Sports Q&A: Big Ten Quick Hits – Week 8

Sports Q&A: Big Ten Quick Hits – Week 8

Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Week 8 of the Big Ten schedule was a showcase week for the conference two best teams. They both proved that despite uninspiring play to start the season that it will come down to a highly anticipated game in Columbus, OH to determine who will win the division, the conference, and earn the right to be the Big Ten representative in the College Football Playoff

BIG TEN EASTERN DIVISION:

Indiana Hoosiers 4-4 (0-4)

Four straight conference losses have to be disheartening for Hoosiers fans who had hopes of being bowl-eligible this season. This time, it was a 52-26 loss to Michigan St. in a game that was competitive until the fourth quarter. Looking at the stat sheet you would have expected the game to be a lot closer than it was — that until you glance at the time of possession; MSU had an almost an 18-minute advantage. Nate Sudfeld continued to show that he has NFL talent as he finished the day with 308 yards and three touchdowns. Tailback Jordan Howard, still nursing an injured ankle, toughed it out with 71 yards on 11 carries but could never seem to stay on the field long enough to help Indiana establish a run game to help balance the offense. Linebacker T.J Simmons had another monster game with 15 tackles and two sacks but needed more help from his defensive mates who surrendered 540 total yards.

Maryland Terrapins 2-5 (0-3)

Turnovers continue to be the undoing for the Terrapins as five costly mistakes — including an interception on the final drive — led to the 31-30 loss to Penn St. Whats so frustrating is that Maryland outplayed the Nittany Lions in every facet of the game: total yards (466 to 363), time of possession (36:16 to 23:44) and first downs ( 21 to 16) but it still wasn’t enough to get the victory for interim coach Mike Locksley. Despite the three interceptions, quarterback Perry Hills still generated enough offense — 349 total yards, including 124 rushing — to keep Maryland in the game until the final costly  turnover as the team was driving looking to take the lead late. Brandon Ross had 58 yards and a ten-yard touchdown to contribute to a dominating 241-yard rush performance as well.

Michigan State Spartans 8-0 (4-0)

Until this week, there are some that would say that the Spartans, despite being undefeated, had been underachieving, but in the 52-26 victory over Indiana, MSU, and more specifically Connor Cook, showed that this team is still a force to be reckoned with. Despite playing behind a depleted offensive line, Cook was still able to pass for 398 yards and four touchdowns  and helped lead the team to a comfortable cushion in the fourth quarter. If there was a most improved player award in the conference it would have to go to receiver Aaron Burbridge who continues to show the nation that it’s not how you start your college career, but how you finish, as he had another uber-productive game with eight catches for 128 yards. The run game wasn’t overly impressive — 142 total yards — but both LJ Scott ( 11 carries 68 yards) and Gerald Holmes (10 carries 39 yards) scored key touchdowns late to close out the game.

Michigan Wolverines 5-2 (2-1)

no game scheduled

Ohio State Buckeyes 8-0 (4-0)

For the rest of the nation, the worst fears may have been realized; The Buckeye offense is operating at an optimal level and it’s because of recently named starting quarterback JT Barrett. Yes, we all know that Cardale Jones led the team to the National Championship but in 2015 the offense seemed stuck in the mud with him at the helm. But in the 49-7 drubbing of Rutgers, it just seemed as if the offense had a better flow to it. Barrett, who adds another dimension as a run threat, rushed for 102 yards while adding 223 yards through the air. With defenses having to hesitate due to Barrett’s threat to keep the ball in the read-option, Ezekiel Elliott (142 yards on 19 carries) becomes more dangerous as a runner as well. The defense, led by linebacker Raekwon McMillan’s seven tackles, stepped up as well limiting the Scarlet Knights offense to 293 total yards

Penn State Nittany Lions 6-2 (3-1)

Sometimes it is better to win ugly than lose pretty and for the Nittany Lions, despite how poorly the team played, they will gladly take the ugly 31-30 victory over Maryland. Penn State was outplayed in every facet of the game, except for one… turnovers, and when you are playing a team that likes the give the ball away you have to be able to capitalize on those mistakes. Despite only completing 45% of his passes, Christian Hackenberg was able to throw for 315 yards and three touchdowns as the offense benefitted from Maryland’s inability to defend the deep pass. The Nittany Lion receivers took advantage the entire night as Chris Godwin had a gaudy 33.8 yard per catch average on his way to 135 yards receiving. Daesean Hamilton also had 95 yards on five catches for a just as impressive catch average of 19.2. Despite surrendering 241 yards rushing the Nittany Lion defense stepped up when it needed to the most. With Maryland driving late in the fourth quarter, Malik Golden intercepted a Perry Hills pass to seal the victory for PSU.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 3-4 (1-3)

