As Indiana quarterback Michael Penix stretched to the pylon, Michigan began its 2020 crusade.
Those things may not seem connected, but Saturday evening proved eye-opening in regard to the Big Ten East and the status of the would-be challengers to Ohio State’s supremacy within the division.
Penn State entered the week ranked No. 8 and had spoiler hype ahead of next week’s primetime showdown with the Buckeyes in Happy Valley. It took all of four quarters against Indiana for that buildup to feel silly in a 36-35 loss. Penix’s game-winning touchdown came in controversial fashion – judge for yourself if Penix’s two-point conversion run reached the end zone – but there’s no question the Nittany Lions deserved the loss.
A dissection of the defeat could flow in many directions: Shaky quarterback play early, turnovers, a defensive collapse late. But the postgame conversation will and has surrounded a fourth-quarter touchdown by Penn State running back Devyn Ford, who Indiana was begging to score so they could get the ball back. Ford obliged, Penix marched the Hoosiers down the field and the rest, at least for one team, was history.
While Penn State collapsed, Michigan was making fools of anybody who thought the Wolverines were in store for a rebuilding season.
About that … The No. 18 Wolverines, with the least amount of returning experience in the Big Ten, went on the road and bullied No. 21 Minnesota, 49-24. Michigan averaged 8.2 yards per carry, limited the Gophers to 3.1 and introduced a quarterback to the world, Joe Milton, who moonlights as a battering ram (52 yards and a score on eight carries, plus an efficient 15-for-22 day through the air).
Milton certainly looks like Michigan’s quarterback of the future, the guy they need to one day equalize the talent disparity vs. Ohio State and finally win The Game. He’s pretty good as the “QB of the present, too.” Can we say the same about Penn State’s Sean Clifford? He put up big stats in his first game with new OC Kirk Ciarrocca but also threw two interceptions and oversaw an offense that looked lifeless at times. Clifford gets first crack next week, so we’ll find out then, but I don’t blame Penn State fans for feeling let down about the offensive overhaul as they wake up Sunday morning.
It was just two games, but the shape and the texture of the Big Ten East, perhaps college football’s toughest division, seems like it’s changed. Penn State was the most compelling Ohio State challenger ahead of their Halloween showdown next week. That’s no longer the case. We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves, and Michigan’s been known to disappoint in the past, but … OK, we won’t even say it.