Week 1 of the 2016 season featured a slate that wasn’t exactly passion inducing for most of the Big Ten. Such is the case when there’s just one marquee matchup and bunch of cupcakes or mismatches happening (looking at you Rutgers).
Considering the lack of hype behind the matchups heading in to the first week of the season, there was certainly no shortage of impressions made by Big Ten teams. What with a surprising home loss by one team, another setting crazy offensive records and still another making a big national statement with an upset of a SEC team — plenty of impressions were made.
Let’s take a look at what stood out to us from Week 1
Time Not to Panic for Northwestern
We’re going to start with a negative impression, as the Wildcats were the only Big Ten team to drop a game they were favored in. How did a loss to Western Michigan happen?
It certainly wasn’t because of a lack of improvement from Clayton Thorson (late-game fumble near the goal line notwithstanding). Nor was it a lack of quality play in the run game, as Justin Jackson went for 124 yards and three touchdowns (including a 46-yard TD run).
Northwestern’s main problem was an inability to get off the field when it really needed to on defense. Letting any team go 4-for-4 on fourth down conversions is not a good look. It totally came back to bite Northwestern in the butt in this game.
One of those four fourth down conversions came on a 4th-and-1 and turned in to a touchdown for running back Jamauri Bogan of Western Michigan.
Let’s also remember this team is one inch or two away from having this game be a W. If it weren’t for Thorson fumbling right before the goal line late in the game, a recovery by Western Michigan and said WMU player barely stepping out-of-bounds before throwing the ball back in to the end zone and seeing Northwestern grab that ball…well, we aren’t talking about a loss.
One freak play doesn’t define a season, nor should one freak effort on fourth downs. I can guarantee you that you won’t see either of those two things combine to beat Northwestern again this season, and I can also guarantee you that the Wildcats will get a few more touchdowns through the air this season.
Wisconsin’s Win Makes Big Statement
Was it a pretty game at Lambeau Field? Absolutely not, and that was exactly to the Wisconsin Badgers’ advantage. However, the W for the Wisconsin Badgers was a massive one, not only for the team but for the Big Ten.
It was Wisconsin’s first win against an SEC team in regular season play, and the beauty of it all was that it took the entire team to get it done. The running game powered Wisconsin at times, with Bart Houston finding some big plays needed in the passing game and the special teams units playing impressively as well.
But, what was most impressive in the 16-14 victory? That has to be Wisconsin’s ability to execute its defensive gameplan nearly flawlessly. All week I was asked the question “if Wisconsin wins this game, it does it how?”
My answer was simple, make Leonard Fournette earn some hard yards early on and force LSU to become the Brandon Harris show. That’s exactly what happened early on, and Brandon Harris went just 12 of 21 for 131 yards and 1 touchdown to 2 interceptions.
As for Fournette, he did have 138 yards but was held out of the end zone and got 48 of those 138 yards on two plays in the second half.
Here’s all you really need to know about how quickly Wisconsin took Fournette out of the game — LSU’s second series of the game saw three straight passes by Harris, followed by another two passes to start the third series of the game. Notice who wasn’t given the football? All total, Fournette had just
Fournette’s biggest play came on LSU’s second touchdown drive, with Harris hitting him on a wheel route down the left sideline. When his biggest play comes in the passing game, that’s a win for the defense in a big way.
It was simply flawless and methodical execution by the Badgers defense against a LSU team that is going to win a lot of games in 2016. Big Ten teams have to be very aware that the Badgers defense isn’t taking a step back any time soon.
Ohio State’s Offense is More Dangerous Than We Thought
All offseason the question for Ohio State is how would the offense work without so many of its top skill positions players from last season. While Bowling Green’s defense is really bad, and has been for a few years now, what Ohio State did was historically impressive.
OSU set a team record for total offense, racking up 776 yards and scoring a crazy 77 points. It wasn’t just the J.T. Barrett show either, as redshirt freshman running back Mike Weber had 136 yards of offense in his debut game.
Still, six passing touchdowns and 349 yards of passing from J.T. Barrett is absolutely ridiculous to see..and it also means there are some big time weapons at his disposal on the outside. Oh, and did we mention that H-Back Curtis Samuel nearly went for 100 yards receiving and 100 yards rushing in one game?
It is safe to say this team has some offensive weapons to make teams not key on just Barrett or just the running game.
The only question that remains is if this team can keep up the explosive plays we saw on Saturday against a really bad defense. Judging by the historically great production of this team, it is highly likely this offense is going to be explosive all season long.
Just don’t expect record-setting performances against Big Ten defenses, but do expect this offense to give defenses fits all season long.
Nebraska Had A Program-Defining Moment
There’s no right way to honor a player who is taken in such a tragic and unexpected way as Nebraska punter Sam Foltz was just prior to Big Ten media days in late July. However, the Huskers showed the rest of the college football world one of the most meaningful ways a team could honor someone like Foltz I’ve ever seen.
With the Huskers forced in to a punt early on against Fresno State, the team lined up with 10 players and left Foltz’s position empty. Not only that but they took an intentional delay of game penalty for the gesture. Judging by the emotional outpouring on the Nebraska sideline, it is safe to say Foltz’s memory is going to have a last impression on his teammates and those around the program for a very long time.
If you haven’t seen the moment, check it out here:
Oh, and big ups to Fresno State for getting what that penalty was about and declining it, as well as the yardage that could’ve been gained. In a world full of press clippings for all the bad things happening off the field, this was equally as important to remember.
Beyond the awesomeness of the moment, it also appears that this tragedy has only served to make this team tighter. It should help given the schedule the Huskers have in 2016, but the key is to take that feeling, bottle it up and unleash that energy every week.
It will be interesting to see how the Huskers take on the rest of the season, because they sure played with all the emotion needed to beat Fresno State and then some.