Maybe Next Week Will Be the Week for Michigan Football
Photo Credit: John S. Peterson

Recapping the 2018 Bowl Season for the Big Ten Conference

January 02, 2019

New Year’s Day means the 2018 college football bowl season is all but over. There is one game left, the College Football Playoff National Championship, but for the fourth season in a row, the Big Ten will not participate in the title game. 

Still, the conference sent nine teams bowling this season. It was an up-and-down showing. 

Let’s recap.

Quick Lane Bowl: Minnesota def. Georgia Tech, 34-10

The Gophers (7-6) jumped out to an early 13-0 lead, then rode a career day from tailback Mohamed Ibrahim to roll to their third win in four games. In head coach Paul Johnson’s final game before retirement, the Yellow Jackets dropped to 7-6.

  Minnesota Georgia Tech
Total Yards 392 283
Yards Per Play 7.0 5.1
Chunk Plays 10 7
Turnovers 0 1
Time of Possession 30:43 29:17

The 5-foot-10, 205-pound redshirt freshman running back took 31 totes for a career-high 224 yards and two scores, one game after piling up 121 yards in a 37-15 win at Wisconsin that made Minnesota bowl eligible. Ibrahim had carries that went for 19, 33 and 57 yards; it was the kind of day where Minnesota was explosive and efficient running between the tackles. The Gophers didn’t punt a single time, scoring on six of their eight possessions.

Gopher head coach PJ Fleck deserves plenty of credit for the showing as well, as it was the Gopher game plan that played out to perfection. You go into games with triple-option programs expecting possessions to come at a premium, but Minnesota controlled the ball, controlled the clock and controlled the pace of play.

A day after giving up 55 points in a loss to Illinois on Nov. 3, Minnesota fired its defensive coordinator. The Gophers were at 4-5 with all five losses coming in the previous six weeks. Things looked bleak. 

Since, Fleck’s bunch stomped Purdue 41-10, lost by 10 to Northwestern, beat Wisconsin and beat Georgia Tech. There was youth everywhere on the field during the Quick Lane Bowl, including Ibrahim and quarterback Tanner Morgan, and that has things looking up for Minnesota as it gets ready to head into Year 3 under Fleck.

New Era Pinstripe Bowl: Wisconsin def. Miami, 35-3

The Badgers lollygagged to a 7-5 regular season record after the highest preseason ranking in program history. Calling 2018 a disappointment would be an understatement. But in thumping a similarly disappointing Miami (7-6) squad, Wisconsin at least got back some positive momentum heading into the offseason.

  Wisconsin Miami
Total Yards 406 169
Yards Per Play 5.9 4.2
Chunk Plays 13 4
Turnovers 5 1
Time of Possession 39:47 20:13

Wisconsin did to Miami what Good Wisconsin typically does to teams; it ran the ball down the Canes’ throat (58 carries, 11 pass attempts), controlled the clock, controlled the big plays and won the turnover battle. It’s never sexy and certainly wasn’t on this day in another football-game-at-a-baseball-stadium, but it’s a win all the same.

Badger running back Jonathan Taylor followed up an All-Big Ten freshman season with a 2,194-yard sophomore campaign in 2018, punctuated by a 27-carry, 205-yard, one-score outing against Miami. Taylor was once again spectacular for the Badgers.

But even in a win, the passing game still looked like a mess. Sophomore Jack Coan burned his redshirt midseason to replace an injured Alex Hornibrook and looked rather unsurprising for Wisconsin in limited exposure. In 11 pass attempts, Coan managed to throw a pick; which is worrisome because regardless of who played the position in 2018, Wisconsin had turnover issues. Hornibrook has 33 career picks in his three seasons in Madison. 

It just worked out that the quarterback play for the other guys was so much worse in the game. Miami starter Malik Rosier went 5-for-12 for 46 yards and three picks before being benched for N’Kosi Perry, who went 1-for-5 for 2 yards and a pick. Wisconsin did well to make Rosier uncomfortable, but Miami’s quarterbacks were significantly worse than Wisconsin’s defensive backs.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: Auburn def. Purdue, 63-14

And the good vibes for the Big Ten came to a screeching halt.

The Boilermakers (6-7) thanked head coach Jeff Brohm for spurning Louisville by getting taken to the cleaners. And this was an Auburn (8-5) offense that spent the bulk of 2018 looking like a stick-shift car being driven uphill by a 16-year-old who didn’t know there was such a thing as manual transmission prior to getting in the car.

