Thoughts and Prayers: Big Ten Week 1
Thoughts, prayers, and rambling musings about college football and the Big Ten season going into a big 2022, starting with …
Florida State and LSU put on a show.
Brian Kelly woke up in a cold sweat last night thinking he was reliving the nightmare of being pantsed by Mark Dantonio with “Little Giants” all over again.
Georgia put on a show that supports my decades-long theory that the defending champion of anything always has the right to be #1 in whatever relevant ranking pertaining to the defense of the prior year’s championship.
North Carolina earned a victory in one of the wildest, most entertaining, and most thrilling games featuring App State since the day App State took down Ann Arbor at Ann Arbor.
Don’t sleep on the Backyard Brawl.
Pitt and West Virginia reminded us all that this rivalry maintains its relevance with a good one with Pitt earning a win that might show it was more than just Kenny Pickett last season.
The slugfest at The Swamp was like Ali – Frazier all over again.
Major props to both Florida and Utah for scheduling this game in the first place.
Major props to Utah for going deep into SEC-land and coming within a whisker of what would have been a massive win.
Florida is good – as it should be.
And if the Utes can play like that in that environment against a program that has blue chippers in the 4-deep, the Utes will be ready to take on all comers in the Pac 6 – and that means you, all of you Lincoln Riley/USCers who have assumed that the combination of John McKay, John Robinson, and Pete Carroll is running things in LA now.
North Carolina State – a trendy pick to win the ACC – eeked its way out of Dowdy-Ficklen thanks to a missed extra point and a missed game-winning chip shot.
Here’s something to consider as we head into Week 2:
Every one of these teams that won – no matter how they won, who they defeated, how close the game was, etc – is 1-0 and as the wise and great George Perles famously said after every victory, “They all count one.”
If your team won, walk tall.
What about the happenings around the Big Ten?
Let’s get to it.
SAFETY DANCE – MUCH MORE THAN A WONDERFUL NUMBER BY MEN WITHOUT HATS
If Aaron Blom hadn’t converted 50% of his field goal attempts, the Iowa Hawkeyes would have defeated the South Dakota State Jack Rabbits 4-3.
In the second half, Iowa showed a consistency with its defensive effort by spreading two safeties across the 3rd and 4th quarters, respectively.
Iowa held South Dakota State to six first downs in this game.
Iowa held the Jackrabbits to 120 total yards.
For its part, Iowa gained a total of 166 yards of offense.
South Dakota State ran for 33 yards over the course of the four quarters of play.
Iowa, not to be outdone by SDSU, rushed for 57 total yards.
Kirk Ferentz gave the starting nod to his veteran Spencer Petras who showed his veteran skills by going 11 for 25 for 109 yards (an average of 4.4 yards per completion) and a QBR of 1.1.
And so, some out there are doing what they do every year – questioning the credibility of Iowa’s firepower and so forth.
I watched this football game.
That should earn me some sort of a prize from an Iowa State Fair Chairperson – maybe a Blue Ribbon or something.
When Iowa ends up with another 10-win season that annoys the haters out there, this 7-3 victory, thanks to its two second half safeties, should be celebrated every bit as much as whatever massive win(s) the Hawkeyes earn along the way.
JIM KNOWLES IS GOOD
Columbus fans have had reason to be excited about Ryan Day luring defensive wizard Jim Knowles away from I’m A Man, I’m 40.
Sunday morning, there were more grumpy Columbus fans needing to put hair on the dog who were cranky about not throttling Notre Dame with the NFL-talent at every position on offense failing to rack up 67 points.
Give Notre Dame credit where it’s due.
And Marcus Freeman – even with an 0-2 start to his career as the successor to the winningest coach of all time at Notre Dame – deserves a ton of credit for handling a lifetime of Scarlet & Gray, a career of playing at The Shoe, and the pressures of his very first season opener as a man who will be judged by how he compares to Rockne, Leahy, Parseghian, Holtz, and maybe Kelly.
The Notre Dame defense is stout and may have shown that Columbus might be susceptible to defensive pressure applied to the Heisman Trophy candidate, CJ Stroud.
Even last season, when teams threw Stroud even slightly off kilter, he showed signs of being erratic and indecisive.
Stroud is human – and that isn’t a critique; it’s a statement of fact.
Any Columbus fan worth his/her collection of tattoos might have reason to be a little persnickety after this classic, hard fought slugfest that demonstrated that football continues to be played north of the Mason-Dixon Line and in front of rabid fans who have seen football as “meaning just a little bit more” since long before catchy slogans were integrated into commercials.
Stroud piled up 233 yards through the air and the Columbus ground game pounded out 172 yards and the 395 yards of total offense would be solid for a mortal team.
But, ask any supporter of the Columbus Football Team if that’s acceptable and you’re likely to get some tobacco-spittle in the face during the response.
The real story – Knowles had this defense primed.
