Sunday, September 9, 2012

Surveying the B1Gscape: Week 2

This is something that may or may not become a regular Sunday thing. Who knows. In any case, I'll recap each B1G game, with specificity depending upon whether or not: a) I actually have the game on my TV lookity box and b) I have time to watch games other than the Michigan game in a given week.

Anyway, if you aren't already plugging your nose, you should probably go ahead and do that. Ready? Here we go.

Michigan 31, Air Force 25. I will talk about this at length during my recap post at Maize 'n Brew on Monday, but for now I'll just say these things.
  • These first two games are games that I'm not sure should be data points from much extrapolation should be done. The Alabama game was one against a team with significantly more talent than any other team on Michigan's schedule. The Air Force game pitted Michigan against an offensive attack that they won't see again. We cannot really be sure how good or bad Michigan is at this point in the season. 
  • The youth movement is a cause for excitement, sure, but in the short term is like being served several dollops of uncut consternation. If Michigan is rolling with two freshmen at the inside linebacker positions (Ross and Bolden) in place of a sophomore and a FIFTH YEAR SENIOR in Demens, Michigan's run defense--which was already not something to write home about last season--will take several steps backwards. Unless Demens and Morgan reassert themselves (which seems unlikely given the second half), odds are Wood, Atkinson, and Riddick have a field day against this front seven in two weeks. 
  • In the end, a win's a win. Also, Denard is just the man, period...but you knew that. 
Northwestern 23, Vanderbilt 13. A week after prevailing in the so called "Prose Bowl" against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, the mighty warrior poets of Evanston took on the Vanderbilt Commodores in a dignified football derby at the venerable Ryan Field in Evanston. After getting torched by Ryan Nassib last week, Northwestern fans were anxious to see how the secondary would look this week; Vanderbilt's first drive did not do much to assuage those fears. However, the NU defense settled down after that point. The Wildcats gave up a touchdown on Vandy's first drive, but only allowed two field goals the rest of the way, an encouraging performance for a D that gave up 41 last week and was mostly terrible all of last season. 

The 'Cats once again used both Kain Colter and Trevor Siemian at quarterback, with Siemian being the more effective of the two through the air. This sort of thing is always an awkward arrangement, but it has worked thus far. Siemian was 10/16 for 91 yards, with Kolter going 7/15 for 42 yards. However, Kolter also pitched in on the ground with 41 yards and a touchdown run to seal the win with just under two minutes to go in the game. 

Wildcat running back Venric Mark continues to be the "Big Ten dude that most people probably don't know about but probably should." He carried the ball 23 times for 128 yards and a touchdown in what was another tremendous effort for the lilliputian tailback. Northwestern has not had much of a running attack since the days of Tyrell Sutton, so if Mark can continue this pace into the B1G schedule, Northwestern could be a very dangerous team in a capacity greater than the humble "spoiler" role. 

Michigan State 41, Central Michigan 7. After leaning heavily on Le'Veon Bell to grit through a not aesthetically pleasing win against a revamped Boise State team, the Spartans blew the doors off the hapless Chippewas, a game played in Mount Pleasant (for some reason). The Spartans held CMU to 245 total yards and a meager 3.3 YPC. Andrew Maxwell bounced back after a less than ideal performance against BSU, going 20/31 for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns. Bell was actually somewhat held in check (18 carries, 70 yards, 2 TDs), but the Spartans got a boost from its receiving corps, which looked fairly underwhelming last Friday night. Dion Sims continues to look like a formidable weapon (3 rec, 48 yards., 1 TD) and Bennie Fowler left his mark as undoubtedly the most effective MSU receiver on Saturday (8 rec., 99 yards, 1 TD). Overall, this was one of only a few B1G no doubters on what was a rough weekend for the conference.

Ohio State 31, Central Florida 16. Once again, Braxton Miller was the story of the day for the Buckeyes. Miller ran the ball a whopping 27 times for 141 yards and three touchdowns, a stat line that reminds me of Michigan's usage of Denard in September last year against EMU and SDSU. You can't argue with the results, however. Miller had an efficient day through the air, going 18/24 for 155 yards and a touchdown (plus an interception). After an interception by Etienne Sabino led to a short field and a TD for the Buckeyes, it was 31-10 about halfway through the third quarter, and the game seemed to be over. UCF had a little fight left in them, as the ensuing 14-play TD drive would show. The Knights then picked off Miller on OSU's side of the field but ended that drive by throwing a pick of their own. There would be no more scoring on the day, as OSU seemed to be content with just bleeding out the clock on the ground. Miller's pick was not a good one, but he is looking more and more like a player that will give Michigan serious problems once again at the end of the season.