  Purdue Auburn
Total Yards 263 586
Yards per Play 4.0 7.8
Chunk Plays 5 17
Turnovers 2 0
Time of Possession 25:49 34:11

It was 56-7 at halftime. The Tigers scored touchdowns on their first eight possessions to set a record for points in any half of any bowl ever. What’s more, the Tigers had the ball less than 11 minutes in the first half; three drives scored in under a minute and two others took 1:03 off the clock each.

The Tigers had 17 chunk plays. Nine on the ground, eight through the air. Purdue, for long stretches, looked like a collection of players that had never been asked to play pass defense before. Auburn receivers ran wide open through the secondary all afternoon long and quarterback Jarrett Stidham absolutely torched the Boilermaker defense in play-action. Stidham went 15-for-21 for 373 yards and five touchdowns in his final game before the NFL. 

Stud freshman wideout Rondale Moore got his — 11 catches, 94 yards, one rushing touchdown — but nothing else worked. And now Purdue’s got questions to answer.

Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl: No. 10 Florida def. No. 7 Michigan, 41-15

For a stretch, Michigan looked like one of the four best teams in college football. Then the Wolverines got flattened by arch-rival Ohio State in Columbus to lose the Big Ten East crown and a spot in the Playoff.

Then Florida (10-3) made Michigan (10-3) look like it didn’t belong.

  Michigan Florida
Total Yards 326 427
Yards per Play 4.9 6.7
Chunk Plays 5 11
Turnovers 2 0
Time of Possession 28:41 21:19

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh is now 1-3 in bowl games in Ann Arbor. Which is, checks notes, not great. 

This one was close through one half of play, with Florida on top 13-10 at the intermission, but both Shea Patterson interceptions came in the second half when things unraveled. Gator corner Chauncey Gardner-Johnson picked off Patterson early in the third then again with just under five minutes to play, the second of which was returned for six and the final nail in Michigan’s coffin.

It didn’t help that running back Karan Higdon and star defenders Rashan Gary and Devin Bush all sat out the game in preparation for the NFL. Michigan only had 66 rushing yards as a team. Higdon had at least 70 in 10 of his 11 games this season. 

San Diego County Credit Union Holiday Bowl: No. 22 Northwestern def. No. 17 Utah, 31-20

Northwestern (9-5) extended its bowl win streak to three games — a program record — with one of the craziest comebacks you’ll see.

  Northwestern Utah
Total Yards 322 393
Yards per Play 4.6 5.1
Chunk Plays 9 11
Turnovers 1 6
Time of Possession 31:51 28:09

Turnovers suck. Utah had a 20-3 halftime lead. And with 6:40 left in the third quarter, the Utes had first-and-goal at the 6, up 20-10.

Then Northwestern managed an 82-yard scoop and score to make things 20-17. Then Northwestern forced another Utah fumble that led to seven more points two plays later. In total, the Utes turned it over four times in the third alone while the Wildcats put up 28 points, tying for a Holiday Bowl record for points in a quarter.

Redbox Bowl: Oregon def. Michigan State, 7-6

The Ducks (9-4) averaged 37 points a game before running into the buzzsaw defense that is Michigan State (7-6). Still, the Spartans’ offense was just as off and couldn’t match the one play the Ducks made. 

  Michigan State Oregon
Total Yards 331 203
Yards per Play 3.8 3.4
Chunk Plays 8 6
Turnovers 1 0
Time of Possession 37:15 22:45

The Spartans have scored two offensive touchdowns since Nov. 3. And though the yardage looks better, Michigan State got off 26 more plays than the Ducks and watched quarterback Brian Lewerke miss receiver after receiver.

Lewerke was clearly outplayed by backup Rocky Lombardi throughout the season, but back fully healthy, head coach Mark Dantonio rolled with the vet. Lewerke went 22-for-40 for 172 yards and a pick. In the fourth quarter, the Spartan offense went three-and-out, missed a field goal and turned it over on downs twice. The botched field goal came from a low snap Lewerke couldn’t handle, the kicker couldn’t even get a kick off as Lewerke was sacked near the sideline trying to salvage the play.

Oregon got inconsistent play from its offense as well (quarterback Justin Herbert went 19-for-33 for 166 yards) but Herbert was able to find the end zone in the fourth quarter, making it 28 straight games with a touchdown pass, the longest active streak in major college football. A 28-yard strike from Herbert to Donovan Mitchell with 11:19 left in the game proved to be the game-winner.

The Spartans defense once again looked like one of the country’s best, but the offense has some serious offseason work to do.

