Big Ten

Penn State's big finish: Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

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Penn State's big finish: Ten big things from the weekend in Big Ten football

Anyone else still emotionally recovering from Saturday night's Penn State-Iowa game?

That ending was one for the ages, a signature win if not on the resume at least in memory for the Nittany Lions, who went into Kinnick — where highly ranked teams haven't fared too well recently — and miraculously pulled out a last-second victory.

Trace McSorley and Saquon Barkley are the conference's stars of stars after that effort, and Iowa still managed to impress, even in defeat.

Of course there's plenty of Lions and Hawkeyes in the 10 big things from the weekend in Big Ten football.

1. McSorley magic

What. A. Finish.

You couldn’t have scripted a more entertaining final few minutes in Penn State’s incredible win over Iowa. The Hawkeyes blocked a field goal, then went 80 yards in three plays for a touchdown in less than a minute, only for Trace McSorley to lead the Nittany Lions right down the field and throw a game-winning touchdown pass with no time left on the clock. Amazing.

McSorley was the star of that final drive, completing seven passes for 68 yards and of course that insane final play, when he threaded a pass past three defenders and another one of his receivers before connecting with Juwan Johnnson. Those plays are the stuff legends are made of, and McSorley is becoming that kind of player in a hurry in Happy Valley.

The guy was by no means perfect Saturday, 31-for-48 for 284 yards, that touchdown and an interception. But is there any quarterback in the conference you’d rather give the ball to than McSorley? Of course it helps when you’ve got … 

2. Super Saquon

There is no better player in college football than Saquon Barkley. Period.

The Penn State running back is a freak of nature, he’s an unstoppable force that is impossible for opposing defenses to contain. Saturday night in Iowa City, when the Iowa defense actually did a decent job on the whole, allowing just one touchdown before the game-winner as time expired, Barkley racked up a jaw-dropping 358 all-purpose yards: 211 rushing yards on 28 carries, 94 receiving yards on 12 catches and 53 kick-return yards on three returns.

He’s impossible to tackle, weaving and bruising his way through defenses — and that’s without mentioning that the guy hurdles someone once a week!

Barkley has to be the Heisman favorite right now, up there with Big 12 quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Mason Rudolph. He’s racked up 853 rushing and receiving yards in just four games. He’s also just a thrill to watch.

Penn State didn’t play a perfect game by any stretch on Saturday. But they have two of the best players in the Big Ten, and because of it they could be in for a very special season.

3. Michigan’s dominating defense

It’s quite apparent that the Michigan offense is not very good. But the Michigan defense, on the other hand, is very, very good.

Watching the Wolverines try to score points against Purdue on Saturday was a challenge, even if they found some more success after Wilton Speight was injured and replaced by John O’Korn. But the defense is a completely different story, and it looks as if that side of the ball could allow Michigan to win any game for the remainder of the season.

Michigan allowed just 10 second-half yards to Purdue on Saturday. Think about that!

While you knew because of Jim Harbaugh’s recruiting success that a reload would be possible, it’s still kind of shocking that the unit is this good despite having to replace 10 starters from a year ago.

Michigan’s offense might not be inspiring any confidence in a run at a title, but the defense sure should be.

4. Impressive in defeat

Iowa’s defense looked a lot better than the final statistics indicated Saturday night against Penn State. The Hawkeyes allowed 579 total yards, so says the box score, but their defense played well enough to keep the Lions to one touchdown before that game-winner at the very end. Josey Jewell also picked off Trace McSorley and recovered a McSorley fumble, continuing his fantastic start to the season.

On the other side of the ball, Nathan Stanley threw two more touchdown passes and didn’t throw a pick. Akrum Wadley had 155 rushing/receiving yards and two total touchdowns, both coming in the fourth quarter. Iowa's doing work on offense this season, which is something I didn't think I'd be saying two months ago.

So, no the Hawkeyes didn’t win, and they lost in a pretty brutal fashion. But they still look like an impressive team to me, one that if it can hang with the typically explosive top-five team that is Penn State can hang with just about anyone else in the Big Ten.

5. Nebraska responds

The football-related turmoil ain’t going away any time soon for the Huskers, who saw their athletics director fired last week, the casualty after the team’s embarrassing home loss to Northern Illinois.

But this weekend’s win over Rutgers served as a bit of a bounce back, even if beating Rutgers by 10 isn’t the kind of thing that’ll turn down the heat on Mike Riley. This was no dominating performance against the Big Ten’s worst program, but it was a win nonetheless to move Nebraska from 1-2 to 2-2. And a win is what this program needed after back-to-back losses and the firing of Shawn Eichorst.

