Sports Q&A Big Ten Quick Hits: Week 6

M.P. KING, STATE JOURNAL

 

Big Ten East Division:

Indiana Hoosiers 3-2 (0-2)

The Hoosiers completed its non-conference schedule with a 27-0 win over the Charleston Southern Buccaneers on Saturday and unfortunately, we still have no idea the identity of this team. Peyton Ramsey started at quarterback and played well, completing 32-of-41 passes for 321 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception; his primary targets were Taysir Mack (seven catches, 111 yards, two touchdowns) and Sammie Cobbs Jr. (10 catches, 98 yards.) The team rushed for 157 yards against the undersized Buccaneers defense but outside of Cole Gist’s 47 yards on seven carries, no running back stood out — Ramsey was the team’s leading rusher with 54 yards on 15 carries. With Charleston Southern being an option team, the Indiana defense did not have to worry about a passing offense — the Bucs were 0-10 in their passing attempts — and limited the run game to 134 yards on 44 carries. Jumping back into conference play, it will be interesting to see how the offense fares against better competition, the first two games against Ohio St. and Penn St did not go too well.

Maryland Terrapins 3-2 (1-1)

To say the Terrapins were overmatched in the 62-14 loss to the Ohio St. Buckeyes would be a gross understatement. The team was dominated in every aspect of the game; three completed passes, 50 yards rushing in 42 carries, 584 total yards allowed. With Max Bortenschlager leading the way, head coach DJ Durkin felt good coming off of the upset of Minnesota two weeks ago but against the Buckeyes, it seemed as if he was a freshman starting on varsity against the best team in the state. Running back Ty Johnson (12 carries, 57 yards) did his part to keep the offense balance but when you are down 41-7 at the half, running the ball is not a good option. The only good thing you can say about the game defensively is that the Terrapins forced two fumbles. Coach Durkin may not even want to watch the film from this game and just take this as an opportunity to leave the past in the past.

Michigan Wolverines 4-1 (1-1)

I said it two weeks ago this team will live and die by its offense and in the 14-10 loss to Michigan St. the offense was pretty bad. I guess now we see why Wilton Speight was starting over John O’Korn. O’Korn does some nice things but he is also a risk taker, even when it’s not needed, and against a very good MSU defense those chances proved to be too costly. But I refuse to put it all on the players, at some point the offensive play calling has to adapt to the strengths of those executing it, as well as the elements. Playing in a rainstorm there was no reason to have the inexperienced O’Korn throwing the ball 35 times. It seems as if head coach Jim Harbaugh lacks creativity when it matters the most. But I will say this, despite the mishaps offensively, the defense showed why it is one of the best in the nation, limiting the Spartans offense to two third-down conversions and 252 total yards. Defensive tackle Maurice Hurst Jr. led the way with eight tackles and 2.5 tackles-for-loss. This is gut-check time for a Wolverines team and staff that has struggled to beat its top two rivals in Michigan St. and Ohio St.

Michigan St. Spartans 4-1 (2-0) 

Spartan Tough… The memories of the 3-9 2016 are starting to become a thing of the past and the 14-10 victory over the Michigan Wolverines makes it a distant memory. Keeping it real, Michigan St. did not play well offensively finishing with only 252 total yards, but it took advantage of FIVE turnovers. Playing with a short field allowed the Spartans to score points despite only converting two third-down conversions. It’s been documented that the team that runs the ball the best usually wins and on Saturday the Spartans ran for 159 yards. Some Spartans fans may not like the fact that Brian Lewerke is the leading rusher (15 carries, 61 yards) but if that’s what it takes to get the job done, run Lewerke, run. Madre London had 59 yards rushing and a 16-yard touchdown catch to give the team its final score of the night. Safety David Dowell (seven tackles, two interceptions, one fumble recovery) and linebacker Joe Bachie (10 tackles, one sack, one interception)led the way defensively and showed the nation that despite being young, they too need to get some recognition for being one of the best in the nation

Ohio St. Buckeyes 4-1 (2-0) 