Columbus limited Notre Dame to 177 yards through the air and 76 yards on the ground for a total of 253 yards of offense.
Columbus fans want fireworks and dominance and flamboyant performances at every position.
But if Knowles can do this in the season opener – against a damn good Notre Dame team – it might be time to rekindle the appreciation for Woody and the way he emphasized toughness in the trenches and suffocating schemes that demoralized opposing offenses.
Only one game into a bit of a new era for Ryan Day, it looks like traditional defensive toughness and greatness might be the difference maker.
LIGHTNING STRUCK AT ROSS-ADE – BUT SEAN CLIFFORD HAD OTHER IDEAS
It may seem like a month ago since Purdue and Penn State waged a classic, fantastic, exciting, and important kickoff to things off last Thursday in West Lafayette – but that game warrants attention.
Big Ten haters will always hate – but this game was almost as exciting of a way to get Week 1 started as Iowa’s defensive performance against the Jack Rabbits was.
I heard Joel Klatt say this about Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford:
“The relationship between a veteran quarterback and the fan base is a complicated and tough one because if you’re a quarterback who’s still leading the team after four years, it means you’re not good enough to have moved on.”
I never would have said something so ridiculous about Joel Klatt as he set countless records for the Colorado Buffaloes in his senior season after serving as the starting quarterback since his sophomore year but I’m merely a basement-dwelling typist.
Moments after Klatt said this, Sean Clifford led Penn State on an epic game-winning drive that led to Klatt praising Clifford for his calm, tough, experienced leadership.
Here’s something for Klatt to consider – maybe Clifford is simply a very good quarterback and that’s all there is to it.
The cauldron of Ross-Ade Stadium seemed as if it had James Franklin in its clutches when Clifford was picked off by Purdue’s Chris Jefferson who thrillingly returned it 72 yards for an electrifying touchdown giving the Boilers a 31-28 lead midway through the 4th quarter.
All Clifford did was calmly and brilliantly lead his team on an 8-play, 80-yard drive with the game – and maybe Penn State’s season – on the line.
When Clifford connected with Keyvone Lee on a 10-yard touchdown pass with 57 seconds left, it was Clifford’s 4th touchdown pass in a game his team had to have.
Make no mistake – Purdue is a damn good team and will give everyone fits all season long.
But what Sean Clifford did on the road in the season opener was the kind of thing that strengthens a relationship between a veteran quarterback and his coach, his team, and his fan base.
UNTIL PROVEN OTHERWISE
Michigan won its first Big Ten Championship since FacePage was launched and Jim Harbaugh apologists could be heard doing their best to muffle their cheers all across Zingerman’s.
Theory I’ve had forever and way to tangibly demonstrate how the theory should manifest itself:
Right now, Georgia should be the #1 team in the country in any poll that exists.
If Georgia is not #1 in the country in any poll, that poll doesn’t register with a 100.00 score on the THOUGHT & PRAYERS credibility scale.
Within the Big Ten, this theory applies.
UMAA won the title last season.
Until proven otherwise, this team is the #1 team in the conference.
And in Week 1, Harbaugh’s team proved the THOUGHTS & PRAYERS theory has legs.
Michigan’s 51-7 win over Colorado State featured speed and athleticism all over the field, big-play ability across the offense, a defense that appears ready to replace the talent from the championship team that is now in the NFL, and a starting quarterback who probably has to be wondering why he won’t be starting the second game of the season.
Which brings us to one of the constants for this program all throughout this Harbaugh Era.
Some point to the way Harbaugh has always managed to “win the games he’s supposed to.”
Those same pundits are quick to point out that he’s had “the unfortunate bad luck” to be Michigan’s head coach during an era when Columbus has been an absolute beast.
But what many overlook is the way Harbaugh has tightened up in games that require mental toughness and laser focus, particularly in crunch time when a game isn’t going according to plan.
2015 losses to Michigan State and Columbus – go back and look at how those games went. And for those who will want to claim the loss to State was “fluky,” closely examine Harbaugh’s approach to Michigan’s final few offensive possessions and tell me there wasn’t puckering occurring.
2016 losses to Iowa and Columbus – go back and look at how those games went, particularly the loss to Iowa and tell me there wasn’t puckering occurring.
2017 losses to Michigan State, Penn State, Wisconsin, Columbus, and South Carolina – go back and look at how those games went and tell me there wasn’t puckering occurring.
2018 losses to Notre Dame, Columbus, and Florida – go back and look at how those games went and tell me there wasn’t puckering occurring.
2019 losses to Wisconsin, Penn State, and Columbus – go back and look at how those games went and tell me there wasn’t puckering occurring.
2020 losses to Michigan State, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Penn State – go back and look at how those games went and tell me there wasn’t puckering occurring.
2021 loss to Michigan State in Michigan’s Big Ten Championship season – go back and look at how that game went and tell me there wasn’t puckering occurring.
