Big Ten Beat: Top Two, Gophers’ Needs, All Offense, Rutgers’ Wounds
Conference Roundup: 9-3 out of conference
With few actual challenges this week, the Big Ten performed as expected. Ohio State continued to win, but this one was closer than it should have been, and, coupled with a closer-than-the-score game against Virginia Tech in week one, is cause for some concern. Michigan State and Wisconsin both won as expected. Northwestern won a smart-guy football game against a tough Duke team. Minnesota continues to play to the level of its competition, eaking out a close one over Kent State, while Michigan continues to run the ball against subpar teams. The conference split a pair of shootouts, with Indiana edging out Western Kentucky—whose quarterback is sneakily among the best in the country—and Nebraska dropping an overtime heartbreaker. Penn State’s performance should inspire hope for Lions fans. Sure, Christian Hackenberg threw zero touchdowns to one interception and had a season high completion percentage of an atrocious 52.6 percent, but the running game was outstanding as the offense looked at least moderately competent against a good conference opponent. They also finally got the ball to their best receiver, DaeSean Hamilton. Iowa came up big, beating a very good Pittsburgh team—though Pitt was missing the heart of its offense in injured running back James Connor.
Big Ten Boasts Top Two
Last week we found out what Michigan State was this season. They took on an excellent Oregon team and handled them. Going into this coming week, the polls reflect the Spartan’s status as contenders, as they are listed at number two in the country. This is the first time the conference has boasted the top two teams in the country since Ohio State and Michigan had the honor in 2006. Both teams will have fairly easy schedules for most of the year—with Ohio State only having to look out for Minnesota—until they meet each other on November 21. Look for the potential for both teams to make the playoffs, regardless how their game turns out.
Gophers Still Need Offense
Minnesota is the classic case of a team that plays to the level of their opponent. They nearly notched the season’s biggest upset in a close week one loss to then-number-two team, TCU, and have followed up with a three-point win in overtime against Colorado state and three-point victory over Kent State. The Gophers have an excellent defense, but they just cannot get the offense going. Mitch Leidner has a putrid season completion percentage of 55.1 percent, for a terrible 5.74 yards-per-attempt (the 107th worst mark in the country). Meanwhile, Rodney Smith leads the team in rushing average with a 4.0 yards-per-carry mark. Sure that’s respectable, but the three other rushers on the team are averaging 3.0 yards-per-carry. That is bad. Really bad. While the defense will keep the team alive, this offense has to become both more effective and more efficient.
Through three games, the Hoosiers are averaging 40.7 points-per-game, good for 25th best in the country. Nate Sudfield is 13th in the nation in passing yards with 938, while offseason addition Jordan Howard is the country’s leading rusher. In total, the offense is 12th in the nation in yards-per-game, tied with USC with a 558-yard average. Now for the defense. It is allowing the seventh most yards-per-game of any team in the country. They allow the most passing yards-per-game in the country with 397.2, and have allowed the 19th most points-per game with 34.7. With an offense clicking the way Indiana’s is, they will be a team that can compete. However, with the defense getting simply eviscerated by an easy early season schedule, the Hoosiers should enjoy their undefeated record while they have it.
Rutgers’ Wounds Run Deep
Rutgers has talent. It really does. Leonte Carroo is one of the nation’s best receivers, Darius Hamilton has big potential, and Kemoko Turay is a raw pass rusher that taunts NFL scouts with possibilities. Unfortunately, Carroo and Hamilton are unavailable and Turay has been entirely ineffective. Carroo is in trouble for a potential domestic violence assault. Hamilton, on the other hand, just cannot get back on the field in a real capacity—he mustered about 15 snaps against Penn State and was not healthy enough to really make an impact—after missing significant time with a lower body injury. As for Turay, our frustration comes from the same place as our excitement. He is a tantalizing athlete who is just too raw to win with anything besides speed and natural ability. Before the season both Carroo and Turay were prospects flirting with the first round, as Hamilton was set to shoot up boards if he could prove he could play at a heavier weight. Now, they are each mired in their own issues, and Rutgers is stuck hoping for their returns.
Players of the Week
Offense: Aaron Burbridge, Sr Wide Receiver, Michigan State
Burbridge hauled in eight receptions for 156 receiving yards and three touchdowns to help the Spartans top the Air Force academy. Burbridge has emerged this year as Connor Cook’s go-to receiver. This may not be the last time you see his name with this honor.
Defense: Anthony Walker, So. Linebacker, Northwestern
Nineteen tackles. In one game, Walker proved a vital part in keeping the Wildcats undefeated. Walker has been a standout all season, claiming this honor for the second time. He also won it week one for recording 10 tackles, three for a loss, two pass breakups and a half sack to help Northwestern beat another smart-guy school in Stanford. The kid finds the ball, and the country should soon know his name.
One to Watch: Michigan vs. #22 BYU
Michigan has seemingly made enormous strides under new head coach Jim Harbaugh. They are running the ball effectively, Jake Butt is realizing his potential, and the team has returned to its physical nature. However, BYU is the team’s first test since their week one loss to Utah. Jake Ruddock continues to look both good and bad as he seeks to get on the same page as his unproven receivers, while the defense is seeking to prove their improved numbers are based on their good play rather their opponents’ lack thereof. The Wolverines will certainly have to bring their best, but they should have a chance at the upset. We just have to hope their secondary is ready to defend the Hail Mary.
#1 Ohio State 20, NIU 13
#4 Michigan State 35, Air Force 21
#23 Northwestern 19, Duke 10
#24 Wisconsin 28, Troy 3
Minnesota 10, Kent State 7
Michigan 28, UNLV 7
Penn State 28, Rutgers 3
Iowa 27, Pittsburgh 24
Indiana 38, Western Kentucky 35
Maryland 35, USF 17
Miami 36, Nebraska 33 (OT)
Virginia Tech 51, Purdue 24
North Carolina 48, Illinois 14