Scouting The Big 10: Week Two

Week Two:

Big Ten Beat: Contenders, Balance, a Likely Danger, Harbaugh Effect

Conference Roundup: 12-2, 1-0 against ranked teams
The conference continues to play subpar opponents, with most teams performing as expected against them. The likes of Miami Ohio, Hawaii, and both Eastern and Western Illinois were all blown out. Minnesota had a closer-than-it-should-have-been game against Colorado State, but pulled out the victory. Maryland somewhat surprisingly lost to Bowling Green, but that about sums it up for surprises. Iowa took down in-state rival Iowa State with a defensive line that strangled the Cyclones at the end of the game.

Four Downs

Michigan State May be a Contender
Ohio State may not the only legitimate contender in the Big Ten. Against Oregon, Michigan State, which garnered two first place votes in this week’s polls, looked to be dominant. At times. Their defense looked suffocating, by in large suffocating the explosive Duck’s offense. They held Royce Freeman to a 3.8 yards-per-carry average on 24 carries and stifled Vernon Adams on the ground and took advantage of his poor passing. Meanwhile, the Spartan offense looked good. The freshman running back tandem of Madre London and LJ Scott proved themselves an excellent tandem against a talented Duck front line. London racked up 103 yards on 18 carries (5.7 yards-per-carry), while Scott rushed for 76 yards on 11 carries (6.9 yards-per-carry) and two touchdowns as a threatening big back. Cook at times looked like the senior leader of a team that could challenge for a championship, but also had a few misses where he struggled more than one would hope. Michigan State has a legitimate opportunity, with no more real challenges until it faces Ohio State in late November, to emerge as a true contender for the national title.

Badgers Boast Surprising Balance
Wisconsin, notorious for being a one-sided offense, has done something strange this year. They have thrown the ball. Joel Stave finally looks to be growing in consistency—though I have to admit it scares me to say that this early. Not only has Stave seemed to take the next step, but his receivers seem to as well. Alex Erickson is proving to a steady possession target that can lead the young receiving corps, while Robert Wheelwright may finally be tapping into the potential that has excited and frustrated Badgers’ fans since he arrived on campus. They still run the ball in heavy doses, handing the ball to Dare Ogunbowale, Taiwan Deal and Caleb Kinlaw a combined 37 times. The effectiveness of the running game has to be of some concern though. Ogunbowale performed well, but big back Deal mustered a meager 3.2 yards-per-carry average, a trend that has persisted through the first two games thus far. Of course, when Corey Clement returns it could be a different story. Until then, the running game is in question. But it is exciting to see the Badgers be able to throw the ball with success. It breaks the tradition of uncertainty in the passing game that surround the Gary Anderson regime. 

Don’t Kick to William Likely. . . Ever
Seriously though. Don’t. He has proven himself since he was a freshman, when he accounted for 934 combined return yards. He followed that up with 721 combined return yards as a sophomore. Last week, it a 67-yard punt return touchdown against Richmond, this week it was an 85-yard punt return touchdown against Bowling Green. On 10 punt returns this season he is averaging 31.5 yards-per-return with those two touchdowns. Oh and by the way, he has two kick returns for 63 yards, another 31.5 yards-per-return average. Until teams begin simply punting the ball out of bounds, it is special teams beware.

The Harbaugh Effect is Real
I loved watching the Michigan game. While the nation goes more and more to the passing game and spread tactics, Michigan marched out a heavy dose of 22 personel. We are talking two tight ends and a fullback here. We are talking old school, smash-mouth football that is so rarely seen. But man was it fun to watch. With the old-school stylings of De’Veon Smith, a running back who lacks break away speed but succeeds with tireless motor. Oh, and Jake Butt is the kind of talented, cerebral tight end that will continue to flourish under Harbaugh. With the hard-nosed offense working, the Wolverines were able to dictate the game to their opponent, a statement that has not been applicable to Michigan in countless years. Unfortunately Jake Rudock continues to be unspectacular. Some of that can certainly be put on the receivers, who seem entirely unable to get open at times. However, the quarterback must also bear the responsibility. The defense was able to hold back a meager Beaver offense, whose freshman quarterback was surprisingly poised but ultimately ineffective. Of course, it is only two games into the season, but they will have plenty of opportunities to prove themselves as the season goes on. As of now however, the Harbaugh effect is in full swing and the rabid Michigan faithful can finally dare to hope.

One to Watch: Penn State vs. Rutgers
Rutgers has some intriguing defensive players—especially if the injured Darius Hamilton returns to action—that should be a tough matchup for the much-maligned Nittany Lions’ offensive line. It will be interesting if the battered Christian Hackenberg can make the necessary adjustments to get the ball of his hands early or if he will continue to hold it and take sacks. Rutgers allowed 478 passing yards and four touchdowns to the air raid system of Washington State, showing they can be susceptible to the passing game. There will be opportunities for both sides to prove what they are made of and whether they can make adjustments from the early games of the season.

Conference Scores
#1 Ohio State 38, Hawaii 0
#5 Michigan State 31, #7 Oregon 28
Minnesota 23, Colorado State 20
Wisconsin 58, Miami (OH) 0
Northwestern 41, Eastern Illinois 0
Nebraska 48, South Alabama 9
Iowa 31, Iowa State 17
Michigan 35, Oregon State 7
Penn State 27, Buffalo 14
llinois 44, Western Illinois 0
Bowling Green 48, Maryland 27
Purdue 38, Indiana State 14
Washington State 37, Rutgers 34
Indiana 36, FIU 22

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