Big Ten Beat: Digging In, Climbing Up, Scary D-Line, Buckeyes Shape Up
Conference Roundup: 12-2, 1-0 against ranked teams
Continuing with the easy schedule, the Big Ten maintained its phenomenal record. Only Purdue and Maryland lost, the former in a close shootout with Bowling Green, the latter was blown out by West Virginia. Tommy Armstrong stood out for Nebraska, using both his arm and legs to get a close win. Minnesota had its third consecutive three-point victory. Penn State’s passing game actually worked for a change. The Badgers blew out Hawaii, showing off a great running game against a bad defense. Indiana continues to play on only one side of the ball—though they are playing great on that one side—while Iowa was entirely dominant. With conference play beginning this coming week, the slate will get considerably more challenging, and should weed out those who have simply exploited an easy schedule.
Wolverines dig way into rankings
They’re back. Behind a physical, smash mouth, style, the Wolverines have hammered their way into the rankings, coming in at number 22 this week. The passing game appears to be a two-man show, featuring both Jake Butt and Amara Darboh in heavy doses. Quarterback Jake Rudock looked much more decisive against BYU than he has in the early part of the season. He even displayed some sneaky athleticism, claiming extra yards with his legs. The running game is also much improved. De’Veon Smith is the epitome of a Jim Harbaugh running back, lacking great speed or strength yet remaining solid in both regards. He has an endless motor, and continues to churn his legs. Ty Issac and Derrick Green supply quality depth behind him. Meanwhile, the defense looks stout, refusing to yield easy yards. They still have a ways to return to the power they once were, but the early signs are promising.
The Wildcats have always been a tough team. This season is no different. Sure, they have gotten to face the likes of Eastern Illinois and Ball State, but they also handled the then-number-21 Standford Cardinals at home and the Duke Bluedevils on the road. Justin Jackson is a steady, though surprisingly unspectacular, running back, amassing 516 yards thus far. Backup Warren Long has taken 28 carries for an efficient 167 yards (6.0 yards-per-carry), while Clayton Thorson is a quality dual-threat passer who, despite his youth and lack of passing polish, is proving to be a capable leader for the Wildcats. Defensively, Northwestern ranks 11th in the nation in yards allowed per game with a measly 266. Now standing as the number 16 team in the country, the undefeated Wildcats have a big challenge in front of them as they face off with Minnesota.
Penn State Defensive Line has bite
For all of the offense’s struggles this season, the defense has been spectacular. They lead the nation in sacks with 18, and are 15th in yards allowed per game with 282. Specifically, the defensive line is scary. Coming into the season everyone knew Anthony Zettel was a phenomenal player. However, it is the players around him who have truly set this group apart. Austin Johnson looks like potentially the best NFL prospect of the group, emerging as a first-round candidate. Carl Nassib, who totaled two sacks leading up to the season, has fully broken out. Thus far, he is tied for the lead in the country with seven sacks. Between the three, there is legitimate talent on this unit, and multiple future professionals.
Ohio State rounding into shape
Ohio State has remained number one in the country for their potential and out of deference to the defending champions. However, they have been utterly unspectacular in their defense, having mustered only a seven-point victory over Northern Illinois last week. Their defense was physical and aggressive, and Joey Bosa’s impact was clear. Ezekiel Elliot continued his 100-yard-game streak, and will continue to be the focal point of the offense. However, Cardale Jones refuses to take unquestioned hold of the starting quarterback job. He played well, his best game of the season, but has not led the offense like he was expected to. They will not have a true test for a while yet, but they need to get the quarterback sorted before they face one.
Big Ten Players of the Week
Offense: Jordan Howard, Jr. Running Back, Indiana
Howard, the nation’s leading rusher, continued his torrid campaign after transferring from University of Alabama-Birmingham when the program was eliminated. After carrying the ball 33 times for 168 yards, Howard increased his season totals to 111 and 675, respectively. He the only player in the FBS over the past two decades to rush for at least 140 yards in each of their first four games per bigten.org.
Offense: Tommy Armstrong, Jr. QB, Nebraska
Armstrong’s dual threat capabilities were on full display against Southern Mississippi, recording 368 passing yards and 63 rushing yards. It was Armstrong’s fourth game out of his past five with more than 300 yards. Thus far, positive results for the athletic passer under new head coach Mike Riley.
Defense: Shilique Calhoun, Sr. Defensive End, Michigan State
The mercurial lineman showed his good side against Central Michigan. Utalizing both his speed and strength, Calhoun was an active force for the Spartans, racking up six tackles and 2.5 sacks, bringing his total to 4.5 sacks on the season.
Defense: Anthony Zettel, Sr. Defensive Tackle, Penn State
The senior leader has moved his tackling skills from trees to the football field. Zettel totaled seven tackles, finding himself in the backfield for 2.5 tackles for loss and .5 sacks. He came into the season as the most notable name on the Nittany Lions’ defensive line, which has become a fearsome leader.
Freshman of the Week: Taiwan Deal, Running Back, Wisconsin
Deal showed why he was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, using his size and power to plow his way to 147 yards on 26 carries. Though he does not have the stability or overall play of Corey Clement, he showed promise in replacing the injured starter.
One to Watch: #16 Northwestern vs. Minnesota
It was a close call to go with this game over Wisconsin vs. Iowa, but this has to be the most intriguing game. Northwestern is undefeated, and the scrappy Wildcats has offed two talented teams this season. Minnesota, meanwhile, has just one loss, a close heartbreaker to number-two TCU in the opening week of the season. Since then, they have mustered three point wins against Colorado State, Kent State and Ohio. The Gophers play to the level of their competition, and this week their competition is tough. It will be important to watch how the Gophers come out in this game, it will go a long way in telling who they can be.
#1 Ohio State 38, Western Michigan 12
#2 Michigan State 30, Central Michigan 10
#17 Northwestern 24, Ball State 19
#22 Wisconsin 28, Hawaii 0
Michigan 31, #23 BYU 0
Minnesota 27, Ohio 24
Iowa 62, North Texas 16
Nebraska 36, Southern Miss 28
Indiana 31, Wake Forest 24
Penn State 37, San Diego State 21
Illinois 27, Middle Tennessee 25
Rutgers 27, Kansas 14
Bowling Green 35, Purdue 28
West Virginia 45, Maryland 6