Top 10 performances from Big Ten players in 2015
PFF grades every play of every college football game involving an FBS opponent, meaning we were witness to a long list of impressive individual performances last season. Which ones stood out the most?
We ranked the top 10 from the Big Ten from 2015 among players returning for the 2016 season:
1. Illinois DE Dawuane Smoot vs. Ohio State, Week 11
In 2013, Buffalo LB Khalil Mack made a name for himself by dominating Ohio State, and while we were certainly on to Illinois’ Dawuane Smoot much earlier than November last season, his standout performance against the Buckeyes in Week 11 similarly put him on the national radar.
He notched 10 total pressures, including a sack and two hits. What makes his pass-rush production is that he did this on just 28 rushing snaps, as Ohio State wisely chose to rush the ball on approximately two-thirds of its offensive snaps. Over the entire season only Arkansas DE Deatrich Wise was able to top Smoot’s pass-rush productivity score from the week (Wise had 11 total pressures, also in Week 11), thus his destruction of the Buckeyes is an easy choice as top performance in the Big Ten.
2. Michigan WR Jehu Chesson vs. Indiana, Week 11
Through the first nine games last year, Chesson failed to impress; in his most productive game (against Michigan State in Week 7), he put up just four catches for 58 yards. Finally, against the Hoosiers in Week 11 the chemistry with quarterback Jake Rudock finally clicked, and he exploded with 10 catches for 208 yards and four touchdowns, all career highs by a significant margin.
Chesson’s speed was something Indiana simply didn’t have an answer for, as he repeatedly toasted the Hoosiers secondary downfield, as well as with multiple huge runs after the catch. After putting up just 23 catches for 259 yards in his first nine games, his breakout performance against Indiana was the first of four straight impressive games, as he tallied 27 catches for 507 yards and six touchdowns down the stretch.
3. Nebraska DE Freedom Akinmoladun vs. Southern Mississippi, Week 4
The only reason Freedom Akinmoladun’s monster game in Week 4 doesn’t top this list is because the entire Huskers defensive line had a field day against an overmatched Southern Mississippi offensive line. How dominant was Nebraska’s defense? On 52 pass plays, the Golden Eagles gave up 41 total pressures!
Akinmoladun was the biggest beneficiary, however, as he racked up two sacks, three hits and four hurries, as well as a total of three defensive stops. His final pass-rush grade of +11.2 was actually higher than Smoot’s vs. Ohio State (+10.0), but Smoot deserves the top spot due to degree of difficulty, and the fact that Akinmoladun had a penalty against Southern Mississippi.
4. Penn State RB Saquon Barkley vs. Ohio State, Week 7
Our Jordan Plocher ranked Penn State RB Saquon Barkley the No. 5 true sophomore in FBS earlier this week, largely on the back of numerous huge outings like his Week 7 game against Ohio State. Against the Buckeyes, Barkley racked up 194 yards on just 26 carries (a 7.5 yard-per-carry average), forcing 10 missed tackles along the way.
One of the most impressive stats from his huge game was how well he did picking up yards after taking hits, as 126 of his yards were after contact. Further testimony to the dominant nature of his seemingly one-man performance is the fact the offensive line graded out decidedly negative on run blocks (-4.8), as they struggled to get movement and sustain blocks at the line of scrimmage throughout the game.
5. Minnesota CB Jalen Myrick vs. Purdue, Week 6
Gophers fans should be excited about having CB Jalen Myrick on their team, and it is performances like his Week 6 effort against the Boilermakers that demonstrate why. Purdue QB David Blough tested him six times, completing just two of them for a measly six yards.
Myrick got his hands on three of the four incompletions, breaking up one and intercepting a pair. He returned his second pick for a touchdown in the third quarter, which stretched Minnesota’s lead to 38-6 and effectively ended the game.
6. Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis vs. Maryland, Week 5
Lewis capped a dominant start to the 2015 season by yielding just one catch on eight targets for a whopping one yard. As he did all season long, Lewis punished his opponent for targeting so frequently, as he intercepted one pass and broke up two others, leading to Terrapins’ QBs having an NFL rating of 0.0 when targeting him.
Numerous Wolverine defenders had huge days against Maryland, as Michigan shut out the Terrapins 28-0 and held them to just 105 yards of offense, but it was Lewis’ ability to completely shut down his half of the field that served as the catalyst for the team’s dominating performance.
7. Iowa RB LeShun Daniels vs. Minnesota, Week 11
Iowa starting RB Jordan Canzeri missed multiple games in the middle of the season with an ankle injury, but LeShun Daniels did more than just fill in, as he turned in one of the Big Ten’s best individual performances of the season against a solid Minnesota defense.
In the Week 11 matchup, Daniels went full Carl Spackler on the Gophers, blowing through the defense for 195 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries. He forced 11 missed tackles on the day, a notable stat considering he forced just 19 total on 144 carries for the season.
8. Michigan State ILB Riley Bullough vs. Maryland, Week 11
After showing some promise in limited snaps in 2014, Michigan State ILB Riley Bullough had a disappointing 2015 campaign, particularly in run support (-12.7 for the season). However, for one week in November against Maryland, he was the best player on the field, posting a Big Ten season-best overall grade for ILBs of +8.1.
There wasn’t any singular phase of his game that stuck out against the Terrapins, as he was outstanding in all three (run defense, pass-rush and coverage). He posted a sack, a hit and a hurry to go with five total stops (and no missed tackles). He was also targeted three times in coverage, giving up just one reception for five yards and breaking up a pass.
9. Ohio State ILB Raekwon McMillan vs Indiana, Week 5
Raekown McMillan is going to be on the shortlist for every national linebacker award this season, and while he had several impressive performances last year it was his game against Indiana that showed just how elite he can be against the run.
He surrendered two catches on four targets for just four yards, while posting a monstrous 15 tackles and 11 stops. Nine of his stops were against the run, resulting in him posting the second-highest run-stop percentage (25 percent) in FBS during Week 5.
10. Nebraska OT Nick Gates vs Iowa, Week 13
Nick Gates is the only returning offensive tackle in the Big Ten to post a positive overall grade in 2015 (Michigan’s Mason Cole is transitioning to center), largely because of his outstanding game against the Hawkeyes in Nebraska’s regular-season finale.
He gave up just one hurry in pass protection (with no sacks or hits), which combined with his outstanding run-blocking to give him a +7.9 overall grade for the week, tied for the third-highest offense line grade in the country for the week and the season’s best for a Big Ten blocker.