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Big 10 Football Report
by ASA - 09/26/2017
NEBRASKA (-6.5) @ ILLINOIS – Friday at 8:00 PM ET
The Huskers have had a tumultuous season thus far to say the least. On the field they struggled to get by Arkansas State at home in their opener, lost a close game @ Oregon despite getting outgained by 200 yards, lost at home to Northern Illinois with help from two Tanner Lee pick 6’s, and then weren’t overly impressive in a 27-17 win over a Rutgers team that has won a grand total of one game in the last 370 days! Their AD was surprisingly fired early last week which puts current head coach Mike Riley on the hottest seat in the country. After their first loss EVER to a MAC team two weeks ago and a non-descript performance last week, this is pretty much a must win for the Huskers. A loss here could send their season on a downward spiral if it isn’t already. QB Tanner Lee continues to be a turnover machine throwing 2 more interceptions vs Rutgers including ANOTHER pick 6. He now has 9 interceptions which is the most in the nation. After allowing Rutgers to go 75 yards for a TD on their opening drive, the Husker defense buckled down holding the Scarlet Knights to just 119 total yards the rest of the way. After their first drive, Nebraska’s defense allowed Rutgers to cross mid-field just twice and both of those drives started in Husker territory. NU’s top RB Tre Bryant remains questionable for this one after missing the last two games.
Illinois has the luxury of a week off to get ready for this game. The Illini are a surprise 2-1 on the season but they have been outgained by a combined total of 429 yards in those games. They are currently dead last in the Big Ten in total offense (290 YPG) and dead last in total defense (433 YPG). Illinois may have a bit of a QB controversy as starter Chayce Crouch was replaced in the 2nd half of their most recent game by Jeff George Jr. Despite the 47-23 loss @ USF, George seemed to give the offense a boost throwing for 211 yards and 1 TD pass. Let’s face it though, neither have been great as the two Illinois QB’s have combined for a grand total of 2 TD passes this year to go along with 5 interceptions. That’s a problem when your rushing attack puts up only 110 YPG. On top of all that, this team is last in the Big Ten as well in penalty yardage at almost 90 per game. Not much positive to say about the Illini right now. Hard to believe they are 2-1.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Huskers are 15-6 ATS their last 21 road games. Since joining the Big Ten, Nebraska is 3-1 in this series with wins by margins of 15, 20, and 31 points. Their lone loss was @ Illinois in 2015 by a final score of 14-13. These two met last year in Lincoln with the Huskers winning 31-16 with a yardage edge of 420 to 273. Since 1994, the Illini are just 27-39 ATS as a home underdog.
IOWA @ MICHIGAN STATE (-3.5) – Saturday at 4:00 PM ET
The Hawkeyes are off an absolute heartbreaking home loss last weekend. Iowa led at half by the score of 7-5 despite being outgained 206 to 44 in total first half yardage. PSU held Iowa scoreless in the 3rd quarter and led 15-7 entering the final frame. After doing next to nothing offensively the entire game, Iowa kicked it in gear and scored two fourth quarter TD’s to take the lead 19-15 (missed both 2-point conversions) the second with just 1:42 remaining in the game. Those two TD drives were both just 3 plays long and totaled 74 and 80 yards. Those 6 plays accounted for 154 of Iowa’s 273 total yards in the game! The Nittany Lions ended the game on a 12 play, 65-yard TD drive in which they converted two fourth downs including their 7-yard TD pass as time expired. With that PSU topped Iowa 21-19 and ran a ridiculous 99 offensive plays compared to just 45 for the Hawkeyes. With the extra 54 offensive plays Penn State was able to outgain Iowa 579 to 273. However, despite being outgained by over 300 yards, Iowa actually averaged 6 yards per play while PSU came in at 5.8 YPP. Iowa has relied on defense and their running game for years and while the defense has done its part, the rushing attack has not. The Hawks are averaging just 3.79 YPC after 4 games ranking them 12th in the Big Ten. With an inexperienced QB under center, that will definitely need to change moving forward for Iowa to be successful.
Michigan State was rocked at home last Saturday 38-18 by Notre Dame (-3). While the Irish definitely looked like the better team on the field, the 20 point margin was a bit deceiving. Sparty dug themselves a hole very quickly as the Irish went 78 yards on 7 plays to open the game with a quick TD. On MSU’s first possession QB Brian Lewerke threw a pick 6 and it was 14-0 just 4:30 into the game. Michigan State lost the turnover battle 3-0 and those giveaways were game turning as one was a pick 6 and the other was a fumble at the goal line as they were about to score a TD. You would think looking at the final score the Irish dominated the numbers but that wasn’t the case. MSU actually outgained Notre Dame 496 to 355 but they also ran 25 more offensive plays making the YPP numbers much closer (5.7 to 5.5). It has been tough to gauge the Spartans this year as their first two games were wins vs MAC teams and both were ideal situations for the Green & White. These two last met in the 2015 Big Ten Championship game which was a 16-13 MSU win. It will be interesting to see how each of these teams respond off tough losses.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Since 1980, these two have met 29 times. Iowa is 17-11 SU & 19-9-1 ATS in those games. The Hawkeyes are 11-3 ATS their last 14 games in East Lansing winning 8 of those games outright. Since 2002, the Spartans are just 3-8 ATS at home when coming off a home loss the previous week.
