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Big 10 Conference Weekly Preview
by ASA - 10/30/2014
Big Ten Conference Report - Oct. 29
American Sports Analysts
GAME OF THE WEEK
Ohio State (-28.5) vs. Illinois - 7:00 PM CST
Nothing came easy for the Buckeyes against Penn State in Happy Valley last week. Quarterback J.T. Barrett came back down to earth a bit after a torrid four game stretch (20 total TD, 1 INT) to complete just 12-of-19 passes for 74 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT. Overall the Bucks notched just 293 total yards and 17 points in regulation. They gave up a 10-point second half lead as PSU scored a late field goal to tie it at 17-17 and send the game to overtime. Barrett scored two rushing touchdowns in overtime and the defense held to allow OSU to escape with a 31-24 victory. The Buckeyes 'D' limited the Nittany Lions to just 240 total yards, including just 16 rush yards on 31 carries (0.5 YPC). PSU QB Hackenberg completed 31-of-49 passes for a meager 224 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT. Credit the Bucks for coming away with a win in Happy Valley in a hectic atmosphere when they didn't get stellar play from the offensive side. Barrett will need to clean up his act before OSU travels to Michigan State in two weeks in the conferences most important game of the season. Barrett and Co. get a chance to get right against the Illini this weekend. Illinois snapped a three-game losing streak with a quality win over Minnesota last week. They were outgained by 148 yards, but the defense made a few key plays - including a game-winning fumble return for TD with six minutes remaining - and QB Riley O'Toole played mistake-free football, leading the Illini to an upset. Illinois continues to struggle running the football. They rank second to last in the B1G in rush offense with just 106.5 YPG on 3.6 YPC. QB O'Toole is off of a nice performance, but he'll have tougher sledding against this OSU pass defense that has surrendered just eight passing touchdowns this year. He'll need some help from RB Ferguson and this rushing attack if the Illini want any chance of the upset. Ohio State is 6-0 SU & 4-2 ATS in the last six meetings with Illinois, winning by an average of 19.3 PPG over that span. Last year OSU won 60-35 in Champaign behind 441 rush yards and five rush TD. Ohio State is 17-5 ATS in the last 22 games as a home favorite of 20 points or more. Illinois is just 2-11 ATS in its last 13 road games.
Nebraska (-23.5) vs. Purdue - 2:30 PM CST
It was a one-man show in Nebraska's 42-24 win over Rutgers last week as RB Ameer Abdullah set the single-game school record for all-purpose yards with 341. Most of it came on the ground as he notched 225 rush yards and three scores on just 19 carries. Defensively the Huskers limited Rutgers' scoring chances early en route to a 35-10 3rd quarter lead, and it helped that the Scarlet Knights were without starting QB Gary Nova for much of the 2nd half, who exited the game with a leg injury. Rutgers managed just 348 yards and 15 first downs against this Nebraska defense. The Huskers can't afford to sleep on this Purdue squad that has shown great improvement in 2014 and is coming off of a bye. Quarterback Austin Appelby has revitalized this offense that was downright putrid in 2013. He has led Purdue to three straight games of 30+ points, two of which came against the stout defenses of Michigan State and Minnesota. The Boilers took an 11-point lead into halftime against the Gophers and led by nine points late in the 3rd quarter before Minny scored the final 10 points to notch the 39-38 victory two weeks ago. Appleby threw three touchdown passes and the Boilers rushed for 298 yards on 8.5 YPC. Purdue has now covered six of eight games this season, including four of five as the underdog. Despite the obvious improvement, it’ll be tough for the Boilers to become bowl eligible as they need to win three of the remaining four games against Nebraska, Wisconsin, Northwestern, and Indiana. But the arrow is definitely pointing up for Purdue as they'll try to play spoiler for some of the big boys in the B1G. Purdue has covered its last three as an underdog of 20 points or more, including twice this season. Nebraska is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 as a favorite of 20 points or more. The Huskers won last year's meeting in Purdue, 44-7, behind 251 rush yards and 5 rush TD.
