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Big 10 Football Report
by ASA - 10/19/2017
MICHIGAN @ PENN STATE (-10) – Saturday at 7:30 PM ET
Michigan’s offense continues to sputter as they tallied only 329 total yards vs Indiana last week and that was in a game that went to OT! Take away the 25-yards they had in OT and the Wolverines put up only 304 yards on 63 plays (4.8 yards per play) in their 27-20 win over Indiana. They haven’t topped 360 yards of total offense in a game since facing Cincinnati way back on September 9th. Since John O’Korn took over as the starting QB for an injured Wilton Speights, his two starts have resulted in 26 completed passes in 55 attempts (47%) with 0 TD’s and 3 interceptions. The Wolverines explosive plays are almost non-existent right now. Versus Indiana they had a grand total of 5 plays that went 15 or more yards and only 2 that topped 20 yards. Both of those plays topping 20 yards were runs by RB Karan Higdon. They had just one play of over 20 yards in their previous game vs MSU. Last week Michigan ran 65 total plays in the game and relied heavily on their running game with 45 rush attempts and just 20 pass attempts. Defensively they were very good again. They held the Hoosier offense to only 3.8 YPP. The Wolverines have allowed only 8 offensive TD’s in their 6 games this year and they continue to lead the nation in total defense giving up only 223 YPG on 3.6 YPP. They are allowing just 89 YPG on the ground in their 3 Big Ten tilts. On top of that they are allowing opposing Big Ten QB’s to complete only 47% of their passes. Now only if their offense was better!
Penn State sits in a good spot here as they are coming off a bye. It’s a revenge game for the Nittany Lions who were destroyed at Michigan last year 49-10. The potent PSU offense was completely stifled in that game with just 191 total yards and 12 first downs. All American RB Saquon Barkley had just 59 yards rushing in that blowout loss. Penn State was outrushed 326 to 70 in that loss. Michigan was a 15.5 point favorite in that game and now they sit at a 10 point dog. A huge 25.5 point swing from just one year ago and the first time Harbaugh has been a double digit underdog since taking over at Michigan. Some say that embarrassing loss turned the Penn State program back in the right direction as they are 15-1 since then, their only setback a 3-point loss coming in the Rose Bowl to USC. The Nits come into this game with a perfect 6-0 mark but have yet to be tested by a top notch team. All of their wins have come by at least 19 points with the exception of their game at Iowa which was a 21-19 come from behind win. They rank 2nd in the Big Ten in scoring offense (39 PPG) and 3rd in total offense (456 YPG) but the best defense they have faced this year is Indiana who ranks 39th nationally in total defense. We’ll find out if PSU is again for real in the next two weeks as they travel to Ohio State after their match up with the Wolverines.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS - Michigan has only been a double digit underdog FOUR times since 1980 vs teams not named Ohio State. They are just 1-3 ATS in those games. Surprisingly, the Wolverines are just 12-22 ATS the last 34 times they’ve been an underdog dating back to the 2008 season. However, dating back to 2003, Michigan is 13-2 ATS in their 2nd of back to back road games. Money making PSU is an amazing 13-1-1 ATS their last 15 games. The Lions are also 13-6-1 their last 20 as a double digit home favorite.
IOWA (-1.5) @ NORTHWESTERN – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
The Hawkeyes enter this game off a bye. It’s a revenger for Iowa who lost at home to Northwestern 38-31 last year as an 11 point favorite. The Cats outgained the Hawkeyes by 80 yards in the game and outrushed them 198 to 79. This will be Iowa’s 3rd road game of the season after beating Iowa State in overtime 44-41 and losing @ Michigan State 17-10. Their most recent game two weeks ago was an “easy” 45-16 win over Illinois who now rates as the worst team in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes were actually outgained in that game 446 to 441 and led by just 8 points entering the 4th quarter. Another concern in that game was the Illini came into the contest with the worst rushing attack in the Big Ten and proceeded to rack up 200 yards on the ground. On the season, Iowa is -32 YPG ranking 10th in the conference in total offense (356 YPG) and 10th in total defense (388 YPG). The Hawks are set up to potentially sweep the board in October if they can win here with a home game vs Minnesota looming next Saturday. That would get them to bowl eligible before hosting Ohio State and traveling to Wisconsin to open up November.