Harbaugh may have, indeed/finally, gotten over the hump with last season’s title and his team, according to THOUGHTS & PRAYERS, is the #1 team in the Big Ten until someone takes it down.
But he’s shown over an entire career that he can take a bit of an odd approach to the ways he leads his program.
The quarterback situation for every program is about as important as anything else and when a coach tries to thread a needle when needlepointing is not necessary, needles can prick fingers and produce unwanted blood globules.
I’m not a football coach but I once played one in an impromptu improvisational sketch at a bar in 1998.
But when a football coach has a championship winning quarterback and that championship winning quarterback comes out in Week 1 and plays like the championship quarterback that he is, what can it do to a team if the coach chooses to play another quarterback a week later?
Is Harbaugh in the process of proving he’s a brilliant 3-dimensional chess player or is he in the process of showing that those of us who have dared to question all of the hype and praise and hype might not be crazily driving our own personal agendas?
Again, I’m just a basement dwelling typist – and, according to Harbuagh, it’s biblical.
We’ll monitor the situation.
LAYING IN THE WEEDS AS A VERY SUCCESSFUL COACH ONCE SAID
These are words I’ve seen more than any others in the aftermath of Michigan State’s 35-13 season-opening win over Western Michigan in East Lansing Friday night.
Junior quarterback Payton Thorne threw for 233 yards and 4 touchdowns to 4 different receivers.
For perspective, when Thorne set program records during last season’s 11-2 campaign, Thorne averaged 249 yards and 2 touchdowns per game.
Wide Receiver Keon Coleman, transfer tight end Daniel Barker, wide receiver Tre Mosley, and wide receiver Germie Bernard all hauled in touchdowns.
State’s future NFL wide receiver, Jayden Reed, has a stable of guys next to him who will give defensive coordinators plenty of sleepless nights this season.
How will State fill the void left by Kenneth Walker III’s departure for the NFL?
After one game, consider this:
Transfers Jalen Berger and Jarek Brossard combined for 174 yards on 26 carries and Berger punched one into the endzone after a 50-yard rumble in the 4th quarter.
Walker was an electrifying talent that comes along once a decade.
State doesn’t need to replace HIM – it needs to replace the yardage and the ability to pound the ball so it can create a balanced offense.
This offense may actually end up being even better than it was last year.
Last year’s pass defense was literally the worst in the nation.
Giving up less than 200 yards through the air, zero coverage breakdowns, zero big plays – these are all signs that Mel Tucker and Scottie Hazelton are in the process of shoring up that back seven.
Remember the name of the UNLV transfer who registered 4 sacks against Western and looks like he’s a faster Shilique Calhoun.
Injuries to Xavier Henderson and Darius Snow are reason for concern – but in Year 3 of the Tucker Era, depth across the entire roster has developed and there are guys ready and capable of stepping in.
Tucker has plenty to show his guys where improvement is needed and he has more tools to work with than the average fan out there realizes.
Underestimate and consider Tucker and State as a team that falls into the category of “taking a step back” at your own peril.
POWER RANKINGS AFTER WEEK 1
1. Defending champions or not, Zingerman’s is one of the most overrated, overpriced food places/cultural institutions in the Union.
2. First Round Draft Picks galore – but Jim Knowles might be the most important ingredient.
3. Tuck Comin. It’s not just a slogan for a t-shirt.
4. Casual, normal evening of joy and comfort at State Street Brats.
5. Sean Clifford.
6. It’s not just the dark magic of Ross-Ade – the team is damn good, too.
7. Making Jerry Lundegaard happy is one thing; delivering on the expectations of Wade Gustafson (and Stan Grossman) is something entirely different.
8. Before we identify the week to raise the statue of Ralph Friedgen as a way to tout the return of the program to upper-tier status, let’s see a meaningful win or two. Okay?
WORKING ON THINGS
Mustard’s Last Stand will live on forever.
Gloria Trillo was Tony’s finest conquest.
If You’ve Never Seen “Breaking Away,” you must at once.
“The Lonesome Jubilee” is one of the greatest American rock albums of all time
For everyone’s sake, I hope Champaign has a stable of best-in-class cardiologists.
The cardiologists in Lincoln say there is the sign of a heartbeat.
Crowley Sullivan is a 25+ year sports media veteran who spent ten years as a producer and suit-wearer at ESPN before becoming a digital media person. He built, grew, and led a college sports digital platform called “Campus Insiders” as its EVP/GM just as sports fans were beginning to engage with computers and phones. In addition to being a longtime contributor to CollegeFootballNews, he has written for USA Today Digital Sports, Rivals properties, and the St Bede The Venerable Monthly Parish Newsletter, the St Bede Beat. He now serves as the VP/GM of UFC Fight Pass even though the last time he got into a fight was in 2nd grade when he fought David Koller to a draw.