Wisconsin (NL) @ Rutgers - 11:00 AM CST
**Rutgers QB Nova remains questionable for this matchup and the line for this game has not yet been released.
The Badgers are off of an absolutely dominating performance against B1G newcomer Rutgers. They had +352 yards and +15 first downs in the 52-7 blowout win. QB Joel Stave appears to have rid himself of the yips as he was efficient in tossing for 155 yards and 2 TD and 0 INT. Melvin Gordon is on an absolute tear. He has averaged 198 rushing yards per game on 8.1 YPC with 15 TD over the last five games. It's a more impressive feat considering that opposing defenses have focused their gameplan on stopping him and they still can't slow him down. Wisconsin is now third nationally in rushing and have rushed for 250+ yards in six of seven games. One of the most impressive aspects of this team has been its defensive prowess. The Badgers are 1st in the B1G in scoring defense (16.1 PPG allowed), 1st in total defense (270 YPG allowed), 1st in pass defense (49.4%, 163 YPG allowed), and 3rd in rush defense (106.7 YPG, 3.1 YPC allowed). With that dominating rushing attack and a statistically elite defense, the Badgers will be a tough out the rest of the way and could be the B1G West's representative in the title game. Rutgers' QB Gary Nova went down with a leg injury just before halftime in the loss to Nebraska. He remains questionable and if he can't go it'll be backup QB Laviano making the start. Laviano isn't nearly as good of a passer as Nova, but he brings a dual-threat capability to the position (5 rushed for 54 yards last week). Whoever starts at quarterback will have the difficult task of moving the football against this Wisconsin defense. Defensively the Scarlet Knights have allowed 616 rush yards (7.1 YPC) and 8 rush TD the last two weeks. That's not good news with Melvin Gordon coming to town. They aren't much better against the pass, surrendering a B1G-high 7.8 yards per completion on 60.8% completions. Wisconsin has failed to cover four straight road games and is just 2-8 ATS in the last 10 overall. Rutgers is just 3-7 ATS in the last 10 games following a SU loss, but 4-1 ATS in the last five vs. a team with a winning record.
Iowa (-4) vs. Northwestern - 11:00 AM CST
At 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big Ten, the Hawkeyes still control their own fate in the B1G West with games remaining against Minnesota, Nebraska, and Wisconsin; but there's still much to be fixed on this team after a troubling loss to Maryland. The good news is that the Hawks have had a bye week to fix their issues before the meat of their schedule truly hits. In its last game, Iowa had two quick touchdowns at Maryland and appeared to be in great position to pull off the upset – and then Maryland scored 38 of the next 45 points. Iowa QB Rudock threw for 317 yards with 2 TD and 1 INT, but he completed just 32-of-56 passes (57%) and the INT he threw was returned for a Maryland touchdown. Rudock has been forced to throw it more than he should because Iowa has trouble mustering any sort of rushing threat (90th in rush YPG). As is the case with a number of other Big Ten squads this year, a stout defense will only carry this Iowa team so far before the offense needs to pick up some slack. Northwestern comes to town this week needing a win of its own. The Wildcats are a streaky team as evidenced by a two-game losing streak to start the season, followed by a three-game winning streak, followed by the current two-game losing streak. Their most recent loss - two weeks ago - was to Nebraska. They were leading at halftime against the Huskers before Nebraska scored the final 24 points in the game. The Wildcats will need to figure out how to add a little punch to this offense moving forward. QB Siemian has just four TD passes this season and this rushing attack is ranked 105th nationally. They have yet to reach the 30-point mark in a game and have been held to 20 points or fewer in three consecutive league games. The defense is good enough to keep Northwestern competitive against most opponents, but that will go unnoticed as long as this offensive ineptitude continues. Iowa hosted last year's meeting and won by seven points in overtime, but Northwestern has enjoyed success when playing the Hawkeyes. They've won six of the last nine straight up, including three of five visiting Iowa City. Northwestern is 0-6 ATS in the last six games following a loss and just 3-9 ATS in the last 12 B1G games. Iowa has failed to cover five of the last six home games.
