokes. In the end, Penn State had a Jahan Dotson, and Wisconsin has a quarterback in Graham Mertz who has regressed since throwing five touchdowns and completing 95.2% of his passes in his first game as a true freshman last year.

Dotson, who you may remember for going off against Shaun Wade last season, finished with five catches for 102 yards and a touchdown. His 49-yarder was good for the first points of the game, and his 42-yard haul in the fourth quarter led to a Noah Cain touchdown for the game's final points.

Mertz, meanwhile, finished 22 of 37 for 185, two fumbles (one of which he lost), and two costly fourth-quarter interceptions.

After witnessing his team earn just one first down in the entire first half, James Franklin was feeling the win.

Next: Penn State (1–0) vs. Ball State (1–0), Wisconsin (0–1) vs. Eastern Michigan (1–0)

No. 18 Iowa 34, No. 17 Indiana 6

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
#17 INDIANA 3 0 3 0 6
#18 IOWA 14 17 0 3 34

If Iowa houses a first-quarter interception at Kinnick, the visiting team is going to have a bad day. Don't ask me about it, but please take my word for it.

And that's exactly what happened to No. 17 Indiana on the road at No. 18 Iowa. Hawkeye cornerback Riley Moss made it 14-0, Iowa, with a 30-yard pick-six on Indiana's third play of the game, and the Hawkeyes never looked back, jumping out to a 31-0 halftime lead before coasting to a 34-6 win.

Ross would record another pick-six, a 56-yarder in the second quarter, as the Hawkeye defense hounded Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. into a 3-of-10 start and three picks on a rough 14-of-31 afternoon.

About that Iowa defense, they've now held 23-straight opponents to 24 points or fewer, the longest such streak in the Big Ten in more than 30 years.

“Indinia” knew it was trouble from the start.

Next: Iowa (1–0) at Iowa State (1–0), Indiana (0–1) vs. Idaho (1–0)

Maryland 30, West Virginia 24

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
WEST VIRGINIA 14 7 0 3 24
MARYLAND 17 3 0 10 30

In 2016, they topped UCF. In 2017 and 2018, Maryland beat ranked Texas teams in the first month of the season. Two years ago, the Terrapins knocked off No. 21 Syracuse in September. In each of those seasons, Maryland would spiral to a losing record, unable to capitalize on those crabbing season hype shots.

Saturday, the Terps notched the Big Ten's biggest non-conference win of the early season, rallying to beat West Virginia, 30-24.

The story of the day was big plays on both sides of the ball for Maryland. Taulia Tagovailoa threw for 332 yards, Tayon Fleet-Davis rushed for 123, and Dontay Demus Jr. and Rakin Jarrett finished with 133 and 122 yards receiving, respectively. Just as importantly, the Terps finished plus-four in the turnover battle and made a habit of living in West Virginia's backfield, notching three sacks and five TFLs.

Only time will tell if this is a New Maryland. If it is, the Big Ten East is going to be a grind.

Next: Maryland (1–0) vs. Howard (0–1)

Michigan State 38, Northwestern 21

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
MICHIGAN STATE 14 7 7 10 38
NORTHWESTERN 0 7 0 14 21

Approximately 31 people outside of East Lansing could tell you who Kenneth Walker III was prior to Friday night's game between Michigan State and Northwestern.

On Walker's first touch of the night, the Wake Forest transfer introduced himself to Big Ten fans.

And he kept introducing himself to the tune of 264 yards on 23 runs – a ridiculous 11.5 yards per attempt – and four touchdowns. Walker's big evening helped Sparty jump out to a 21-0 first-half lead in Evanston as Michigan State put up 511 yards of total offense in a game that was never really close.

Next: Michigan State (1–0) vs. Youngstown State (1–0), Northwestern (0–1) vs. Indiana State (1–0)

Michigan 47, Western Michigan 14

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
W. MICHIGAN 7 0 0 7 14
MICHIGAN 10 17 6 14 47

In Pi (1998), Darren Aronofsky's big-screen directorial debut, mathematician Max Cohen repeatedly states his assumptions:

One, Mathematics is the language of nature. Two, Everything around us can be represented and understood through numbers. Three: If you graph the numbers of any system, patterns emerge. Therefore, there are patterns everywhere in nature. Evidence: The cycling of disease epidemics; the wax and wane of caribou populations; sun spot cycles; the rise and fall of the Nile.

Every September, Michigan fan optimism is the wax in caribou populations of sports and the hopium is flowing freely after the Wolverines beat down Western Michigan, 47-14, in its home opener Saturday. Here's why:

  • Cade McNamara looked like a real quarterback, finishing 9 of 11 for 136 yards and two touchdowns, highlighted by a 76-yard bomb to Ronnie Bell to put UM up 17-7 six minutes into the second quarter.
  • Freshman quarterback J.J. McCarthy, the highest-rated QB Harbaugh has ever convinced to go to school in Ann Arbor, looked capable, completing 4 of 6, the best of which was a 69-yard laser in which he seemed to think the deep ball is always open if he throws it hard enough:
  • At one point, Michigan reeled off 40-straight points against the Broncos.
  • Two Wolverines scored touchdowns of 70 or more yards for the first time since 2010. 2010!
  • Michigan finished with 550 yards of total offense, the most for the program since November of 2016.

But it wasn't all sunshine up north. Bell, Michigan's top receiver in each of the last two seasons, was injured on a 31-yard punt return in the second quarter and was carted off the field.

