Saturday's Big Ten: Ohio State has a Fields day; Maryland, Penn State hang up 79 points
Columbus, Ohio — Justin Fields made some mistakes that quarterbacks make when they haven’t played much. The much-ballyhooed Georgia transfer also showed flashes of how good he might be and why he was a five-star recruit.
Fields, who saw limited action as a freshman last season sitting behind Jake Fromm, threw four touchdown passes and ran for a score in his first game for Ohio State, leading the fifth-ranked Buckeyes over Florida Atlantic, 45-21, on Saturday in the season opener.
Fields made it look easy early, engineering touchdown on Ohio State’s first four drives, including his 51-yard scoring run on the Buckeyes’ first possession.
The Buckeyes’ offense sputtered in the second and third quarters behind its relatively inexperienced leader. Fields stayed in the game for all but the last offensive series, finishing 18-for-25 for 234 yards.
“We jumped on them early, but we just got to keep that tempo up and just be able to score all game long,” Fields said.
Tight end Jeremy Ruckert caught two touchdown passes, and Binjimen Victor and Chris Olave also had scoring grabs. J.K. Dobbins had 91 rushing yards and a touchdown.
“Lots to build from off of today,” Ohio State coach Ryan Day said. “I thought overall, though, game management was decent. There was one time where (Fields) scrambled out and took a sack, could have just thrown it away. It would have been second-and-110. I think it was second-and-14. A lot of little things going on there. But again, overall pretty solid.”
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(At) No. 24 Nebraska 35, South Alabama 21: Nebraska scored two defensive touchdowns and one on special teams, bailing out a sluggish offense and leading the Cornhuskers to victory over South Alabama.
The five-touchdown favorite Huskers led only 14-7 at halftime and totaled just 66 yards in the second half. But their defense had five takeaways, the biggest one Eric Lee Jr.’s 38-yard interception return for a touchdown, and JD Spielman ran back a punt 76 yards to make it a three-touchdown game early in the third quarter.
Any easing of the anxiety at Memorial Stadium was temporary. South Alabama converted two straight turnovers into touchdowns to cut it to 28-21 and had the ball heading into the fourth quarter.
Things started turning for Nebraska when Cam Taylor hammered Jaguars quarterback Cephus Johnson, popping the ball loose, and Alex Davis picked it up at the goal line and stepped into the end zone for a touchdown.
Then, with South Alabama threatening from the Nebraska 12, Taylor stepped in front of Johnson’s pass and ran in back to midfield.
“Defensive-wise, getting to the ball, everyone was competing for tackles, everyone was competing to get turnovers,” Taylor said. “Everybody wants to get to the ball.”
It was the second straight time the Huskers struggled against an opponent from the Sun Belt Conference. Last year they lost at home to Troy, one of the lowest points in a 4-8 season.
Nebraska had difficulty establishing the run against what was the 101st-ranked rushing defense last season. The Huskers averaged 2.2 yards per carry and finished with 98 on the ground.
“Defense won the game for us,” Nebraska coach Scott Frost said. “That’s as anemic an offensive effort I’ve seen in a long time.”
Martinez was intercepted once and nearly two other times, center Cam Jurgens shot a snap over Martinez’s head for a 20-yard loss and the offensive line was beaten often by pass rushers.
The Huskers’ best series was their first, when they drove 81 yards for a touchdown. That marked the seventh time in eight games they’ve scored on their opening possession. Only three of their remaining possessions lasted more than five plays.
Lee’s interception return was the first defensive touchdown since Frost took over last year.
“To finally reach this day and make the plays I’m capable of, to showcase it on this level, I’ve been waiting all my life,” said Lee, who switched from cornerback to safety in the spring.
Then it was Spielman’s turn. He sidestepped the South Alabama gunner, took off to his right, nearly stepped out of bounds at the 35 and pulled away from a diving defender for his second career punt return for a touchdown.
But Spielman muffed the next punt, and South Alabama recovered and scored three plays later on Johnson’s 9-yard toss to Davyn Flenord. The Jaguars’ A.J. DeShazor then intercepted Martinez to set up Johnson’s 13-yard TD pass to Khameron Taylor.
Nebraska went three-and-out, and South Alabama started its next series at its 12. That’s when Cam Taylor took over, first forcing the fumble with his big hit on Johnson and then all but shutting the door on South Alabama with his interception.
Indiana 34, Ball State 24: At Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Stevie Scott III ran for two second-half touchdowns and Logan Justus made four field goals to help Indiana get past Ball State.
