The Michigan Wolverines went to Camp Randall and blew out Wisconsin in dominant fashion this past weekend. In fact, a lot of college football games this past weekend were very similar to that.
Some of Michigan’s 2021 opponents were on the right side of the blowout, while others, like Rutgers and Northwestern, were on the complete opposite side. Let’s break it all down.
Western Michigan (Sept. 4, 47-14 win)
After a successful non-conference portion that included a win over Pitt, the Broncos began their MAC slate with a 24-17 win at Buffalo. WMU’s weapon-laden offense started slow but scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, taking the lead for good on a deep strike from Kaleb Eleby to Skyy Moore. Moore went off, catching 11 passes for 163 yards and two scores. The Broncos controlled the game for the most part, holding the ball for over 40 minutes, but Parker Sampson missed two field goals and Eleby was sacked on a fourth-and-goal.
Overall, a solid win for the Broncos (4-1), who figure to contend in the MAC this season. Next up is defending conference champ Ball State at home.
Washington (Sept. 11, 31-10 win)
It might be a good idea to look out for Oregon State this season. The Beavers look much-improved in their fourth season under Jonathan Smith and are 4-1 and 2-0 in Pac-12 play after their 27-24 win over Washington in Corvallis.
Point being, this wasn’t a bad loss for the Huskies, who fell to 2-3. Their often-dormant run game got going, with Sean McGrew and Kamari Pleasant combining for 187 yards on 27 carries. They also held Beaver quarterback Chance Nolan to 48 yards passing. But Oregon State used its ground-and-pound to drive the Huskies into submission, going 54 yards — all runs — on their final drive that ended in a game-winning field goal.
Washington is on bye next week before hosting UCLA.
Northern Illinois (Sept. 18, 63-10 win)
NIU (3-2) took a 17-0 lead over Eastern Michigan in their MAC opener, then fended off a late comeback attempt to win 27-20 and improve to 3-2 on the season. It wasn’t the best day for Rocky Lombardi, who completed just 9-of-20 passes for 84 yards, but the Huskies ran for 242 yards on 55 rushing attempts to defend their home turf.
Next up for Northern Illinois is a road date with Toledo (3-2).
Rutgers (Sept. 25, 20-13 win)
The Scarlet Knights’ strong start looks a lot more smoke and mirrors after what happened this past Saturday in Piscataway. Ohio State routed Rutgers (3-2, 0-2), 52-13, in a game that was never close — the Buckeyes led 45-6 at halftime. Noah Vedral tossed three interceptions and the Scarlet Knights’ defense was torched by an Ohio State offense that ripped off big gains at will. There were no real bright spots for a team hoping to show improvement from past seasons against the Big Ten’s elite, but instead was clearly unable to compete.
Rutgers hosts Michigan State this Saturday.
Nebraska (Oct. 9)
The big question for the Huskers so far has been what they might be capable of if they could quit shooting themselves in the foot. Now we know.
Nebraska (3-3, 1-2) obliterated Northwestern, 56-7, this past weekend. Adrian Martinez completed 11-of-17 passes for 202 yards and a score, and ran for 50 yards and three more scores. Freshman running backs Jaquez Yant (a former walk-on) and Rahmir Johnson blew up, pacing a 427-yard rushing performance that evoked Husker teams of old — many of those yards came out of triple-option looks. Perhaps most encouragingly, Nebraska committed just four penalties for 19 yards, didn’t turn it over and didn’t commit any special-teams errors. In fact, Will Przystup’s lone punt went for 84 yards.
After two painful losses, the challenge for the Huskers against a clearly inferior Northwestern team was to put a clean game together. If they can do the same against Michigan this weekend, we’ll be in for an entertaining one this Saturday.
Northwestern (Oct. 23)
Even in their worst years under Pat Fitzgerald, the Wildcats (2-3, 0-2) are often able to complete by mucking things up with their defense. That doesn’t appear like it will be the case this season. Northwestern gave up 500 yards to both Michigan State and Duke, and allowed 657 yards and 28 first downs to Nebraska. With running back Evan Hull and receiver Stephon Robinson Jr. (8 catches, 116 yards against the Huskers), the Wildcats have a few offensive playmakers, but they’ll need a lot more to keep pace with the rest of the Big Ten.
