Big 10 Conference Football Report - Week 6

by ASA, Inc.

NEBRASKA @ IOWA (-14 OPEN to -13.5 CURRENT) – Friday, November 27th
NEBRASKA – The Huskers looked like they had some momentum after playing Northwestern very tough on the road 3 weeks ago (outgained Wildcats by 130 yards in loss) and then they topped Penn State at home following that game.  With that supposed momentum heading into last weekend, Nebraska went off as a 17 point chalk at home vs Illinois and proceeded to get thumped 41-23.  No fluke here as the Illinois outgained Nebraska by 98 yards and put up 285 yards rushing on the blackshirts.  Speaking of blackshirts, the Huskers donned their all black uniforms on Saturday in an effort to perhaps intimidate Illinois or maybe to round up some extra energy for themselves.  Well they can put those uniforms back where they came from as the Illinois offense ripped them for almost 500 yards and scored 4 TD’s on their first 5 possessions of the game.  The Illini welcomed back starting QB Peters and scored 5 total TD’s after managing only 6 offensive TD’s in their first 3 games.  On offense the Huskers coughed up 5 turnovers including 4 from new starting QB McCaffrey (3 interceptions & 1 fumble).  Nebraska now ranks 118th in TO margin, 121st in 3rd down defense, and 111th in 3rd down offense.  Not a winning combination.  McCaffrey was replaced by former starter Adrian Martinez for Nebraska’s final possession and he led them to a TD.  Both can run the ball but neither has been great through the air as they’ve combined for just 707 yards passing with 2 TD’s and 6 interceptions.  We have another full blown QB controversy in Lincoln heading into Friday’s rivalry game vs Iowa.   
IOWA – You could argue the Hawkeyes are playing as well as anyone in the Big 10 right.  After their 41-21 trouncing of Penn State last Saturday, their first win in Happy Valley since 2009, they have now outscored their last 3 opponents 125-35.  An offense that looked fairly pedestrian has taken advantage of their opponent’s turnovers over the last 3 games.  Iowa has a +7 TO margin (9 takeaways & 2 giveaways) in just the last 3 games and they’ve turned those 9 opponent turnovers into 45 points (6 TD’s & 1 FG).  They’ve had 8 TD drives of 55 yards or less in those 3 wins.  In their win last week @ PSU, 24 of their 41 points came directly off 4 Nittany Lion turnovers.  Over their last 3 games, Iowa is averaging 42 PPG on just 370 YPG of offense.  That equates to 1 point for every 8.8 yards gained.  That’s extremely efficient and the takeaways have played a big part in that.  If the offense can keep up that efficiency rate, we don’t think they will, this team should be set because the defense is very good.  The Hawkeye defense now ranks 3rd in the Big Ten in total defense, 3rd in scoring defense, 4th in rush defense, 3rd in pass defense, and 2nd in sacks.  On top of that their 4.3 YPP allowed ranks 1st in the league.
IOWA NEXT UP – @ Illinois
MOST RECENT MEETING – Iowa went to Nebraska as a 4-point favorite last year and won 27-24 with the Huskers getting the close cover.  The Hawkeyes won the game on a 48 yard field goal as time expired.  
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – Iowa has won 5 straight in this series with a 3-2 ATS mark in those games.  5 of the last 8 meetings in this series have been decided by one score (8 points or less).  The Hawkeyes are 1-0 ATS as a home favorite this year but leading into the 2020 season, they were just 5-13 ATS their last 18 in that role.
