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The Whistlestop Tour: Week 2 In Big Ten Football

In short, it was ugly.

Sandra Dukes-USA TODAY Sports

In short, it was ugly. If you haven't read Adam Jacobi's piece on the Big Ten's Saturday, you should. Here was the final tally:

  • The Big Ten went 8-5, with Indiana probably looking the best. Indiana did not play a single down.
  • The MAC walked into West Lafayette and Evanston and won without too much difficulty.
  • The MAC nearly won in Iowa City and pushed Penn State in State College.
  • Nebraska, Illinois, Iowa, and Maryland each won games that were far too close.
  • The conference went 0-3 in the "name" matchups, losing by a combined 64 points to Virginia Tech, Notre Dame, and Oregon.

Our SB Nation blogs had quite a bit to say:

Central Michigan 38, Purdue 17

You're heard me rant about this enough, so let's go to Boiled Sports:

So while their 1-1 record is what I thought it would be at this point, I didn't think that one of their "easier" contests would be a lambasting. Small problems that looked correctable a week ago versus a bad opponent suddenly look monumental as they prepare for a better team, Notre Dame, in Indianapolis. From what I've seen, UND's uniforms for the game will look like Kent State's...and while I thought playing a team dressed like a MAC opponent might help Purdue's psyche, now I know that Purdue will be seeing a MAC team in its collective nightmares.

Illinois 42, Western Kentucky 34

The argument is that if Illinois did not have Wes Lunt it would be 0-2. The transfer from Oklahoma State has certainly been the difference so far for the Illini, though they are about as shaky of a 2-0 team as you can be:

Wes Lunt had a phenomenal day, passing for 456 yards hitting 35 of 50 passes including 3 touchdowns and 1 interception. This guy is going to be a hoot to watch while he's here, but he's still got work to do. At times, he'll be impatient, trying to fit his passes into tight coverage. He again and again displays the arm strength -- there doesn't seem to be a player his passes can't reach, but accurately hitting those receivers isn't always guaranteed. He's young, so I'm not expecting him to be flawless, but he's got so much potential that I can't help but imagine what he could be someday.

Nebraska 31, McNeese State 24

Corn Nation out there in Nebraska near had a full-fledged riot before Ameer Abdullah saved them with a final minute TD. This is a team that was supposed to be the class of the West, but it nearly dropped a home game to an FCS team:

With less than a minute to go, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were tied with the McNeese State Cowboys at 24, and it looked like the FCS contenders were going to take one of the faves for the Big Ten Conference to overtime. Then, with a simple out route from Tommy Armstrong Jr, Abdullah took a pass, shed at least 5 tackles, and got the ball in the endzone 58 yards from where the play started to give Nebraska a 31-24 victory against the Cowboys.

Rutgers 38, Howard 25

This was not much of a game, as Rutgers was comfortably ahead 31-7 at halftime. It sounds like the second half was a little sloppy, but Rutgers is still 2-0, which is better than a good portion of the league:

With a 31-7 lead at half and all the momentum in their back pockets, Rutgers looked ready to cruise towards a serious blowout. With just one second half touchdown however, the Knights let Howard back into the game by allowing 18 points in the third and fourth quarters on 296 yards of offense.

Penn State 21, Akron 3

A 21-3 game is probably one of the most boring types of games. Your defense is dominant, but your offense is struggling to the point where you're never totally safe. This is true with the Nittany Lions, who were only up 7-3 late in the third:

The home opener was, in many ways, the polar opposite of the season opener across the pond; though the score was more lopsided than last week's victory over the UCF Knights, somehow it seemed more in doubt the entire time. The stats weren't there. There wasn't the complete domination on both sides, the ability to move the ball at will despite not putting it in the endzone, that our offense showed in Dublin.

Wisconsin 37, Western Illinois 3

The Badgers blew this game open after leading only 2-0 for most of the first half. It was the passing game that did most of the damage:

Surprisingly, the Badgers' passing game was more effective than their rushing attack. The Badgers totaled 456 total yards in the game, with 289 passing and 167 rushing. Corey Clement led the team with 57 rushing yards, while McEvoy finished the game with 55 rushing yards, Gordon ended with 38 yards on 17 carries. Arneson and Erickson emerged as the Badgers' two leading receiving targets, with Erickson catching 10 passes for 122 yards and a touchdown, and Arneson catching four passes for 87 yards.