NORTHWESTERN @ WISCONSIN (-14.5) – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
The Cats had last week off to get ready for their trip to Madison. Northwestern has been a bit of a disappointment this year and many consider them a team that could make a run at the Big 10 West Title. They still definitely could as this is their first conference game so the others can in a sense be thrown out. NW is 2-1, however they struggled to beat a Nevada team that has since lost to Toledo, Idaho State (as a 32-point favorite), and Washington State by a final score of 45-7. The Cats lone road game was a disaster as they were throttled @ Duke 41-17 as a 2-point favorite. It wasn’t a fluke as the Devils outgained NW by 347 yards! They looked much better two weeks ago destroying Bowling Green but who hasn’t? BG is 0-4 including a loss to FCS South Dakota at home. The defense has struggled as they are one of just four Big Ten teams allowing over 400 YPG. That includes 157 YPG on the ground and they’ll need to shore that up against a Wisconsin team leading the Big Ten in rushing at 275 YPG.
The Badgers also had last week off. They needed it as they are a bit banged up after their first 3 games, especially on the offensive line. Both starting offensive guards are injured heading into this one and it looks like Beau Benzschawel will play while Jon Dietzen may not. Wisconsin is 3-0 and off an impressive road win @ BYU 40-6 outgaining the Cougars by 300 yards. They are outgaining their opponents by a full 3.3 yards per play on the year (7.7 offensive YPP to 4.4 defensive YPP). The Badgers lead the Big Ten in rushing and have found a gem at the position. Freshman Jonathan Taylor has the size (210 pounds) and speed (New Jersey state 100 meter champion) to be a difference maker. He has been just that already in his short career as he leads the Big Ten at 146 YPG rushing on over 8 YPC. Northwestern has given Wisconsin some problems as the teams have each won 13 games over the last 26 meetings. That’s despite Wisconsin being favored in 25 of those 26 games.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Since 1980, the Badgers have been favored in 30 of their 31 meetings with Northwestern. Despite that, they are just 18-13 SU in those games. Since 2001, Wisconsin has hosted NW 5 times. The most recent in 2015 was a controversial 13-7 loss when late Badger TD was disallowed. The other 4 were UW blowouts by margins of 12, 29, 32, and 47 points. NW has covered 10 of their last 15 when tabbed a dog of 14 or more. However leading into that run, they were just 2-11 ATS in that situation.
MARYLAND @ MINNESOTA (-13) – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
Just when the Terps looked like they were starting to turn the corner they lose another QB for the season. Maryland’s 10-point win to open the season @ Texas is starting to look very good after the Horns went to USC and nearly won. That win in Austin was orchestrated by starting QB Pigrome who passed for 2 TD’s and ran for another. He went out with an ACL injury late in the 3rd quarter and is lost for the season. His back up, highly touted freshman Kasim Hill stepped in and the Terps looked like they wouldn’t miss a beat. Last week Hill tore his ACL in a home loss to UCF and is also out for the season. That means 3rd stringer Max Bortenschlager (61 career pass attempts with 28 of those coming last week) now takes over as the starter. Bortenschlager took over for Hill late in the first quarter last week with the Terps trailing just 3-0 vs UCF. After he took over Maryland’s drives went something like this…Stopped on downs, punt, interception, missed FG, punt, punt, punt, TD, punt, pick 6, punt. Those 11 offensive possessions resulted in 7 points and 163 total yards. The good thing is, Maryland won’t have to rely solely on their inexperienced QB as their rushing attack with Ty Johnson leading the way is very good. They average 224 YPG and Johnson leads the Big Ten averaging a whopping 10 YPC.
While Maryland was dealing with another huge injury on the field last week, Minnesota was resting. The Gophs had the week off after crushing Middle Tennessee State 34-3 two weeks ago. They dominated the Blue Raiders on the ground rolling up 221 yards and did very little through the air (122 yards). That’s been the blueprint for the Gophers offense this year. In three games this team has 156 rushing attempts and just 58 pass attempts. They are dead last in the Big Ten with 519 total passing yards so far this season. QB Conor Rhoda has been solid when asked to throw hitting on 65% of his pass attempts. Rhoda was splitting time under center with Demry Croft, however Croft was dismissed from the team leading into their game with MTSU so it’s all on Rhoda now. The Gophs defense has looked very good ranking 2nd in the league allowing just 239 YPG. We probably just aren’t sure how good they are quite yet as they’ve played Buffalo (89th in total offense), Oregon St (98th in total offense) and MTSU without their starting QB. Even with that, this team is an impressive 3-0 outscoring their opponents 99-24 so far this season.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Gophers are 1-1 ATS this year in games where they are favored by double digits. Heading into this season, they had lost 8 of their previous 10 games to the number when favored by 10 or more. These two have met once since Maryland joined the Big Ten. That was last year and Minny went into College Park and won 31-10 as a 3.5 point dog. The yardage was close but Maryland committed 4 turnovers including throwing a pick 6.
