Entering the 2021 season, all the talk surrounding college football was related to anything but on-field performance. From the transfer portal to College Football Playoff expansion, everyone had an opinion about how something was going to change or potentially ruin the game forever. After last Saturday, it is apparent that the college football game is absolutely alive and well. Three of the CFP regulars (Ohio State, Clemson, and Alabama) all have a loss, Cincinnati (a Group of Five school) is firmly regarded as a top 5 team, and there are five Big Ten schools in the AP Top 10. The Big Ten had a huge weekend with some fantastic matchups that delivered all day long. Someone had to lose in Iowa City, Michigan had to throw the ball, and Ohio State seems to be hitting their stride… just a classic weekend for the Big Ten.
Iowa outlasts Penn State 23-20
College football fans everywhere were glued to their TVs (or devices of any kind) to watch the back and forth battle between the No. 3 Hawkeyes and No. 4 Nittany Lions. For much of the 1st quarter, Penn State controlled the game behind the rhythmic passing of QB Sean Clifford, despite his opening drive interception. Iowa’s stingy rush defense eliminated much of the Penn State’s ground game, and Clifford’s arm guided the offense to two scores.
But he took a hard hit just before the field goal that made the game 17-3 that was the difference in the game. Clifford appeared to injure his non-throwing shoulder, and after he was evaluated, he did not return. Backup QB Ta’Quan Roberson performed admirably but could only manage a field goal in the 2nd half, and Penn State was outscored 20-3 after the Clifford injury. The Nittany Lion defense played well most of the game, but it’s obvious that to make a run, Clifford must be in the lineup.
For the Iowa Hawkeyes, it all starts with defense, and Saturday against Penn State was no different. Their defense survives on turnovers and once again feasted, this time on Penn State. Four interceptions killed Penn State’s drives and gave the Hawkeye offense a short field, which helped them control tempo and field position. QB Spencer Petras wasn’t spectacular, but he was a good enough complement to the Hawkeyes running game to get the win. The rest of Iowa’s schedule sets up nicely, so it will be shocking if they don’t make it to Indy for the Big Ten Championship Game.
Michigan survives Nebraska 32-39
It was the upset special in the heartland. Though they had lost 2 of the last 3 games, the Nebraska Cornhuskers were looking much better than their lackluster start to the season. Riding high off the bludgeoning they handed Northwestern, it seemed this could be the game that would turn their season.
Only it wasn’t.
QB Adrian Martinez continued to play good football, but some questionable coaching moves in the 1st half dug the Huskers into a 13-0 hole that was too deep to climb. Outside of yielding the 50 yarder to RB Hassan Haskins, the Huskers’ rush defense played well enough to win. They might even be the best 3-4 in the country. It’s unfortunate that they’re just not getting the results.
It was the Michigan defense that stepped up big in the game’s crucial minutes. With the game tied at 29 apiece and the Huskers driving from their own 34 yard line, Sr DB Brad Hawkins stepped up and forced an Adrian Martinez fumble. This gave the Michigan offense the field position they needed to allow Kicker Jake Moody to knock down the 39 yard game winner.
Sitting at 6-0 with 3 conference wins, this Michigan team continues to find ways to win. QB Cade McNamara has steadily improved as the season has progressed. He threw for over 250 yards to beat Nebraska, but they will need even more as the Wolverines dive into Big Ten East division play, a division that features four teams in the AP top 10.
Ohio State throttles Maryland 66-17
It looked how it needed to for Ohio State. For the third straight week, this Buckeye squad has been hitting on all cylinders. Since the Tulsa game, there has been steady improvement on both sides of the ball. However, has that been due to the level competition or actual scheme and player development?
As of Saturday, it now looks like this Buckeye team will be ready to take on all comers in the Big Ten East, the toughest division in football per the AP rankings. The offense was an absolute juggernaut against an overwhelmed Terps defense. QB CJ Stroud, who threw for over 400 yards and 5 touchdowns, could be a sneaky good pick to win the Heisman Trophy. RB TreVeyon Henderson quietly amassed over 100 yards on the ground and was even more impressive in the passing game. Tossing him the ball in space on a swing route while he weaves his way through the defense is truly a sight to see. The offensive line also appears to be gelling at just the right time, so the Buckeye offensive might be the most explosive and versatile in the nation.
Even more impressive than the Buckeye offense are the strides made by the Silver Bullet defense. The team that couldn’t stop the same crack sweep against Oregon is now shutting down a Maryland offense that has impressive talent on the perimeter. It has all started up front with stellar play from DT Tyleik Williams, who has raised the bar for this entire position group, and now the three leading tacklers are LBs (Chamber, Eichenberg and Simon), which is how a defense should operate. Add in another impressive performance from DB Ronnie Hickman, and this young corps is something Buckeye fans can feel good about. The young secondary is looking good, and they forced Tagovailoa into two more interceptions. Give this defense a few more weeks, and it might be good enough to make a title run.