Saturday, October 24, 2020

Green's five takeaways from Week 1 of the Big Ten season

Photo Credit: John Peterson/Illinois Athletics

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

Welcome to the first installment of Green’s five takeaways from the Big Ten week. Our opener begins with an unforgettable debut by Wisconsin quarterback Graham Mertz.

1) Graham crackers for days:
After a long, dry spell of Big Ten football, the return occurred Friday night and redshirt freshman Graham Mertz put his name on the national map with a five-touchdown performance and broke the Wisconsin school record for completion percentage in a game going 20-of-21 through the air.
The gaudy numbers highlighted a Badgers 45-7 mugging over the Illinois Fighting Illini, whose calling card coming into the game was their stellar defense. The defense took a hit with the loss of linebacker Jake Hansen as he stumbled to the ground after taking a wicked shot seconds before.

2) Fields of dreams:
Despite a competitive showing by Nebraska in the first half, Ohio State’s offense notched things up to another level behind a vintage Justin Fields performance in a 52-17 win at Ohio Stadium. Fields looked in mid-season form going 20-of-21 passing for 276 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
If I said 20-of-21 a second time in this piece, note that it is not a mistake as Mertz accomplished the same feat the night before and would be fun to see them air it out in Indianapolis on Dec. 19 in the title game.
The biggest beneficiaries of Fields’ performance were 100-yard performances from Garrett Wilson (129) and Chris Olave (104). Despite the dominance, the spotlight belonged to Jaxon Smith-Njigba with the catch of the season as the freshman tip-toed his right foot inbounds for a five-yard touchdown reception.

3) The Schiano difference:
The return of Greg Schiano to the Rutgers sideline as head coach rubbed off on the players as the defense forced seven Michigan State turnovers in a 38-27 win to snap a 21-game losing streak in Big Ten play dating back to the 2017 season.
It took 8:03 for the Scarlet Knights to match its 14-point total through five games last season. Isaih Pacheco scored the first of his two touchdowns on the day in that stretch as Rutgers scored its first win over Michigan State since Sept. 4, 2004, when they were members of the Big East conference (now the American Athletic Conference in football).
2020 has taught us that anything is possible and maybe Rutgers could play the role of spoiler for some of the Big Ten’s elite teams.

4) Don’t think Ford first:
For Penn State running back Devyn Ford, an ordinary touchdown would be something to celebrate, but for the sophomore it backfired as he should have fallen to the ground before scoring to secure what would have been a 21-20 win over Indiana.
Instead, the touchdown brought new life back to Indiana and took advantage as it trailed 28-20 and went down the field for a 75-yard scoring drive capped off by a Michael Penix Jr. two-point conversion to even the score at 28.
After a Penn State touchdown in the top end of the first OT, Indiana countered with a score of its own, but coach Tom Allen went for all the roses on a two-point conversion and the gamble paid off as Penix Jr. dove for every last inch towards the goal line for the game-winner. Indiana’s 36-35 win over No. 8 Penn State signaled that the Big Ten east race is not as generic as most assumed going into the season.

5) Wolverines gone wild:
After uncertainty at the quarterback spot with Dylan McCaffrey’s transfer, Michigan’s Joe Milton stepped into the top spot and fit like a gator shoe going 15-of-22 for 225 yards and a touchdown through the air in a 49-24 over Minnesota on the road at TCF Bank Stadium.
The Michigan offense showed a ton of vitality on the ground game as it finished with 256 yards, highlighted by a pair of touchdowns by Hassan Haskins as the Little Brown Jug trophy stays in the city of Ann Arbor for the foreseeable future as the next meeting will not be until 2023 in the regular season.