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Big 10 Football Preview
by ASA - 10/08/2014
Big Ten Conference Report - Oct. 8
American Sports Analysts
GAME OF THE WEEK
Minnesota (-4) vs. Northwestern - 11:00 AM CST
Before the season this matchup looked like a run-of-the-mill conference game between two average squads. Now it's a battle for supremacy in the West Division as the top two teams meet in Minnesota. Minnesota was off last week after ending a six game losing streak to Michigan on September 27th to claim the Little Brown Jug. The Gophers have a solid formula to make life miserable for opponents, leaning on a powerful rushing attack and a stout defense.They simply wore down Michigan to the tune of 206 rush yards on 47 carries while controlling the clock for +9 minutes TOP. Defensively the Gophers held Michigan to just 171 total yards, including 83 rush yards on 28 carries (3.0 YPC). QB Mitch Leidner wasn't spectacular (14-of-22 for 167 yards and 1 TD), but he managed the game well and didn't make any mistakes. This Saturday expect the Gophers will try to utilize their 24th ranked rush offense against this Northwestern defense that allowed 259 yards to Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon last week. Northwestern is off of a huge home win over Wisconsin. The Wildcats were outgained, but had an opportunistic defense (4 INT) and held UW QB's to just 12-of-29 passing and 138 yards. Offensively this squad is still a major work in progress, but it appears to be improving. QB Siemian has been a solid game manager the past couple of weeks, but is still completing just 57.4% of his passes with 3 TD and 4 INT this season. The rushing attack is off of a solid performance against UW (203 yards on 4.4 YPC) but still ranks 104th nationally in rush YPG. Even with an average offense; if the defense continues to make plays (10 forced turnovers the past three weeks) the Wildcats will continue to compete. Northwestern has won five of the last nine meetings with Minnesota outright, but the Gophers are 7-2 ATS over that span. Minnesota won @Northwestern last year, 20-17, as a 12-point underdog - continuing a trend of ATS wins by the underdog (6-1 ATS run by the 'dog). Minnesota has covered seven straight conference games. Northwestern is 9-4 ATS in their last 13 road games, but 3-7 ATS in the last 10 conference games.
Michigan State (-21) @ Purdue - 2:30 PM CST
Michigan State dominated Nebraska for the better part of three quarters last Saturday. The Huskers made it close in the end, thanks to a 62-yard punt return for TD with 3:22 remaining that cut their deficit to 22-27, but MSU's defense held on when it mattered to notch the conference victory. On a day where completions didn't come easy for QB Cook (11-of-29 passing), it was the rushing attack that led the Spartans. RB Jeremy Langford was the workhorse with 29 carries 111 rush yards and 1 TD. Defensively MSU bottled up Nebraska star RB Ameer Abdullah. Though he finished with two short TD runs, he was limited to just 45 yards on 24 carries for a measly 1.8 YPC average. Overall the Huskers finished with their lowest output on the ground (47 yards) since 2007. The Spartans also made life miserable for Husker QB Amrstrong Jr, who finished 20-of-43 passing for 273 yards with 0 TD and 2 INT and was sacked five times and hit eight more. This week the Spartans travel to Purdue as heavy favorites. Purdue notched its first conference win since 2012 with a road victory over Illinois last week. The Boilers had their largest offensive output in nearly two years with 551 total yards and 38 points. QB Appleby got the call and was very efficient, tossing for 202 yards on 15-of-20 passing with 1 TD and 0 INT. Purdue also rushed for 349 yards on 45 carries (7.8 YPC) led by RB Hunt, who had 177 yards on the ground. Granted all of this came against an Illinois defense that ranks 115th in total defense and 107th in PPG allowed. The Boilers will have much tougher sledding against this 11th ranked MSU defense. MSU has won five straight against Purdue, but is 0-2-1 ATS in the last three in the series, winning by just seven points per game. The Boilers are 4-2 SU & 4-1-1 ATS in the last six home meetings against MSU. Michigan State hasn't been a 20+ point road favorite since 1997 while Purdue is 0-2 ATS as a home 'dog of 20+ points or more since 2010.