PENN STATE @ MICHIGAN (-4 OPEN to -2 CURRENT) - Saturday, November 28th
PENN STATE – We thought the Nittany Lions were in a good spot to pick up their first win last Saturday.  They had been outgaining their opponents on the year despite their 0-4 mark entering last week.  They  showed some fight @ Nebraska after getting down 27-6 and if they could avoid the turnover bug, we felt they had a decent shot at home vs Iowa.  Well they turned the ball over 4 times and dropped to 0-5 for the first time in their history getting smoked 41-21.  They now have 13 turnovers in 5 games and just 4 takeaways.  Not going to win many, or any, games with those TO margin numbers.  Will Levis got the start at QB, as we expected, after almost rallying PSU @ Nebraska a week earlier.  He led the Lions to just 1 first half TD vs Iowa and was yanked for previous starter Sean Clifford after the first 2 second half possessions led to nothing.  With Iowa up 31-7, Clifford and PSU made a run cutting the lead to 31-21 to start the 4th quarter as his first 2 passing attempts were TD’s.  The comeback ended when Clifford threw his 7th and 8th interceptions of the season in the 4th quarter, one returned for an Iowa TD.  Both QB’s, Levis & Clifford, led Penn State in rushing and their RB’s had only 16 combined yards rushing.  Does this team keep fighting with 2 road games on deck or are they too far beat down emotionally to care at this point?   
MICHIGAN – Did we ever think we’d see Michigan players storm the field after a 48-42 OT win vs Rutgers?  That is where we are in this crazy 2020 Big 10 season.  Michigan looked like they might do the unthinkable and lose to Rutgers as they got down 17-0 midway through the 2nd quarter.  Joe Milton got the start at QB again for Michigan, but he was replaced by Cade McNamara after the Wolverines got down by 17.  After McNamara took over, he led Michigan to 5 TD’s in his 7 offensive possessions.  They took an 8-point lead with 5:00 minutes remaining but Rutgers sent the game to OT with just 27 seconds remaining with a TD and 2-point conversion.  To put the Rutgers 42 point effort into perspective, Michigan had held the Knights to just 37 total points in their previous 5 meetings.  The Wolverines pass defense continues to get shredded every week.  Rutgers QB Vedral threw for a career high 381 yards and 3 TD’s.  Vedral had 6 career TD passes entering the game.  It was the THIRD quarterback already this season to throw for career high yardage in a game vs Michigan.  The 1,370 yards passing the Wolverines have given up this year is the most in the Big 10 and the 12 TD passes allowed is 13th most ahead of only Rutgers.  On top of that the 180 points allowed this year by Michigan is better than only Rutgers as well.  This program is used to playing stifling defense and it’s not happening this season.  
MICHIGAN NEXT UP – Home vs Maryland
MOST RECENT MEETING – These two met last season @ PSU with the Nittany Lions laying 7.5 points.  PSU won the game 28-21 with Michigan getting the half point cover.  Despite the loss Michigan dominated the stat sheet with 419 total yards to just 293 for Penn State.
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – The home team has won 7 of the last 8 meetings outright (6-2 ATS).  Michigan has won 8 of the last 9 meetings SU in Ann Arbor (6-3 ATS)

OHIO STATE (-29 OPEN to -28 CURRENT) @ ILLINOIS – Saturday, November 28th
OHIO STATE – OSU looked like they were going to cruise to an easy win last week leading 28-7 at half vs Indiana.  They easily covered the first half line of -11 and they actually had the game spread of -20.5 covered at half.  The Buckeyes added another TD just 3:00 minutes into the 2nd half for a 35-7 lead.  What looked like another OSU home blowout turned into a battle with IU scoring TD’s on 4 of their next 5 possessions.  The Hoosiers cut the lead to 42-35 with 10:00 minutes remaining in the game but they didn’t cross midfield again and OSU held on for the 7 point win.  The Buckeye offense is fantastic.  No questioning that.  They put up over 600 total yards and topped 40 points for the 3rd time in 4 games this season.  QB Fields wasn’t invincible this week as he actually threw 3 interceptions which is the same number he had thrown in his entire career at Ohio State (17 games).  The defense didn’t look great.  IU had receivers running wide open all day long.  Indiana QB Penix threw for 491 yards and 5 TD’s.  The 491 yards through the air was the 4th most EVER allowed by Ohio State in a single game.  The big plays allowed were very concerning to head coach Ryan Day as Indiana had at least one pass of 25 or more yards in all 5 of their TD drives.  The OSU pass defense now ranks dead last in the Big 10 and 115th nationally allowing 291 YPG.  Another concern?  OSU was outscored 28-14 in the 2nd half which marked the 3rd consecutive game they’ve been outscored after halftime.   
