You would think by now there would be more answers than questions when it came to the teams in the conference, but after a couple of interesting wins and losses by teams, many fans of the conference are more confused than they’ve ever been this late in the season.
Big Ten East Division:
Indiana Hoosiers 3-2 (1-1)
When you are facing the best team in the conference there is little room for error. Unfortunately, in the 38-17 loss to the Ohio St. Buckeyes, Indiana had too many mental and physical mistakes and it cost them. Two turnovers, 35% on third-down conversions, and less than 100 yards rushing were just the obvious things that led to the 21-point defeat. Richard Lagow struggled to complete 50% of his 28 passes for 182 yards and two touchdowns and did not look like the same confident quarterback that faced MSU the previous week — facing a real defense will do that to you. Defensively the Hoosiers limited OSU to only 95 yards passing and forced two turnovers but it could not slow down the OSU rushing attack and surrendered 298 yards on 50 attempts. Defensive back Ashon Riggins continues to make an impact as a freshman as he recorded the first interception of his young career. Linebacker Tegray Scales also had a productive game with 10 tackles. The Hoosiers couldn’t pull off the upset but they showed on Saturday they won’t be an easy matchup for the remaining opponents on the schedule.
Maryland Terrapins 4-1 (1-1)
Maryland faced it first legitimate test in the Penn St. Nittany Lions and the Terrapins couldn’t take advantage of the opportunity and dropped a tough one 38-14. With the score 17-7 in the second quarter starting quarterback Perry Hills went down with an injury and with him leaving the game, so did Maryland’s chances to pull the upset. Backup Tyrrell Pigrome scored on the drive Hills was injured, but beyond that, Maryland could not generate any offense with its new signal caller. In the second half, Maryland only sustained two drives longer than two plays and both ended with the offense turning the ball over on downs. One of those drives included a 44-yard run by Lorenzo Harrison but it was wasted when Maryland decided to go for it on fourth down rather than attempt a field goal and cut the deficit to one score. Before Hills left with the injury he had two turnovers and as said before, the coaching staff needs to keep an eye on his carelessness with the ball.
Michigan Wolverines 6-0 (3-0)
Michigan had a point to prove against Rutgers head coach Chris Ash — who took issue with the Michigan coming into the state of New Jersey to hold satellite camps — and they did it to the tune of a 78-0 butt kicking on Saturday night. The offense may have scored 78 points, but it was the defense that made the biggest statements on the evening. Rutgers did not convert a first down until midway through the fourth quarter and the Wolverines defense only allowed 39 total yards while collecting 13 tackles-for-loss. With the game out of hand so early, many of the younger Wolverines players were able to play significant minutes. Safety Josh Metellus led the team in tackles with six and even recorded his first sack of his career. Led by Chris Evans’ 153 yards on 11 carries, four Michigan running backs ran for at least 70 yards; 108 yards for Karan Higdon, 99 yards for Ty Isaac and 74 yards for Jabril Peppers. Wilton Speight missed some open receivers as a passer but with the run game and defense operating like it did, he wasn’t asked to do much.
