Big Ten

Crisis in Columbus? Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

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USA TODAY

Crisis in Columbus? Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

Things aren't going so hot in Columbus right now.

The Buckeyes were beaten by Oklahoma over the weekend in a highly anticipated matchup that did not at all go Ohio State's way.

The offense is stuck in the mud. The defense is getting thrown all over. What's Urban Meyer going to do?

Read all about the Buckeyes' woes and everything else that happened with these 10 big things from the weekend in the Big Ten.

1. Ohio State ain’t dead … but boy are they ailing

Saturday’s most-anticipated game turned into a real clunker for the Buckeyes, who were blasted by Baker Mayfield and the Oklahoma Sooners. Mayfield looked like a Heisman winner carving up the Ohio State pass defense, which believe it or not is statistically college football’s worst.

But the greater share of attention will go to the Buckeyes’ offense, which looked ghastly against the Sooners, only reaching the end zone once. J.T. Barrett looks a far cry from his redshirt freshman season, when he was breaking records and running a well-oiled machine of an offense. That’s nowhere near the case through the first two weeks of this season, and he continues to look out of sync with his receivers, who certainly deserve as much blame as he does for this mess. Urban Meyer said he’s going “fix the damn thing” and even fielded questions about making a potential quarterback change — his answer, unsurprisingly, was a short “no.”

Of course, none of this means Ohio State has been eliminated from Playoff contention. The Buckeyes could still run the table in the Big Ten and wind up back in the final four. But the confidence level is dropping like crazy as this team has played uninspiring football for six of the eight quarters in this 2017 season.

The Buckeyes aren’t out of this by a long shot. But panic is starting to set in, and it looks, at the moment, somewhat justified.

2. The greatest battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy of all-time!

Has there ever been a more entertaining rivalry game between Iowa and Iowa State? A quick look at the rivalry history digs up a triple-overtime win for the Cyclones way back in … 2011. But still, Saturday’s battle for the Cy-Hawk Trophy was electric.

And it made a star out of new Hawkeyes quarterback Nate Stanley, who became the first Iowa quarterback with more than 300 passing yards and five touchdowns in 30 years. Stanley was terrific in the overtime victory, and the rest of Iowa offense shone along with him. Receivers Matt VandeBerg and Ihmir Smith-Marsette made remarkable diving catches in the end zone. And Akrum Wadley was sensational, rushing and receiving for 190 total yards and two touchdowns, the more spectacular of which was the play of the game: a 46-yard catch and scamper in the final 90 seconds in which he broke three tackles and dragged a fourth would-be tackler into the end zone.

The Hawkeyes haven’t played the greatest competition in the world through the season’s first two weeks, but they’ve definitely exceeded expectations, first silencing Wyoming’s star quarterback, Josh Allen, and now scoring 44 points and winning a shootout with a quarterback starting just his second game. Crank up that Victory Polka!

3. Jonathan Taylor Touchdowns

Wisconsin has another star running back. Ho hum.

While it’s no shock that the Badgers would keep their running back factory humming at top speed, you can’t help but be wowed by the latest highlight-reel ball-carrier up in Madison. Meet freshman Jonathan Taylor, who has already been given a JTT-style nickname: Jonathan Taylor Touchdowns. In Saturday’s win over Florida Atlantic, he racked up an astonishing 223 yards and scored three touchdowns (hence the nickname).

But it wasn’t just the numbers. Watch the touchdown runs:

Impressive, right?

Wisconsin’s running back legacy is absolutely incredible, and of course it goes hand in hand with a great tradition along the offensive line. There’s no reason that should be any different in 2017, and, per usual, there’s depth, too. Chris James also had a 100-yard day as the No. 2 running back. And that’s with Bradrick Shaw and Taiwan Deal out with injuries. Never change, Wisconsin.

4. Penn State has no problem with Pitt

Last year’s rivalry bout between Penn State and Pitt was an instant classic — and a loss that might have been the reason the Nittany Lions couldn’t get a spot in the Playoff. This year? No such trouble. The Penn State defense had a great afternoon and made sure it was an easy day for James Franklin’s team in a 33-14 win.

The number weren’t as huge as we’ve come to expect on the offensive side of the ball. Saquon Barkley didn’t hit 100 yards rushing (he was at 123 overall if you throw in his receiving yards), and Trace McSorley threw three touchdowns but only passed for 164 yards and threw an interception. The reason? Well, two of the team’s four touchdown drives were less than 10 seconds in length. McSorley is a home-run hitter, after all.

But the defense was the star of the show, keeping Pitt to just 14 points despite the fact that the Panthers had the ball for nearly two-thirds of the game. The Lions took the ball away three times. After Michigan’s somewhat shaky day at the office Saturday and Ohio State’s loss, it looks like Penn State — right this second — is the king of the Big Ten hill after a pair of easy wins.