The Scarlet Knights had no answer for Ohio St. in the 49-7 defeat on Saturday. Going into the game the Rutgers offense knew it would be difficult to move the ball against the talent-laden Buckey defense but it got harder when star receiver Leonte Carroo was limited to a bum ankle. Without Carroo, quarterback Chris Laviano struggled as he only completed 50% of his 20 pass attempts for 117 yards. Because the defense struggled to stop the opposing offense, Rutgers was forced to abandon the run game which limited the carries for Paul James, who had 56 yards on only 10 carries.

BIG TEN WESTERN DIVISION

Illinois Fighting Illini 4-3 (1-2)

Wisconsin lost its starting quarterback early on and his backup had two interceptions and the Fighting Illini still were unable to take advantage in the 24-13 loss to the Badgers. The offense was never able to find any continuity as it only converted 3-of-12 third down conversions and only held the ball for 19:51. Wes Lunt finished the day with 278 yards passing, but he didn’t have any touchdowns and was intercepted once. Ke’Shawn Vaughn was the only Illinois running back to get a carry and finished the day with 55 yards on 13 carries — including a 36-yard touchdown that gave Illinois the 13-10 lead in the third quarter.

Iowa Hawkeyes 7-0 (3-0)

no game scheduled

Minnesota Golden Gophers 4-3 (1-2)

no game scheduled

Nebraska Cornhuskers 3-5 (1-3)

Another close game… another loss for the Cornhuskers as Northwestern defeated Nebraska 30-28. Just when you think that Nebraska finally was turning things around this season, they can’t seem to get over the hump against a team that was coming off two blowout defeats. Tommy Armstrong Jr. passed for 291 yards, but it as a missed two-point conversion and a costly interception return for a touchdown that cost Nebraska the game. The team won the key head to head stats: total yardage, time of possession and first downs but came up short when it needed to keep drives going — the team only converted 9-of-20 third-down conversions. It also didn’t help that the run game provided zero balance as the team only had 82 total yards rushing — lead by Terrell Newby’s 52 on 16 carries.

Northwestern Wildcats 6-2 (2-2)

A much needed win for a Wildcat team that was reeling after two consecutive blowout losses. While there was nothing exciting about the victory, Northwestern proved that the formula it had to start the season — a hard-nosed defense and a steady opportunistic offense — can win in the Big Ten. Clayton Thorson exploited the Cornhusker defense through the air and on the ground by amassing 303 total yards — including long runs of 68 and 49 yards to set up scores for the offense.The defense also got in on the scoring fun as Nick VanHoose returned an interception 72 yards for a score. Running back Justin Jackson (40 yards on 14 carries) is still missing from the offense and if the Wildcats really want to play up to its potential he has to get back to his earlier season form.

Purdue Boilermakers 1-6 (0-3)

no game scheduled

Wisconsin Badgers 6-2 (3-1)

You lose your starting quarterback early in the game and you would think the chances of victory would diminish significantly, not for Wisconsin. Backup Bart Houston came in and played well enough, 22-of-33 for 232 yards and two touchdowns, to lead the Badgers to the 24-13 win. It helped that the Badgers offense was able to play keep away and dominated the time of possession, 40:09 to 19:51, but even when Houston turned the ball over Illinois could not capitalize. Receiver Alex Erickson led the team in rushing (four carries 81 yards) and receiving (10 catches 96 yards)

Sports Q&A Big 10 Player of the week:

Connor Cook quarterback Michigan St.: After another great performance in the win over Indiana, there is an argument that can be made that Cook is not only the best quarterback in the conference but the nation as a whole. He has done a masterful job of operating the Spartan offense behind a makeshift offensive line that looks to get healthy during the bye week. If he can continue this level of play — especially in a victory over OSU — there could be an invite to New York City in December in his future.

Game of Week 9:

Michigan vs. Minnesota

This week’s games are underwhelming and because of that, I’m picking the game that presents the biggest challenge for the favorite. Coming off a heartbreaking loss to MSU, Michigan has to prove that it has put that behind them as there still is plenty of football left to play in the season. Minnesota must show the ability to be a balanced attack as everyone in the conference knows it is a run-first (and second) team. The bye week came at a great time for the Wolverines as it helped refocus the team Michigan 27 Minnesota 13

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