As mentioned, Riley’s job is nowhere near “safe,” and it’s hard to see some sort of epic midseason turnaround with the likes of Wisconsin, Ohio State and Penn State still on the schedule — plus losable games against plenty of other conference foes. Who knows what the magic number is to make a determination one way or the other on Riley?

6. Buckeyes back?

If only Ohio State could play Army and UNLV every week, right?

The Buckeyes sure had a great day of practice, if nothing else, in a 54-21 romp of UNLV. The offense that caused so much consternation after the season’s first two weeks was a well-oiled machine, with touchdown passes going to seven different guys, a Big Ten record. J.T. Barrett threw five of those scoring passes, and backup Dwayne Haskins threw two more, actually throwing for more yards than Barrett.

Ohio State could find its season back on track in a hurry with three games coming against Rutgers, Maryland and Nebraska before a Halloween-weekend showdown with Penn State in Columbus that could determine the Big Ten East.

7. Not a big boy quite yet

Purdue’s gonna have to wait to rule the Big Ten, completely stifled in the second half of its loss to Michigan. As unpleasant as the Wolverines’ offense was to watch on Saturday, the Boilers’ wasn’t any better. Of course, that has a lot to do with the Michigan defense, which held the Purdue offense to just 10 yards after halftime, as you might’ve read in some other section of this very post.

Give Purdue props for winning at halftime and maintaining its status as “much better than last year.” The thought that the Boilers might’ve given Michigan a go will carry over into games against Minnesota, Rutgers, Nebraska, Illinois and Northwestern. And maybe we see Purdue rack up some more wins than we’re used to seeing.

8. Knocked off the pedestal

Unfortunately Maryland’s reign as one of the kings of the Big Ten East is over.

The Terps were hammered in a 38-10 home loss to UCF, a Group of Five team that could be the real deal in 2017. Maryland lost another quarterback to injury, Kasim Hill, meaning it was going at it with the third guy on the depth chart, less than ideal. But the Terps’ rushing attack was also bottled up pretty well by the Knights, accumulating only 42 yards on the day.

9. Sparty smashed

You might not guess it looking at the numbers, but Michigan State was crushed in a home loss to Notre Dame.

Brian Lewerke had a monster day, throwing for 340 yards and two touchdowns and rushing for another 56 yards. Sparty racked up nearly 500 yards of offense. But Michigan State also turned the ball over three times, all three leading directly to first-half touchdowns.

10. Give Goldy the ball!

Did you see Goldy Gopher truck a kid during a mascot football game? No? Well here it is.

See how they stack up: Week 6 college football top 25 rankings

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See how they stack up: Week 6 college football top 25 rankings

A special, if somewhat sad edition of the top-25 rankings this week. Saturday delivered another terrific day of college football, but we also must remember and celebrate one of the best rock n rollers of all-time, Tom Petty, who passed away earlier this week. So, in addition to the usual top 25, you get some bonus rankings, my picks for the 25 best Petty songs ever. Enjoy.

With Week 6 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Clemson (6-0)

It wasn’t a blowout, but the champs rolled on with a comfortable-enough win over Wake Forest. Of bigger concern is Kelly Bryant, who left the game with an ankle injury.

No. 25: “Saving Grace” from Highway Companion, 2006

2. Alabama (6-0)

Bama held on to win by eight after a 21-point third-quarter lead shrunk down. But was it ever really in doubt for the Tide? They will no doubt roll through a weak schedule leading up to the Iron Bowl.

No. 24: “The Wild One, Forever” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976

3. TCU (5-0)

Defensively, the Frogs kept West Virginia out of the end zone through the first 41 minutes. Offensively, Kenny Hill had himself a day and matched the Mountaineers’ late charge. Oh, and TCU is now in complete command of the Big 12.

No. 23: “A Woman in Love (It’s Not Me)” from Hard Promises, 1981

4. Georgia (6-0)

The Dawgs delivered another SEC pounding — yawn — and have outscored their conference foes by 100 points in three games. Expect that number to balloon further with Mizzou on the schedule next.

No. 22: “Rebels” from Southern Accents, 1985

5. Penn State (6-0)

Saquon Barkley had a negative rushing total in the first half Saturday, and this one was somehow never in doubt. Barkley finished with a pair of touchdown runs as the Lions look far and away the best team in the Big Ten East.

