Sports Q&A Big Ten Quick Hits: Week 4

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

This week in the Big 10 we saw the big bully on the block get taken out by a new kid as Wisconsin and its new quarterback handled conference power MSU. In addition to the upset, we saw three teams finish up their nonconference play with mixed results as Minnesota and Purdue escaped with wins but Indiana suffered its first lost outside of the Big 10 in eight games.

Big Ten East Division:

Indiana Hoosiers 2-1 (0-0)

Putting up 611 total yards and scoring 28 points is usually enough to win in the Big 10, but in the 33-28 loss to Wake Forest, Indiana turned the ball over FIVE times. Against the Demon Deacons quarterback Richard Lagow aired it out with ease — 496 yards and three touchdowns — but too many times a Wake Forest defender was able to come down with one of his passes. When he did connect with one of his teammates it resulted in big plays as Ricky Jones had eight catches for a career-high 208 yards. Nick Westbrook had another good game as he snagged six passes for 129 yards and two touchdowns. The Indiana defense held its own despite usually having to defend shorter fields. The last three drives of the game resulted in punts for Wake Forest. Unfortunately, the Indiana offense went stagnant as well — three of its four final came up empty handed on the scoreboard for the Hoosiers.

Maryland Terrapins 3-0 (0-0)

no game scheduled

Michigan Wolverines 4-0 (1-0)

The Wolverines made sure not to overlook Penn State and it resulted in a 49-10 blowout on Saturday. After struggling against Colorado last week, the Michigan defense took out its frustration on the Penn State offense as it allowed only 50 yards in the first half and 191 for the game. Defensive end Taco Charlton and cornerback Jordan Lewis returned from injury and contributed to the defensive swarm that kept the Nittany Lions offense off-balance all day. Head coach Jim Harbaugh made a point of focusing on the run game as the team rushed for 326 yards. De’Veon Smith (12 carries for 107 yards), Ty Isaac (11 carries for 74 yards), Chris Evans (eight carries for 56 yards), and Karan Higdon (nine carries for 81 yards) all left a personal imprint in the victory and will be integral in the success of the team moving forward. Wilton Speight connected with nine Michigan receivers/running backs on the way to passing for 189 yards and one touchdown.

Michigan St. Spartans 2-1 (0-1) 

This is not the MSU Spartans we have become accustomed to seeing under head coach Mark Dantonio. In the 30-6 loss to Wisconsin, it seemed as if anything that could go wrong, went wrong. Physical and mental mistakes plagued the Spartans in the loss as it had four turnovers — including a fumble by LJ Scott that was returned for a touchdown. Usually, it’s Michigan State bullying its opponent through aggressive playcalling and mental toughness, but not on this day. It has gotten so bad in East Lansing that fans are hinting that starter Tyler O’Connor (18-of-38 for 224 yards and three interceptions) should be pulled in favor of redshirt freshman Brian Lewerke. O’Connor hasn’t played his best so far, but quarterback play wasn’t the only problem for Michigan St on Saturday — and this season if we’re being honest. Even in defeat, receiver Donnie Corley Jr. (four catches 84 yards) continues to show that even as a true freshman, he could be the team’s best weapon offensively. Speaking of weapon, where is running back Madre London? The sophomore has six carries on the season and did not play in the Notre Dame win.

Ohio St. Buckeyes 3-0 (0-0) 

no game scheduled

Penn State Nittany Lions 2-2 (0-1)

Injuries are part of the game but that doesn’t mean they aren’t hard to overcome. In the 49-10 loss to Michigan, the Nittany Lions were without five key contributors before kickoff and lost one of their backups pressed into action after he was ejected for a bogus targeting penalty when the Wolverines were driving in the first half. But even if those players may have suited up, Penn St. would have been in trouble as the offensive line had no answer for Don Brown’s aggressive defensive scheme. Trace McSorley (121 yards, one touchdown) was sacked six times and was hit four other times after he released a pass. Even in defeat offensive coordinator Joe Moorehead found ways of getting his star running back Saquon Barkley the ball. Barkley’s rushing lanes were clogged by Michigan defenders all afternoon, but he found space as a receiver and finished the game with five catches for 77 yards. If the Nittany Lions are able to get healthy, the offensive scheme is creative enough to surprise some teams as conference play progresses. Senior safety Malik Golden led the wounded defense with 11 tackles and one pass defense.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2-2 (0-1)

It’s never easy to find a silver lining when you lose but the Rutgers Scarlet Knights should be able to find a couple in the 14-7 loss to Iowa. This was perhaps one of the most competitive games that Rutgers has played in since joining the Big Ten in 2014. Chris Laviano played his best game of 2016 as he completed 54% of his passes for 195 yards and did not turn the ball over. Coming from a senior, that’s not overly impressive but when you consider how bad things have been at Rutgers, it’s a start. Robert Martin had another good game as he rushed for 105 yards and continues to bring balance to the offense — which should take pressure off Laviano. The team suffered a huge blow when Janarion Grant left the game after suffering a lower leg injury on a 76-yard catch and run. It was later revealed that Grant will miss the rest of the season — a big blow to the team. The defense continued to stifle opponents on third down and only allowed Iowa to convert 27% of its attempts. On the season they are allowing only a 24% conversion rate against FBS teams. Linebackers Trevor Morris and Deonte Roberts both posted career highs in tackles with eight and nine respectively.

