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Big 10 Conference Report
by ASA - 10/02/2014
Big Ten Conference Report - Oct. 1
American Sports Analysts
GAME OF THE WEEK
Michigan State (-7) vs. Nebraska – 7:00 PM CST
Michigan State is still regarded as the best team in the conference, but Nebraska is the last remaining undefeated team. So this game should determine a lot. This game also has the potential to provide a preview of the Big Ten title game; a lot is on the line here. Nebraska is led by star RB Ameer Abdullah, who has rushed for over 200 yards in each of the last two games and ranks 1st in the nation in rushing yards. The Huskers are 8th in total YPG, 3rd in rush YPG, and 7th in PPG. QB Armstrong Jr. has performed admirably through the first five games and while has been a nice complement to Abdullah (10 TD & 3 INT), his 53.9% completions is a bit concerning and he has yet to face a defense on par with Michigan State. Armstrong, Abdullah, and Co. won’t get any easy yards against this MSU defense that ranks 5th against the run and 11th overall. After losing at Oregon on September 6th, the Spartans have won back-to-back games by a combined score of 129-28. We didn't find out anything new about the Spartans in the two most recent blowouts except that they were able to develop some more depth as backups saw most of the action in the 2nd half of both games. MSU won the most recent meeting, 41-28 last November in Lincoln, but Nebraska's offense was able to move the ball quite well against MSU. The Huskers outgained the Spartans (392-361) and had more first downs despite having 17-fewer minutes TOP. If it wasn't for a -5 TO margin in the game, the Huskers may have come out on top. Nebraska is 5-1 SU & ATS in the last six meetings with Michigan State dating back to 1995 – including 2-1 SU & ATS in the first three years as a member of the B1G conference. MSU is 12-3-1 ATS in the last 16 games overall and 5-0 ATS in the last five home games. Nebraska is 5-1 ATS in the last six games and 4-0 ATS in the last 4 road games.
Ohio State (-7.5) @ Maryland – Saturday, 11:00 AM CST
There were a couple of hiccups for the Buckeyes last week against - allowed 19-yard, 60-yard, 83-yard TD passes in the 1st half - but OSU weathered all that with an unstoppable offensive performance en route to a 50-28 victory over a pesky Cincinnati team. OSU gained an astonishing 710 total yards yards and 45 first downs and controlled the ball for 41 minutes, not allowing a solid Cincy offense to get back into the game. After a couple of bad games against Navy and Virginia Tech, freshman QB J.T. Barrett has bounced back to throw for 642 yards and 10 TD on 72% completions in the last two games. It helps that he's been able to lean on the rushing attack that notched 284 yards and 380 yards in back-to-back wins, but he looks natural and comfortable in Urban Meyer's offensive scheme just in time for Big Ten play to start. The defense remains a bit of a concern, mostly in the secondary as OSU allowed Cincy's QB Kiel to complete 21-of-32 passes for 352 yards and 4 scores. OSU will have to shore up its defensive issues as the Bucks now travel to Maryland for the Terps' first home game as a member of the B1G. The Terrapins made themselves right at home in their Big Ten debut at Indiana last week as they throttled the Hoosiers. QB's C.J. Brown & Caleb Rowe combined to throw for 361 yards, 3 TD, and 0 INT on 22-of-33 passing. Brown, the starter, was injured in the win and his status for Saturday's game is still unclear. Rowe stepped in last year when Brown was injured and started three games games for the Terps. Maryland would much rather have Brown under center, but Rowe isn't a terrible 2nd option. Defensively it was a promising performance for a struggling unit as the Terps held Indiana out of the end zone until mid-4th quarter. IU's rushing attack had a solid day (206 yards on 4.4 YPC) but QB Sudfeld was just 14-of-37 passing for 126 yards (0 TD, 1 INT). This unit that surrenders 200.6 rush YPG (102nd nationally) will need to play better against this OSU rush offense if the Terps want any shot at the upset. OSU is 28-11-1 ATS in its last 40 road games and 22-9-1 ATS in its last 32 as a road favorite. Maryland is 6-14 ATS in the last 20 home games and 3-6 ATS in the last nine as a home underdog.