No. 21: “The Same Old You” from Long After Dark, 1982

6. Wisconsin (5-0)

Things looked a bit dicey with Wisconsin tied with Nebraska in the third quarter. But the Badgers ran away, closing with three straight touchdowns and winning easily on Jonathan Taylor’s huge night: 249 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries.

No. 20: “Shadow of a Doubt (A Complex Kid)” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

7. Washington (6-0)

I doubted Washington early, and at this point I’m not sure why. The Huskies pounded Cal on Saturday night — yes, Chris Petersen, a night game — and are one of three teams (Alabama, Ohio State) in the top 10 nationally in both scoring offense and scoring defense.

No. 19: “Century City” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

8. Washington State (6-0)

Wazzu’s still undefeated, taking complete advantage of an Oregon team without its starting quarterback, holding the Ducks to just 10 points, Oregon’s fewest since the LeGarrette Blount punch game.

No. 18: “Hometown Blues” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976

9. Miami (4-0)

What a wild finish in the rivalry game with Florida State, but Miami finally stopped its losing streak to the Noles. The Canes’ defense allowed more than 400 yards, but Malik Rosier threw three touchdown passes.

No. 17: “Listen to Her Heart” from You’re Gonna Get It!, 1978

10. Auburn (5-1)

Just like Alabama and Georgia, Auburn is clobbering everyone else in the SEC. Since only beating Mercer by 14, the Tigers have smoked Mizzou, Mississippi State and Ole Miss by a combined 144-47 score.

No. 16: “Runnin’ Down a Dream” from Full Moon Fever, 1989

11. Ohio State (5-1)

Somehow, the guy who was one of the most focused-on college football players of the summer, J.T. Barrett, is low-key having a phenomenal season. Saturday against Maryland: 320 passing/rushing yards and four total touchdowns.

No. 15: “Louisiana Rain” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

12. Virginia Tech (5-1)

Josh Jackson threw for 322 yards in the Hokies’ 13-point win over Boston College. You would’ve liked to see a bit more, but it was a nice bounce back after the loss to Clemson.

No. 14: “Ways to Be Wicked” from Nobody’s Children, 1995

13. Oklahoma State (4-1)

Okie State finally got to rest up after losing to TCU and almost losing to Texas Tech. The TCU loss looks better and better, but the Cowboys need to hope for a slip-up from the Frogs and not slip up themselves in the back-to-back gauntlet of West Virginia and Oklahoma.

No. 13: “Learning to Fly” from Into the Great Wide Open, 1991

14. Notre Dame (5-1)

Not expected to do much after last year’s eight-loss debacle, the Irish are kind of really good. They’re the No. 6 rushing team in the country, adding to their total with 341 more rush yards against North Carolina.

No. 12: “You Wreck Me” from Wildflowers, 1994

15. Michigan State (4-1)

Out of nowhere, here comes Sparty. A sensational defensive performance against a top-10 Michigan team in rain-soaked Ann Arbor, plus a not-so-bad loss to Notre Dame, has Mark Dantonio’s team skyrocketing.

No. 11: “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” from Stevie Nicks’ Bella Donna, 1981

16. West Virginia (3-2)

A valiant comeback attempt by Will Grier & Co. was shut down by Kenny Hill, but that doesn’t take away from West Virginia managing to look good on the road against one of the country’s best teams.

No. 10: “I Won’t Back Down” from Full Moon Fever, 1989

17. USC (5-1)

You don’t really get any points for beating up on terrible Oregon State. But things are about to get much tougher for Sam Darnold and USC with back-to-back games coming against Utah and Notre Dame.

No. 9: “Anything That’s Rock N Roll” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976

18. Oklahoma (4-1)

Iowa State played out of its mind, had a linebacker throwing passes and pulled the upset of the year. Baker Mayfield played well, the Sooners were just derailed by fumbling at the worst possible time. And like that, the Playoff chances take a nosedive.

No. 8: “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” from Greatest Hits, 1993

19. North Carolina State (5-1)

Don’t talk back to the Wolfpack, who now have beaten Florida State and Louisville this season. A Week 1 home loss to South Carolina — how did that happen? — is all preventing the Nov. 4 game against Clemson from determining the ACC.

No. 7: “Breakdown” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976

20. Stanford (4-2)

With a big win over previously undefeated Utah, the Cardinal are really still in the mix for the Pac-12 crown. Two losses (even two good ones) might box Stanford out of the Playoff race, but Bryce Love & Co. are a good team.

No. 6: “Don’t Do Me Like That” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

21. South Florida (5-0)

No game for the high-scoring Bulls this weekend. All eyes are on the season finale against UCF.