OHIO STATE (-29.5) @ RUTGERS – Saturday at 7:30 PM ET
The Bucks have responded nicely after their home loss to Oklahoma a few weeks ago outscoring their next two opponents (Army & UNLV) 92-28. Despite two dominating wins, OSU failed to cover both games as huge favorites. Last week vs UNLV they were favored by 40 points and looked well on their way to a cover leading 44-7 at half. They took their foot off the proverbial gas in the 2nd half playing many back ups including QB Dwayne Haskins who took over for JT Barrett. UNLV went on to “win” the second half 14-10 and get the cover. The Buckeye offense racked up 664 total yards and had an impressive 25 plays of 10 yards or more. The defense has slipped a bit early in the year compared to last season. After four games the OSU stop unit is allowing 20 PPG and 367 YPG which ranks them in the middle of the pack in the Big Ten. Last season they allowed 16 PPG on 197 YPG. Speaking of defense, the Buckeyes are led by Greg Schiano on that side of the ball and he returns to his old stomping grounds for the first time. Schiano was the head coach at Rutgers for 11 seasons.
Rutgers put up a good fight in last week’s 27-17 loss @ Nebraska but the results were all too familiar. Another loss. They have now lost 17 of their last 18 conference games and have yet to win a Big Ten contest under head coach Chris Ash (0-10). The offense continues to be a struggle for this team. If you throw out their game vs FCS Howard, they have only scored 4 offensive TD’s in their other 3 games. Last week they had 17 points, however 7 of those points came on a pick 6 thrown by Nebraska QB Tanner Lee. Defensively they’ve been pretty solid. They are one of 6 Big Ten teams to allow less than 5 yards per play this season. They held a very good Washington offense to just 2 offensive TD’s in their season opening 30-14 loss. Rutgers was a 28 point dog in that game at home and now is looking at a very similar number with OSU favored by 29.5.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Last year when these teams met in Columbus the Buckeyes were a 39-point favorite and won 58-0. These two have faced off 3 times since Rutgers joined the Big Ten. The Buckeyes have won all 3 games in blowout fashion outscoring the Knights by a combined 163-24! This is the 6th highest point spread for OSU on the road dating back to 1980. They have been a road favorite of 28 or more just 7 times since 1980 (4-3 ATS). This is the 9th time Rutgers has been a home dog of 28 or more in the last 38 seasons. They are 2-7 ATS in those games losing by an average score of 50-10.
INDIANA @ PENN STATE (-17.5) – Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
The Hoosiers should be well rested for this game as they have played only one game in the last 22 days. That game was last week at home vs Georgia Southern. Their previous game was way back on September 9th. IU jumped out to a 31-0 lead last week early in the 2nd quarter at home vs Georgia Southern. They went on to win the game 52-17 and the Hoosiers scored 3 non-offensive TD’s in the game (two defensive TD’s and one special teams TD). Indiana was only +92 in total yardage, however much of GSU’s yardage came after the game was out of reach. In fact, 265 or GSU’s 375 total yards came after they were already trailing 31-0. The Hoosiers definitely look like a team that could cause some of the big boys in the conference some problems. They led Ohio State 21-20 late in the 3rd quarter before falling apart down the stretch. They won handily @ Virginia 34-17 which looks more impressive now as the Cavs are 3-1 including a 42-23 win @ Boise State which is always a tough place to play. Starting QB Richard Lagow left the Georgia Southern game with a leg injury but head coach Tom Allen stated he could have returned if needed. He should be fine for this game.
We’re not sure what to think of PSU right now. They are obviously very good. How good? We’re not sure. Coming into last week they had played a very easy schedule with their only big name win coming over Pitt. They won that game 33-14, however Pitt outgained PSU in that one 342 to 312. The Panthers also had 3 turnovers in that game. At the time it didn’t look like a big deal that Pitt had better overall stats, however it’s what the Panthers have done since that has us wondering. Since that loss, Pitt has been creamed by Oklahoma State and Georgia Tech. Last week the Nittany Lions picked up a nice 21-19 win @ Iowa, always a tough place to play. PSU dominated the stats and ran 54, yes 54 more offensive plays in the game. With that we wonder why it took a game winning drive and a TD pass as time expired to win 21-19? Seems to us with those numbers the game should have been an easy win for Penn State. Their seasonal numbers look great as they are averaging 7.4 YPP (tops in the Big Ten) while allowing only 4.0 YPP (2nd best in the Big Ten).
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – PSU has won 19 of the 20 meetings in this series. Penn State is on a pointspread roll to say the least going 11-1-1 ATS their last 13 games. Last year PSU won this match up 45-31 in Bloomington. Talk about a deceiving final score. IU actually led 31-28 with under 4:00 minutes remaining in the game! The Lions scored 17 straight points in the span of 3 minutes and 30 seconds to make the final margin 14. Indiana is just 59-83-5 ATS (41%) as a road dog over the last 37 seasons.