Top 10 single-game performances from Big Ten players in 2016
Defense was the theme of the Big Ten season, and that clearly played out in the conference’s top 10 individual performances. Seven of the top 10 games included here were put forth by defenders, although one of them was the ultimate dual-threat show. Featured prominently are Wildcats and Wolverines, as six of the ten 10 performances came from Northwestern and Michigan players, including the top three.
1. WR Austin Carr (Northwestern) vs. Ohio State, 90.9 grade
Carr had a number of outstanding performances that led to him being a Biletnikoff finalist, but his true breakout game came against Ohio State in Week 9. He torched the Buckeyes for eight catches and 158 yards, scored once and had a second called back on a questionable out-of-bounds ruling that should have been challenged. He earned 66 of his yards after the catch, and his 19.8 yards per reception for the game was his second-best output of the season. No team played Ohio State to a smaller margin of loss in the Horseshoe this year than the Northwestern Wildcats, and Carr’s superlative effort was the primary reason.
2. CB Montre Hartage (Northwestern) vs. Purdue, 88.0 grade
The Big Ten was loaded with outstanding corner play this season, but surprisingly the top individual performance of the season was submitted by a defender whose overall grade for the season was just 70.3. Northwestern’s Hartage certainly had his struggles at times this season, but his dominance against the Boilermakers in Week 11 was at a level simply not seen from his position group this year. He was targeted nine times in coverage and gave up just three receptions, and had two interceptions and two pass break-ups.
3. LB/S/KR/PR/QB Jabrill Peppers (Michigan) vs. Rutgers, 84.4 grade
This is the quintessential Peppers game, as he made a huge impact in all three phases. On defense he was a disruptive force in the backfield, posting a QB hit, hurry and a defensive stop. He had his best game of the season on offense, as he scored twice, but not before blowing the game wide-open in the first quarter with an explosive 67-yard run down the left sideline. He also had what would have been a play-of-the-year candidate punt-return touchdown, had it not been called back for a penalty that didn’t appear to affect his run.
4. LB Jerome Baker (Ohio State) vs. Michigan, 91.0 grade
Michigan rushed for just 2.7 yards per carry in The Game, and Ohio State linebacker Jerome Baker was the primary reason. He racked up 13 total tackles — nine of them were solos, and five went for defensive stops. In just eight pass rushes, he posted a sack and two hurries. Topping his day off was his performance in coverage, as the two receptions he yielded netted just six yards for the Wolverines, and he picked off a pass deep in Michigan territory to set up a quick score for the Buckeyes.
5. G Mike Minter (Maryland) vs. Indiana, 89.0 grade
Minter was up and down throughout the season, but take out his rough outing against Michigan (when he yielded five total pressures) and he gave up just one sack, one hit and seven total pressures for the year. His best performance came against Indiana, when he posted his fifth of six pressure-free games on the season and also had his best run-blocking day of the year. He moved Hoosier defenders off the line of scrimmage with ease all game, and posted an impressive run-block grade of 89.1.
6. QB Wilton Speight (Michigan) vs. Maryland, 81.9 grade
The QB play in the Big Ten this season was rarely impressive, but Michigan’s Speight had such a good game against the Terrapins. Speight torched Maryland for 362 yards and two scores, and was particularly deadly on intermediate and deep throws. Most impressive about his performance was how well he did against pressure and Maryland’s blitz packages. When pressured, he completed 80 percent of his throws for 178 yards and both touchdowns, and had a perfect QB rating of 158.3. When the Terrapins brought extra heat he was nearly as solid, as he completed nine of 14 throws for 186 yards and both scores, and had an impressive QB rating of 147.3.
7. LB Anthony Walker Jr. (Northwestern) vs. Indiana, 91.0 grade
We had high hopes for Northwestern’s Walker this season, but he didn’t quite put forth the breakout performance we were expecting based on his freshman and sophomore seasons. His run defense play generally improved, but he wasn’t as productive on pass rushes as he was in 2015, and failed to solve his tackling issues. He finished the season with 18 missed tackles, the most in the Big Ten. All but one of those came in Big Ten play, and in fact, he had just two Big Ten games in which he missed less than two times. One of those times was in Week 8 against Indiana, as he put forth one of the best games of the season among Big Ten linebackers. He racked up an impressive 13 solo tackles, with nine of them stops. He was asked to rush the passer just four times, but recorded a hurry on all four reps. Walker’s performance against the Hoosiers put on full display just the kind of athlete he’s capable of being on the field.
8. Edge rusher Dawuane Smoot (Illinois) vs. Minnesota, 92.7 grade
After a monster junior season for the Illini, Smoot did not take the giant leap forward we were expecting in 2016, in particular because of his inconsistent play against the run. He was, however, still very strong as a pass-rusher, as he posted 51 total pressures for the season. His most complete game came in Week 9 against Minnesota, where he posted six total pressures and five defensive stops. His 85.1 run-defense grade was his best effort of the season, and is the primary reason his performance against the Golden Gophers stands out as one of the Big Ten’s best in 2016.
9. DE Taco Charlton (Michigan) vs. Michigan State, 89.0 grade
Charlton exceeded all expectations this season with his dominant edge play in all phases, and is now in the first-round discussion for April’s NFL draft. Picking just one of his games to highlight was a difficult endeavor, but it’s hard to argue that any Big Ten defender played better at any point in the season than Charlton did against in-state rival Michigan State in Week 10. Against Sparty he posted five hurries and a hit, with the latter causing an interception. He also posted three run stops for the game, and probably should have made an even bigger impact except for what appeared to be multiple holding violations that he caused but went uncalled. His 89.0 overall grade was one of the highest marks of the season for a Big Ten edge defender.
10. LB Dedrick Young II (Nebraska) vs. Purdue, 89.3 grade
Nebraska had a number of defensive standouts this year, but Dedrick Young was decidedly average for much of the season. His overall grade of 70.3 and run-defense grade of 68.8 are not those of an all-Big Ten performer, but at least for one October afternoon, he was just that. Against Purdue, Young led the Cornhuskers with 10 solo tackles and seven stops, and also contributed a QB hurry. He excelled in coverage as well, as he gave up just three receptions on five targets (just 21 yards against), and also broke up a pass. His coverage play against the Boilermakers is particularly notable, as opposing QBs were seven-for-seven when throwing into his coverage the remainder of the season.