Outback Bowl: Iowa def. No. 18 Mississippi State, 27-22

The Hawkeyes (9-4) win nine games again, so head coach Kirk Ferentz is happy. And the latest win came while rushing for negative-15 yards. 

Yup. You read that right. Not a typo.

  Iowa Mississippi State
Total Yards 199 342
Yards per Play 3.9 4.6
Chunk Plays 4 8
Turnovers 3 2
Time of Possession 26:26 33:34

A 17-0 second quarter gave Iowa a halftime lead and a 40-yard field goal from kicker Miguel Recinos with just under six minutes to play proved to be the perfect amount of insurance. 

The defense won this one.

Mississippi State had it first-and-goal from the Hawkeye 1-yard-line to begin the fourth quarter. It ended up kicking a field goal from the 3 after getting stonewalled on three straight runs.

The Bulldogs went back inside Iowa’s 25 on their next possession and left with no points after a Nick Fitzgerald interception. Then there was a three-and-out, then a drive that ended on fourth down at the Iowa 32. For the game, Mississippi State got to the red zone three times and came away with nine points.

Iowa quarterback Nate Stanley was admirable — 21-for-31, 214 yards, three scores, one pick — in the absence of a running game but credit this one for the guys on the other side.

VRBO Citrus Bowl: No. 14 Kentucky def. No. 12 Penn State, 27-24

Trace McSorley ended his Penn State career admirably, playing while clearly hobbled and leading a comeback from down 27-7, but the Nittany Lions (9-4) ended another season in rather disappointing fashion. 

  Penn State Kentucky
Total Yards 410 297
Yards per Play 5.5 5.2
Chunk Plays 15 10
Turnovers 2 0
Time of Possession 29:18 30:42

McSorley went for 246 yards and two scores through the air, with another 75 yards and a score on the ground. Penn State outscored Kentucky 17-0 in the fourth quarter thanks to a rallying effort behind the quarterback. 

But a 17-point third quarter from the Wildcats and a ground game the Nittany Lions couldn’t stop was enough. Kentucky had the ball for 7:38 in the fourth quarter despite two three-and-outs on offense. The final drive of the game lasted one second for Penn State because Kentucky was able to bleed 4:11 off the clock in eight plays. 

Running back Benny Snell Jr. went for 144 yards and two scores in the process to become the program’s all-time leading rusher. 

The Nittany Lions are now 5-12 against ranked opponents under James Franklin.

Rose Bowl: No. 6 Ohio State def. No. 9 Washington, 28-23

For the second-straight season, a Big Ten champion Buckeye team was shut out of the College Football Playoff. Ohio State (13-1) looked like it was going to take things out on the Pac-12-winning Huskies (10-4), opening up a 28-3 lead in the third quarter but then maybe answered some questions as to why the Buckeyes were in Pasadena instead of the CFP semis after giving up a 20-point fourth quarter.

  Ohio State Washington
Total Yards 364 444
Yards per Play 5.3 4.9
Chunk Plays 11 12
Turnovers 0 0
Time of Possession 24:58 35:02

In Urban Meyer’s final game as the Buckeye head coach, he went out a winner. In holding on to beat Washington, Meyer claimed his first Rose Bowl win. 

His quarterback, Dwayne Haskins, a Heisman finalist after one of the best passing seasons in program history, was on the money for most of the afternoon. Haskins went 25-for-37 for 251 yards and three scores and in doing so became just the sixth quarterback at the FBS level to pass for 50 touchdowns in a single season. 

Then in the backfield, Mike Weber provided just the right compliment, with 96 yards on 15 carries.

The Buckeyes punted on five of their six possessions in the second half (not counting the two-play drive at the end of the game that saw kneel-downs) and put the onus on the defense to close things out. Washington was picked off on its two-point conversion attempt that would have cut the lead to 3 with under a minute to play and then denied on the ensuing onside kick attempt.

Ohio State won its eighth Rose Bowl in program history. Even when the Buckeyes look like they’ve slipped, they still manage to keep everything together. This season will mark just the third 13-win campaign in program history.

Big Ten record: 5-4

The Big Ten finished bowl season with wins over No. 9 Washington, No. 17 Utah, No. 18 Mississippi State, Miami and Georgia Tech. Only the SEC has more wins over ranked opponents this bowl season (four). 

With the title game still left to play, the SEC is 6-5, the Big 12 is finished at 4-3, the ACC is 5-5 and the Pac-12 is done at 3-4.

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