Sports Q&A Big Ten Quick Hits: Week 4

Rich Barnes | USA TODAY Sports

Big Ten East Division:

Indiana Hoosiers 2-1 (0-1)

While still trying to sort out the quarterback situation — Richard Lagow took the primary snaps over Week 2 savior Peyton Ramsey — the team did settle on its primary ballcarrier in the 52-17 victory over the Georgia Southern Eagles. Freshman running Morgan Ellison ran for 186 yards and three touchdowns on 25 carries. The success of Ellison takes the pressure off the quarterback play, or lack thereof. Lagow and Ramsey combined to complete only 50% of their passes for 185 yards. Those numbers aren’t bad, but they aren’t good enough to beat the better teams in the Big Ten East Division. Defensively the Hoosiers limited the Eagles to 20% success rate on third-down conversions and forced three turnovers — fumble recoveries by defensive backs Chase Dutra and Andre Brown Jr. and linebacker Chris Covington. After having last week’s non-conference game canceled, it’s good to see the Hoosiers play well before heading to Happy Valley to play Penn St. this Saturday.

Maryland Terrapins 2-1 (0-0)

The Terrapins faced adversity early in the season when starting quarterback, Tyrell Pigrome, was sidelined for the season due to a knee injury. In the 38-10 loss to the UCF Knights, Maryland suffered another big blow as Pigrome’s replacement, true freshman Kasim Hill also injured his knee and will be out for the year. With stability at the quarterback position suddenly shaken, everything else fell apart offensively for the Terrapins and a once-promising season now looks grim. Without stable quarterback play — replacement Max Bortenschlager passed for 132 yards but was intercepted twice — UCF was able to focus all its attention on stopping the Maryland rushing attack, which it did. As a team, Maryland had 32 carries for only 42 yards. Individually they only fared slightly better as Lorenzo Johnson rushed for 48 yards on 10 carries but Ty Johnson was limited to 25 yards on 11 carries. Unable to establish any offensive continuity — only two drives longer than 40 yards — the defense was asked to carry more of the load, but was unable to. Senior defensive back Josh Woods led the team in tackles with seven, but none were impactful. The sudden rash of injuries at the quarterback position has to be demeaning for a program seemed to be trending in the right direction last week. All is not lost if head coach DJ Durkin can get the most out of Bortenschlager… but it doesn’t look good. He was the third-string quarterback, behind a true freshman, for a reason.

Michigan Wolverines 4-0 (0-0)

The results of the first three drives in the 28-10 victory over the Purdue Boilermakers — 12 total yards and three punts — had many Wolverines fans thinking that this was the week the lackluster offense was going to cost the team a game. But, in what you could only call a serendipitous moment, starting quarterback Wilton Speight was injured and his replacement John O’Korn came in and led the team to victory. After seeing him complete his first pass, it was obvious that O’Korn was more than a capable replacement for Speight on Saturday, and maybe even the rest of the season. Where Speight would wait until a receiver came open, O’Korn seemed to have the uncanny knack to know when and where to throw the ball to his receivers. Tight end Sean McKeon was the biggest benefactor from the quarterback change. The junior receiver caught a career-high five balls for 82 yards. With the linebackers and defensive backs actually worried about a passing attack, it opened up gaps and holes in the run game and sophomore running back Chris Evans took advantage. In addition to a late 49-yard touchdown that sealed the victory, Evans seemed to be playing with the confidence we saw against Florida St. last year as he rushed for 97 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. Defensively, the Wolverines continued to prove to the nation that age/experience is irrelevant in the Don Brown scheme and limited the Boilermakers to 15 yards in the second half. Led by senior defensive end Chase Winovich’s three sacks, the Michigan defense finished the afternoon with five sacks and did not allow a third-down conversion in 12 attempts. Right now this team is playing at a B level — offense being a C+ and defense being an A —  if Harbaugh and his offensive coaches can improve that grade to a B… watch out because they already have a championship-caliber defense.

Michigan St. Spartans 2-1 (0-0) 

Inopportune turnovers and bad penalties doomed MSU in the 38-18 loss to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. An interception returned for a touchdown and two fumbles were too much for the Spartans to overcome on Saturday. Quarterback Brian Lewerke was responsible for two of those turnovers and even with him passing for 340 yards and two touchdowns, the loss shows that he still has to make better decisions if he wants to be a great quarterback. Running back LJ Scott has all the talent in the world but he also has an issue with fumbles and on Saturday it was his fumble into the end zone with the score 14-7 that hurt the most. MSU had done a better job harassing opposing quarterbacks in the first two games but against the Fighting Irish, they only had one sack. Maybe it was the mobility of Brandon Wimbush that limited sack opportunities, but the MSU defense has to do a better job in putting opposing teams in long distance situations. The Spartans can still bounce back from the loss but this is a start of a tough stretch that has the team facing the upper echelon of the Big Ten — the next “easy” game won’t come until November 18th against Maryland.

Ohio St. Buckeyes 3-1 (1-0) 

The Buckeyes took advantage of playing a bad UNLV Running Rebels team to the tune of a 54-21 blowout. This has to be one of the better offensive performances in Columbus in the last few years. Quarterback JT Barrett threw for five touchdowns, his backup Dwayne Haskins passed for 228 yards and 13 Buckeyes caught at least one pass — with receivers Paris Campbell and CJ Saunders both going over 100 yards. Defensively OSU had four sacks, 13 tackles-for-loss and harassed the opposing quarterback all afternoon. That pressure led to Damon Arnette and Damon Webb both collecting interceptions on the afternoon. This was a great game for OSU but you have to consider the opponent — UNLV did lose to Howard University.