Penn State (-3) vs. Maryland - 11:00 AM CST
Penn State has now dropped three straight games since starting the season 4-0. Last week was a disheartening overtime loss at home to highly ranked Ohio State. The Nittany Lions fought back from a 10-point deficit to tie the game with nine seconds remaining, but ultimately fell short in overtime. It was another subpar day offensively for the Nittany Lions, who notched just 240 total yards. Granted, it was against a swarming OSU defense, but the offensive ineptitude is an unnerving trend for this team. PSU's offense has managed just 120 rush yards on 91 carries for a measly 1.3 YPC during its three-game losing streak. And Hackenberg has been unable to pick up the rushing game slack, as he's completing just 58% with 2 TD and 4 INT during the skid. Defensively you won't see many better units in the B1G. The Nittany Lions are 2nd in the conference in scoring defense and 1st in rush defense - surrendering just 17.4 PPG and 83.4 rush YPG on 2.4 YPC. PSU plays at home again on Saturday to host the Terrapins. There aren't too many positives to take away from Maryland's performance at Wisconsin. The Terps had just 175 total yards and 10 first downs in the 52-7 loss. They managed just 46 rush yards on 28 carries (1.6 YPC) and QB Brown was just 13-of-29 for 129 yards and 1 TD (that came with 52 seconds remaining). The defensive front was dominated by Wisconsin's offensive line as the Terps were gashed for 311 rush yards and five rush TD on 6.3 YPC. This was the kind of defeat that can affect a team for weeks and make coaches and players want to start from scratch. Maryland is 4-0 ATS in the last 4 games following a SU loss but 4-1 ATS in the last five as a road 'dog of fewer than seven points.
Michigan (-7.5) vs. Indiana - 2:30 PM CST
The Wolverines had another hapless showing against Michigan State last week. The Wolves were outgained by 260 yards, had just 61 rush yards on 2.3 YPC, and turned the ball over three times. Michigan is now an FBS-worst -14 in turnover ratio, and QB Gardner is a huge reason for that. Gardner has just 3 TD and 10 INT in Michigan's last seven games. Gardner's inability to keep the ball in Michigan's possession are a big reason why the Wolverines are 118th in total offense and 113th in scoring offense - having not exceeding 24 points in five straight games. If Gardner still can't have a good day against an Indiana defense that has allowed 16 pass TD and just 5 INT, then it'll be time to officially move on from the senior QB. Indiana is off of a bye week after a blowout loss to Michigan State on October 18th. A season-ending injury to starting QB Sudfeld pushed freshman Zander Diamont under center against Michigan State for the first start of his career. It did not go well as he completed just 5-of-15 passes for 11 yards. Somehow, Indiana held a 17-14 lead in the second quarter before Michigan State scored the game’s final 42 points. Other than a stout offensive line that paves the way for star RB Tevin Coleman (132 yards on 15 carries against the Spartans), there isn’t much to like about the direction of this team. What once looked like a promising season in Indiana has now been replaced by concern over whether Indiana will win another game this season. RB Coleman has been a one-man wrecking crew, averaging 170 rush yards per game with 11 rush TD. It won't be easy to rush against this Michigan defensive front that allows just 109 rush YPG (16th nationally), but Indiana needs a strong rushing attack to aid its young QB if it wants any shot at the upset. Michigan has won 18 straight against the Hoosiers and is 10-0 SU at home over that span, winning by 18.7 PPG. That includes a 63-47 win at home over the Hoosiers last year. Indiana is just 4-10 ATS in the last 14 games as a road 'dog of 7 points or more.
Michigan State - Bye
The bye week came at a perfect time for the Spartans. They are off of an emotional victory over in-state rival Michigan and they have a huge showdown with OSU on deck. There aren't many negative things to say about the Spartans right now as they are playing extremely sound football right now. The offense - ranked 13th in yards per game and 5th in points per game - is humming behind QB Cook (17 TD, 5 INT) and RB Langford (100+ rush yards in five straight games). The run defense is surrendering just 95.4 YPG on 3.3 YPC and the pass defense is allowing opposing QB's to complete just 51 percent. They host OSU in the B1G regular season Game of the Year next week. Michigan State is just 2-8 SU & 4-6 ATS in the last 10 meetings with OSU, but they won the most recent meeting in last year's B1G Championship, 34-24.
Minnesota - Bye
Many people expected Minnesota to falter in the conference at some point, but not a lot of pundits expected it to come against Illinois. Minnesota was able to pull off back-to-back close victories over Northwestern and Purdue, but couldn't do it a third straight time against Illinois last week. The lack of a competent passing attack really hurt the Gophers as QB Leidner completed just 12-of-30 passes. The Gophers actually held a three-point lead in the 4th quarter before Illinois returned a Leidner fumble for a TD. The good news is that Minnesota has a bye week to figure out its issues before the meat of its schedule hits (Iowa, OSU, Nebraska, Wisconsin). Next week is the battle for the Floyd of Rosedale trophy against Iowa, which the Hawkeyes have won in back-to-back seasons.