A struggling Northwestern offense finally got on track last Saturday with a 37-21 win @ Maryland. In their first two Big Ten Games, vs Wisconsin & Penn State, the Cats tallied only 31 total points on 509 total yards. They topped both of those numbers last week @ Maryland scoring 37 points on 531 yards. NW’s running game has been subpar at best this year with All American candidate Justin Jackson putting up only 339 yards on the ground through their first 5 games (67 YPG). Last week Jackson finally broke out and rolled up 171 yards rushing and in the process became the school’s all time leading rusher. Defensively the Cats shut down a Maryland running game that had been among the best in the Big Ten. Terp RB Ty Johnson came into the game averaging 8 YPC and was held to just 20 yards on 10 carries. The Cats finally looked like a team that thought they could contend in the Big Ten West. After playing their two toughest Big Ten opponents right out of the gate, Wisconsin & Penn State, the Wildcats slate now looks very manageable from here on out. The next two weeks vs Iowa & Michigan State at home are key. If they win those, they could run the table.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – The favorite in this series had covered 5 straight before the Cats topped Iowa as an 11-point dog last year. Iowa won every game in this series from 1980 – 1994. Since they the Hawks are just 9-11 SU the last 20 meetings with Northwestern. Iowa is an impressive 11-1 ATS the last 12 times they’ve been a conference road favorite. Since 2008, the Cats are just 7-15 ATS as a Big Ten home dog.
INDIANA @ MICHIGAN STATE (-7) – Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
Indiana had a huge home game last week vs Michigan. The vastly improved Hoosiers took the Wolverines to overtime for the second time in the last three seasons and came up short again losing 27-20. Their defense was very solid holding Michigan to under 5.0 YPP. This team was known for offense under former head coach Kevin Wilson, now the OC at Ohio State. Now under new head man Tom Allen, the IU defense has taken center stage. Minus their games vs Penn State & Ohio State, two of the best offenses in the country, this Hoosier defense has been very good holding all other opponents to 20 points or less (in regulation). They are holding opponents to just 4.8 YPP this year and that factors in their games vs OSU & PSU, the two best offenses they will see this season. To put that in perspective, the last time and Indiana defense held their opponents to 5 YPP or less for a full season was back in 1996! Their loss to Michigan dropped them to 0-3 in league play (3-3 overall) but their 3 losses have come at the hands of PSU, OSU, and Michigan, all ranked opponents. It gets a bit easier from here on out as just 2 of their final 6 Big Ten foes are currently ranked (Michigan State & Wisconsin). Offensively they are still inconsistent and their starting QB is a true freshman, Peyton Ramsey. They are one of only two Big Ten teams currently averaging less than 5 YPP (Rutgers is the other). Their rushing attack is averaging only 3.5 YPC which ranks last in the Big Ten. Their tough schedule to date definitely has something to do with that.
Michigan State was in a bad spot last weekend @ Minnesota and played very well. Coming off three huge games (ND, Iowa, and Michigan) including a down to the wire win over their arch rival Wolverines, MSU was due for a bit of a letdown last Saturday. It didn’t happen. While the game ended up being fairly tight with MSU winning 30-27, they were in control from the starting taking a 23-6 lead into the 4th quarter. The Gophers scored 3 TD’s in the final stanza including 2 in the last 5:20 of the game to make the final score close and pick up the back door cover. Sparty completed only 9 passes the entire game but really didn’t need to throw the ball as they finally were able to get their ground game going with 245 yards on 50 carries. RB LJ Scott led the way with a much needed 194 yards (career high) on the ground. It was the first time this season that the Spartans had a back go over 100 yards. In fact, their QB Brian Lewerke had been their leading rusher in 3 of their first five games this season. The defense held a decent Minnesota ground game to just 74 yards on 2.7 YPC. They continue to play very well on that side of the ball ranking 2nd in the Big Ten in total defense just behind Michigan and 5th nationally. The Spartans had won 7 straight games in this series before last year’s 24-21 overtime loss @ Indiana. MSU tied that game at 21 with a TD with just 11 seconds remaining before losing in OT.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS - MSU has dominated this Big Ten series winning 25 of the last 32 meetings. Sparty has covered 10 of the last 13 and 13 of the last 18 meetings. The last 6 games played in East Lansing have all been lopsided with MSU covering all 6. The Spartan margins of victory in those 6 games were 26, 14, 52, 25, 31, and 28 points. The last time IU won @ Michigan State was in 2001 and they’ve only won in East Lansing twice since 1980, a span of 16 games.
