Heat Checks and Hail Marys - The Big Ten After Week 1

By: Mike
September 6, 2022

Mike Cagley, Big Sports Radio Host

September 6, 2022

The first full week of college football for the Big Ten (B1G/Big 10) is in the books. It's early in the season, but we see some very intriguing narratives developing across the conference. As it stands, the Big Ten East has yet to lose a single game, while the Big Ten West has one team (Purdue 0-1) that has yet to win a game. Let's take a look at some of the situations that have piqued my interest.

Hail Mary #1 - Big Ten Needs to Invest in Referees

Big Ten official courtesy SportTechie.com

The Big Ten announced their new television contract that will pay the conference at least $7 billion dollars averaging over a billion dollars a year annually. The primary drivers of this revenue are football and men's basketball. College football is the second highest rated live sporting event ranked only behind the National Football League (NFL). Unlike the NFL the B1G doesn't have to split revenue with the players - at least at this point. We also know that the B1G will likely never have to pay the 48% of revenue sharing with the players that the NFL currently pays. This means there is a lot of money to go to the schools for producing content (B1G football and basketball games) that American viewers crave so much. The B1G needs to do what is necessary to keep the content of the highest quality. The conference cannot directly control the quality of the players on the field (or court), but they can make sure that the game is called accurately and efficiently.

The B1G needs to make their football and basketball referees full time employees of the conference. This would allow them to train all year long, work summer events to hone their skills and train the next generation of referees to take their place. We've seen a variety of "challenging calls" just in the first week of the 2022 football season. The biggest one was the Illinois touchdown reception that was missed both on the field and after video review. The Illini didn't lose because of this bad call, they had plenty of their own mistakes to lose the game, but it doesn't take a mathematician to figure out with 7 points added to their score a flawed Illini team has a fair chance to come out of Bloomington with a 27-23 victory.

The woes of inconsistent calls is no better illustrated than looking at game-by-game calls in basketball. In one game an action is a foul, in the next one it's not. Occasionally, what is or is not a foul even changes from half to half. How hard must it be for players and coaches to be able to adjust their play to the refereeing when it's a moving target? Consistency is critical.

Having officials as referees with additional training would be a massive benefit to the quality of games. Additionally, the referees wouldn't have to balance their "real life" work schedules and B1G refereeing schedules. Fatigue and sleep deprivation are real phenomenon and taking those out of the equations would improve the B1G's on field/on court product. The B1G has $7 billion reasons to proactively protect their game. Invest now. Don't waste time. Just do it.

Hail Mary #2 - Ohio State Beats Notre Dame with Defense

Xavier Johnson courtesy Ohio State Athletics

The Buckeyes were big favorites to beat Notre Dame in the opener for both teams in Columbus. The marquee match up was the #2 Buckeyes and their high powered offense taking on the #5 Fighting Irish, featuring the regular season debut of their new head coach and former Buckeye's linebacker, Marcus Freeman Most of the questions prior to the game revolved around how would the Irish slow down the high octane Buckeye offensive machine. The game turned out to be just the opposite. Notre Dame's defense played well. The Buckeyes offense was held to under 400 yards of offense and 3 touchdowns. Conversely, the much maligned Ohio State defense, at least as maligned as a defense can get for a team going 11-2 last season, held the Fighting Irish to 253 yards of offense, 12 first downs,  and 10 points. The Irish were forced to punt on their last six possessions of the game. This isn't last year's Buckeye defense.

One would expect the Buckeye offense to have more success this season than what we saw against the Fighting Irish. If the defense keeps improving, this team will be very tough to deal with as the season progresses. There are valid reasons to expect the defense will improve, as new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles is known to employ a scheme that is much more complicated than the  former Buckeye defense was. As the players get more familar with the defense, they should see marked improvement - and they played very well on Saturday night. This is the style of game that the Buckeyes wanted to learn how to win. Message out to the rest of the B1G, it looks like they studied well and passed a difficult test with flying colors.

On the basketball side, LeBron James and his son Bronny were in attendance on the Ohio State sideline to watch the game. Speculation runs high on Bronny coming to Ohio State to play his collegiate basketball. Whether that happens or not, the game provided a fantastic atmosphere to recruit Bronny and the aura of being in a stadium celebrating it's 100th year of usage coupled with the electricity of a Notre Dame game must've created an excellent impression upon both the recruit and his future Hall of Fame father.

Hail Mary #3 - What Happened to Iowa's Offense? Or, What Didn't Happen?

Hawkeyes Defense courtesy Iowa Athletics

Last year, Iowa's offense was bad. Really bad. This year is a new year. And it's still bad. Really bad.

