Week Two: Five things we learned about Big Ten football

Michigan and Penn State scored big Week 2 wins, throttling Western Michigan and Pitt. Two other Big Ten heavyweights, Ohio State and Wisconsin, also delivered knockouts.

Herb,NEW, 8-12-18

But while you were sleeping, Michigan State lost a shocker at Arizona State, which is drinking Herm Edwards Kool-Aid and flourishing. And earlier in the day, Northwestern and Purdue also stumbled.

In other words, it was another tumultuous weekend of Big Ten football.

Here are five things we learned:

1, Ohio State and Wisconsin are 1 and 1a.

Yeah, they haven’t played anybody yet. But No. 4 Ohio State and No. 6 Wisconsin—which dropped a slot in the AP poll, behind Oklahoma—have taken care of their business in impressive fashion. The Buckeyes have throttled Oregon State and Rutgers by a 129-34 margin. The Badgers have cruised past Western Kentucky and New Mexico 79-17.[membership level="0"] The rest of this article is available to subscribers only - to become a subscriber click here.[/membership] [membership]

Meanwhile, Ohio State’s chief challengers have either lost (Michigan), had a close call (Penn State)—or lost and had a close call (Michigan State).

Wisconsin’s top Western Division rival, Iowa, seems offensively challenged. It managed only two field goals in the first 55 minutes of its 13-6 win over Iowa State and had only one field goal in the first half of its 33-7 win over Northern Illinois

We’re going to learn a lot more this week when the Buckeyes and Badgers face their first ``initial’’ tests. Ohio State plays No. 16 TCU and Wisconsin faces BYU.

The Cougars, who followed up their 28-23 win at Arizona with a 21-18 home loss to Cal, won’t bolster the Badgers’ resume in a big way. So the burden is on Wisconsin to romp again.

Ohio State’s meeting with TCU will matter. The Horned Frogs have routed their cupcakes, Southern and SMU, by a 97-19 count, and are among the contenders to chase Big 12 favorite Oklahoma.

2, Two in the Heisman hunt

As you might expect, Ohio State and Wisconsin also are squarely in the early Heisman Trophy race.

Badger running back Jonathan Taylor has rushed for 398 yards and five touchdowns, including a career-high 253 yards and three TDs vs. New Mexico. Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins has thrown for 546 yards and nine TDs. Both are sophomores

Taylor finished sixth in the Heisman voting last year, when he set the all-time freshman rushing record (1,977 yards). Two Wisconsin rushers (Alan Ameche and Ron Dayne) have won the Heisman. Then again, 10 of the last 12 Heismans have gone to quarterbacks.

3, The Spartans are not who we thought they were.

Everyone knew Michigan State was on a dangerous mission, playing a late-night game in the desert heat against an Arizona State program revived by NFL hero Herm Edwards.

The worst-case scenario developed. Down 13-3 after three quarters, the Sun Devils scored 13 fourth-quarter points, including a 28-yard field goal as the clock ran out, to beat the Spartans 16-13.

That leaves Michigan State, a popular dark horse to snatch the Big Ten East from its three ranked rivals, a wobbly 1-1, including a 31-28 squeaker over Utah State that didn’t inspire confidence, either.

That’s a discouraging start for a team returning 19 starters from last year-s 10-3 squad.

The best thing we can say is, at least that game in Tempe ended so late that hardly anybody saw it.

What’s wrong?

Let’s start with a defense that gave up 13 fourth-quarter points a week after being befuddled by uptempo Utah State.

The offense also was messy, managing only three points on two first-half drives inside the 5 yardline.

``You've got to score touchdowns when you get down there,’’ Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said. ``It's tough to win a game with 13 points. It's tough to win a game scoring 16 points.’’

ASU is now 10-0 in Tempe against Big Ten teams. The Spartans are 1-13 in regular-season games they have played in the West.

MSU has an open date this week before traveling to its Big Ten opener on Sept. 22 at Indiana.

One nonconference loss does not a season make. But in the Big Ten East, which features a lot of talented and hungry teams chasing Ohio State, Sparty needs to get its act together.

4, Northwestern has work to do

From a historical perspective, Northwestern’s 1-1 record isn’t a big deal. The Wildcats started 2-3 last year and finished 10-3 and started 1-3 two years ago before rallying to earn a bowl trip.

The issues this year may be a little deeper, though. They start with the rotating quarterback situation necessitated by limits on how many snaps NFL hopeful Clayton Thorson, who’s coming off of off-season ACL surgery, can take.

The situation got more complicated when both offensive tackles were sidelined by injuries in NU’s 21-7 loss to Duke on Saturday. That ended the Cats’ nine-game winning streak, which had been the longest among Power Five schools.

Northwestern, which scored all 31 of its points in the first half of its opening 31-27 win at Purdue, now has scored seven points in its last six quarters. And the Boilermakers’ upset loss to Eastern Michigan on Saturday diminishes the conclusions that can be drawn about a win over Purdue.

Throw in real questions about how many difference-makers Pat Fitzgerald has on either side of the ball, and the overall inability of backups to step up against the Blue Devils—and you have a Northwestern team facing an uncertain autumn.

Now hand that team a schedule in which the first two Big Ten games are against Michigan and at Michigan State. After that, there are games against Wisconsin and Notre Dame, plus a trip to Iowa,

In other words, Pat Fitzgerald’s crew needs to get well soon. And get better, in a hurry. Legions of NU alums in the sports-media world are depending on it.

5, These M&Ms, Maryland and Minnesota, are off to sweet starts

Inspiration is where you find it. Maryland and Minnesota are off to promising starts that ought to get the attention of upcoming Big Ten opponents.

After shocking Texas in an opener dedicated to its fallen comrade who died of heat stroke, Maryland rallied to beat Bowling Green 45-14 win in a game it was losing 14-10 at halftime.

The Terrapins are showing talent and toughness in a difficult situation presided over by interim coach Matt Canada. It’s no longer unthinkable that Maryland could crack the top four in the Big Ten East.

Meanwhile, youthful Minnesota improved to 2-0 with a very nice 21-14 victory against a veteran Fresno State team that finished 10-4 last year.

``This is one of those wins that can do a lot for your season," said second-year coach P.J. ``Row the boat’’ Fleck, who has a hungry young team.

And we do mean young: 59 of the 113 Gophers are either redshirt freshmen or true freshmen, including all four quarterbacks. The starter is a walk-on true freshman, Zack Annexstad, who was at IMG Academy in Florida at this time a year ago.

This kind of blows Lovie Smith's talk about patience being needed with his young Illinois team out of the water.

Annexstad is backed up by 6-4, 240-pound redshirt sophomore Seth Green, who runs the wildcat like a Mack truck. Green, a supposedly former QB who’s listed as a wide receiver/tight end, has rushed for four touchdowns, including both TDs against Fresno. He also shocked the Bulldogs by throwing a two-point conversion pass.

Where does Green line up? Anywhere he wants.

Maybe this stuff won’t work against Big Ten teams.

We’ll find out more when Minnesota travels to Maryland on Sept. 22 for their Big Ten opener.[/membership]

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