On an injury note, Carlos Hyde, OSU's starting tailback, was carted off the field with a large bag of ice on his knee. Zach Boren had the most carries of anybody not named Miller or Hyde, coming in with 7 for 16 yards. True freshman Bri'onte Dunn did pitch in 5 carries for 29 yards; if Hyde misses any games, which seems likely, it looks like the freshman will be the feature back.

Iowa State 9, Iowa 6. This has been one of the more mercurial and underrated rivalry games around. After gritting out a win against Northern Illinois last week, the Hawkeyes looked to avenge last year's loss in Ames with a win at home against its in-state rival. Unfortunately, a dismal offensive performance stood in the way, as the Hawkeyes couldn't get find the end zone all day. Neither could ISU, however, which makes the loss even worse. Iowa managed only 68 yards rushing (2.8 YPC) and Vandenberg was not Henne-esque at all, going 20/42 en route to a bleak 5.6 YPA and 2 interceptions. Other than Keenan Davis and tight end CJ Fiedorowicz, Iowa doesn't appear to have many perimeter players worth mentioning. This was Iowa's first loss at home against the Cyclones since the odd 2002 loss by that Brad Banks-led Big Ten co-champion team.

Without any running game to speak of, odds are it's going to be a long season marked by hordes of Iowans screaming about OC Greg Davis going sideways and whatnot.

Minnesota 44, New Hampshire 7. I'll be completely honest: whenever I notice that Minnesota is winning, I react as if I had just watched a Youtube video featuring corgis doing corgi things. YES YOU WON THAT GAME YES YOU DID YOU DID. I don't even mean this in a bad way.

Anyway, the Gophers rolled over 1-AA (FCS, whatever) New Hampshire, which wouldn't be anything to brag about if Minnesota had not notched losses to North Dakota St. and South Dakota in recent years. Marqueis Gray continues to look like a guy who should probably be playing for Paul Johnson: he went 6/8 for 100 yards and a pair of TDs through the air. Also, with a 78-yard gallop comprising most of the total, he added 109 yards and two TDs on the ground. Minnesota is now 2-0, and while I don't know how many wins I'd mark them down for, bowl eligibility is not a laughable notion to entertain.

Penn State 16, UVA 17. I've been very high on UVA since Mike London's successful debut season in 2011, but I think that Saturday proved that maybe I'm overvaluing them just a little bit. A PSU team missing tailback Bill Belton, that also had to insert backup QB Steven Bench (the most hilarious name for a backup QB ever, by the way) for a while due to a Matt McGloin injury, gave UVA all it wanted, which probably says more about UVA than it does Penn State. PSU receiver Allen Robinson--a sophomore from Southfield, MI--was the only Nittany Lion skill position player who did much of anything on Saturday (10 rec., 89 yards, 1 TD). Otherwise, McGloin had an anemic 5.6 YPA and the Lions could not take advantage of a +4 turnover margin.

Of course, the story of the game was PSU's field goal kicking, which reminded me of the 2002 Michigan-Washington game up until PSU kicker Sam Ficken missed the last one, unlike our own Phillip Brabbs. UVA converting on two big third and longs against the PSU defense during a 12-play, 6+ minute drive in the 4th quarter, a touchdown drive that left PSU with 1:28 on the clock. Starting on his own 27, McGloin did an admirable job in getting the Lions into field goal position, although one has to wonder about his final kneel down, in which he attempted to center the ball but lost 3 or 4 yards in the process. Ficken then hooked a 42-yard field goal wide left.

The life of a field goal kicker is a thankless, tortured one. Baseball closers nod, knowingly.

Indiana 45, Massachusetts 6. See above re: Minnesota, but this is another one of those wins that you like to see as a B1G fan. With that said, that is two teams that have spanked Massachusetts thus far (UConn last week). If Michigan doesn't absolutely destroy this team in the Big House next week, it will officially be time to panic.

