Saturday, September 5, 2009
A quick look at the early Big Ten games
By ESPN.com staff
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Most of the Big Ten menu comes early today, so before things kick off in Ann Arbor and St. Louis, here's my quick take on what has transpired so far.
I've already examined Ohio State's and Iowa's lousy debuts, but let's look at the other six games.
Penn State 31, Akron 7 -- Few expected anything less from the Nittany Lions, who need to win and win impressively to garner national respect. Senior Daryll Clark showed why he's the best quarterback in the Big Ten, looking extremely precise and getting a bunch of wide receivers involved. Penn State hasn't missed a beat in the defensive front seven, totally shutting down Akron's running game. Right now, the Lions are the Big Ten's best team, and Joe Paterno had to like what he saw in his return to the sideline.
Minnesota 23, Syracuse 20 (OT) -- What looked like an easy win for the Golden Gophers turned into a dogfight, but Minnesota avoided more doom in domed stadiums with a critical overtime win. There were several potential problems -- quarterback Adam Weber's play, a few defensive breakdowns -- but Minnesota rallied for a road win against a team that looks a lot better this year. Wideout Eric Decker (183 receiving yards) is a stud, but most of us knew that. Linebackers Lee Campbell and Simoni Lawrence played well, and Minnesota got a big lift from junior kicker Eric Ellestad (3 field goals).
Michigan State 44, Montana State 3 -- This is pretty much what Mark Dantonio had in mind for the opener, as Michigan State had no trouble with Montana State. Quarterbacks Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol continued to pace one another, but in a good way as they combined for five touchdowns. The defense held Montana State in check. I'd still give Cousins the edge in the quarterback race, but it will continue for at least another week.
Purdue 52, Toledo 31 -- A very impressive debut for Purdue head coach Danny Hope, whose team answered some lingering questions in the opener. The run game unquestionably will be the Boilers strength this fall, as Ralph Bolden and Jaycen Taylor combined for 315 rush yards. Bolden, who had a superb spring, looks like a budding star in this league. Quarterback Joey Elliott was a bit of a mixed bag, but he tossed three touchdown passes (and three picks). Keith Smith clearly looks like the Boilers' top option at receiver.
Northwestern 47, Towson 14 -- Despite the horrendous competition, Northwestern got its new starting skill players on offense some much needed confidence. Starting quarterback Mike Kafka was extremely efficient, and senior wide receiver Andrew Brewer finally established himself as the team's top option in the passing game. This game was over in a hurry, so the Wildcats got reps for plenty of their personnel, including backup quarterback Dan Persa. Things are going to get tougher down the line, but a solid opening statement for NU.