- Brian Bennett, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
With a week's worth of games now in the bank, it's time to take stock of who's up and who's down in the Big Ten:
Iowa's defensive line: The most surprising thing about the Hawkeyes' win over Northern Illinois wasn't that Damon Bullock emerged as a solid running back or that the team struggled to win. It was that the much-questioned defensive line played better than expected. Joe Gaglione had three tackles for loss and a sack, Dominic Alvis added two TFLs and a sack and the Huskies didn't do much offensively beyond quarterback Jordan Lynch's 73-yard run. The D-line is not great yet but showed it can be competent.
Minnesota's pass defense: Let's not get carried away by a performance against UNLV. But the Gophers had major troubles defending the pass in 2011 and showed some improvement in the opener. They are tied for third nationally in interceptions with three after recording only four all of last season. Derrick Wells had a pair of those. Minnesota will face much better passing teams down the road by at least has some reason for optimism.
Allen Robinson: One bright spot for Penn State in its opening loss to Ohio was the play of Robinson, their sophomore wide receiver. He had more catches (nine) than any other Big Ten player and totaled 97 receiving yards. The Nittany Lions receiving corps was a real question mark coming into the season, especially after Justin Brown transferred. But Robinson showed he has the tools to be a star.
Frankie Williams: Purdue coach Danny Hope has said he wished he hadn't redshirted Williams last season. Williams showed why in his first collegiate game against Eastern Kentucky, notching six tackles, a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. The Boilers were looking for playmakers at safety, and Williams looks like he can be just that.
Nebraska's offensive depth: The impressive thing about the Huskers' 49-20 win over Southern Miss was how many different players contributed to the offense. Even with Rex Burkhead missing most of the game with a knee injury, Nebraska had little trouble moving the ball. Ten different players caught at least one pass and nine different players took at least one carry. I picked the Cornhuskers to lead the Big Ten in scoring back in March. They have a chance to prove that right.
Iowa's pass protection: The Hawkeyes couldn't get much of anything going in the passing game against Northern Illinois, mostly because James Vandenberg couldn't stay upright. He was sacked six times as the Huskies' repeated blitzing on third downs wreaked havoc. The offensive line returned only two starters and lost a pair of NFL draft picks, so some early-season confusion was to be expected. But Iowa currently ranks last in the nation in sacks allowed, which is an odd sight for a program used to strong line play.
Penn State's defense: We thought the Nittany Lions' defense would carry the team early on as it did for most of last season. But despite having one of the top front sevens in the Big Ten, on paper, Penn State served up 499 total yards to Ohio and could not get stops when it needed them the most. Injuries and an underperforming offense played a role, but new defensive coordinator Ted Roof is already hearing some criticism from fans accustomed to outstanding defensive play.
Michigan's passing game: The word all offseason was that Denard Robinson had improved his mechanics as a passer. Granted, Alabama's defense will make a lot of quarterbacks look bad. But it's also true that Robinson and his receivers looked out of sync most of the night in Texas. Robinson went just 11-for-26 with two interceptions, and the fact that he targeted converted quarterback Devin Gardner so frequently makes you wonder about the receiving corps' depth.
Michigan State's penalties: The Spartans like to play aggressively, which will lead to some penalties. But getting flagged 10 times for 90 yards, as Michigan State was in the opener against Boise State, is way too much for a team with designs on a Big Ten championship and more. Many of those infractions came at key times to either extend a Broncos drive or short-circuit one for the home team. It was just the first game, but the Spartans need to clean that up.
Northwestern's defense: Pat Fitzgerald was tired of hearing about how bad his team's defense was in 2011. Well, he isn't about to hear the end of that. The Wildcats have up 41 points and 596 yards to Syracuse, a team that ranked 84th in the country in scoring last season. What was really disheartening is how the Northwestern defense repeatedly gave up huge plays despite being blessed with a 35-13 lead. A prevent defense wasn't necessarily in order, but Fitzgerald's team needed to make the Orange work a little harder to score their four straight touchdowns.