Wisconsin (-7.5) @ Northwestern – Saturday, 2:30 PM CST
We know about the Badgers’ high-powered rushing attack, but it might be time to start paying attention to their defense. Wisconsin now ranks 8th against the run, 19th against the pass, 7th in total yards allowed, and 11th in points allowed. They've held the last three opponents to 30 combined points and 73 rush YPG. If the defense continues to play like that, it will keep Wisconsin in most games even if the offense sputters like it did on Saturday. The Badgers were able to put just three points on the board by halftime against South Florida. They got going in the 2nd half, scoring 24 points en route to a 17-point victory. Melvin Gordon and this offense continues to pile up the rushing yards. Wisconsin has outrushed its last two opponents by 773 yards and Gordon has 434 rush yards and 7 TD on 9.6 YPC in the last two games. Credit the Bulls for not allowing athletic Badger QB McEvoy to escape the pocket and making him throw the ball - which he has not done with great success so far this season. McEvoy finished with just 23 rush yards and completed just 11-of-18 passes for 160 yards. He doesn't have to be spectacular in this offense, but the Badgers would like to see him make a few more plays. The Badgers take their first conference road trip in a trip to Evanston to take on Northwestern this Saturday. The Wildcats looked so sluggish in their first three games before an absolutely dominating performance against Penn State last week. Northwestern’s defense allowed PSU to gain just 266 yards, achieve 14 first downs, and put 6 points on the board. They held the Nittany Lions out of the end zone by limiting the rushing attack to just 50 yards on 25 carries and by shutting down dynamic QB Hackenberg (22-of-45 for 216 yards with 0 TD and 1 INT). The Wildcats weren’t explosive on offense (103 rush yards on 2.7 YPC) but QB Siemian managed the game well (21-of-37 for 258 yards) and the defense was opportunistic (INT return for TD). It was the type of performance that might get the Wildcats officially out of their slump. Wisconsin has won and covered the last two meetings by a combined score of 105-29, but has historically struggled against the Wildcats with just a 4-9 ATS record in the last 13 meetings. Last year Wisconsin had +286 yards and +14 first downs in the 29-point win. The Badgers have dropped three straight games to Northwestern in Evanston, losing all three times as a favorite.
Rutgers (-3) vs. Michigan – Saturday, 6:00 PM CST
The Rutgers easily took care of business against an overmatched Tulane team last week, winning 31-6. It was a promising sign that the running game notched 171 yards on 4.3 YPC without star RB Paul James, who was lost for the season with a knee injury last week. QB Nova also stepped up with 291 pass yards and 4 TD on just 14 completions. Nova will have to continue to improve and lead this team through the air because, while the rushing attack was solid against Tulane, yards won't come as easy against Michigan this week and the rest of the B1G moving forward. Defensively the Scarlet Knights allowed just 304 yards - 86 of which came on one long TD run in the 2nd quarter - and 13 first downs to Tulane. Up next the Scarlet Knights aim for their first B1G victory against the reeling Michigan Wolverines. Michigan is 1-3 in the last four games, beating only winless Miami OH. The Wolverines have 13 turnovers in those four games and have been outscored by an average of 29-8 in the three losses to Notre Dame, Utah, and Minnesota. Backup QB Shane Morris got the call last week in place of Devin Gardner. Morris was just 7-of-19 for 49 yards with an INT. He got injured in the game and Michigan will make the move back to Gardner. It's a shame that Michigan's offense is so lackluster, because the defense has been playing well. The Wolverines rank 22nd against both the pass & the rush and 9th in overall defense. None of that will matter going forward if the Wolverines can't get consistent play from the quarterback position. Head coach Brady Hoke's seat can't get much hotter, and it'll be interesting how he gets the team to respond to all the negatively surrounding the program. Michigan is just 4-12 ATS in its last 16 road games as an underdog. Rutgers is just 2-6 ATS in the last eight games as a home favorite.
