Last week in this very column, I made the point that the Big Ten's hopes for a CFB Playoff berth wasn't reliant on just the Ohio State Buckeyes.
...good thing, because the Buckeyes promptly hit the road and got hit by a train. Literally. The smackdown in West Lafayette headlines this week's Big Ten Takeaways.
O-H! - N-O! The Buckeyes Drop The Ball
Let's first get this out of the way. Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm is a damn wizard. His work with quarterback David Blough has helped set their offense aflame, but the real star of this show is freshman sensation WR Rondale Moore. His romp through the secondary on a big catch and run helps highlight the first glaring issue for the Ohio State Buckeyes.
The back seven isn't good. Now, I know we're all used to the Buckeyes having top-ten overall prospects playing corner. This isn't the year. CB Kendall Sheffield struggled in this contest, as he has most of the year. It didn't help to miss starting CB Damon Arnette.
Offensively, the Buckeyes asked QB Dwayne Haskins to throw the ball 73(!!!!) times. He had his cage rattled with hits, just as he did when Ohio State was last on the road in Happy Valley. But this game is a reminder that in a dire quarterback class, Haskins is still a very inexperienced player.
Haskins set the school record for passing yards in a game (470) but doing so in 73 attempts and largely chipping the ball down down the field in a loss is a bit of a hollow accomplishment. Haskins, should he declare, will need to shake the dink and dunk narrative.
Goodnight, Little Brother
The whole Michigan/Michigan State rivalry flared up again this weekend...with the brothers dynamic bubbling over before the game even started.
There was Michigan LB Devin Bush riverdancing on the Spartans logo at mid-field, tearing up the turf. And there was the shouting matches before the pads were even on.
But once this game got underway, Big Brother Michigan promptly put Little Brother Michigan State's head in the toilet and flushed...providing a 60 minute swirly.
The Wolverines are playing some of the best football in the country, especially defensively. It's even more impressive to consider they're doing this without DL Rashan Gary. There's speculation that Gary has played his last snap with the Wolverines, although there's nothing definitive there yet. But the relentless pursuit of DE Chase Winovich (3 pressures vs. Sparty) provides them with a reliable presence to collapse the pocket.
Offensively, Michigan's running back Karan Higdon is thriving. The Wolverines split carries 50-50 last season with Higdon and RB Chris Evans, but this year the starting role belongs to Higdon. He's rewarded the Wolverines by being their heartbeat on offense and he's helping his own draft stock in the process.
Higdon gashed the Spartans defense for over twice their per-game average allowed this season (144 yards)...his most impressive performance of the season.
A Swan Song For Lewerke
As my followers reminded me last night on social media after the throttling the Wolverines handed Michigan State, I liked QB Brian Lewerke a lot coming into the 2018 season.
I thought his traits, his experience and his supporting cast would facilitate the needed growth to take the next step as a quarterback in 2018. Pretty much all of that has been wrong. The offensive line has had Lewerke rattled by sacks and hits, making him more prone to bail the pocket.
The receivers can't seem to separate at all, forcing Lewerke to drive throws into tight spaces. That's compromised ball security.
Lewerke has struggled to throw accurately this year as well. And now he's hurt (he apparently injured his right shoulder against Penn State last weekend).
Lewerke is eligible for the 2019 NFL Draft, but it should be the furthest thing from his mind right now. If the Spartans can't ensure they're going to be a better offense in 2019, maybe Lewerke (a redshirt junior) should explore his transfer options...provided he's on target to graduate in the spring.
The Hawkeyes Flex On Maryland
If you hate bad quarterback play...boy the Big Ten is just the conference for you! Neither quarterback in the Maryland-Iowa contest threw for 100 yards.
It got so bad that Maryland ran just two plays on the plus side of the 50 yard line. The star of the show for Iowa defensively? True sophomore DE AJ Epenesa. This is a grown man at 6-foot-5, 277 pounds. He's a bad, bad dude. He's also second in the Big Ten in sacks (6).
Look for Epenesa to continue to develop and become a hot name for the 2020 Draft.
The usual suspects starred offensively (I guess?) for the Hawkeyes, as TEs Noah Fant and T.J. Hockenson led the team in receptions with three a piece. Forget the fact that they only had 44 combined yards. I know I'm trying to.