MARYLAND @ WISCONSIN (-24.5) – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
The Terps have really been all over the board this season. They have some really nice wins beating Texas & Minnesota both on the road. They also have a few bad losses getting whipped by Northwestern and UCF at home and Ohio State on the road. In those three losses, Maryland was outgained by a whopping 940 or an average of 313 YPG. Last week they struggled to slow down a NW running game that had been below average at best coming into that game. The Cats rolled up 238 yards on the ground in their 37-21 win over Maryland. That’s a bad omen facing a Wisconsin rushing attack that leads the Big Ten averaging 264 YPG. The Terps have struggled on that side of the ball all season long ranking dead last in the conference in total defense allowing 439 YPG. If you narrow that down to their Big Ten games only, Maryland is allowing 475 YPG including giving up over 1,100 combined yards in their last two games alone (vs Ohio State & Northwestern). Offensively they have relied heavily on their running game to take some pressure of 3rd straight QB and now starter Max Bortenschlager. That running game rolled up huge numbers their first two games of the season (over 600 yards) but has fallen off drastically as of late. Last week NW shut them down to just 85 yards on 31 carries. It was actually the 3rd time in their last 4 games the Maryland rushing attack has been held to 85 yards or less.
Wisconsin had a bit of a scare last weekend beating Purdue 17-9. The Boilers easily covered as a 17-point dog but the game wasn’t as close as the final score says it may have been. The 6-0 Badgers were plagued by three turnovers and a blocked punt. The fact is Wisconsin outgained Purdue 494 to 221 including 295 to 66 on the ground. Those numbers more often than not would result in a blowout. To give you another example of how lopsided this game was despite the tight score, with 10:00 minutes remaining in the game and Wisconsin clinging to an 8-point lead, the Badgers had 417 yards while Purdue had only 167. RB Jonathan Taylor continued to rack up huge numbers on the ground. He exited this one with 219 yards on 30 carries. He is now just 14 yards short of 1,000 on the season and had he picked up those 14 extra yards vs Purdue, he would have been the first freshman in the history of college football to top 1,000 yards in his first 6 games. On the other side of the ball Wisconsin is again ranked in the top 10 nationally in total defense. They are currently 6th in the country allowing only 265 YPG. They have been in the top 10 nationally in total defense each of the last 4 seasons.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – These two have met twice since Maryland joined the Big Ten with Wisconsin winning 52-7 at home in 2014 and 31-24 @ Maryland in 2015. This will be the fourth time already this year the Terps have been an underdog of 13 or more. They are 2-1 ATS so far in those games with both covers coming as outright wins over Texas & Minnesota. The Badgers have been a Big Ten favorite of 24 or more just 11 times since 1981. They are 8-3 ATS in those games. The Terps have been a 3 TD underdog or more 29 times since 1987. They are 1-28 SU in those games & 11-18 ATS.
PURDUE (-9.5) @ RUTGERS – Saturday at 12:00 PM ET
Purdue was able to take Wisconsin to the wire last week in a 17-9 loss @ Camp Randall despite getting outgained by 277 yards. Despite giving up nearly 500 yards to the Badgers, the Boilers were able to keep the scoreboard in check allowing only 17 points as we mentioned. They have consistently done just that this season as the Purdue defense is allowing only 20 PPG. That ranks them 33rd nationally in scoring defense compared to last season when they ranked 117th. Coming into this year, the Boilermaker defense had allowed 31 PPG or more in 5 straight seasons. They were poor on offense last week but much of that had to do with their opponent. Purdue has faced two top 10 defenses this year (Wisconsin & Michigan) and they’ve totaled just 19 points in those two games. Against everyone else they are averaging 34.5 PPG. Purdue had won only 9 total games over their previous 4 seasons. This year they are already 3-3 and will be most likely favored in each of their next 3 games. Win those 3 and this team will make just it’s 3rd bowl game since 2007.