Next: Michigan (1–0) vs. Washington (0–1)

Rutgers 61, Temple 14

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
TEMPLE 0 7 7 0 14
RUTGERS 12 14 14 21 61

Is Rutgers back?

Folks, Greg Schiano is on earth for one reason and that's to build Rutgers football into the hard-nosed, best version of itself. Last year, in the first season of Schiano's encore at Rutgers, his team won as many games in one pandemic-shortened season as the program had managed to win in the last two full seasons. We all left last season thinking Rutgers is working its way back.

Saturday's 61-14 drubbing of Temple has me thinking they might be back – Rutgers Back at least – sooner than I thought they'd be. Sure it's Temple, but you know, it's also Rutgers, too.

The Scarlet Knights jumped out to a very baseball 5-0 lead before ripping off eight touchdowns over the final three quarters and change to blow out the Owls, topping 60 points against an FBS opponent for the first since Schiano's first stint with the program, way back in 2008.

One time Ohio State quarterback commit D'Wan Mathis had a bad afternoon, hassled by Rutgers to the tune of 8 of 25 for 148, and a costly first-quarter interception that led to the Knights' first touchdown.

Rutgers Back™ or not, Alabama may want to keep an eye on this team.

Next: Rutgers (1–0) at Syracuse (1–0)

UTSA 37, Illinois 30

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
UTSA 7 13 3 14 37
ILLINOIS 0 14 3 13 30

If you're keeping track, Bret Bielema's honeymoon with the Fighting Illini lasted a little over one week.

Eight days after upsetting Nebraska with a backup quarterback, Illinois fell at home to UTSA, 37-30, handing the Roadrunners the program's second-ever win against a Power Five opponent.

UTSA jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the second and led for the duration, holding on for the win after Illinois' 4th-and-25 heave into the end zone at the final whistle went incomplete.

The Conference USA favorite Roadrunners piled up nearly 500 yards of offense and repeatedly killed the Illini defense with third-down conversions.

“Defensively we just couldn't get off the field on third down,” Bielema acknowledged after the game. “That was probably the tale of the game. Just put ourselves in third-down situations and they kept converting. That was probably the single most frustrating part.”

Meep! Meep!

Next: Illinois (1–1) at Virginia (1–0)

Purdue 30, Oregon State 21

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
OREGON STATE 7 0 0 14 21
PURDUE 7 6 3 14 30

Jeff Brohm arrived at Purdue fresh off having gone 22–5 in his last two seasons at Western Kentucky. Many football thinkers thought it was a great hire for the Boilermakers, but his 19–25 record after his first four seasons in West Lafayette seemed to indicate otherwise.

Saturday, Brohm got his first win in a non-conference season opener with the Boilermakers, his 50th win as a head coach, no less, outlasting a game Oregon State, 30-21. I'm not a coach, but it sure seems like winning openers is a solid move if you want to have a good season.

Purdue quarterback Jack Plummer threw for 313 yards – 254 of them to David Bell and Payne Dunham – and the Boilermaker defense came up with two key fourth-down stops late in the game to earn the Big Ten a non-conference win over a Pac-12 program.

Next: Purdue (1–0) at UConn (0–2)

Nebraska 52, Fordham 7

  Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4  
FORDHAM 0 7 0 0 7
NEBRASKA 7 17 14 14 52

Scott Frost bought some much-needed ice for his seat as his Cornhuskers rolled overmatched Fordham, 52-7, in Lincoln.

Bouncing back from a stunning loss to Illinois in the opener, quarterback Adrian Martinez completed 17 of 23 passes for 254 yards. 133 of them went to receiver Samori Toure, who had six catches for 103 yards at the half. The offense finished with 633 yards on the day, which is a fantastic number, but yeah, Fordham.

The stat star of the game, however, was Fordhman linebacker Ryan Greenhagen, who finished with 30 tackles. Thirty!

Fordham or not, it will go into the books as one of the top 15 wins of the Frost era in Nebraska. Which doesn't sound as great when you know Frost has just 13 wins since his first campaign in 2018. Still, congrats on your top-15 win, Scott.

Next: Nebraska (1–1) vs. Buffalo (1–0)

B1G Power Rankings: Week 1
Rank Team Overall Conference Previous
1 Ohio State 1–0 1–0
2 IOWA 1–0 1–0
3 PENN STATE 1–0 1–0
4 MARYLAND 1–0 0–0
6 MICHIGAN 1–0 0–0
7 WISCONSIN 0–1 0–1
8 MINNESOTA 0–1 0–1
9 RUTGERS 1–0 0–0
10 PURDUE 1–0 0–0
11 INDIANA 0–1 0–0
13 ILLINOIS 1–1 1–0
14 NEBRASKA 1–1 0–1

The Big Ten went 5–1 against non-conference opponents highlighted by Maryland's win over West Virginia, and Purdue taking care of Oregon State in Power Five clashes.

The Big Ten East looks particularly deep with six of the seven teams in that division winning their openers. Further, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan State paced the East to a 3–1 record against the Big Ten West. Here's a fun exercise: after one week of action, which Big Ten East team is the worst?

We have the Buckeyes firmly atop our conference power rankings, but Iowa made a move after thumping Indiana. Penn State, Maryland, and Michigan State round out our top five.

Northwestern, Illinois, and Nebraska – who will receive absolutely no credit for blasting Fordham – bring up the rear of our initial set of rankings.

Until next week—

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