Northwestern is on bye this week before hosting Rutgers on Oct. 16.
Michigan State (Oct. 30)
The Spartans improved to 5-0 for the first time since 2015 behind a 48-31 win over Western Kentucky — they were outscored 15-3 in the fourth quarter, but that’s another story. But against a high-powered Hilltopper group led by Bailey Zappe (488 yards passing), Michigan State showed once again it could win in a very non-Michigan State way: with its offense. Payton Thorne threw for 327 yards, Kenneth Walker III ran for 126 yards and three touchdowns and Jailen Nailor caught eight passes for 128 yards. Jayden Reed housed an 88-yard punt return for his third such touchdown in as many games.
While WKU actually outpaced MSU in total yards (560-519) and first downs (31-26), explosive plays proved to be the difference for the Spartans. Nevertheless, they’ve got a few defensive issues to shore up before they can safely be labeled a contender.
Indiana (Nov. 6)
Nothing went right for the Hoosiers (2-3, 0-2) in their 24-0 loss at Penn State. Michael Penix Jr. sadly just isn’t the same coming off his torn ACL last season. He went just 10-of-22 for 118 yards and a pick before leaving due to a shoulder injury and being replaced by Jack Tuttle, who couldn’t generate anything on offense either. Of course, there was no help from Indiana’s running game and offensive line. Leading rusher Stephen Carr ran for just 50 yards on 15 carries. Indiana did have a few chances to score — down 21-0 in the third quarter, Tom Allen sent out Charles Campbell to attempt a short field goal on 4th-and-6 from the Penn State 13. The kick was blocked.
The Hoosiers are off this week and host Michigan State the following week.
Penn State (Nov. 13)
A shutout speaks for itself. On the offensive end, it was a bit of a mixed bag for the Nittany Lions (5-0, 2-0). But one thing stood out: Penn State, which had been held to 80 yards rushing or less in three of their first four games, ran for 207 yards on 42 carries against Indiana, led by 239-pound sophomore Keyvone Lee (74 yards). Sean Clifford went just 17-of-33, but his scrambling (58 yards) added a dimension for PSU and he hooked up for two touchdowns with Jahan Dotson (eight catches, 84 yards).
The Nittany Lions are currently in possession of the Big Ten’s best College Football Playoff chance until further notice. That further notice could come as soon as this Saturday, when they’ll be at unbeaten Iowa. Fortunately for them, it’s not a night game.
Maryland (Nov. 20)
New season, same old Maryland.
To be fair, the Terrapins’ 51-14 loss to Iowa on Friday night featured a major turning point in the second quarter, when leading receiver Dontay Demus suffered a gruesome injury on a muffed kickoff. Iowa, which led 10-7 at that point, scored the game’s next 34 points. But Maryland had a chance to make a statement, at home, and turned the ball over seven times. Taulia Tagovailoa, one of the nation’s most efficient passers coming in, threw five picks. This one unraveled pretty quickly for the Terps, who committed four turnovers in a stretch of just 10 plays in the second quarter.
Iowa is 5-0 and seems to be the same as ever, a Wisconsin-lite that tries to grind teams to death and ruthlessly punishes mistakes. Meanwhile, the Terps have to play a hot Ohio State team in Columbus this week.
Ohio State (Nov. 27)
Whatever defensive weaknesses Minnesota, Oregon and Tulsa exposed for the Buckeyes, they may have enough playmakers to overcome them most of the time. C.J. Stroud came back from an injury absence against Akron to complete 17 of 23 passes for 330 yards and five touchdowns, two of them going to Chris Olave (119 yards). Treveyon Henderson, Marcus Crowley and Master Teague all found success in the running game. Of Ohio State’s 65 plays from scrimmage, one-fifth of them went for at least 15 yards.
Maryland is reeling, and Ohio State appears to have found something. This Saturday could get ugly.