The Hoosiers have won 14 of their last 16 season openers.
Ball State has lost five of its last six overall and six straight against Big Ten foes and three in a row against the in-state Hoosiers.
Indiana quarterback Michael Penix Jr. had a roller coaster day in his starting debut. He led the Hoosiers to a field goal on their first possession and hooked up with Nick Westbrook for a 75-yard touchdown on the second series.
Then things got rougher. Penix was picked off on each of his next two series and the Hoosiers didn’t reach the end zone again until Scott’s 4-yard TD plunge to open the third quarter. That made it 23-10.
Ball State answered with a 45-yard TD pass from Drew Plitt to Walter Fletcher.
Scott scored on a 2-yard run with 13:47 remaining and a 2-point conversion pass from David Ellis to Peyton Hendershot gave Indiana a 31-17 lead.
The Cardinals made it 31-24 on Yo’Heinz Tyler’s 36-yard touchdown catch with 6:28 left before Justus sealed the victory with his third career-long field goal of the game, a 50-yarder with 2:15 to go. Justus made a 48-yarder in the first quarter and a 49-yarder just before halftime.
Scott carried 19 times for 48 yards.
The Hoosiers got what they needed — a win — but know they must make dramatic improvements before facing No. 5 Ohio State in two weeks.
Ball State: Plitt played well and the Cardinals were better than expected after winning only 10 games in coach Mike Neu’s first three seasons. And while they didn’t take advantage of all their opportunities, it was a promising start for Neu’s team.
Penix showed a little bit of everything Saturday.
At times, he looked picture perfect. At others, he made poor decisions and poor throws. And some dropped balls didn’t help.
He was 8-of-11 with 144 yards, one touchdown and one interception in the first quarter. The finally tally: 24 of 40, 326 yards, a second interception and seven carries for 67 yards.
Penix became the fourth Indiana freshman to top 300 yards in a single game and finished with the second-highest yards passing in a starting debut behind only Antwaan Randle El (386) in 1997.
The Hoosiers intercepted Plitt with 1:14 to go, extending their streak of consecutive games with a turnover to 19 and their streak of consecutive games with an interception to 11. Indiana started Saturday with the nation’s second-longest streak of games with a turnover.
Ball State receiver Riley Miller had his six-game streak with a touchdown catch end.
(At) Illinois 42, Akron 3: In his Illinois debut, quarterback Brandon Peters showed more than 30,000 Illini fans that he can pass and run and do both pretty well.
Peters, a graduate transfer from Michigan, went 14-of-23 for 163 yards and three touchdowns through the air, while running for another score to lead Illinois past Akron 42-3.
Peters also rushed six times for 36 yards and showed surprising mobility for a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder known more for his arm than his legs.
“Still want to say Brandon isn’t a running quarterback?” Illinois coach Lovie Smith joked after the game. “He had a good day for us, I’d say.”
Peters was decisive all afternoon despite a tendency to overthrow a few balls, and appeared to show few jitters before his first Illinois start.
“He’s been through a lot, so I was glad to see him go out there, go down the field and boom, score right away,” Smith said. “He’s a confident guy, just what we’re looking for in a quarterback.”
While Smith, in his fourth year at Illinois, said earlier this week his team is striving for relevancy, first-year Akron coach Tom Arth is looking to find something to build on.
Both teams were 4-8 last year, although the Zips fired longtime coach Terry Bowden.
Smith, a former NFL coach known for his tough defensive teams, took over as defensive coordinator for Illinois when Hardy Nickerson resigned last October. Smith was determined to toughen things up, defensively, and he did just that.
Akron quarterback Kato Nelson was 10-of-24 with an interception for a Zips offense that struggled from the opening play.
The Zips managed only 64 yards rushing against a stifling Illinois defense led by linebacker Jake Hansen, who had seven tackles, a forced fumble and an interception.
Last season, Illinois gave up 41.7 points per game, which ranked 126th of 130 teams in the nation. The Illini allowed 261.6 yards per game on the ground, 124th in the nation.
Last year’s pass defense was a bit better, giving up 260.2 yards per game through the air. The Illini held the Zips to less than a 50 percent completion rate while allowing Nelson only 122 yards with one interception.
Illinois has no shortage of talent in the backfield, led by Reggie Corbin, who piled up 1,085 yards and averaged 8.5 per carry last season.
Both Corbin and RaVon Bonner rushed for touchdowns.
Corbin carried six times for 38 yards, while Bonner carried six times for 38 yards in a balanced ground attack by the Illini.
