Sports Q&A Big Ten Quick Hits: Week 10

Michigan Quarterback Wilton Speight Throws the ball. Sports Q&A

Rick Osentoski – USA TODAY Sports

Indiana Hoosiers 5-4 (3-3)

The Hoosiers dominated every aspect of the 33-27 win over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights but still needed a 10-yard touchdown pass from Richard Lagow to Devine Redding late in the fourth quarter to seal the deal. The game was still in doubt because of the four Indiana turnovers — including two interceptions by Lagow — but when it mattered the Hoosiers made the plays to get the victory. This was the first win for the Hoosiers in which Lagow (28-of-40 for 395 yards) had more than two interceptions and while Rutgers isn’t what you call a world-beater it has to be encouraging for the program to get the victory and get one step closer to back-to-back bowl appearances. Head coach Kevin Wilson spent the off-season focusing on strengthening the defense and it showed Saturday as it limited the Rutgers offense to 93 yards rushing and only one third-down conversion in 16 attempts — but consider the opponent. Unlike its in-state rival, it looks as if the Hoosiers have finally turned the corner in being a competitive team in the Big Ten.

Maryland Terrapins 5-4 (2-4)

Head coach DJ Durkin made his return to Ann Arbor and was greeted with a rude welcome as the Terrapins were dominated 59-3 by the Michigan Wolverines. Offensively, Maryland moved the ball – Perry Hills and Caleb Rowe combined to pass for 276 yard – but Rowe had two interceptions and the team couldn’t capitalize on its most productive when kicker Adam Green missed a short field goal in the first quarter. The normally productive rush offense – 200+ yards in the last two games – was held in check with 78 yards on 38 carries and leading rusher Lorenzo Harrison (58 yards on nine carries) never could find a rhythm. The defense must have missed the memo to get off the bus because the only drive it didn’t allow a score on came when Michigan was stopped on a 4th down attempt. Big losses like this always hurt but the program will learn from it and grow.

Michigan Wolverines 9-0 (6-0)

The Wolverines continue to make it look easy as they dismantled the Maryland Terrapins 59-3. The offense scored on its first five possessions of the game and outside of a few plays, the defense looked impressive. We all know about Jabrill Peppers as a Heisman candidate but he isn’t the only U-M player tearing up the stat sheet. Wilton Speight had his best game in a Michigan uniform as he completed 19-of-24 passes for 362 yards and two touchdowns. Some were unsure about head coach Jim Harbaugh’s decision to start him at the beginning of the season but it looks like Harbaugh knew what he was doing. Senior safety Delano Hill had six tackles and two interceptions to lead a defense that knocked another quarterback out of the game and had 13 tackles for loss on the afternoon. This was a just another ho-hum victory for a Wolverines team that has bigger goals like the Big Ten Championship game and College Football playoff berth on its mind.

Michigan St. Spartans 2-7 (0-6)

Last week the Spartans were celebrating the fight it showed against its hated rival but not even a week later, the team went back to its lackluster, uninspired play and lost its seventh game of the season to the Illinois Fighting Illini 31-27. 490 total yards and a 2:1 time of possession and first down advantage still could not get the Spartans their first win since September — at this point in the season you have to ask will they ever? Down one quarterback, MSU lost another as Tyler O’Connor left the game in the fourth quarter and was replaced by an ineffective Damion Terry (6-of-12 for 50 yards and one touchdown.) The most telling defensive stat on the afternoon is the big goose egg from all-conference defensive tackle Malik McDowell. Its hard to win when your best player is not contributing — but that sums up the MSU season, all potential no production.

Ohio St. Buckeyes 8-1 (5-1)

For the first time in four games, the Buckeyes looked like a dominant team as it crushed the Nebraska Cornhuskers 63-3. Questions about the downfield passing game were answered as JT Barrett passed for 290 yards and four touchdowns. Led by freshman Demario McCall’s 73 yards on 16 carries the team rushed for 238 yards and provided a balanced attack for the Buckeyes offense that seemed to be unstoppable. The defense limited Nebraska to 204 total yards and only nine first downs but part of that was due to the Cornhuskers quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. going leaving with a concussion midway through the game. Even with the defense getting back to its scoring ways — defensive backs Damon Webb and Malik Hooker both returned interceptions for touchdowns — one thing that should be concerning for defensive line coach Larry Johnson is the zero in the sack total. It’s one thing to struggle to get to Armstrong Jr. but having a back-up should have made it a lot easier to get to the signal caller.

