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B1G Thoughts: Running backs still rule, Ohio State is tough?

Week 1 came with a range of emotions, special plays, break-out performances, and questionable coaching decisions.

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at Ohio State Kyle Robertson-USA TODAY Sports

Every Monday after the Big Ten slate of games, I will bring you some B1G thoughts on everything that happened! This will include analysis, stats, key players, moments, and maybe a joke or two. Be sure to check out the I-70 Football Show in the Land-Grant Holy Land podcast feed for more in-depth analysis and to preview the next week of B1G games.

Mike Hall Jr. meet College Football. College Football meet Mike Hall Jr.

Last year the Ohio State defense was a laughing stock amongst most fans and media. Much of the focus was on the coaching staff, which was well deserved, but something that went a little under the radar was the lack of presence from the defensive line. Larry Johnson, a living legend and a future CFB Hall of Famer, was the only coach retained from the staff. Many of us think it blasphemy to talk bad about Johnson, as he is one of the premier coaches in the game, but it was fair to question his unit last year as there was not A GUY, after a run of Joey Bosa, Nick Bosa, and Chase Young. Well, there may be a guy in that room now, and unlike the previous trio, he is an interior defensive lineman.

A few weeks back Larry Johnson was quoted saying, “In every group, you’ve gotta have an alpha dog, right?” Johnson continues to say, “We’ve gotta have that one guy committed to doing that. I think it’s important (and) I think we have that guy.” Most of us assumed that guy was J.T. Tuimoloau or Jack Sawyer, the No. 4 and No. 5 players in the 2021 recruiting class respectively. Instead, it may be Mike Hall, the often forgotten member of the 2021 class despite being the number 53rd ranking player in the class.

All offseason if you listened closely, you could hear the excitement building around Hall, and with a spectacular performance against Notre Dame he confirmed the hype. Hall finished with four tackles, two tackles for loss, and a sack, but his impact went way behind counting statistics. What may have been a secret isn’t a secret anymore, as Mike Hall introduced himself to the world in dominant fashion.

Watch Mike Hall dominate the Notre Dame offensive line:

Jim Knowles is as advertised

Jim Knowles built a reputation for himself as a top-tier defensive coordinator who bucked conventional trends. Knowles does not believe in reacting to what the offense is doing, instead believing in making the offense react to what the defense is doing. One of his best qualities according to many experts is his ability to make adjustments mid-game, more specifically at halftime.

Knowles showcased his ability to make adjustments against Notre Dame. After starting 8-of-9 for 128 yards with eight straight completions in the first half, Notre Dame’s Tyler Buchner was 2-of-7 for 49 yards in the second half. Knowles’s defense forced Notre Dame into six straight punts, and they finished the game 3-of-13 on third down. Knowles showed multiple personnel packages, disguised coverages, and a willingness to blitz in crucial situations. It’s hard to say this defense is fixed after one game, but the signs are encouraging.

X-Rays confirm Miyan Williams has that dog in him!

After a hard-fought three quarters, Ohio State got the ball on their five-yard line with a 14-10 lead. Enter Miyan Williams, who converted a critical third-down pick-up with a sliding 12-yard catch from C.J. Stroud after finding himself out of the pocket due to pressure from the Notre Dame defensive front. After the catch, Williams put on a tour de force of physical running play with runs of 11, 15, and 12 yards en route to a two-yard touchdown run.

Ohio State went 95 yards in a drive spanning over seven minutes, and Williams was responsible for 61 yards after refusing to go down and carrying multiple defenders on his back. TreVeyon Henderson may be the name in Ohio State’s running back room, but Miyan Williams is thunder to his lightning. When the Buckeyes needed a touchdown, Miyan put the team and Buckeye Nation on his back.

Welcome back Mo Ibrahim

Mohamed Ibrahim is one of the best running backs in the Big Ten, and after suffering a season-ending injury in Week 1 of the 2021 season against Ohio State, he decided to forego the NFL Draft and come back for a sixth season. In his first action in almost a year, he showcased his ability by running for 132 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. Minnesota is a popular pick to win the Big Ten West, largely due to the return of Mo Ibrahim. It was nice to see him back after missing last season.

New running backs, same Big Ten

The Big Ten is a conference run by running backs — no pun intended. Now don’t get it twisted, there are talented players in all positions. Some of the best wide receivers in the NFL are from the Big Ten, and the trend continues as multiple Big Ten receivers were drafted last year. At its core, this is a conference that runs the ball first and foremost.

In Week 1 we saw great performances by runnings backs who have already acclimated themselves to the Big Ten, such as Chase Brown running for 199 yards against Indiana, but we also got some big performances by new faces. Roman Hemby, a freshman running back for the Maryland Terrapins, introduced himself in a major way by running for 114 yards and two touchdowns on only seven carries. Anthony Grant, a Juco transfer, put up 189 yards and two touchdowns on 23 rushing attempts in Nebraska’s 38-17 win over North Dakota.

It’s hard to make a name for yourself in the Big Ten as a running back due to all the history and the level of competition, but these newcomers are hoping to break into the top ranks by building on these performances throughout the season.

Look at this play from Roman Hemby:

Penn State and Purdue left their running game in the locker room

Speaking of running the ball, not everyone got the memo. Penn State and Purdue played a game where running success was hard to come by, and it wasn’t because of the opposing defense. Penn State won the game 35-31, but finished the game with only 98 yards on 3.1 yards per carrying. Purdue, somehow, was significantly worse, finishing the game with 70 rushing yards on 3.0 yards per carrying.

Both of these teams are going to have to look in the mirror and figure out a rushing game if they hope to have any success, otherwise they will fall to the middle of their respective divisions. Running may not be a focus for many teams, but in the Big Ten, where the majority of teams still reside in the Midwest and deal with inclement weather. A running game goes a long way in the Big Ten, somehow James Franklin and Jeff Brohm didn’t get the memo.

Poor coaching decisions wreck Week 1

One common thought during Week 1 is that anything can happen because the players are prone to mistakes. We expect missed tackles, miscommunication, and an overall lack of cohesion. One thing that is rarely discussed is coaches not being ready for Week 1. Coaching, like players, takes a few weeks to round in form, and in certain cases, poor coaches have led to Week 1 losses. Week Zero, if we’re talking Nebraska, but that was not early season mistakes. Scott Frost is just bad at his job.

Even still, his decision to green-light an onside kick while up 11 on Northwestern was the epitome of bad coaching. Nebraska did not score again in the game, and lost another one-score contest after being up double digits. Jeff Brohm set his team up to lose by not going for a 4th-and-short in enemy territory instead choosing to punt. A conversion and a touchdown would have sealed the game, but instead Purdue suffered a loss due to his decision not to be aggressive.

Game-winning drives by unlikely subjects

I am on record that the Big Ten is a conference full of mediocre quarterbacks, and I fully stand behind that statement. Yet even mediocre quarterbacks can perform in clutch moments, and that was showcased a couple of times during the Week 1 slate.

After a rough game, and Jeff Brohm’s decision to not go for it on fourth down, Sean Clifford led Penn State on an eight-play, 80-yard drive where he went 7-for-7 including a 10-yard pass to running back Keyvone Lee for the game-winning touchdown. Indiana’s Connor Bazelak found some magic in his first game as a Hoosier, leading his team past the Fighting Illini with a 75-yard touchdown drive. This drive was even more significant due to the fact the Illinois defense had held the Hoosiers to 70 total yards of offense in the second half before this game-winning drive.