Iowa (-3.5) vs. Indiana - 11:00 AM CST
The Hawkeyes were one of three B1G teams with a bye last week after an ugly win @Purdue on September 27th. Iowa had a +264 yard advantage and +13 first downs, but didn't take the lead until late in the 3rd quarter against the Boilers. They didn't put the nail in the coffin until 5:10 remaining in the 4th. Iowa rushed for 175 yards on just 3.4 YPC while QB Beathard wasn't very efficient against Purdue's defense (17-for-37 for 245 yards). Coach Ferentz has stated that he won't make a decision on who starts at QB until later this week but all indications point to both Rudock & Beathard splitting snaps early and getting a feel for which is more effective. With little rushing success to speak of this season for Iowa, the QB play will have to get better going further into conference play. If they can't find success through the air against this Indiana defense that has allowed 323 pass YPG and 11 TD over the last four games, then it's going to be a major problem for the Hawks. Indiana ended its non-conference slate with a win over North Texas last week. It was a solid bounce-back win for the Hoosiers after getting exposed both offensively and defensively against the Terrapins two weeks ago in the 22-point loss. QB Sudfeld had a very solid outing against UNT after a horrendous performance against Maryland (14-of-37 for 126 yards and an INT) with 230 yards and 3 TD on 23-of-29 completions. RB's Coleman & Roberts carved up the UNT rush defense as they combined for 252 rush yards on 31 carries with 3 TD. The Mean Green were held to just 348 total yards and a lot of those yards came after the game was out of reach. This offense gets another chance to prove that it can move the ball against the big boys as they face this Iowa 'D' that ranks 15th nationally in yards allowed and hasn't allowed an opponent to exceed 23 points. The Hawkeyes are 4-1 SU in the last five meetings, but they lost to Indiana in the most recent game (2012) and have failed to cover the last three matchups. Indiana is just 5-11 ATS as a road underdog between 3-and-10 points and just 2-7 ATS in the last nine B1G road games. Iowa is just 1-4 ATS in its last five B1G home games as a favorite.
Michigan (-1) vs. Penn State - 6:00 PM CST
No team needed last week's bye more than the Nittany Lions after their last game performance against Northwestern. The loss to Northwestern is a bit more understandable now after the Wildcats beat Wisconsin last week, but it was still a troubling loss for PSU. Northwestern completely dominated the previously undefeated Nittany Lions. The Wildcats held PSU to just 50 rush yards on 2.0 YPC and 14 first downs. And unlike previous contests where QB Hackenberg bailed out a struggling PSU offense, he was inefficient and unproductive against Northwestern. He completed just 22-of-45 passes for 216 yards with 0 TD and 1 INT as PSU failed to reach the end zone. PSU's rush offense has now been rendered ineffective four of its five games this season as it is averaging just 3.1 YPC and ranks 116th in rush YPG. The defense remains elite but unless this offensive line starts opening up holes for the running game and creating some more time in the pocket for Hackenberg, this offense is going to struggle. They had an extra week off to work on their issues and to prepare for the struggling Wolverines. Just when it appears that it can't get any worse for Michigan, it does. Rutgers handed Michigan its third straight loss and fourth overall. Rutgers QB Nova tossed for 404 yards and 3 scores and Michigan's go-ahead field goal attempt late in the 4th quarter was blocked, allowing Rutgers to run out the clock and preserve the 26-24 victory. The running of Derrick Green was the only consistent thing about this offense, but now he's out for the year with an injury as Michigan will be challenged to replace his production this week against PSU's No. 2 ranked rush defense. QB Devin Gardner will be forced to make plays, something he has struggled with mightily this season. He looked dynamic at times last week against Rutgers in his return to the starting lineup, but he threw another costly interception. Defensively the Wolverines feature one of the top units in the country, but their efforts on defense are repeatedly offset by their inefficiencies on offense. It will take a substantial turnaround to be bowl eligible at the end of the season. After losing nine straight to the Wolverines from 1997-2007, Penn State is 4-0 SU & ATS in the last four meetings - winning by an average of 16.8 PPG. Michigan is just 8-16 ATS in its last 24 Big Ten home games. Penn State is just 2-6 ATS in its last eight conference games, but the Nittany Lions are 8-1 ATS off of their last nine SU losses.