OHIO STATE NEXT UP – @ Michigan State
ILLINOIS – The Illini finally got starting QB Peters back after he had missed 3 straight games due to Covid.  He stepped in and didn’t miss a beat throwing for 205 yards while rushing for another 36 in Illinois’ upset win at Nebraska.  They entered the game as 17-point underdogs and won easily 41-23.  It was the 3rd time already this year that a Big 10 underdog of 17 points or more won the game outright!  It was the 2nd huge upset for the Illini in the span of year as they beat Wisconsin last season as a 29-point dog.  Prior to last year’s win over Wisconsin and this year’s win over Nebraska, the Illini had been an underdog of 17 points or more 55 times since 1980 winning just TWO of those games outright.  Well they have another shot this weekend as a huge dog at home vs OSU.  Illinois has some momentum entering this game with 2 straight wins after starting the season 0-3.  They’ve outgained each of their last 2 opponents and they’ve really started to lean on their running game with 623 yards on the ground the last 2 weeks, including gashing the Huskers for 385 rushing.  Peters may have to do more through the air this week as OSU’s defensive strength is vs the run (98 YPG allowed).  The Illini are now near full strength for the first time in nearly a month and they’ll definitely need to find a way to keep up on the scoreboard here as their defense will have a tough time slowing the Buckeyes down.
MOST RECENT MEETING – OSU was a huge 41 point favorite at home in this match up last year and won 52-14.  They outgained the Illini by 440 yards in the game and held them to just 105 total yards.
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – OSU has won the last 9 meetings outright by an average score of 39-14.  The Buckeyes are 6-3 ATS in those games.  Historically however, the Illini have been the money maker here with a 22-13 spread record since 1980.
NORTHWESTERN (-11 OPEN to -13.5 CURRENT) @ MICHIGAN STATE - Saturday, November 28th
NORTHWESTERN – After starting 4-0, Northwestern had their biggest game of the season last week vs Wisconsin.  A game that would most likely decide the Big 10 West.  The Cats came out on top 17-7 despite being -103 total yards, -5 first downs, and -15:00 time of possession.  Northwestern averaged just 3.8 YPP and rushed the ball 23 times for 24 yards.  So how do you win with stats like that?  Win the turnover battle decisively which they did.  They forced the Badgers into 5 turnovers and they had a +4 TO margin on the day.  In a game that saw these two teams combine for 17 punts, 9 in the 3rd quarter alone, it was all about field position and defense.  Speaking of field position, there was a stretch in the 2nd half where Wisconsin, down 14-7 at the time, started 4 consecutive possessions at their own 38, 42, 47, and 48 yard line.  The Wildcat defense came up huge during that stretch limiting 3 of those 4 possessions to 4 plays or fewer followed by a punt as they were protecting their tight lead.  While they didn’t completely shut down Wisconsin on a yardage basis (363 yards) they came up big when they had to.  They put constant pressure on QB Mertz with 3 sacks, 7 TFL’s and 7 QB hurries.  The Badgers crossed midfield 8 times in the game and came away with only 7 points.  That’s what Northwestern does.  They play great defense, don’t beat themselves (+8 TO margin on the season), and play the field position game.  Let this one simmer.  The Cats are 5-0 and have punted more than any team in the Big 10 with 30.  The next highest is 26 punts by Rutgers.  They know who they are and they find ways to win.  Now they are sitting pretty.  With the Minnesota – Wisconsin game getting cancelled this weekend all but eliminating the Badgers, the Cats look like they are heading to the Big 10 Championship game for the 2nd time in 3 years.  
