Big 10 Football Report - Week 8

by ASA, Inc.

WISCONSIN @ IOWA (-3 OPEN to +2 CURRENT) – Saturday, December 5th
 
WISCONSIN – The Badgers offense is struggling and that’s an understatement.  They aren’t necessarily having problems moving the ball, they just are not putting points on the board.  With their 14-6 loss at home vs Indiana last week, Wisconsin has now scored a grand total of 13 points over their last 8 quarters of football.  This from an offense that scored 94 points in their first 2 games this season.  For the 2nd consecutive game, they outplayed their opponent rather drastically on the stat sheet but lost the game.  Versus Indiana the Badgers were +125 total yards, +53 rushing yards, and +10:00 minute time of possession.  Wisconsin had 9 offensive possessions in the game, crossed midfield into Indiana territory on 7 of those possessions, and scored 6 points.  The last 2 games they’ve been in their opponent’s territory 15 times and they have 1 TD and 2 FG’s to show for it.  They continue to be extremely thin at WR which is causing problems in the passing game, especially the big play.  They haven’t had any.  QB Mertz completed only 2 passes of more than 20 yards the entire game and averaged just 5.9 yards per attempt.  They were without starting WR Davis once again (he’s out for this game as well) but the other starter Pryor returned for this game.  However, Pryor left the game in the 2nd half with an injury so his status is up in the air for Saturday.  The defense was great.  They held IU to just 217 total yards in just 4.0 YPP.  They have now held their last 2 opponents to 480 total combined yards and 31 combined points and lost both games.
 
IOWA – Iowa just keeps rolling.  In what we considered a dangerous game for them @ Illinois with Wisconsin on deck, the Hawkeyes were shaky early.  Iowa (-13.5) was down 14-0 midway through the 2nd quarter but then scored 35 unanswered points to take the 35-21 win.  They have now won 5 consecutive games after starting the season 0-2.  It was the first time the offense topped 400 yards since their game vs Michigan State back on November 7th.  Over the last 4 games Iowa has averaged 35 PPG and topped 400 yards once.  The Hawks are now 2nd in the Big 10 in scoring at 32 PPG behind only OSU despite ranking 9th in the league in total offense.  That speaks to their efficiency on offense and the turnovers they’ve created which have really been key during this winning streak.  They are now +9 TO margin on the season.  They have had a plus TO margin in all 5 of their wins this season.  Because of those takeaways, Iowa has been put in very favorable situations on offense with 14 of their 27 TD’s this season coming on drives of 52 yards or less.  The defense was a little sluggish early on, as was the offense, allowing 148 yards and 2 TD’s on the first 3 Illni possessions.  After that the Hawkeyes clamped down allowing only 125 total yards and 0 TD’s on Illinois next 7 possessions before giving up a late meaningless TD with 24 seconds remaining in the game on their final possession.      
 
MOST RECENT MEETING – Last year Iowa traveled to Wisconsin as a 7.5 point underdog and nearly pulled the upset losing 24-22.  Iowa was down 8 points late in the 4th and scored a TD but the 2-point conversion failed giving them the 2 point loss.  
 
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – Wisconsin has won 7 of the last 8 meetings with rival Iowa – Badgers are 5-3 ATS in those games.  The total on this game was set quite low at 44 (has dropped even further due to potential bad weather).  Not surprising as this has been a low scoring series with only 3 of the last 16 meetings topping 50 points.
 
 
MICHIGAN STATE @ PENN STATE (-14.5 OPEN to -14.5 CURRENT) – Saturday, December 5th
 
MICHIGAN STATE – MSU had the privilege of hosting back to back top 10 teams the last 2 weeks.  The first game went very well as they pulled off a 29-20 win over Northwestern as a 13.5 point underdog.  Last week the Spartans weren’t so fortunate as they were blasted by Ohio State 52-12.  The Buckeyes opened as a 24 point favorite and the number dropped to 22 when OSU announced they had 20+ players out due to covid protocol, including 3 starting offensive lineman.  It didn’t matter as the Spartans, who held Northwestern to 68 yards rushing the previous week, were shredded for 322 yards by the OSU running game.  Sparty trailed 28-0 at half and simply couldn’t get anything going offensively early on.  In fact, 6 of their first 7 possessions were 3 & outs and their other possession during that stretch lasted 4 plays.  Starting QB Lombardi threw a pick 6 in the 2nd quarter and was injured late in the first half.  He had only completed 5 passes at that point and was averaging only 3.0 yards per pass attempt.  His replacement Payton Thorne looked a little better leading MSU to 10 points in the 2nd half.  After the game HC Tucker was furious with his team’s undisciplined, sloppy play as they turned the ball over 4 times and had over 100 yards in penalties.  The up & down season for Michigan State continues this weekend @ Penn State.    
 
