By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Ten observations or opinions after one week of Big Ten football:
- Purdue has a 3-1 record against Iowa with a member of the Brohm family coaching the Boilermakers.
Jeff Brohm is 2-1 against Iowa, while his younger brother, Brian Brohm, is 1-0 after serving this past Saturday as Purdue’s acting head coach in the absence of his older brother.
Jeff Brohm missed Purdue’s 24-20 victory after having tested positive for COVID-19.
His appeal to communicate remotely during the game was denied by the NCAA Football Rules Committee.
Jeff Brohm’s offensive system has caused major problems for Iowa defensive coordinator Phil Parker, and that’s not easy to do.
Jeff Brohm likes to spread the field and create space for his receivers, and when you have a receiver as talented as David Bell, it can be hard to stop.
Bell has caught 13 passes in each of his two games against Iowa, and he also scored all three of Purdue’s touchdowns this past Saturday, including the game-winner in the final minutes.
2. You would expect Michigan State to struggle some early under a new head coach who wasn’t hired until this past February, and with the obstacles caused by COVID-19, and with a new starting quarterback, but not to the extent of what happened against Rutgers.
The Scarlet Knights looked more organized, more motivated, and shockingly, more talented than the Spartans, who were dreadful on offense with seven turnovers, and below average on defense, which is the big surprise.
Greg Schiano has created a spark with his return to Rutgers, but that still doesn’t explain Michigan State’s listless performance.
The good news for Michigan State fans is that new head coach Mel Tucker is highly respected, and has excelled in many roles while climbing the coaching ladder.
Tucker needs time to fix the mess that Mark Dantonio apparently has left behind, and maybe a lot of time based on Michigan State’s 38-27 loss to Rutgers, which had lost its previous 21 conference games.
3. Northwestern is a different team with Indiana transfer Peyton Ramsey playing quarterback.
His experience, poise, precision, and his running ability, are just what Northwestern’s offense so desperately needed.
The Northwestern team that thumped Maryland 43-3 this past Saturday, and that faces Iowa this Saturday at Kinnick Stadium, looks nothing like the Northwestern team that scored fewer than 20 points in seven games last season, and three or fewer points in three games.
And though it’s just one game against an opponent that leaves much to be desired, Northwestern fans have reason to be optimistic because they already know they have a good head coach in Pat Fitzgerald, a respectable defense led by stud linebacker Paddie Fisher, two good running backs in Isaiah Bowser and Drake Anderson, to go along with Ramsey at quarterback.
Ramsey led Indiana to eight wins last season as the starter.
4. Speaking of Maryland, its performance was probably the worst in the Big Ten for the opening week, and that’s saying a lot because Illinois and Michigan State were dreadful, and Nebraska wasn’t much better.
Iowa and Penn State also both committed 10 penalties in their losses to Purdue and Indiana, while Minnesota’s defense performed woefully against Michigan.
So there’s plenty of shabby performances from which to choose, but Maryland’s was the worst of the bunch.
In addition to scoring just three points on offense, Maryland’s sieve-like defense allowed 537 yards.
Maryland has now lost 10 of its last 11 games dating back to last season under second-year head coach Mike Locksley.
5. It’s hard to know right now if Michigan’s 49-24 victory at Minnesota says more about the Wolverines from a positive standpoint, or about the Gophers from a negative standpoint.
Minnesota was without some key players, including its top two kickers, its top punter, two offensive linemen, and two players on defense.
But that still doesn’t explain why the Minnesota defense allowed 256 rushing yards and 481 total yards. Michigan also scored on five of its first seven possessions in the first half, and averaged 8.6 yards per carry as a team.
Minnesota is coming off an 11-2 season under head coach P.J. Fleck, raising both expectations and the excitement level.
But the Gophers also lost seven starters on defense from last season, and it showed against the Wolverines.
It could mean that Fleck still has work to do when it comes to reloading.
6. For the first time in quite a while, Wisconsin might not have an NFL-caliber running back to lead the way on offense.
And yet, the Badgers still demolished Illinois 45-7 this past Friday, but did so by using a pass-happy offense and a former five-star recruit at quarterback.
Redshirt freshman Graham Mertz completed 20-of-21 passes for 248 yards, and tied a program record with five touchdowns in his first career start. Mertz also tied a Wisconsin record with 17 consecutive completions.
However, his status is now uncertain after Mertz reportedly tested positive for the coronavirus. A positive test doesn’t necessarily mean Mertz will be out.
According to Big Ten protocols released last month, athletes who test positive through point of contact (POC) daily testing will require a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test to confirm the first result.
The earliest an athlete can return to game competition is 21 days following the diagnosis.
7. How good is Ohio State?
If we’re to believe its previous head coach, and the coach who faced the Buckeyes this past Saturday, real good.
“First of all, it’s an NFL roster,” said Urban Meyer, who led Ohio State to the national title in 2014. “I sat there going through, every player on their roster, offense, defense, will be in the NFL. Think about that. The only question is the secondary. You have Josh Proctor, Cam Brown, Sevyn Banks. Young players, highly recruited players replacing high draft picks in the NFL. That’s the only question mark.
“I think, as long as they stay healthy — the only thing that concerns Ohio State is Covid-19. That’s the only thing that can slow that team down.”
Nebraska head coach Scott Frost echoed that sentiment after watching the Buckeyes crush his team 52-17 in Columbus.
“A ton of credit to them, their quarterback, the speed they have at their skill (positions),” Frost said. “I think they have a lot of future pros on their team.”
The quarterback to whom Frost was referring is junior Justin Fields, who matched Mertz’s accuracy by completing 20-of-21 passes against Nebraska this past Saturday.
Fields is considered one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy, along with Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
8. With Saturday’s stunning 36-35 overtime victory against No. 8 Penn State at home, Indiana did something that no Hoosier football team had accomplished in 33 years.
It was Indiana’s first win over a top ten team since an upset of Ohio State in 1987.
Penn State held a 488 to 211 advantage in total yards, ran 25 more plays than IU, and led in time of possession 40:25 to 19:35, but still lost.
9. Junior Joe Milton was impressive in his first start for Michigan at quarterback.
The 6-5, 243-pound Milton, who played in mop-up duty behind Shea Patterson the last two seasons, completed 15-of-22 passes for 225 yards and a score during Saturday’s 49-24 victory at Minnesota. He added eight rushes for 52 yards and another score.
Milton also didn’t commit turnover.
10. Big Ten power rankings after week one: 1. Ohio State, 2. Michigan, 3. Wisconsin, followed by the other 11 teams in no specific order.