MICHIGAN STATE – MSU had a bye week to get ready for this match up with Northwestern.  They technically picked up 3 or 4 extra days to prepare as their originally scheduled game @ Maryland wasn’t cancelled until last Thursday.  They used last Friday, Saturday, and Sunday to revisit the fundamentals they’ve been lacking and began the game planning for NW on Monday.  In their most recent game vs Indiana, the Spartans were atrocious.  It seemed to be a great spot for them catching IU off a huge win over Michigan with Ohio State on deck.  Sparty was also coming off an embarrassing effort @ Iowa so it looked like a good spot for MSU to rebound and play well.  Nope.  They were shut out 24-0 by the Hoosiers, had only 9 first downs and 191 total yards.  They also turned the ball over 4 times which led directly to 17 of Indiana’s 24 points.  They were missing 3 starters in the defensive backfield in that game so a number of inexperience players were thrust into action.  It showed with IU QB Penix throwing for 320 yards which actually doesn’t look so bad when you consider what he did to OSU’s defense last Saturday.  On offense they benched starting QB Lombardi, who now has more interceptions than TD passes, after throwing 2 picks in the first 20 minutes of the game.  Redshirt freshman Thorne took over and was just OK.  Thorne led the Spartans to 150 yards on their final 8 possessions and didn’t score a point so it wasn’t as if he sparked the offense.  The running game continues to be non-existent as MSU has score 1 rushing TD this season and averages 73 YPG on just 2.2 YPC, all Big 10 worsts.
MOST RECENT MEETING – Big swing in the number this year as MSU was favored by -7.5 @ Northwestern last year and now the Cats are favored by 11 @ MSU.  The Spartans won last year’s match up easily 31-10.
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – The Wildcats have covered the last 8 meetings in East Lansing and the road team in general has been a big money maker in this series covering 14 of the last 16.  The totals in this series have been set very low as of late with the last 4 being set at 35, 43, 41.5, and 41 points.  All 4 went over the total.  Saturday’s opening total came out at 41.5.
RUTGERS @ PURDUE (-11 OPEN to -12 CURRENT) - Saturday, November 28th
RUTGERS – How does Rutgers bounce back off a devastating home loss to Michigan?  They jumped out to a 17-0 lead, blew the lead, had to come back and score a TD + 2 point conversion to push the game to OT, and then lost in OT.  The Scarlet Knights missed a FG in the first overtime that would have won the game making this loss even more difficult.  The 48-42 loss while tough to swallow, was quite the improvement considering the last 2 times Michigan paid a visit to Piscataway they left with 42-7 and 78-0 wins.  Rutgers definitely hung with Michigan statistically as well and actually outgained the Wolverines on a YPP basis 5.8 to 5.4.  QB Vedral, who transferred to Rutgers from Nebraska, threw for a career high 381 yards and 3 TD’s.  The 42 points scored was the most by a Rutgers team in conference play since the 2015 season.  The offense is averaging 29.6 PPG and has scored at least 20 points in all 5 of their games (1-4 record).  While that may not seem like a huge deal, let’s remember this team averaged 5.6 PPG in conference play last year, scored a total of 51 points in 9 games.  They were shutout 4 times.  Drastic improvement to say the least.  As we’ve mentioned before, HC Greg Schiano has them heading in the right direction.  
RUTGERS NEXT UP – Home vs Penn State
PURDUE – Speaking of how Rutgers will respond after a crushing defeat, how about Purdue?  They are in a similar situation as they seemingly scored the winning TD last week at Minnesota with under 1:00 minute remaining after never leading the entire game.  The infamous phantom offensive pass interference call on the Boilers took away the TD and they proceeded to throw an interception on the next play in their 34-31 loss.  In an unprecedented move, multiple betting sites actually decided to refund Purdue bettors because of the terrible call.  Starting QB O’Connell was unable to go making way for sophomore Jack Plummer to get the start.  Plummer actually gave O’Connell a neck and neck battle for the starting QB this year and started 7 games a year ago so we were not expecting a drop off.  If anything, Plummer made a case to continue as the starting QB throwing for 367 yards and 3 TD’s while completing 82% of his attempts.  Plummer will get the start this Saturday as it looks like O’Connell will be sidelined again.  The offense was also sparked by the return of WR Moore, who is their top weapon and had yet to play in a game this season.  He didn’t disappoint putting up 136 total yards on 18 touches.  The defense wasn’t great as they allowed the Gophers to average nearly 6.3 YPP and convert on 8 of their 13 third & fourth down attempts.  They did stiffen up and get much better vs the Minnesota running attack as the game wore on.  The Gophs had 108 yards on the ground on their first 5 possessions but just 23 yards on their final 3 possessions.  