PENN STATE – PSU lost their first 5 games of the season and we knew they were much better than that.  The eye test told us that along with the stats they were putting up in their losses.  After beating Michigan on the road last week, they went to Rutgers last Saturday and picked up their 2nd consecutive win 23-7 covering the 11 point spread.  It was a dominating performance vs an up and coming Rutgers team.  PSU controlled the stat sheet with +11 first downs, +176 total yards, and +165 yards on the ground.  HC Franklin is still rotating his QB’s Clifford and Levis, however the latter has been used strictly as a runner the last 2 games.  Levis, playing from the QB position, has run the ball 23 times for a combined 90 yards the last 2 games.   He hasn’t attempted a pass in the last 10 quarters.  Clifford has been throwing the ball but hasn’t put up huge numbers with just 163 & 133 yards passing the last two weeks.  However, he has limited his turnovers to just 1 in those 2 contests.  That’s a huge improvement from his 10 turnovers in the first 5 games.  PSU held a 17-0 halftime lead and the defense was stellar holding Rutgers off the scoreboard with a total of just 36 yards in the first half.  The Knights lone score came on a 36-yard drive for a TD following a PSU interception.  After last Saturday’s performance, the Nittany Lions now rank 2nd in the Big 10 in total offense and 2nd and total defense.  As we said, they are much better than a 2-5 team.   
 
MOST RECENT MEETING – PSU was a 5.5 point favorite @ Michigan State last year and rolled to an easy 28-7 win and cover.  The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 28-0 lead early in the third quarter and neither team scored a point in the 4th quarter.
 
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – The favorite has covered 7 of the last 9 in this Big 10 series.  Penn State is just 3-8 ATS the last 11 times they’ve been a home favorite of 14 or more (dating back to November of 2017).  
 
 
ILLINOIS @ NORTHWESTERN (-14 OPEN to -14 CURRENT) – Saturday, December 5th
 
ILLINOIS – The Illini jumped out to a 14-0 lead on Iowa last Saturday and it looked like they were on their way to a potential upset and a 3rd consecutive win.  They scored TD’s on 2 of their first 3 possessions and they were long drives of 75 & 70 yards.  After their 2nd TD they went 3 & out on 3 straight possessions and Iowa was able to cut the lead to 1 by halftime.  Iowa controlled the 2nd half scoring TD’s on 3 of their first 4 possessions on their way to a 35-21 win.  Starting QB Peters was great to start the game completing his first 7 passes while leading them to the 14-0 lead.  After that, Peters completed only 3 passes on his next 6 possessions with the Illini going scoreless and gaining only 47 yards on those 6 drives.  Peters was then pulled for back up QB Williams, a freshman, who actually led Illinois to a win at Rutgers when Peters was injured earlier in the season.  Williams wasn’t much better completing only 7 of his 16 pass attempts but he did run for 38 yards and led them to their final TD of the game.  The Illinois defense has been shaky all year ranking 13th in the league in total defense and 13th in YPP allowed.  They looked great early holding the Hawkeyes to just 45 yards over their first 4 drives.  After that, it went south quickly with Iowa gaining a whopping 380 yards over their final 7 possessions on 7.4 YPP.  The Illini are banged up on defense especially at linebacker where they finished the game with only 3 scholarship players after a few players went down during the game.
 