The Hawkeyes were held to 166 yards of offense, 10 first downs and a field goal. They also lost the turnover battle 2-0. There were other stats I could list to demonstrate Hawkeye offensive challenges, but there was one key stat the Hawkeyes put up better results than the South Dakota State Jackrabbits. This stat is the most important stat of any game, the score. The Hawkeyes under the power of not one, but two safeties, won the game 7-4. Obviously, Hawkeye fans are very concerned about the offense. Saturday was a "been there, done that" game for Iowa fans. The Iowa offense has to be better, but if the team was going to have a bad game, it was timed perfectly. Almost any B1G opponent would've beat the Hawkeyes on Saturday, but the Hawks weren't playing a B1G team. Sometimes, it's better to be lucky than good.

Hawkeye fans can be very proud and even hugely satisfied with the performance of their defense. Regardless of the competition, holding a team to 120 total yards of offense, only 6 first downs and a lonely field goal to show for four quarters of effort constitutes an amazing performance. The Hawkeye defense was touted as being one of the best in the conference. From what we saw on Saturday, maybe the Hawkeye defense has been slightly underrated. Next week's game against Iowa State will provide a sterner test. We know it will be a hard-hitting rivalry game and the Hawkeye defense will again be assigned the task of holding the line until the offense can find solid footing.

What sets Iowa apart from other programs is the team's ability to figure out ways to win. Saturday, they managed to do so with the offense having a nightmarish-like game. Most teams would've lost when only scoring a field goal offensively in their home opener. The Hawkeyes found a way to hold their opponents to that same level of offensive output and on top of that, the defense found a way to inflict two safeties to win the game. Through the tenures of Hayden Fry and Kirk Ferentz, the Hawkeyes have displayed this hard as nails defensive style. The culture is there and new recruits know what they're getting into. The coaches over the decades have coached to develop this identity. The players play to this identify. Most importantly, this team is 1-0 when most teams would be 0-1.

Hail Mary #4 - Closing Out Games is Hard

Both the Purdue Boilermakers and the Illinois Fighting Illini demonstrated how not to close out games.

Penn State's Kalen King courtesy player Twitter page.

The Boilers had possession of the ball three times in the last 6:27 of their game at home versus Penn State. Up 31-28, the Boilers were unable to run the ball with any effectiveness and even a few plays called for attempts on the ground may have taken off enough time to prevent the Nittany Lions from scoring on an 8 play 80 yard drive with 57 seconds left to take a 35-31 lead.

Fans want their team to go down swinging, but there is a time and a place for grinding out the win. The inability to move the ball on the ground was a killer for the Boilers. Even worse was the fact they had a respected Penn State team on the ropes but were unable to score the knockout at home. Purdue has a relatively easy schedule, and defeating Penn State might've allowed them to go undefeated up until their battle at Wisconsin on October 22nd. If they were to defeat the Badgers and then the Hawkeyes at home the next week, one could've seen the Boilers with the ability to run the table. That incredibly rare opportunity is now off of the table. This was a missed opportunity for a Boilers team poised to have a very good season.

In Bloomington, IN, the Illini managed to dominate the game statistically in almost every category, but managed to find ways to lose to a game, but limited, Hoosier team. The Illini wasted possession after possession, managing to stop themselves with dropped passes, penalties, fumbles and missed blocks on key plays. Cam Jones had a dominant game for the Hoosier defense and the Illini were unable to find a way into the end zone after scoring on their first possession of the third quarter.

This set up the Illini defense to give up a game winning drive, with the Hoosiers scoring a touchdown with 23 seconds left in the game. A struggling Illini offense had little chance to score with that little of time left on the clock and a desperation trick play resulted in a fumble to end the game.

The Illini were able to move the ball, out-gaining the Hoosiers 451 yards to 362 yards. But no points at the end of so many drives doomed the Illini along with their 4 turnovers, 8 penalties, and multiple dropped passe. Despite all of these issues, the Illini might've won if what looked to be a clear touchdown was ruled an incomplete pass and the review did not overturn the call to amazement of the Big Ten Network broadcasting crew.

It's hard to win in the B1G and when you get a B1G opponent down, you have to finish them. Unlike Iowa, both Illinois and Purdue found ways to lose winnable games. There is a reason Iowa football has been so successful over the past four and a half decades. The Hawkeyes take care of the small details and they very rarely hurt themselves or help their opponents on the scoreboard. It's early in the season for both the Illini and the Boilermakers, but they both have lessons to learn from their week one games.




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