Rutgers won! The Scarlet Knights entered last week’s road game @ Illinois having lost 16 straight Big Ten games. You can throw that out the window after their 35-24 win over the Illini. They did nearly all of their offensive damage on the ground with 274 yards on 47 carries. It was the first time they topped 200 yards rushing in a game since October 15th of last year when they had 203 yards on the ground vs this same Illinois team. Head coach Chris Ash benched starting QB Bolin and went with Giovanni Rescigno. In his first start this season, Rescigno wasn’t called on to do much but hand the ball off as he completed just 5 passes the entire game. Their 35 points was the most in a conference game since 2015. Coming into the game, Rutgers had averaged just 9 PPG their previous 11 Big Ten games. On defense they’ve been fairly stout. Throwing out their 56-0 loss to Ohio State, the defense has allowed just 19 PPG in their other 5 games. If you throw out their blowout loss to Ohio State and their easy win vs FCS Morgan State, Rutgers has actually been fairly competitive with a point differential of -18 in their other 4 games. That included a 30-14 home loss to Washington, a top 10 team.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Purdue has been a Big Ten road favorite just 6 times since the start of the 2007 season. They are 1-5 ATS in those games. The Boilers have been a recent money maker in road games going 14-3 ATS their last 17 – including 3-0 ATS this season. This is the first meeting between these two teams.
ILLINOIS @ MINNESOTA (-14) – Saturday at 3:30 PM ET
The Illini officially gained the title of the Big Ten’s worst last weekend with a home loss to Rutgers. Those two teams were considered by most, including us, as the two worst teams in the conference and when the Scarlet Knights topped Illinois on the road 35-24 the Illini took hold of the unwanted title. The Illinois defense which looked like it would be the strength of their team early in the season have since allowed 47, 28, 45, and 35 points their last 4 games. The overall yardage was close but Rutgers dominated the ground game with nearly 200 more yards rushing. The Illini continue to have problems at QB. They switched from Chayce Crouch to Jeff George Jr a few weeks ago and while George gives them a better passing attack, he’s also a turnover machine. George threw 2 more interceptions last Saturday and now has 12 in his career in just 7 games. Not only are the Illini demoralized after losing at home to Rutgers, the Knights first Big Ten win in their last 17 conference games, they are also banged up. Their linebacking corps has a number of key contributors questionable or doubtful for this game. On top of that, their top RB Mike Epstein (346 yards rushing) injured his foot and did not play vs Rutgers and is now most likely out for the season.
We felt Minnesota had a great opportunity to get their first Big Ten win last weekend at home vs Michigan State. It was a tough spot for Sparty coming off an emotional win @ Michigan in a 2nd half monsoon a week earlier. Despite the Spartans potential letdown, they dominated the game. The final score of 30-27 was a bit deceiving as MSU rolled out to a 23-6 lead and still led 30-13 midway through the 4th quarter. Sparty crushed Minnesota on the ground rushing for 245 yards to just 74 for the Gophers. After starting the season 3-0, Minny has now dropped 3 straight and they sit at 0-3 in conference play. Their 3-0 start is looking a bit fraudulent as they played 3 poor teams (Buffalo, MTSU, and Oregon State). It’s not as if they’ve started conference play vs the top teams in the league thus why they are winless. Two of their three Big Ten losses came at the hands of Maryland & Purdue. The Gophers do have a QB controversy on their hands. Starter Conor Rhoda struggled last week and was replaced in the middle of the 2nd quarter by Demry Croft. Rhoda and Croft were rotating at the QB position early in the year and then head coach PJ Fleck suspended Croft for an off-field issue. He sat out 3 games and came back last week. Under his direction Minnesota, who hadn’t scored an offensive TD since the 2nd quarter of their game @ Purdue, put up 3 TD’s in the 4th quarter to make a late run. Fleck is evaluating the QB’s in practice this week before making a decision as to who starts this game.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS – Last year Minnesota was favored by 8 @ Illinois and won 40-17. A look at the stat sheet would tell us the score shouldn’t have been that lopsided as Minny outgained the Illini by just 38 yards. The Gophers have dominated this series over the last 20+ seasons going 12-4 SU (11-5 ATS) since 1996. Their average margin of victory in those 12 wins is 19.5 points. Minnesota is laying 14 in this game which is their third highest pointspread number vs Illinois since 1980. Illinois is 0-3 ATS in Big Ten play this year and they are now 5-13 ATS in their last 18 conference games.