NORTHWESTERN – The Cats had their game with Minnesota cancelled last week due to Gopher covid issues.  They may have needed an extra week off after their previous performance which was a 29-20 loss @ Michigan State as a 13.5 point favorite.  Northwestern entered that game in East Lansing with a perfect 5-0 record and had the inside track to the Big 10 West title.  MSU jumped on them early and led 17-6 at halftime.  A normally stout Wildcat defense allowed MSU, the worst rushing team in the conference, to run for 195 yards on 47 carries.  They rallied for a 20-17 lead early in the 4th quarter, however after the TD that gave them the lead, Northwestern had negative 17 yards on their final 5 possessions on the way to their 1st loss of the season.  That’s the same MSU team that lost 52-12 vs OSU, 24-0 vs Indiana, and 49-7 vs Iowa, three of the other better teams in the conference.  After watching film on the loss, HC Pat Fitzgerald made it clear that his team “didn’t take our fundamental brand of football at the line of scrimmage with us to East Lansing” and it cost them the win.  He made it a point to stress that during their unplanned bye week.  The Wildcats have a lot to play for because their game vs Illinois is a big time rivalry.  However, they have already locked up the Big 10 West crown so win or lose, Northwestern will be playing in the Big 10 Championship game the following week completing their worst to first journey after finishing in last place in 2019.  
 
MOST RECENT MEETING – Northwestern entered last season’s finale @ Illinois with just a 2-9 record.  The Cats were a 6.5 point underdog and topped the Illini 29-10.  NW outrushed Illinois 378 to 14 in the win.
 
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – Since 2000, Northwestern has covered 70% of their meetings with Illinois (14-6 ATS).  The Cats are just 7-13 ATS (35%) in all games as a double digit favorite since September of 2013. 
 
 
RUTGERS @ MARYLAND (-8 OPEN to -7.5 CURRENT) – Saturday, December 5th
 
RUTGERS – After their big come from behind win @ Purdue the previous Saturday, Rutgers crashed back down to earth with a 23-7 home loss at the hands of Penn State.  It was the 14th straight time the Scarlet Knights have lost to the Nittany Lions.  HC Schiano was aggressive right from the get go in this one going for it on 4th and 1 from their own 45 yard line on Rutgers opening possession.  They were stuffed on that attempt and PSU scored to take a 7-0 lead 5 plays later.  That set the tone for the first half as Rutgers had just 12 yards in the first half following that opening possession and they were down 17-0 at the break.  They did get starting QB Vedral back for this one after he missed the Purdue game with an injury.  It didn’t make much difference as the Knights were outgained 381 to 205 and Vedral had just 113 yards passing on 30 attempts for only 3.8 yards per attempt.  After rushing for 176 yards on 52 carries vs Purdue, the Knights were shut down vs Penn State with just 83 yards on 32 carries.  The offense couldn’t get anything going against the Nittany Lions with only one drive of more than 36 yards the entire day.  It was the first time this season that Rutgers was held under 20 points and they were averaging over 30 PPG entering Saturday’s contest.      
 
MARYLAND – Maryland just wants to play a damn game.  With last week’s cancellation of their game @ Michigan, the Terps have played a grand total of ONE game since November 7th with 3 of their last 4 games getting cancelled.  Their most recent game was a 29-11 loss @ Indiana on November 28th.   The Terps came into that rolling offensively scoring 80 points and tallying over 1,000 yards in the previous 2 games combined vs Penn State & Minnesota.  However, due to covid issues they had a 21 day break between games and it showed.  They only scored 11 points on 300 total yards (4.9 YPP) in their loss @ Indiana on November 28th with their lone TD coming with just 1:30 remaining in the game.  The Terps now have an 0-24 record vs Big 10 ranked opponents since joining the league in 2014.  Starting QB Tagovailo came in having thrown 6 TD’s and just 1 interception his previous 2 games but really struggled vs IU completing only 47% of his attempts and was intercepted 3 times.  The defense played arguably the best game of the year.  Before IU QB Penix exited late in the 3rd quarter due to an injury they had limited him to just 6 completions.  After allowing 988 total yards in their first 2 games of the season, the Terp defense seems to have settled in giving up just 340 to Penn State and 349 to Indiana over their last 2 contests.  Not only did Maryland have a long layoff, but they had 23 players unavailable vs Indiana including 4 starters on offense and 2 key players in their defensive backfield.  One positive is they should be rested and healthy for this game.  However, how do they perform having played only 1 game in the last 35 days!    