Michigan St. Spartans 2-3 (0-2)
Another week, another loss for the Spartans. This time, it was the BYU Cougars that upended MSU 31-14 to extend the team’s losing streak to three on the season. Everyone is looking at the inconsistent play at quarterback — which got worse with Damion Terry and Tyler O’Connor combining for only 121 yards and one interception — but where is the MSU run game? Gerald Holmes rushed for 57 yards but only had a yard-per-carry average of 3.8. LJ Scott had three carries, yes three, for nine yards and looks like a shell of the player that was so dominant towards the end of last season. With no run game to protect the defense, a unit that is ravaged by injuries has to spend more time on the field than expected and that’s never good. After going almost two years in between allowing 100+ yards from one running back the defense allowed the BYU starter to run for 163 of the team’s 260 total yards. Another alarming statistic for the once vaunted MSU defense is the lack of a pass rush. During this three-game slide, the Spartans have only two sacks and those came early against Wisconsin. Is it even possible to fix this many holes on a team at this point in the season
Ohio St. Buckeyes 5-0 (2-0)
It wasn’t the dominating win that many Buckeye fans expected, but Ohio St. kept its undefeated season alive with the 38-17 win over Indiana. This was the first game that one could say that quarterback JT Barrett struggled as a passer completing only 9-of-21 passes for 93 yards and one interception. But he made up for his inconsistent play as a passer with a stellar game as a rusher finishing with 137 yards on a season-high 26 carries. With Barrett carrying the load as a runner on the afternoon, Mike Weber posted his least-productive game of his young OSU career rushing for only 71 yards on 15 carries. After failing to force a turnover last week, OSU got an interception from super safety Malik Hooker and defensive end Jayln Holmes recovered a fumble. It must feel good for Urban Meyer to win by 21 points despite playing its best on either side of the ball.
Penn State Nittany Lions 4-2 (2-1)
When you have a running back as talented as Saquon Barkley, sometimes you just need to give him the ball and get out of the way. In the 34-14 win over Maryland, that’s what head coach James Franklin seemed to do and it worked well to the tune of 202 yards on 31 carries.The 31 carries were the most in his young career and he seemed to get stronger as a runner the more times he carried the ball. Quarterback Trace McSorley decided to showcase his feet just as much as his arm as he rushed for 81 yards to go along with 152 yards and two touchdowns through the air. Even though he only completed 10 passes, four of those went to sophomore receiver DeAndre Thompkins 91 yards. The victory wasn’t without casualties as the team’s best offensive lineman, Andrew Nelson, was lost for the year due to a knee injury.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2-4 (0-3)
If last week’s loss to Ohio St. was a buzzsaw, then the 78-0 loss to Michigan on Saturday night was must have been anvil being dropped from a skyscraper. The Scarlet Knights were thoroughly dominated in every aspect of the game. Quarterback Chris Laviano was replaced due to ineffectiveness as a passer, but his replacement Zach Allen did not fare any better as the two combined to complete two passes in 18 attempts. The unfortunate stat of the night; punter Michael Cintron had more punting yards, 608, than Michigan had total yards, 600. The longest play from scrimmage for Rutgers was a 12-yard rush by Trey Sneed late in the fourth quarter when the game was already decided. Hopefully, the equipment manager burned all copies of this game because there is nothing good that will come from watching it.
Big Ten West Division:
Illinois Fighting Illini 1-4 (0-2)
The honeymoon is officially over for Lovie Smith and his staff after the 34-31 loss to Purdue on Saturday. Reasonable fans of the Fighting Illini figured the team would have its share of bumps but many circled this as a gimme win. Discipline, or lack thereof, seemed to be the biggest undoing as Illinois had 12 penalties for 125 yards. To make things worse, starting quarterback Wes Lunt was injured in the second quarter but his replacement Chayce Crouch provided a nice spark and finished the day142 yards passing and 137 yards rushing and two touchdowns. It is unknown how long Lunt will be out but the Illini offense should be ok in Crouch’s hands if he can hold onto the ball — a crucial fumble in OT led to the Purdue winning field goal. One player that may benefit from the change is Malik Turner. The junior had his most productive game the season as he caught nine passes for 129 yards. Defensively Illinois was led by the linebacker duo of Hardy Nickerson Jr. (two interceptions) and Tre Watson (13 tackles.) The rest of the unit has to step up and do a better job of limiting opposing offenses in key situations; Saturday it allowed Purdue to convert 9-of-16 third down conversions.