No. 5: “Even the Losers” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

22. Louisville (4-2)

Not even Lamar Jackson’s 427 total yards and three total touchdowns could put Louisville past NC State. The Cardinals have allowed 37.3 points per game in their four contests against Power Five teams this season.

No. 4: “Free Fallin’” from Full Moon Fever, 1989

23. San Diego State (6-0)

Another win for the Aztecs and another big day for Rashaad Penny. They’ve got six wins, two of them coming against Pac-12 teams, and can’t possibly lose to another Mountain West team, right?

No. 3: “The Waiting” from Hard Promises, 1981

24. Michigan (4-1)

The Wolverines’ offensive ineptitude really bit them hard on Saturday night, as the Big Ten-iest game of all-time ended in Michigan State walking out of the Big House with a win. Michigan can’t run the ball, nor can it throw the ball, which is a horrendous combination.

No. 2: “American Girl” from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, 1976

25. Utah (4-1)

The Utes are undefeated no more, losing to a good Stanford team on Saturday. In a crowded and competitive Pac-12, Utah gets no rest: USC next and Oregon, Wazzu and Washington down the line.

No. 1: “Refugee” from Damn the Torpedoes, 1979

Others receiving votes

UCF (4-0)

The Knights are rolling just as well as any Group of Five team out there, dropping 51 points in three quarters on Cincinnati.

Georgia Tech (3-1)

Off week for the Jackets, who have the second-best rushing offense in the country (shocking, I know) and a one-loss record in a crowded ACC.

Iowa (4-2)

The Hawkeyes finally got to exhale from those back-to-back losses to Penn State and Michigan State, two of the best-looking teams in the Big Ten. Iowa beat up on Illinois for a near 30-point win.

Texas Tech (4-1)

Scoring 65 points against Kansas is always fun! A good tune up for the Red Raiders who play road games at West Virginia and Oklahoma over the course of their next three games.

LSU (4-2)

Good for Coach O to go into The Swamp and get a huge road win over a ranked Florida team to stop his program’s free fall. Beating Florida is a whole lot better than losing to Troy.

Florida (3-2)

The Gators somehow lost a home game to an LSU team that lost to Troy last weekend. But I wanted to include Florida here to sign off with what The Swamp did to honor Tom Petty. It was awesome.

Other Tom Petty songs receiving votes

“Baby’s a Rock N Roller” from You’re Gonna Get It!, 1978

“Letting You Go” from Hard Promises, 1981

“Straight Into Darkness” from Long After Dark, 1982

“Make It Better (Forget About Me)” from Southern Accents, 1985

“The Apartment Song” from Full Moon Fever, 1989

“Surrender” from Anthology: Through the Years, 2000

New quarterback but similar result as Illini get walloped by Iowa

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New quarterback but similar result as Illini get walloped by Iowa

Illinois had a new quarterback at the helm of its offense Saturday, but the result was all too similar for Lovie Smith's team.

Jeff George Jr. got the start and had some flashes early on, but the Iowa Hawkeyes dominated the Illini for a 45-16 runaway win in Iowa City.

Illinois actually hung with Iowa for an entire half, holding a second-quarter lead and trailing at halftime by only four. George led a game-tying, 85-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, and the Illini took the lead after intercepting Nathan Stanley and turning that giveaway into a field goal. But an Akrum Wadley touchdown run in the final seconds before halftime brought an end to Illinois' last lead of the day.

George had the Illini in a position to retake the lead midway through the third quarter, but an 89-yard Iowa pick six pretty much sealed the deal, swinging the momentum entirely in the Hawkeyes' favor. They poured it on in the fourth quarter, scoring four touchdowns to turn an eight-point game into a 29-point rout.

Illinois matched Iowa in many respects, both teams going over 440 total yards. But George's three interceptions proved to be difference, especially when one of those turnovers was taken back for a back-breaking touchdown. George and Stanley threw for a nearly identical number of yards, but Stanley had just one pick to George's three and also threw a trio of touchdown passes.

After making the quarterback change after last weekend's loss to Nebraska, Smith saw an offense that moved much better than it had in previous weeks under Chayce Crouch's leadership. But the Illini still turned the ball over at critical moments and failed to produce many points. This time, though, the defense couldn't hold up its end of the bargain, either, especially late as the score snowballed.

Illinois dropped to 2-3 with the loss and is 0-2 in its two conference games. Iowa stopped the bleeding after losing back-to-back games to Penn State and Michigan State.