Illinois (-10) vs. Purdue – Saturday, 11:00 AM CST
Without QB Lunt leading the way against Nebraska last week, the Illini stood no chance at the upset. Backup QB O'Toole completed just 17-of-38 passes for 261 yards with 1 TD and 3 INT. His inaccuracy and Illinois' inability to run the football (78 yards on 24 carries) repeatedly stalled drives and allowed the Huskers to control the TOP (+20 minutes). Illinois' defense allowed Nebraska to rush for 458 yards on 70 carries (6.5 YPC) with 5 rush TD. We knew Illinois wasn't a very strong team after narrow wins over FCS Youngstown State (28-17), Western Kentucky (42-34), and Texas State (42-35); but the arm of Wes Lunt always made them competitive. Without Lunt, the Illini become one of the bottom-feeders of the B1G. Luckily for them, Lunt will return this weekend as the Illini host Purdue. He has 1,237 pass yards, 11 TD, and just 3 INT through four games this season. Purdue coach Hazell doesn't know where to turn at quarterback as both Danny Etling (54.9%, 6 TD, 5 INT) and Austin Appleby (39.1%, 1 TD, 1 INT) have struggled so far this season. Both struggled in the loss last week as Purdue managed just 156 total yards and 9 first downs against Iowa. The defense played well and kept the Boilers down just seven points late in the 4th quarter, but it's not going to matter how good the defense performs if the offense keeps putting up numbers like that. Offensively Purdue now ranks 95th in rush YPG, 97th in PPG, 107th in pass YPG, and 117th in total YPG. The Boilers are 7-2 SU in the last 9 meetings with Illinois, including 3-1 SU the last four trips to Champaign. Illinois won the meeting last year, 20-16, in a rather ugly game. The Illini are 6-3 ATS in the last 9 games as a Big Ten favorite of 10 points or more. Purdue is 3-6 ATS in the last nine as a Big Ten underdog of 10 points or more.
Indiana (-13.5) vs. North Texas – Saturday, 1:30 PM CST
Indiana followed up its promising road win over SEC Missouri with a blowout loss at home to Maryland. An offense that looked so good in the first three games sputtered to just 15 points, with the lone offensive touchdown coming when the game was already decided. QB Sudfeld had one of his worst games as he completed just 14-of-37 passes for 126 yards with an INT. Defensively this is still a major work in progress. They allowed Maryland QB's Brown & Rowe to throw for 361 yards, 3 TD, and 0 INT on 22-of-33 passing. The Hoosiers have now allowed 36.3 PPG to its three FBS opponents and rank 90th in YPG allowed. It appears that the only reliable Hoosier these days is RB Tevin Coleman, who has rushed for 120+ yards in each game this season and has reached the end zone seven times. Indiana closes up non-conference play this weekend as North Texas visits Bloomington. North Texas is 2-2 this season, with the two wins coming against hapless SMU & FCS Nicholls State. UNT's two losses were to Texas and Louisiana Tech by a combined score of 28-80. Despite the fact that UNT put up 77 points last week, this remains one of the poorer offensive teams in the nation. The Mean Green are 123rd in pass yards and 115th in total yards. Yes, they put up 77 points last week, but three of the scores were from defense/special teams. Since 2010, North Texas is 6-0 ATS against Power Five conference teams, including covers against four teams ranked in the top 15. The only prior meeting with Indiana came in 2011, a 24-21 win. UNT is 11-5 ATS in the last 16 games as a double-digit underdog. Indiana is 3-6 ATS in its last nine as a double-digit favorite.
Minnesota – Bye Week
Minnesota ended a six-game losing streak against Michigan 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. They earned their bye week, and now have four manageable games coming up (vs. Northwestern, vs. Purdue, @Illinois, vs. Iowa) that could conceivably put this Minnesota team at 8-1 heading into a home showdown with Ohio State on November 15th.
Iowa – Bye Week
In classic Iowa Hawkeye football fashion, they got the win at Purdue, but it sure wasn't pretty. Iowa had a +264 yard advantage and +13 first downs, but didn't take the lead until late in the 3rd quarter. They didn't put the nail in the coffin until 5:10 remaining in the 4th. Iowa rushed for 175 yards but 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 in the next game until next week, but indicated that when the Hawkeyes return to action on Oct. 11 against Indiana, they plan on playing more than one guy under center. Beathard didn't seize the job against Purdue and Rudock is the more proven option. With little rushing success to speak of, the QB play will have to get better going further into conference play. Next up is a home game against Indiana.
Penn State – Bye Week
No team needs the bye week more than the Nittany Lions after last week's performance against Northwestern. In one of the more surprising outcomes of the week, a struggling Northwestern squad 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. 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. The Nittany Lions travel to Michigan in their next game on October 11th.