5. Feature back emerges for Michigan?

Watching Michigan’s win over Cincinnati and reading the box score from Michigan’s win over Cincinnati were two dramatically different experiences this weekend. As a viewer, it sure seemed like the Wolverines didn’t look too dominant against a team that barely beat Austin Peay the week prior. As a reader, the Wolverines had more than double the yards, came away with two interceptions and had a balanced offensive attack.

Regardless, the one story both digestions of this game told is that there might be a feature back emerging from the committee of carriers in the Michigan backfield: Ty Isaac. The Chicagoland area native and USC transfer, Isaac has looked great in the first two games of the season, and he really broke out Saturday, carrying the ball 20 times for 133 yards. There are obviously an abundance of options on the depth chart, as Jim Harbaugh showed last season. But Isaac got a heavy workload Saturday, perhaps a signal that Harbaugh & Co. have picked out a true feature back.

6. Maryland is invincible!

The Terps lost their starting quarterback in Week 1. But that didn’t stop them at all from following up their 51-point performance at Texas with a 63-point blowout of Towson, bringing the grand total to 114 points through eight quarters of football. Any room at the top of the Big Ten East for the Fightin’ Turtles?

Kasim Hill was great in his first collegiate start, completing 13 of his 16 passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns, and that D.J. Moore fellow is pretty good, too, catching seven passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns. But as they were last season, the Terps are about that ground game and they showed it Saturday. Maryland churned out 367 rushing yards, with Ty Johnson’s 124 yards and two scores leading the way.

I know what you’re thinking: “It’s Towson. Who cares?” But look how improved this Maryland team, look how capable it is compared to just two years ago when Randy Edsall was fired in the middle of that gross 3-9 season. DJ Durkin doing work.

7. Cats crushed

Ohio State had a high-profile loss and didn’t look good doing it, but there were worse days in the Big Ten. One of them belonged to Northwestern, which was absolutely dominated down in Durham in a 41-17 pounding at the hands of Duke. The Dukies have put up more than 100 points through the first two weeks of the season and are perhaps better than the experts think. But this was a disastrous day for the Cats, who are banged-up on defense, a partial explanation for Duke quarterback Daniel Jones cutting them up all day long.

But what’s going on with this offense? The 1-2 punch of Justin Jackson and Clayton Thorson helped overcome a bad-looking day in the Week 1 win over Nevada, but they didn’t do much of anything against Duke. Jackson was supposedly also a little dinged up, as Pat Fitzgerald explained after the game. He had to be real bothered to only get seven carries and rush for just 18 yards. Northwestern as a team had just 22 rushing yards! And Thorson wasn’t much better, throwing two interceptions compared to zero touchdowns.

The high hopes of the preseason seem like a long time ago at this point, as the Cats have turned in two underwhelming performances to kick off what was supposed to be a season in which they could compete for a Big Ten West title. It sure doesn’t look that way right now.

8. Does anyone in Nebraska want to play defense?

The revamped defense under new coordinator Bob Diaco is off to an awful start for the Huskers. After allowing 36 points in Week 1’s home win over Arkansas State, Nebraska was run out of Eugene, the Oregon Ducks dropping 42 points and racking up 566 total yards.

That needs to come with the qualifier, of course, that the Ducks didn’t score a point after halftime and spent the second half turning the ball over and missing a field goal. But this game was well over by the half, when Oregon led 42-14 and was doing absolutely anything it wanted against this Nebraska defense. The first half featured the Huskers surrendering touchdowns on six of eight drives including each of the final three. Tanner Lee’s pair of first-half interceptions surely didn’t help.

But man this transition is going anything but smoothly, with Diaco’s defense demolished in each of the season’s first two weeks. You wonder how much of that will be blamed on Mike Riley, who had to revisit the demons of Autzen Stadium from his days at Oregon State. And if the blame is laid at Riley’s feet, how much longer before the patience runs out in Lincoln?

9. Illini look much better

Things went much better for Lovie Smith’s group in Week 2 than they did in Week 1, when the Illini somewhat miraculously pulled out a comeback win to beat Ball State. Against pass-happy Western Kentucky, Illinois' defense looked much better, shutting down the Hilltoppers and taking advantage of turnovers. After getting consistently marched on by Ball State, the Illinois defense allowed just two third-down conversions to Western Kentucky and had a pick six.

The offense still left a bit to be desired, scoring just one touchdown and barely reaching triple digits in passing yardage. But Mike Dudek had more catches in this one, and Mike Epstein continues to be the season’s bright spot. The freshman once more got the bulk of the carries, rushing 21 times for 111 yards.

10. All aboard the Purdue train!

Following up that strong performance against Louisville in the season-opener, Purdue was excellent in Week 2, crushing Ohio. David Blough and Elijah Sindelar teamed up to throw four touchdowns, and Tario Fuller broke out as a ball-carrier, rushing for 142 yards and a touchdown. All in all, the Boilers racked up 558 total yards.

