Another Blown Opportunity: The Big Ten Fails to Impress on Opening Day

Kristofer GreenSenior Writer ISeptember 6, 2009

The first full Saturday of Big Ten football has come to an end.

On the surface, a 10-1 record in the opening weekend seems like something that should be celebrated. A deeper look provides another story.

Unfortunately, that story is all too familiar.

Once again, the Big Ten's best teams faltered when everyone was watching. No one in the bunch posting overly impressive performances and one team who clearly cannot deal with adversity.

There were bright spots on Saturday.

Michigan's quarterback tandem of Tate Forcier and Denard Robinson were as advertised.

Purdue running back Ralph Bolden was incredible (as was coach Danny Hope's debut.)

The combination of Northwestern quarterback Mike Kafka and wide receiver Andrew Brewer could be special and freshman Arby Fields could make Wildcat fans forget all about Tyrell Sutton.

But the overall feeling about the first Big Ten Saturday is... meh.

So, what happened? Let's take a closer look.

We begin in Iowa City.

To say that expectations were high for the Iowa Hawkeyes is an understatement. Sure, they had to replace all-everything back Shonn Greene and sure they had to replace Greene's replacement Jewell Hampton who announced earlier this week that he would take a medical redshirt this season.

But, even the biggest Hawkeye naysayer couldn't have expected the Appalachian-sized upset that loomed in Kinnick Stadium on Saturday.

FCS powerhouse Northern Iowa did everything better than the Hawkeyes. The Panthers had more scoring drives, held the ball longer, got after Ricky Stanzi all day long, limited the Hawkeyes on third down conversions, and won the turnover margin.

But it was what the Panthers couldn't do that ultimately killed their bid for the upset. With seven seconds remaining in the game, the Panthers lined up for the game-winning field goal only to have it blocked.

Then, came a re-introduction to the rules of college football that Hawkeye fans will never forget. Because the attempt came on first down and the ball never crossed the line of scrimmage and the block was recovered by the Panthers, the ball remained with UNI.

So with one second on the clock, the Panthers lined up for yet another field goal attempt. The Hawkeyes, with lady luck on their side, blocked the attempt again to secure the win.

Iowa 17, Northern Iowa 16.

Who's says lightening doesn't strike in the same place twice?

“I think we outplayed them across the board.” Northern Iowa Coach Mark Farley said after the game. "The attitude of any UNI football team is that we can win any game on any field we step foot on. The irritation comes from the loss, knowing that we know we should have won that thing hands down.”

And the Panthers should have won. If only they had a third chance at the game-winning field goal.

Speaking of having another chance.
Ohio State Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel admitted in his post-game press conference that he should have elected to kick a field goal that would have put the Buckeyes up by three scores in the fourth quarter.

Instead, the Buckeyes were stuffed on fourth down and Navy needed only four offensive plays to score twice and bring the game within two points.

Do you think if Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo had to do it all over again he would have chosen to run quarterback Ricky Dobbs behind the fullback on that ill-fated two-point conversion attempt?

The play, part of Navy's new "quadruple-option" attack, had been fooling the Buckeyes the entire game, but instead Niumatalolo decided to spread the Buckeyes out and in a clear pass formation.

The Ohio State defense knew a pass was coming and all linebacker Brian Rolle had to do was wait for it. Rolle intercepted the pass and returned it in an impressive run back for two points as the Buckeyes held on for a 31-27 win.

The Ohio State offensive line, a big question mark coming into the season, had trouble picking up the zone blitzing scheme of the Navy defense and OSU cornerback Anderson Russell was burnt twice on on Navy passes, both went for touchdowns.

But, in the end, it was the defense that made the play when they needed it to preserve the win.

"We felt like if Ohio State came in dialed in, totally focused on us, there was no chance," Niumatalolo said referring to the Buckeyes week two match-up with USC. "Any diversion we had, it was the only chance we had to beat them."

It is hard to imagine that the Buckeyes didn't come in to Saturday's game prepared for a real fight so I'm not buying the "looking ahead" excuse. The Navy offense is difficult, but the way the Buckeyes were giving up big plays has undoubtedly taken at least a little shine off next week's rematch with Southern California.

“I remember a lot of bad things from last year, like that long, silent ride home,” linebacker Austin Spitler said of USC’s 35-3 pasting of the Buckeyes last season. “It’s up to us now. We’ll have our doubters and now we’ll have to go out and prove we’re good.”

Prove it you must Buckeyes.

The Illinois Fighting Illini proved something on Saturday.

It is looking more and more like the Rose Bowl season in 2007 was a fluke after the Illini turned in yet another jaw-droppingly bad performance.

The Illini did lose superstar receiver Arrelious Benn and running back Jason Ford to sprained ankles early in the game. But what about the Illini's healthy players?

It was Missouri, who was supposed to be rebuilding, who were the superior team. It was Blaine Gabbert, in his first collegiate start, that outshined and outlead Illinois' superstar Juice Williams.

Down by only two scores at the half, Illnois had already conceeded. Williams was noticibly dejected on the sidelines and following his lead, the rest of the team seemingly gave up all hope of making a comeback.

''It's not good enough. We lost,'' Williams said. ''I'm a senior now. I can't really expect less of myself. I want to come out and win games. That's what it's all about.''

Mizzou, who had two replace seven starters and a coordinator on defense, attacked the Illini's "high powered" offense from the beginning.

"They play very sound defense," Williams said. "They came out attacking. They played pretty good coverage, and they got two turnovers, which is unfortunate. You've got to be able to handle that adversity and still play."

So why didn't you?

Williams, has been touted as the next big thing for at least the last three seasons. While he has posted some impressive numbers in his career, his consistency and leadership ability have been called into question on numerous occasions.

Though Williams cannot be blamed for the loss—the Illini defense was flat out pathetic—he is undeniably the leader of this team. His reaction to adversity on Saturday spoke volumes and his team followed their leader all the way to a 37-9 collapse.

''I sure wouldn't have thought we'd play like that,'' coach Ron Zook said. ''I'm embarrassed with it, but I'm not getting ready to throw in the towel. I think our guys will come back—I know our guys will come back and fix things.''

Let's hope so Coach.

This article is also featured on FirstandBigTen.com, a Chicago Now and Bleacher Report blog dedicated to Big Ten football.

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