Akron was led by Deltron Sands, who rushed 13 times for 39 yards. Brandon Lee carried nine times for 30 yards.
The Illini put up an impressive 401 yards of total offense, including 207 on the ground and 194 passing, while holding Akron to a total of 192 yards.
“We’re getting there,” Smith said. “We want to be a balanced team, and we played a lot of players today. We accomplished what we wanted to accomplish.”
(At) Maryland 79, Howard 0: Josh Jackson (Saline High) threw four touchdown passes in his Maryland debut, backup Tyrrell Pigrome accounted for two scores and the Terrapins crushed Howard in a record-breaking performance under first-year coach Michael Locksley.
With Jackson leading the way, Maryland scored 28 points in both the first and second quarters to shatter the school mark for most points scored in one half. The assault continued in the second half, with the only suspense being if the Terrapins would break the school record for points in game — 80 against Washington College in 1927.
Maryland’s third-stringers had a first and goal at the 4 in the closing minutes but couldn’t push the ball in.
The Terrapins finished with a 623-68 advantage in total yardage.
Jackson transferred to Maryland after an injury-shortened sophomore season at Virginia Tech. In his first game back he played only the first half, going 15-for-24 for 245 yards with TD throws of 26, 4, 6 and 24 yards.
“It was nice. I kind of just got right back into the groove of things,” Jackson said. “The touchdowns are cool and everything, but I was just glad we could go out and get a victory in the first game and now we did it. Seventy-nine points is pretty awesome for coach Locks and our team.”
Jackson is the key component of the Terrapins’ retooled attack under Locksley, who took over at Maryland after serving as Alabama offensive coordinator.
“He’s a half-second behind on some of the throws,” Locksley said of Jackson. “But I was pleased with him. He was poised, and he really stands out to me as a leader.”
Pigrome threw a 62-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and ran for a 22-yard score to make it 63-0.
Maryland kept on coming with its backups, but Bison coach Ron Prince did not believe the Terps were running up the score.
“First of all, it’s my job to stop Maryland. Not Maryland’s job,” Prince said. “I thought coach Locksley was very sporting about the entire thing. I didn’t think there was anything unsportsmanlike about it.”
The Terrapins’ defense also shined, limiting Howard to one first down before halftime while bottling up quarterback Caylin Newton, little brother of NFL star Cam Newton.
Newton went 3-for-11 for 23 yards, was sacked five times and did not play in the second half.
Punting was also a problem. Isaiah Moore had kicks of 14 and 3 yards, dropped the snap once and had a kick blocked for a safety.
(At) No. 15 Penn State 79, Idaho 7: Sean Clifford’s first game as Penn State’s starting quarterback was a short one.
A near flawless first-half performance backed by a dominant effort from the defense allowed Clifford to take the second half off as the 15th-ranked Nittany Lions hammered FCS foe Idaho.
Clifford left the game early in the third after his 14-for-23, 280-yard, two-touchdown effort helped spot Penn State a comfortable lead in his first career start. He chipped in 57 rushing yards on seven carries and hooked up with receiver KJ Hamler for scoring strikes of 36 and 21 yards.
“I need to watch the tape to really give an evaluation,” Clifford said, “But when you score 79 points, it’s not a bad day at the office.”
Hamler, who beat the Idaho secondary clean for both of his touchdown receptions, said afterward he realized Clifford was nervous.
“I just pulled him aside and just said, ‘Calm down,’” Hamler said. “And he went on a little rampage after that.”
Journey Brown and Noah Cain both added a pair of touchdown runs while Ricky Slade, Devyn Ford and Nick Eury each ran for scores. Jake Pinegar kicked two field goals and Jordan Stout made another for Penn State (1-0). Will Levis threw a touchdown pass to tight end Brenton Strange in the fourth quarter.
The Nittany Lions overcame early sloppiness before coasting the rest of the way to their biggest point total since an 81-0 win against Cincinnati in 1991.
A botched handoff and a misfire from Clifford forced them to settle for a pair of field goals on their first two possessions. But Penn State scored touchdowns on five of its next eight drives and went into halftime leading 44-0.
“The first two drives, he missed some throws,” Franklin said. “Not because of a lack of arm strength, was just inaccurate, his feet were probably a little antsy. After those first two drives, he admitted to me he really settled down and got comfortable.”
Idaho didn’t cross midfield until halfway through the second quarter, managed just one first down in the first half, went 1-for-15 on third down and finished with just 145 yards, compared with Penn State’s 673.