Another unfortunate injury note: IU quarterback Tre Roberson went down in the second quarter with an ugly injury. Watch this at your own peril. Roberson was having a great game up until that point, on the ground and through the air (264 total yards, 3 TDs), so it's a shame to see something like this. Cameron Coffman, brother of former Mizzour tight end Chase Coffman, will take over in Roberson's absence, which I imagine will be pretty lengthy.

Wisconsin 7, Oregon State 10. Last year's Big Ten champion and the B1G's Rose Bowl representative for the last two years traveled to Corvallis and lost to what is probably a not very good Oregon State team. Any hope that Danny O'Brien could replicate Russell Wilson's 2011 success in any way have been dashed very quickly. O'Brien went 20/38 for 172 yards (4.5 YPA). Somehow, Montee Ball only carried the ball 15 times for 61 yards. I didn't have the game on TV, but that seems a little bit odd. Losing all of those assistants and even those three departing offensive linemen has clearly had a far greater effect than expected. The defense did its part, giving up only 10 points and 2.6 YPC, but that probably makes the idea of this loss even less palatable for the Badgers.

To make matters worse, leading receiver Jared Abbrederis went down with an injury in the first half that saw him carted off the field. To say that the Leaders division is an absolute tirefire right now would be a serious affront to tire fires everywhere.

Purdue 17, Notre Dame 20. This is one of the games that I was flipping to during Michigan's commercial breaks, so I mostly have to rely on the box score and anecdotal accounts. On a basic level, Purdue was at least competitive, tying the game at 17 with about two minutes to go. After an Everett Golson fumble was recovered by Purdue, the Boilers squandered their first three downs with the ball, leaving them with a 4th and 10 from the ND 15. Naturally, Caleb "Joe Montana" TerBush found Antavian Edison up the middle of the field for a touchdown.

To a mini-chorus of boos, Brian Kelly inserted Tommy Rees after Golson had to leave with an injury (sustained, I'm assuming, during the aforementioned fumble). Although he was only 3/8, Rees completed enough passes to drive the Irish into field position, primarily on the back of a 21-yard strike to Robby Toma to get ND down to the Purdue 20. PK Kyle Brindza converted a 27-yarder, leaving Purdue with 7 seconds, enough time for TerBush to toss a duck of a Hail Mary well short of the endzone. It is still too early in the season to derive much meaning from a game like this, but if I had to make a conjecture, I think neither of these teams is particularly exceptional.

Nebraska 30, UCLA 36. This is Nebraska's second year in the land of "old man football", but if this game at the Rose Bowl proved anything, it's that Nebraska still has some Big 12 in 'em. Well, in the first half, that the second half, things started to unravel offensively, and the defense continued to be a complete and utter sieve.

A wild first half sent the two teams into the break tied at 24, with Martinez actually making some plays with his arm, continuing from where he left off last week against Southern Miss. He even managed a 92-yard TD run, which of course inspired someone on ESPN (Robert Smith?) to say "you know, he's just as fast as Denard Robinson and might be even faster." Sure.

Either way, Martinez was completely ineffective in the second half, looking mostly like that retro 1970s quarterback that we've seen from him in the past. T-Magic went 4/14 in the second half, with an interception (and one other flailing toss that would've been an interception if he had not afterwards been called down before releasing it). UCLA is an actual football team, apparently, but this is a game that the Huskers should have won, even in spite not having Rex Burkhead. Nebraska fans: welcome to the honored Big Ten tradition of losing on the West Coast in September non-conference games (and at the Rose Bowl in general). 

Illinois 14, Arizona State 45. Why did I watch this game past the first quarter? There are many questions in life for which I simply don't have an answer. With Nathan Scheelhaase unavailable after an injury sustained against Western Michigan last week, it was arm punt city for the Illini in Tempe. The junior Miles Osei took over for Riley O'Toole at the end of the first quarter, but the switch made little difference. Osei went 4/7 for 47 yards and two interceptions. Riley O'Toole started the second half, but immediately got to arm puntin', tossing a horrific interception on the second play of the drive.

It's hard to tell if Scheelhaase would've made this game close, but the defense's performance against a team breaking in a new quarterback was pretty disappointing (although the INTs didn't help the D out). All in all, this game was the cherry on top of the cake made of dirt and shaving cream that was the B1G's performance yesterday.

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