PURDUE NEXT UP – Home vs Nebraska
MOST RECENT MEETING – These two have met just one time since Rutgers joined the Big 10.  That was back in 2017 and the Scarlet Knights upset the Boilers 14-12 as a 9.5 point home underdog.
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – Since November of 2013, the Boilermakers are a money making 30-15-1 ATS (67%) when coming off a SU loss.  Rutgers is 2-0 ATS this year as a double digit underdog covering vs OSU & Michigan.  Can they pull the upset here?  The last time Rutgers won a game outright as a dog of 10 or more was back in 1999.  They are 0-82 SU in that role since that win.

MARYLAND @ INDIANA (-14 OPEN to -11.5 CURRENT) - Saturday, November 28th
MARYLAND – The Terps haven’t played a game since November 7th when they upset Penn State 35-19 in Happy Valley.  They’ve been dealing with Covid issues on the team & staff and they haven’t been able to practice.  That changed on Monday when Maryland was able to run a normal practice for the first time in a few weeks as they prepare for their game @ Indiana.  The Terps originally had 23 players test positive for Covid, however there were no new positive cases since last week.  The challenge in handicapping this one is the 21 day Big 10 rule.  They will still have a fairly large number of players out because of that, but who are they?  Teams across the country have been very tight lipped on this for much of the season and it’s difficult to get that information.  Until we know that info, it’s a game we’ll just take a pass on.  We’ll see what we find out as the week continues.  It’s unfortunate for Maryland as they were playing very well entering this situation with back to back wins over Minnesota & Penn State.  The offense rolled up over 1,000 yards and 80 points in those 2 wins.  QB Tagovailoa was really starting to play well after a disastrous first start @ Northwestern in their season opener.  Head coach Mike Locksley tested positive as well and will be at practice virtually this week.  He will be able to travel with the team on Saturday as the Big Ten coaches 10 day window will be over for him.   
INDIANA – As we stated in last week’s report, we weren’t so sure on what to think of Indiana.  They looked solid in their 3 most recent games vs Rutgers, Michigan, and Michigan State entering Saturday’s game @ OSU, however consider the competition.  We were impressed by this team’s resolve on Saturday after they fell behind 35-7 early in the 2nd half.  They made a huge comeback and cut the lead to 42-35 with still over 10 minutes remaining.  Their final 2 possessions resulted in a total of 18 yards and the Hoosiers were not able to pull off the huge upset.  They showed they do belong this year among the top 3 or 4 teams in the conference.  QB Penix, who beat out Peyton Ramsey (now at Northwestern) for the starting spot last year, was injured for much of 2019.  This year he has been fantastic.  He threw for almost 500 yards on OSU and he now leads the Big 10 averaging 312 YPG through the air.  He’s thrown more passes (201) and has thrown more TD’s (14) than any other QB in the league.  WR Fryfogle leads the Big 10 averaging 128 YPG receiving and has 18 catches for 418 yards his last 2 games alone.  If they can ever get their running game going to take some pressure off Penix shoulders watch out.  On Saturday they had 16 rush attempts for -1 yard and IU now ranks 13th in the league averaging just 76 YPG on 2.4 YPC.  The defense was shredded by OSU.  No big deal there as the Buckeyes tend to do that to everyone.  We were impressed by the pressure they put on QB Fields with 5 sacks and forcing 3 interceptions from a normally mistake free QB.  This team is good and they’ll be favored in 2 of their last 3 regular season games.  IU has a real shot at 7-1 if they can upset Wisconsin on the road.  If they can win 2 of their last 3 and finish at least 6-2 it would be their most conference wins since the 1994 season.
INDIANA NEXT UP – @ Wisconsin
MOST RECENT MEETING – Indiana was a 6.5 point favorite @ Maryland last year and squeaked by with a 34-28 win giving the Terps a half point cover.  
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – This has been a high scoring series as of late with each of the last 5 meetings going Over the total.  The teams have combined for an average of 72.5 points in those 5 meetings.  The total in this game opened 60 and has been pushed up to 63 as of Wednesday afternoon.

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