Mason Petrino got the Vandals on the board with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Logan Kendall in the fourth quarter.
Clifford offered a warning to opposing offenses on Wednesday, one that appeared legit against Idaho. The Nittany Lions have speed on defense.
Defenders gang tackled all afternoon, often got pressure with four-man fronts and finished with seven sacks and 11 tackles for loss. Cornerback John Reid picked off a pass while standout defensive end Yetur Gross-Matos finished with 2½ sacks.
“I thought we played shutout football on defense even though the scoreboard doesn’t necessarily show that,” Penn State coach James Franklin said.
Penn State tight end Pat Freiermuth, the team’s top red zone target last season, left the game after a helmet-to-helmet collision at the goal line with Idaho’s Lloyd Hightower in the second quarter.
He did not return and Franklin, per his own policy on reporting injuries, did not update the tight end’s status.
(At) No. 25 Stanford 17, Northwestern 7: K.J. Costello threw a 2-yard touchdown pass before getting knocked out of the season opener on a late hit and Stanford went on to beat Northwestern.
Costello completed 16 of 20 passes for 152 yards and the TD pass to Michael Wilson that capped a 90-yard drive in the second quarter for the Cardinal (1-0). But his day ended early when he was hit with a forearm to the facemask while sliding on a scramble by Earnest Brown IV with just 2 seconds remaining in the first half.
Brown was called for a late hit that set up Jet Toner’s 51-yard field goal but wasn’t ejected for targeting. Costello stayed down on the turf for a few minutes before being helped to the locker room. He didn’t return to the game and there was no immediate word on his condition.
Northwestern also lost a quarterback with TJ Green leaving with a leg injury in the third quarter after being sacked and losing a fumble on a play in the red zone. Green had replaced the ineffective former Clemson five-star recruit Hunter Johnson late in the first half.
Johnson came back in to finish and went 6-for-17 for 55 yards and two interceptions. He also lost a fumble that Stanford’s Jordan Fox recovered in the end zone for a touchdown that sealed the game with 20 seconds remaining.
Things were so bad for the Wildcats that they failed to score after Stanford backup quarterback Davis Mills lost a fumble that Gavin Newsome returned to the 21. Northwestern gained 1 yard on three plays before Charlie Kuhbander missed wide right on a 38-yard field goal try.
The Wildcats finally got on the board on a 1-yard run by John Moten IV midway through the fourth quarter.
Coach Pat Fitzgerald kept the starting quarterback secret until just before game time, not that it helped much. Johnson threw an incompletion on his first pass, was intercepted on a ricochet on his second throw and was 1-for-4 for 3 yards and an interception on his first three drives. Green entered on the fourth drive and led the Wildcats into Stanford field position for the first time before that stalled with an incompletion on fourth-and-6 from the 34. It only got slightly better in the second half but Northwestern also lost running back Isaiah Bowers to an apparent knee injury.
The Cardinal came into the season relying heavily on Costello to lead the offense and when he went down things stalled a bit. An interception in Northwestern territory by Paulson Adebo led to no points when Toner hit the upright on a 29-yard attempt and Mills missed several open receivers and lost two fumbles. He finished 7-for-14 for 81 yards. The Cardinal also lost star tackle Walker Little to an apparent leg injury late in the game.
(At) No. 20 Iowa 38, Miami (Ohio) 14: Nate Stanley threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns, Mekhi Sargent ran for 91 yards and a score, and Iowa beat Miami (Ohio) in their season opener.
The Hawkeyes got off to a slow start, but that was erased by the consistent ground game and some big plays from Stanley, who finished 21 of 30 in Iowa’s sixth straight season-opening win.
Iowa opened the scoring with a 21-yard field goal by Keith Duncan, but trailed in the second quarter after RedHawks quarterback Brett Gabbert — brother of NFL quarterback Blaine Gabbert — picked apart the Iowa secondary on a 77-yard scoring drive. Gabbert finished 17-of-27 for 186 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
The Hawkeyes used a combination of Sargent and Toren Young on the ground and Stanley finding 10 different receivers to counter and slowly pull away. Sargent had 14 carries and Young finished with nine for 48 yards and one touchdown.
Two moments stood out in particular for Iowa, for different reasons. Starting left tackle Alaric Jackson left the game in the first quarter with an apparent right knee injury. Conversely, Michigan transfer Oliver Martin caught his first pass with the Hawkeyes, a nine-yard touchdown from Stanley. He finished with two catches for 14 yards and the score.