Now, no, Ohio is no powerhouse. But that’s now two great efforts in as many weeks for a Purdue team that hasn’t been able to do that in some time.

And the rest!

— Do we have a quarterback competition on our hands in Indiana? The Hoosiers used Peyton Ramsey an awful lot in the win over Virginia, and he delivered with three total touchdowns.

— Michigan State beat Western Michigan, a good sign considering the points the Broncos produced a week earlier at USC. Sparty’s D came to play, holding Western under 200 yards.

— Rutgers, Rutgers, Rutgers. A week after a great showing against a top-10 Washington team, the Knights lost to Eastern Michigan, giving that program its first-ever win over a Power Five team. Smh.

— There’s that boat-rowing we were promised! P.J. Fleck’s boys broke out the oars and rowed right through Oregon State, beating that lowly program by five touchdowns.

Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

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Illini play freshman quarterback Cam Thomas for first time, but still fall at Minnesota

While Saturday's trip to the Twin Cities featured some more of the same for the Fighting Illini, it marked important step in Lovie Smith's rebuilding project.

Freshman quarterback Cam Thomas, a Marian Catholic product, saw action for the first time in his collegiate career, Smith busting out a new option at the game's most important position. Thomas threw a nasty pick six, but he did lead Illinois in rushing in a 24-17 loss at Minnesota.

Thomas only made four throws, completing two of them and landing a third in the hands of a Minnesota defender, but his play injected a bit of excitement into what's looking like another dreadful season of Illinois football, with Smith's team falling to 2-5 through the first seven games of his second season at the helm of the program. Thomas mostly starred with his feet Saturday, rushing for a team-high 79 yards in the defeat.

His first appearance came following the first of the Illinois' defense's three takeaways. Thomas ran for a nine-yard gain on his first carry, and the Illini tied the game with a touchdown on the next play. Thomas was interchanged with starting quarterback Jeff George Jr. from there on out.

While the Illini defense kept the Gophers at bay for much of the day thanks to those three takeaways, P.J. Fleck's team had no trouble racking up rushing yardage, finishing with a whopping 292 rushing yards. Minnesota engineered a 12-play, 75-yard drive in the fourth quarter exclusively running the ball to break a 10-all tie and go up 17-10.

Thomas threw a pick six on the very next play from scrimmage, sending the Gophers up 24-10 to effectively seal the deal. George led an Illinois touchdown drive on the next possession, but the Illini couldn't make up the suddenly big gap in the limited amount of time.

Illinois finished with only 282 yards of offense. George was 18-for-23 for 128 yards and a touchdown. Ra'Von Bonner carried the ball 18 times for 57 yards and a touchdown.

The defeat dropped the Illini to 2-5 on the season and 0-4 in conference play. One of just two teams without a Big Ten win (Indiana is the other), Illinois faces off against a top-10 Wisconsin team next weekend.

Big play from Justin Jackson sets up Northwestern's overtime win over Iowa

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Big play from Justin Jackson sets up Northwestern's overtime win over Iowa

Justin Jackson is one of the top 10 rushers in Big Ten history for a reason: He's very, very good at this football thing.

But it was a big play Jackson made not as a ball-carrier but as a pass-catcher Saturday that set up Northwestern's second straight win, a 17-10 takedown of Iowa in Evanston.

Jackson took a pass from quarterback Clayton Thorson and went all the way down to the 1-yard line, picking up 23 yards and shedding multiple tacklers on the game's biggest play.

Two plays later, Thorson plunged in for the go-ahead score. Iowa failed on a fourth-down conversion attempt on its ensuing overtime possession, ending it with a dropped pass that finished the game.

The game's result rapidly altered the social-media conversation, which moments prior had been mighty critical of Pat Fitzgerald, who made a controversial decision at the end of regulation.

Iowa tied the game at 10 on a field goal inside of two minutes to play, forced to kick after a false start was committed on fourth and 1. Fitzgerald had a minute and a half and two timeouts to try to get his own team into field-goal range for a shot at a win but instead ran the clock out and headed to overtime.

Fitzgerald explained after the game that the blustery wind at Ryan Field played a big role in that decision, plus his team had a long way to go against an Iowa defense that played well throughout the game.

Northwestern's defense was very strong, too, holding Iowa to 312 total yards, only 89 of which came on the ground. Hawkeyes quarterback Nathan Stanley was also picked off in the second half for the game's only turnover.

Jackson finished with 93 rushing yards and 38 receiving yards. Thorson was 21-for-36 passing the ball for 192 yards. Backup running back Jeremy Larkin scored the Wildcats' lone regulation touchdown.

The win improved Northwestern to 4-3 on the season and 2-2 in Big Ten play. After a 2-3 start, the Cats have won back-to-back games and take on a ranked Michigan State team next weekend.