It was a week for surviving. Michigan, Ohio State and Notre Dame all got strong tests, and while it was ugly in all cases, all three survived.
Michigan's test was the one that wasn't a complete surprise. As I mentioned in the game preview comments two posts down, Miami (Ohio) is a good program in the MAC. Still, there's no denying that a 16-6 war wasn't what Rich Rodriguez had in mind for getting on the board in Ann Arbor. The run defense saved the Wolverines, but the offense is still generating absolutely nothing in the air. Michael Rosenberg of The Detroit Free Press addresses three burning questions surrounding the program, including the immediate future at quarterback.
The Wolverines trip to South Bend was already looming as a battle between two programs desperate for a win. Notre Dame's performance in their opener at San Diego State did nothing to dispel that. The Fighting Irish looked terrible in barely pulling out a 21-13 win. They trailed 13-7 in the fourth quarter and only a fumble on the goal line (a play about one inch from being a touchdown) kept the Aztecs from going up by two scores in the final period. Keep in mind this is the same SDSU team that lost at home to Cal Poly in its opener.
Now, I realize this was the second game for the Aztecs, the one game in which teams improve the most, while it was the opener for ND. I realize the Irish may have been looking ahead, not only to Michigan, but to higher-profile games generally. It still can't explain this away. On the plus side for the Domers, Jimmy Clausen showed why he is so highly regarded in the fourth quarter. He led two clutch drives for touchdowns, including some beautifully thrown balls on routes down the sidelines. Jeff Carroll of The South Bend Tribune has a clear-eyed view of how ugly this was. And congratulations should go out to Aztec coach Chuck Long, a former Iowa quarterback who was runner-up in the 1985 Heisman voting.
Since Ohio State already has a good performance under their belt, their 26-14 struggle with Ohio can be dismissed as a look-ahead problem a little easier. The Buckeyes trailed 14-12 in the fourth quarter, and it was the Bobcats who were making the mistakes, as they gave up four interceptions. Ken Gordon of The Columbus Dispatch calls the escape a rude awakening, as the team prepares for Southern Cal.
It wasn't all about surviving. There was also a lot of good news in the Big Ten. Penn State leads in getting the plaudits. In spite of facing a decent Oregon State team and also enduring controversy during the week, as Joe Paterno suspended key players, the Lions turned in a 45-14 rout. Daryl Clark played well, and Evan Royster rushed for 141 yards.
Wisconsin took a while to get started, spotting Marshall a 14-0 lead. But once the Badgers took over, they blasted the Thundering Herd. Allan Evridge threw for 308 yards, temporarily ending questions over whether UW will be too one-dimensional to get into a major bowl game.
Minnesota took advantage of five Bowling Green turnovers and got a great game out of Adam Weber (21/25, 233 yards). Time will tell just how impressive Bowling Green's opening day win over #25 Pitt was (as the Panthers struggled again in Week Two), but this is still the biggest moment of the Gophs have had in two years.
Northwestern was outplayed by Duke, and only a holding penalty prevented a game-winning touchdown pass. But they did survive and moved to 2-0. The downside for the Wildcats is what happened in Columbus. They have Ohio on the schedule come September 30. I had earlier projected that if the 'Cats came out of here with a win, they would easily coast to 4-0 prior to Big Ten action. Between the precarious nature of this victory, combined with the feisty Bobcat performance, that can no longer be assumed.
All of the other teams had their games in hand by halftime at the latest. Javon Ringer's five-touchdown performance in Michigan State's rout of Eastern Michigan was the most notable individual performance. Illinois beat Eastern Ilinois behind the running ability of their passing game. Juice Williams ran for 174 yards, and Aurelious Benn rushed for two touchdowns. Iowa shut out Florida International, while Indiana gave up only a field goal to Murray State. Purdue won its opener over Northern Colorado 42-10.