Penn State Nittany Lions 7-2 (5-1)

There may not be a hotter team than the Nittany Lions and team flexed its muscles in the 41-14 win over the Iowa Hawkeyes. The offense finished with 599 total yards — 359 of that coming from the rushing attack — and the game was never in question as Penn St. went into the half leading 24-7. Quarterback Trace McSorley was effective in limited usage as he completed 11-of-18 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. Three Nittany Lions players had receptions of over 40 yards including running back Saquon Barkley who also rushed for 167 yards on only 20 carries. Backup quarterback Tommy Stevens also made an impact on the game rushing for 70 yards on only five carries. The Penn St. defense harassed the Iowa offense all afternoon which resulted in four sacks and only two third down conversions. There was a point in the season where many wondered if James Franklin would keep his job at the end of the year, now they are wondering if this Penn St. team can win the Big Ten East.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 2-6 (0-6)

In 2016 the Scarlet Knights still aren’t good enough to overcome small mistakes and in the 33-27 loss to the Indiana Hoosiers the inability to get a first down — the team went seven consecutive series without one — and could not convert on third down — only converting one in 16 tries. Quarterback Giovanni Rescigno (19-of-36 258 yards and one touchdown) did what he could to the Scarlet Knights win their first Big Ten conference win but the defense surrendered three touchdowns in the second half to turn a 24-13 lead into a 33-24 deficit. It wasn’t all bad for the Rutgers defense as Saquon Hampton and Deonte Roberts both had interceptions and Darnell Davis returned a fumble 75-yards for a touchdown. Even with the losses this season head coach Chris Ash is doing a good job of changing the culture of the program at Rutgers and team will look back at these growing pains and laugh.

Big Ten West Division:

Illinois Fighting Illini 3-6 (2-4)

After allowing the last two opponents to score 40+ points that Fighting Illini defense decided to stop being pushed around and it resulted in a 31-27 win over the Michigan St. Spartans to end a two-game slide. Jeff George Jr. was thrown to the wolves against the Wolverines but showed against the Spartans that he has the potential to be a big-time quarterback for the Illini as he passed for 140 yards and his 16-yard touchdown to Sam Mays with under two minutes remaining clinched the win. George Jr. benefitted from a 146 yard and two touchdown performance from Kendrick Foster. Previously the Illini employed a multi-back system but against the Spartans, Foster carried the ball 17 times while the other two backs — Reggie Corbin and Ke’Shawn Vaughn — only had five carries.The linebackers are the strength of the Illinois defense and on Saturday they stepped up once again as Hardy Nickerson and Tre Watson combined for 26 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss. Watson’s 16 tackles earned him Big Ten defensive player of the week honors and it’s the third double-digit tackle game for the sophomore. The win was a step in the right direction for an Illinois team that was just hoping to find a spark anywhere… but can the team maintain its winning ways?

Iowa Hawkeyes 5-4 (3-3)

It’s sometimes hard to fight back when you’ve been punched so hard in the face. That’s exactly what happened in the 41-14 loss to the Penn St. Nittany Lions on Saturday. After turning the ball over on downs its initial drive of the game, it wasn’t until the score was 21-0 that the Hawkeyes would be able to generate anything offensively. CJ Beathard passed for 204 yards and two touchdowns but the lack of a run game — only 30 total yards as a team — seemed to be the biggest undoing for the offense. Brandon Snyder and Josey Jewell both had double-digit tackle games and it was needed as the Penn St. offense spent most of the evening on the field. Things just seem to get worse for an underachieving Iowa team that is looking for a reason to salvage this disappointing season.

Minnesota Golden Gophers 7-2 (4-2)

The Gophers used two turnovers to overcome a halftime deficit to beat the Purdue Boilermakers 44-31. Minnesota has an identity — being a tough running team — and as long as it sticks to that, success follows. Against the Boilermakers, Rodney Smith showed why he is one of the better running backs in the conference by rushing for 154 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries. Also getting in on the fun running the ball was quarterback Mitch Leidner, who finished the day with 74 yards. Leidner also did a good job of attacking the Purdue defense through the air as he passed for 231 yards. The defense also flexed its muscles on Saturday as it sacked the Purdue quarterback six times, forced two fumbles and had one interception. Sophomore linebacker Blake Cashman was the star on that side of the ball as he finished with five tackles, two sacks, and three tackles for loss. The Gophers still have a shot at the West Division title but the road to Indianapolis won’t be easy as they close the season against Nebraska, Northwestern, and Wisconsin if they can continue to be balanced offensively, the team has an opportunity to crash the championship party.