Northern Illinois 23, Northwestern 15

Northern Illinois is the best team in the state of Illinois. This is a fact. They have won more Big Ten games (3) than Illinois and Northwestern combined (2) in the past two seasons. At 0-2 the Wildcats are looking very disjointed:

You can try to find reasons to be optimistic. You can tell yourself that this 0-2 start is an aberration or a minor setback or the product of bad luck. You can read quotes from players or point out seemingly fixable things like "character and poise" and believe that the Wildcats are going to turn their season around. Or you can look at how Northwestern has played since last year's Ohio State loss and conclude that the program is in a free fall.

Minnesota 35, Middle Tennessee State 24

Much like last week, the Golden Gophers built a big lead only to let the opponent creep back in during the second half. There are still questions in the passing game, but the running game remains strong:

David Cobb had a career day rushing the ball.  At the half the senior had 113 yards and a touchdown with a 7.9 yard average.  By the end of the third quarter he had set a new career high with 192 yards on 24 carries and another touchdown, this one for 48 yards.  Cobb's 220 yards for the game was the 12th most in Gopher history and the most since Lawrence Maroney back in 2005.

Iowa 17, Ball State 13

Ball State deserved to win this game, but went conservative on offense and the defense gave up two touchdown drives at the end after a solid day. As a Purdue fan I feel their pain. Ball State was the better team for most of the day only to blow it in the end. That's happened to Purdue far too often:

If Iowa goes -16 against anyone on its Big Ten schedule, it's almost certainly going to lose. The talent disparity won't be there to bail Iowa out against its peers in recruiting, and even bottom-feeders like Illinois, Purdue and Indiana have quarterbacks who are capable of punishing a still-green Iowa back seven better than Ozzie Effin' Football did.

Or, to put it all more bluntly: that kind of game won't beat anybody in the Big Ten. Either Iowa gets better or Iowa goes 0-8. That's your main takeaway.

Maryland 24, South Florida 17

The Terrapins struggled way too much against an awful team like South Florida. Of course, giving up six turnovers will do that:

Kenneth Goins blocked a fourth-quarter punt, which was scooped up and returned for a touchdown by Avery Thompson, to rescue Maryland from a less-than-lackluster showing Saturday at Raymond James Stadium, where the Terps survived South Florida, 24-17.

A win is a win, of course, but it was a day where the good news barely served as a blip on the radar against a tidal wave of trouble signs in a turnover-plagued performance against a two-touchdown underdog in an empty stadium.

Oregon 46, Michigan State 27

Is there such a thing as a hard-fought 19 point loss? I watched most of this game and it seemed to have three acts. Oregon dominated the first and third act, while Michigan State dominated the second. It is far from a bad loss and if the teams played again you could get a completely different result:

With the Spartans up 27-18 in the third quarter and on the verge of forcing Mariota into another three -and-out, the Heisman candidate eluded the grasp of linebacker Darien Harris before eventually leading the Ducks on a scoring drive to cut their deficit to 27-25 after finding Devon Allen for a 23-yard score with 4:33 left in the third.

Notre Dame 31, Michigan 0

Michigan had gone a record 30 years since getting shutout, but that streak is done. The Irish made them pay for every mistake and now Michigan is on fire:

Every loss in football is in some part due to missed opportunities.  Teams try and fail all the time, and the narrative arc of most games lends itself well to second guessing those critical moments.

That being said, I don't know if I can remember another single half of a Michigan game that was chock full of as many missed opportunities and bad breaks as the first half was against Notre Dame.  Just glancing over the box score and play by play I came up with a short list of pivotal moments in which Michigan tried and failed.

Virginia Tech 35, Ohio State 21

This was easily the most surprising result of the day. Virginia Tech wasn't supposed to have much of an offense and the OSU defense is always supposed to be good, but the Hokies walked into the ‘shoe and simply pushed OSU around for over three hours:

The Hokies' defense was even better than advertised, and if they can manage to stay healthy through conference play, give VT a real chance in the ACC's wide open Coastal division. The Buckeyes, on the other hand, still in many ways have more questions than answers. They have all the talent in the world, and with Michigan State outed as a bit shy of their 2013 predecessors earlier in the day, a puncher's chance in the Big Ten East. But the Buckeyes overall are still a work in progress in too many areas of consequence to feel any real sense of optimism.

Purdue's other non-conference opponents:

Western Michigan - ON BYE

Southern Illinois 38, Eastern Illinois 21 - This was an impressive win for the Salukis against one of the Final Four FCS teams last year. EIU also played Minnesota tough in week 1.