Iowa Hawkeyes 4-2 (2-1)
The 14-7 win over Minnesota was much needed and even though it was not pretty the Hawkeyes fans will take it any way they can get it. After trailing most of the game, it was a 54-yard run by Akrum Wadley that gave the Hawkeyes its first lead of the game and the defense held the fort for the final 5:28 of the contest. CJ Beathard continues to struggle as he only passed for 142 yards and had two passes intercepted on the afternoon. But as bad as Iowa’s offense was, Minnesota’s was even worse and the Hawkeyes defense made them pay as Manny Rugamba and Brandon Snyder had interceptions on the afternoon. Iowa still has to figure out the issues on the offensive and defensive lines but it’s so much easier to do that after a win than it is a loss.
Minnesota Golden Gophers 3-2 (0-2)
This team operates better when it can run the ball and in the 14-7 loss to Iowa, the Minnesota Golden Gophers did not do that well and it cost them. When you have three talented backs in Rodney Smith, Shannon Brooks, and Kobe McCrary 29 carries are not enough to establish a rhythm for any of the running backs. You would think with the team leading most of the game they would have run the ball more to control the clock but Minnesota decided to rely on the arm of Mitch Leidner and it cost them. Leidner struggles when asked to throw the ball more than 30 times a game and against Iowa, his 33 attempts were too many. He only completed 13 of those attempts for 166 yards and was intercepted twice in the process. Jonathan Celestin (12 solo tackles) and Kiante Hardin (one interception) led a Gophers defense that is reeling without its top pass rusher in freshman Tai’yon Devers who is still out nursing an injury.
Nebraska Cornhuskers 5-0 (2-0)
no game scheduled
Northwestern Wildcats 2-3 (1-1)
no game scheduled
Purdue Boilermakers 3-2 (1-1)
It took overtime to do it, but the Purdue Boilermakers got a much-needed victory over Illinois 34-31. After being embarrassed by Maryland the week before Purdue fans wanted to see how the team would respond, and it did. Statistically, this was a game that Purdue should have lost. Illinois had more yards and won the turnover battle, but in the end, the Boilermakers found a way to get the victory. Quarterback David Blough continued his rollercoaster play this season as he passed for 220 yards and had two interceptions — including one that set up Illinois for the winning field goal attempt in regulation. With running back Markel Jones out due to injury, freshman Brian Lankford-Johnson stepped up in his place and rushed for 127 yards on 18 carries. The defensive star was Gelen Robinson. The son of former Purdue basketball great Glenn Robinson forced the fumble that set up the winning field goal in overtime and is becoming a force on the defensive line. The key for head coach Darrell Hazell is to build upon this win, if not that seat in his office will continue to get warm.
Wisconsin Badgers 4-0 (1-1)
no game scheduled
Sports Q&A Big 10 Player of the week:
Saquon Barkley– Running back Penn St.
It had been four weeks since Barkley’s last 100+-yard performance and many started to wonder what was wrong with Saquon. In the win over Maryland, the sophomore back let it be known to the conference and the nation that he is the best running back in the Big Ten. Unlike most running backs, it’s not an either-or with Barkley. Not only can he power over you, he can sidestep you on his way to a long touchdown. The more comfortable the rest of his teammates become in this new offensive system, the more dangerous he becomes as a running back and the 202-yard performance against the Terrapins is just the beginning.
Game of the Week:
Ohio St. vs. Wisconsin
A great defense versus a talented offense… Which side blinks first? If this game was only decided by the matchup of OSU offense versus Wisconsin’s defense, I would pick the Badgers to win. The week off helps Wisconsin heal up and devise a game plan to slow down Barrett, Samuel, and Weber. Unfortunately, the Buckeyes defense has a sizeable advantage against the Wisconsin offense and that will be the deciding factor in the win for Ohio St. The Buckeyes will force three turnovers and cruise to victory. Ohio State 31 Wisconsin 14
Week 7 Picks: (Week 6 record: 4-2 )
Illinois over Rutgers
Iowa over Purdue
Indiana over Nebraska
Michigan St. over Northwestern
Maryland over Minnesota