Wisconsin (-25.5) vs. Illinois - 11:00 AM CST
Running back Melvin Gordon is a stud, the offensive line is elite, and the defense is great. There are a lot of things to like about this Wisconsin Badgers squad; quarterback play is not one of them - and unfortunately the erratic play at the QB position continues to bring this team down. Last week RB Gordon rushed for a career-high 259 yards and this defense limited Northwestern to just 385 yards. But QB's McEvoy & Stave combined for 12-of-29 passing for just 138 yards with 1 TD and 4 INT - two of which came in the end zone when the Badgers were threatening to score. Coach Anderson has stated that both Stave and McEvoy will play this week against Illinois, and he'll likely go with the "hot" hand. Or whoever is making fewer mistakes. Despite the bad QB play, the defense continues to step up and put this team in position to win. Wisconsin ranks 15th against the pass, 23rd against the run, and 11th in scoring defense. Expect the Badgers to ride RB Gordon - who is 3rd nationally in rushing - against this Illini defense that has allowed 807 rush yards and 9 rush TD in their last two games against Nebraska & Purdue. If they can get Gordon and Co. going on the ground, that should be enough to open some holes in the passing game for Stave & McEvoy to gain some confidence. Speaking of quarterback issues, Illinois starting QB Wes Lunt will be out 4-6 weeks with a broken leg he suffered in Illinois' home loss to Purdue last week. Lunt has 13 TD and just 3 INT this season while completing 66.1% of his passes. Now the Illini will go with Reilly O'Toole, who has 1 TD and 4 INT in limited work this season. Without Lunt leading this offense, we're not sure where the points will come from. The rushing attack has sputtered to just 96.3 rush YPG and O'Toole is a major downgrade from Lunt under center. Illinois' defense has allowed 35+ points in each of its last five games and ranks at or near the bottom in every major defensive statistical category. Wisconsin has won four straight vs. the Illini and won last year's meeting, 56-32. The Badgers rushed for 289 yards and 6 TD in that game led by Melvin Gordon (142 yds, 3 TD). Illinois is 1-13 SU & 2-12 ATS in its last 14 road games with a -20.4 PPG margin in those 14 games.
Ohio State - Bye Week
After a poor performance against Virginia Tech in which he completed 9-of-29 passes with 1 TD and 3 INT, OSU's J.T. Barrett has completed 75.2% of his passes for 303 YPG with 14 TD and just 1 INT in the last three games. He was masterful in OSU's win over Maryland last week, finishing 18-of-23 for 267 yards with 4 TD and 0 INT while scoring 1 rush TD for good measure. The Bucks have now scored 50+ points in three consecutive games as this young offense grows more and more comfortable in Urban Meyer's scheme. Defensively the Buckeyes completely shutdown the Terps. They allowed Maryland QB's to complete just 24-of-40 passes for 244 yards with 1 TD and 4 INT. That's a promising development after allowing 352 pass yards and 4 TD to Cincinnati in the prior game. Opponents have had a tough time rushing against this Ohio State defensive front, gaining just 61 YPG on fewer than 3.0 YPC the last three games; so if the pass-defense continues to improve, they will become one of the most feared units in the country. They get this Saturday off before hosting Rutgers on October 18th.
Nebraska - Bye Week
Give Nebraska credit for not quitting against Michigan State last Saturday in a game where seemingly nothing was going right for the Huskers for the better part of three quarters. Down 3-27 in the 4th quarter, Nebraska fought back and cut the deficit to 22-27 with 3:22 remaining. The Huskers were driving with under a minute remaining before an MSU INT put the game away for good. It was tough sledding all game long for star RB Ameer Abdullah, who gained just 45 rush yards on 24 carries. QB Armstrong Jr. was constantly under pressure and completed just 20-of-43 passes for 273 yards with 0 TD and 2 INT. Nebraska's defense played quite well against the Spartans save the three long TD scores. MSU's QB Cook completed just 11-of-29 passes with 1 TD and 1 INT. And if you take away the two long TD runs by MSU, Nebraska allowed just 2.9 YPC to the Spartans. All in all, there are much worse ways to lose and Nebraska heads into the bye week knowing it can compete with the B1G elite. Next up is a road trip to Evanston to face the Wildcats of Northwestern.
Rutgers - Bye Week
The Scarlet Knights blocked a Michigan field goal late in the 4th quarter and were able to run out the clock for their first conference victory as a member of the B1G. They celebrated by storming the field at High Point Solutions Stadium and tearing down the goalpost. The win was Rutgers' third straight and put the Scarlet Knights at a B1G-best 5-1 record overall. It was a hard fought battle with the reeling Wolverines, but give QB Nova credit for stepping up with 404 pass yards and 3 TD when the running game was seemingly non-existant (74 yards on 2.5 YPC). There is still plenty left to improve for Kyle Flood and his staff this week as two road games loom at OSU next week and at Nebraska on October 25th.
Maryland - Bye Week
The Terrapins ran into a buzzsaw last Saturday against OSU. The Buckeyes scored early and often and rode a 31-10 halftime lead into a 52-24 victory. Maryland QB's Brown & Rowe completed just 24-of-40 passes for 244 yards with 1 TD and 4 INT. Coach Edsall stated that there is absolutely no quarterback controversy and that CJ Brown will be the starter when Maryland returns to the field despite being replaced at halftime against OSU. It'd help whoever is under center if the Terps could get some semblance of a rushing attack. They managed just 66 rush yards on 24 carries (2.8 YPC) against the Bucks and now rank 90th nationally in rush YPG. They'll work on that, along with solving their defensive issues (106th against the run, 99th in total defense) during their bye week before hosting Iowa on October 18th.