Big Ten West Division:

Illinois Fighting Illini 1-2 (0-0)

no game scheduled

Iowa Hawkeyes 3-1 (1-0)

It appears that the Iowa Hawkeyes were still dealing with the hangover of the upset loss against North Dakota St. in the 14-7 win over Rutgers. This marked the second consecutive average game from quarterback CJ Beathard (12-of-23 for 162 yards) and while the run game is the strength of the offense, if Beathard is not playing well, it puts more pressure on those backs to perform. Akrum Wadley and LeShun Daniels Jr. combined for 161 total yards but only Wadley was able to get into the endzone — he scored the game-clinching touchdown with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. The defense is not without fault in this recent lull for Iowa. It allowed seven chunk plays (15+ yards) on the afternoon. Sophomore defensive lineman Parker Hess finished with 2.5 sacks but he needs the rest of the defense to get it together.

Minnesota Golden Gophers 3-0 (0-0)

The two-headed rush attack became three as sophomore Shannon Brooks made his 2016 debut in the 31-24 win over Colorado St. Brooks missed the first two games recovering from a broken foot but made his presence known against the Rams. He finished the day with 85 yards on 13 carries. On the afternoon the Gophers rushed for 243 yards as a team — 99 of that coming from Rodney Smith — and should be forced to be reckoned with now that Brooks is healthy. Head coach Tracy Claeys still has to work on the defense before entering conference play as it gave up 11 “chunk plays” and will be without star freshman defensive end Tai’yon Devers (one sack and forced fumble) this upcoming week due to injury.

Nebraska Cornhuskers 4-0 (1-0)

Once the Nebraska players realized that they needed to hold onto the ball until after they passed the goal line, the Cornhuskers were able to escape out of Evanston, IL with the 24-13 win over Northwestern. Terrell Newby and Devine Ozigbo, both fumbled prior to scoring a touchdown but luckily for them, their teammates were more successful in holding onto the ball. Tommy Armstrong Jr. had another strong game with 246 yards passing and one touchdown to go along with his 132 yards rushing on 13 carries. The senior quarterback appears to finally have gotten over the turnover issue that plagued him last year and could be the key to the Cornhuskers winning the West Division. The Cornhuskers defense kept up its strong play with four sacks — two by senior defensive tackle Kevin Maurice — and forcing two turnovers of its own.

Northwestern Wildcats 1-3 (0-1)

Despite forcing two fumbles on the goal line the Wildcats couldn’t overcome two turnovers itself and dropped a tough one to Nebraska 24-13. The game was lost by the Wildcats in the trenches as the defense surrendered 310 rushing yards to Nebraska while the offense was only able to muster 137 yards itself. It makes sense not wanting to overuse star tailback Justin Jackson (20 carries for 79 yards), but head coach Pat Fitzgerald must find him a backup because quarterback Clayton Thorson throwing the ball 37 times isn’t working. One benefactor of the spike in passing attempts by Thorson is wide out Austin Carr (eight catches for 109 yards.) Carr has already surpassed his previous two-year total in Evanston but him catching so many balls is actually counterproductive to the strength of the Northwestern offense.

Purdue Boilermakers 2-1 (0-0)

Whoever said you can’t turnover the ball and expect to win, didn’t watch the Boilermakers defeat Nevada 24-14 on Saturday. Even after losing three fumbles and an interception from quarterback David Blough (21-of-30 for 309 yards and two touchdowns), the Boilermakers still found a way to finish the afternoon with 466 total yards and the win. Last week it was Blough who kept giving the ball to the Purdue opponent, this weekend it was running back Markel Jones that was extra generous. The sophomore running back fumbled twice early in the game but bounced back to finish the afternoon with 124 yards and one touchdown. The other two scores came on long plays from Blough to Bilal Marshall (48-yard touchdown) and Brycen Hopkins (51-yard score) The defense was able to keep the team in the game despite the offensive miscues and finished the day with five sacks and 11 tackles-for-loss. Senior defensive end Evan Panfil had two sacks and led a unit that harassed the Nevada signal caller all day.

Wisconsin Badgers 4-0 (1-0)

Wisconsin had a point to prove going into the game against Michigan St. It wanted to prove that it was more like the team that defeated LSU to open the season and not the one that struggled against Georgia St. and the 30-6 confirmed that. The offense usually gets all the glory but it was the defense that led the way to the upset. The Badgers forced four MSU turnovers and safety Leo Musso was able to convert a Spartans fumble into instant points with a 66-yard touchdown. It wasn’t as dominating as the defense but the offense did have its moments as redshirt freshman Alex Hornibrook made the plays he had to in order to keep drives alive for Wisconsin. Hornibrook (195 yards passing and one touchdown) played with a maturity beyond his years and made his coach look like a genius for inserting him into the lineup the previous week.

Sports Q&A Big 10 Player of the week:

Tommy Armstrong Jr. Quarterback Nebraska:

It has been an up and down career for the Nebraska signal caller. He has always shown the ability to make big plays with his arm and feet but too often would gamble for the larger play which often times led to a costly turnover. This season his has protected the ball better and the victory over Northwestern was his best game of the year. He showcased both aspects of his game and did it under control.

Game of the Week:

Wisconsin vs. Michigan 

The Badgers return to the state of Michigan to face a Wolverines team that is looking to continue to build on a great start to the 2016 season. The team that wins this game will do so because it can move the ball offensively against these great defensive units. Alex Hornibrook has played well for 1.5 games but the Wolverines now have a bigger sample size on how to contain him. The Badgers defensive players play like their hair is on fire but will they be able to handle all the athletes that the Wolverines will throw at them. The speed of the Wolverines on both sides of the ball will be too much for the Badgers and a special team play sets the tone early. Michigan 31 Wisconsin 20 

Week 5 Picks:

Iowa over Northwestern

Ohio St over Rutgers

Maryland over Purdue

Nebraska over Illinois

Minnesota over Penn St.

Michigan St. over Indiana

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