 
MOST RECENT MEETING – Maryland was a 14 point chalk @ Rutgers last year and crushed the Scarlet Knights 48-7.  The Terps scored 3 TD’s of 80 yards or more in the win. 
 
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – Maryland has won and covered 4 of the last 5 meetings between these two.  Rutgers has actually pulled 2 upsets this year as an underdog beating Michigan State and Purdue outright.  Prior to this season they had only one upset (outright win) as an underdog the last 24 times they were getting points.
 
 
MINNESOTA @ NEBRASKA (-8.5 OPEN to -10.5 CURRENT) – Saturday, December 5th
 
MINNESOTA – The Gophers had to cancel their last 2 games, November 28th @ Wisconsin and Dec 5th vs Northwestern.  Because of a covid outbreak, they paused team activities on November 24th and did not resume to a normal practice schedule until Sunday, Dec 7th.  Sunday was their first padded practice since their win over Purdue way back on November 20th.  The team did some conditioning last week leading up to their first full practice.  Even though it looks like they’ll be able to play on Saturday, they will have 20+ players out for this game that are within the 21 day minimum the Big 10 put in place for players that have tested positive.  One player we know will be out the remainder of the year is Minnesota’s top WR Bateman who opted out during their 2 week break to concentrate on preparing for the NFL.  The Gophs step into this one with a 2-3 overall record with wins over Purdue & Illinois and losses vs Michigan, Maryland, and Iowa.  The offense ranks 3rd in the conference at 405 YPG and 4th in scoring putting up 30 PPG.  The offense hasn’t been the problem.  The defense ranks dead last in the conference in total defense, YPP allowed, scoring defense, 13th in rush defense, and 13th in sacks.  The most telling defensive stat is their 7.7 YPP allowed.  Every time the opponent snaps the ball, they are averaging almost 8 yards vs this defense.  That’s insane.  They rank dead last nationally in that category behind the likes of Akron, UMass, UNLV, and Vanderbilt.  They also rank last in the nation in yards per rush allowed at 6.8.  Only 6 teams in the entire country allow more than 6 YPC and those teams are Bowling Green, Kent, UNLV, UMass, and Arizona along with the Gophers.    
 
NEBRASKA – The Huskers went into Purdue last week and pulled off a 37-27 win as a 2 point underdog.  They jumped quickly on the Boilers and pushed out to a 17-3 lead at the end of the 1st quarter and 27-13 at halftime.  Purdue did cut the lead to just early in the 4th but the Cornhuskers were able to hold on for their 2nd win of the season.  Starting QB Martinez played his best game of the season throwing for 242 yards while completing 76% of his passes (23 of 30).  He also ran for 45 yards.  Since getting benched in the Illinois game a few weeks ago, Martinez has completed 41 of his 50 pass attempts over his last 2 games vs Iowa & Purdue.  He got some help in the run game this week as RB Mills rushed for 80 yards.  While that may not seem like a big deal, Nebraska 2 leading rushers on the season are their back up QB McCaffrey (364 yards) and starting QB Martinez (268 yards) so anything they can get from their running backs they’ll take.  Saturday marks just the 2nd time in 7 games that Nebraska is a favorite.  The first didn’t go very well as they were a 17 point chalk vs Illinois and lost outright 41-24.  They laid an egg in that game after beating Penn State a week earlier.  The coaches have been stressing that situation this week to make sure they don’t let down again after upsetting Purdue last Saturday.  However, the Huskers haven’t been great at putting together 2 game win streaks in conference play.  The last time they won back to back Big 10 games was November of 2018.  Prior to that it was September of 2017.   

 
MOST RECENT MEETING – Minnesota was favored by 7.5 points at home last year and embarrassed Nebraska 34-7.  It was actually worse than the final score indicated as the Gophers were up 34-0 at the end of the 3rd quarter and took their foot off the gas after rushing for 274 yards in the first 3 quarters alone (322 for the game).
 
POINTSPREAD NUGGET – The Huskers are just 2-7 ATS as a favorite since the start of last season.  If this line stays at -10 or higher, Nebraska is just 3-10 ATS their last 13 games as a double digit favorite.  Since joining the league in 2011, Nebraska is 6-11 ATS as a double digit favorite in Big 10 games.

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