Nebraska Cornhuskers 7-2 (4-2)

The Cornhuskers went into the game against the Ohio St. Buckeyes with an opportunity to show the conference and the nation that it was worthy of the No. 10 ranking but after losing star quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr. to a concussion things fell apart to the tune of a 63-3 blowout. Without Armstrong Jr in the lineup the ability of the Nebraska offense to have any flow left the stadium as well as the team finished with 204 total yards and nine first downs. Backup quarterback Ryker Fyfe had only 52 yards passing and was clearly overwhelmed by the moment. With the issues at quarterback the Nebraska rushing attack suffered and finished with only 78 yards rushing — led by Terrell Newby’s 54 on 13 carries. Forced to spend more time on the field than normal, the Cornhuskers defense struggled to find ways of slowing down the OSU offense and gave up 34 first downs and allowed 11 third down conversions. Luke McNitt recovered a muffed punt but at this point, the team was down 24-3 and momentum had swung completely towards the Buckeyes. The big question moving forward involves the health of Armstrong Jr. If he is healthy Nebraska still can have a special season, if not, this loss could be the start of the demise for the Cornhuskers.

Northwestern Wildcats 4-5 (3-3)

You can’t win the game if you don’t have the ball and in the 21-7 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers, the Wildcats inability to possess the ball for long periods of time lead to the defeat. Statistically, the Wildcats did not play badly; quarterback Clayton Thorson completed 28-of-52 passes for 277 yards and Austin Carr had another 100-yard game finishing with 132 yards and 12 catches but the one thing that could have improved was the lack of a run game. Justin Jackson only had 13 carries on the way to rushing for 42 yards — his lowest output of the season. On the other side of the ball, the normally aggressive Wildcats were reduced to gasping for air due to being on the field for so long. Godwin Igwebuike had 10 tackles but the team did not register a sack and allowed Wisconsin to convert 7-of-19 third-down conversion attempts. Thorson is not your traditional drop-back passer, so when he is asked to throw as much as he was versus Wisconsin it negatively impacts every aspect of the Northwestern team and it cost them.

Purdue Boilermakers 3-6 (1-5)

The Boilermakers were competitive in the first half but faded quickly as the lost to the Minnesota Golden Gophers 44-31. David Blough played well — passing for 391 yards and four touchdowns — but it his two turnovers that helped spark a comeback for Minnesota that led to the defeat. Win or lose the Boilermakers have become an exciting offense this season with Blough under center. Two players benefiting from his improved play are Cameron Posey and DeAngelo Yancy. Both seniors are having the best statistical season of their career and exploited the Gophers pass defense as they went over the 100-yard mark on Saturday. Unfortunately, the run game has not had the same success this season and Markel Jones (50 yards on 13 carries) continues to struggle to find the success he had last year. The season may not be going the way many Purdue fans have hoped but with Blough under center, there is reason to be hopeful for the future.

Wisconsin Badgers 7-2 (4-2)

The Badgers used the old schoolyard game of “keep away” to edge the Northwestern Wildcats 21-7. Dominating the time of possession 40:25 to 19:35 allowed Wisconsin to keep the ball out of the dangers Northwestern play-makers while allowing its own, Corey Clement (32 carries 106 yards and one touchdown), to shine. It was the second consecutive 100-yard performance for the senior running back and it looks like the offensive line is starting to jell at the right time. Also benefiting from the improvement up front is the quarterback duo of Alex Hornibrook (11-of-19 for 92 yards) and Bart Houston (2-of-3 for 51 yards) who was kept clean all afternoon and not sacked. Spending most of the game allowed the Badgers defense to be fresh and step up with the big play when needed — defensive end Connor Sheehy had a key sack and forced fumble that led to the winning score in the fourth quarter. The quarterback situation may be unconventional but because the defense is so stout, things are working well in Wisconsin and it could lead them to a college playoffs berth if the right teams lose along the way.

Sports Q&A Big 10 Player of the Week:

Wilton Speight- quarterback Michigan

362 yards, three total touchdowns, and only five incomplete passes. Those stats seem impressive but those numbers didn’t tell the full story of Speight’s success on Saturday. He seemed to have a poise in the pocket and running the offense that Michigan fans haven’t seen since Chad Henne was leading the offense nine years ago. If he can continue to play at this level the sky is the limit for the Wolverines.

Week 11 Picks: (Week 10 record: 6-1)

no picks

Sports Q&A Power Rankings

  1. Michigan Wolverines (n/c)
  2. Ohio St. Buckeyes (n/c)
  3. Wisconsin Badgers (n/c)
  4. Penn St. Nittany Lions (n/c)
  5. Minnesota Golden Gophers (last week: 8th)
  6. Nebraska Cornhuskers (last week: 5th)
  7. Northwestern Wildcats (last week: 6th)
  8. Iowa Hawkeyes (last week: 7th)
  9. Indiana Hoosiers (n/c)
  10. Maryland Terrapins (n/c)
  11. Illinois Fighting Illini (last week: 12th)
  12. Michigan St. Spartans (last week: 11th)
  13. Purdue Boilermakers (n/c)
  14. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (n/c)
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