Penn State Nittany Lions 4-0 (1-0)

Penn St. may not have played its best game of the season but sometimes you have to find a way to grind things out and in the 21-19 victory over Iowa that’s exactly what the team did. Quarterback Trace McSorley passed for 284 yards but he also had 48 passing attempts — the most of his career. For some reason, head coach James Franklin relied more on the passing game despite having the best running back in the country in Saquon Barkley. Even with the team passing more, Barkley finished the game with 28 carries for 211 yards. Thos stats are impressive but the number that stands out the most is his 12 catches for 94 yards. It’s hard not to call him the entire Nittany Lions offense but he is the focal point of it. The PSU defense limited Iowa to 273 total yards and only three third-down conversions but the lack of a pass rush — one sack by safety Marcus Allen — and no turnovers has to be concerning as the level of competition increases in conference play.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 1-3 (0-1)

The growing pains continued on Saturday as Rutgers lost to Nebraska 27-17. There was no offensive continuity — only 197 total yards and two turnovers — and the team had no balance. Quarterback Kyle Bolin still has yet to figure things out at quarterback and surprisingly head coach Chris Ash chose not to play dual-threat quarterback, Jonathan Lewis. Lewis may not be experienced as a passer but he provides another element as a runner which could have helped the offense. With the passing game struggling, Nebraska was able to limit running backs Gus Edwards and Robert Martin to 72 yards on 20 carries. The highlight of the day was Kly Hester’s 32-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the second quarter. Coach Ash had to know the road to respectability was going to be a long one but he has to help out the process by playing the best players on the roster, regardless of experience.

Big Ten West Division:

Illinois Fighting Illini 2-1 (0-0)

no game scheduled

Iowa Hawkeyes 3-1 (0-1)

The game of football is a matter of inches and seconds and the Iowa Hawkeyes were 10 seconds away from pulling off the upset of the year against the Penn St. Nittany Lions. Unfortunately, shoddy pass defense led to a 21-19 loss to the Penn St. The offensive stats weren’t eye-popping but Iowa played well enough on that side of the ball to win. Quarterback Nathan Stanley passed for 191 yards and two touchdowns and running back Akrum Wadley had 155 total yards and two touchdowns. Iowa’s defense surrendered a lot of yards but still made plays when needed. Linebacker Josey Jewell had another stellar game with 16 tackles, three tackles for loss and one interception. He wasn’t the only defensive star on the evening as defensive back Amani Hooker had 13 tackles and defensive end Anthony Nelson had 2.5 sacks. It’s always tough losing a game on a last-second play, but this game should serve notice to the rest of the Big Ten that Iowa will be a force this season.

Minnesota Golden Gophers 2-0 (0-0)

no game scheduled

Nebraska Cornhuskers 2-1 (1-0)

The 27-17 victory over the Rutgers Scarlet Knights came at the perfect time for a Nebraska team that has been struggling the last two weeks. Tanner Lee — 13-of-26 for 105 yards, two touchdowns, and two interceptions — is still struggling to find his footing as the Cornhuskers starter but against Rutgers, he was able to rely on a strong run game to get the victory. Leading the way in the backfield was Devine Ozigbo with 101 yards on 24 carries; Mikale Wilbone also added 78 yards and a touchdown as well. It still isn’t the “black shirt” defense, but the unit played well limiting Rutgers to 194 yards while Antonio Reed and Luke Gifford collected interceptions. There’s still a lot of turmoil with the program but this victory gives the Cornhuskers something to be happy about for at least this week.

Northwestern Wildcats 1-1 (0-0)

no game scheduled

Purdue Boilermakers 2-2 (0-1)

The Boilermakers came into the game against the Michigan Wolverines full of confidence —  even predicting an upset — but the team was overpowered in the second half and lost 28-10. Some of the same issues from 2016, inconsistent quarterback play and no running game, resurfaced on Saturday and it cost the team. Quarterback David Blough started the game, was unable to move the offense, and was eventually replaced by Elijah Sindelar. Sindelar engineered the team’s only touchdown and took advantage of the Wolverines aggressive defense with timely misdirections but was strangely replaced by Blough in the second half. Purdue wasn’t able to maintain the success of the two scoring drives in the second half and was limited to 15 yards in the second half. As with the offense, the Purdue defense found success early in the game and was led by Markus Bailey’s two sacks, but after Ju’Whaun Bentley and Jacob Thieneman were ejected for targeting penalties, the defense lost all the momentum it had. Despite the loss, coach Brohm has to be confident with the direction of the program.

Wisconsin Badgers 2-0 (0-0)

no game scheduled

 

Sports Q&A Big 10 Player of the week:

Saquon Barkley- RB Penn St 

Barkley 305 Iowa 273 total yards. That stat says a lot. Barkley is not only the most important player to wear the Penn St. uniform this season but he may also be the most valuable player in college football. We knew his capabilities as a runner but no one could have seen his pass receiving skills. Barkley has been one of the most complete running backs in college football over the past few seasons and its not even close

Game of the Week:

Iowa vs.  Michigan St. 

This is a pivotal game for both programs. Michigan St. has to show that they are able to play a clean game against a legitimate opponent while Iowa must be able to show that it’s still not dwelling on the last-second loss to Penn St. This game will come down to which defense makes the most plays and I like the tandem of Josey Jewell and Anthony Nelson. Iowa 27 Michigan St. 20

Week 4 Picks: (Week 3 record: 7-0)

Nebraska over Illinois

Wisconsin over Northwestern

Minnesota over Maryland

Penn St. over Indiana

Ohio St. over Rutgers

BYE WEEK: Michigan, Purdue

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