The OSU offense looked to continue its hot play and that’s exactly what it did in the 62-14 victory over the Maryland Terrapins. Quarterback JT Barrett continues to look better as the weeks’ progress and finished the afternoon with 261 yards and three touchdowns on 20-of-31 attempts. Barrett’s day as a passer was made easy due to a uber-productive game from multiple running backs. Freshman JK Dobbins continues to put in work and finished with 96 yards on 13 carries; Mike Weber had 59 yards on 13 carries and six other OSU players helped contribute to the team total of 281 yards and five touchdowns. Defensively, the Buckeyes continue to mow down opposing offenses and finished the day with six sacks 13 tackles for loss and two fumble recoveries. True freshman linebacker Baron Browning led the team in tackles with eight and is one of the many youngsters paying early dividends for an OSU defense full of experience.

 

Penn State Nittany Lions 5-0 (2-0)

Penn St easily defeated the Northwestern Wildcats 31-7 but this is the first time that it did not look like a shoe-in to win the Big Ten conference and secure a college football playoff spot. Trace McSorley passed for 245 yards but many of those yards came after completions to wide open Nittany Lions receivers. Saquon Barkley finished the afternoon with 75 yards on 16 carries, but 53 of those yards came on one play and he had -7 yards rushing at halftime. Christian Campbell and Amani Oruwaryie each had interceptions but the passes were so ill-advised that someone in the stands could have made those plays. Yes sometimes you win ugly games but there was something off about this victory and it comes on the heels of a pivotal three-game stretch against the best defenses in the conference in Michigan, MSU, and Ohio St. Penn St. cant afford to play this “well” if it wants to win all three of those games.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights 1-4 (0-2)

no game scheduled

 

Big Ten West Division:

Illinois Fighting Illini 2-3 (0-2)

Poor quarterback play will derail even the greatest of teams… unfortunately the Illini aren’t that great so poor play at the position makes things even worse and it showed in the 45-16 loss to the Iowa Hawkeyes. Jeff George Jr. started the game for Illinois and passed for 245 yards but had three interceptions and never seemed comfortable in the pocket. Early in the game, the offense was able to run the ball which led to productive games from Mike Epstein (seven carries, 83 yards) and Reggie Corbin (seven carries, 61 yards) but as the lead began to balloon the need for George Jr. to pass the ball increased and he couldn’t deliver. The more time the Illini defense spent on the field the worse it became and its inability to get any pressure on the opposing quarterback hurt the most. This team is still trying to locate its identity under head coach Lovie Smith, I just hope he is around when they find it.

Iowa Hawkeyes 4-2 (1-2)

After two tough conference losses, the Hawkeyes seemed to have found its bearings in the 45-16 win over the Illinois Fighting Illini. Quarterback Nathan Stanley found his grove passing for 247 yards and three touchdowns but more importantly the rushing attack was effective as running back Akrum Wadley finished the day with 115 yards on 23 carries. The game was closer than expected at the end of the first half but an 83-yard interception return by Brandon Snyder turned the tide for good. As he has done for the past few weeks, linebacker Josey Jewell led the team in tackles with 10 and continues to be the linchpin of the defense. The Hawkeyes are still in contention for the West Division crown and a game like this goes a long way to building confidence.

Minnesota Golden Gophers 3-2 (0-2)

After the 1 hour and 28-minute rain delay, the Gophers emerged from the locker room… too bad it left its game there and it cost the team in the 31-17 loss to the Purdue Boilermakers. With the conditions as bad as they were, head coach PJ Fleck did right by relying on his two-headed running back tandem of Shannon Brooks (18 carries, 116 yards) and Rodney Smith (21 carries, 88 yards) but a crucial late interception derailed any chance of the coach getting his first conference win. The Gophers defense did its job to keep the team in the game as Kamal Martin and Adekunle Ayinde both intercepted passes and the Purdue quarterback was sacked four times, but it just wasn’t enough. Maybe you can blame the elements on this loss but this is a must-have game for a program that is trying to establish itself under a new coach.

Nebraska Cornhuskers 3-3 (2-1)

The Cornhuskers had an opportunity to pull off a huge upset on Saturday but came up short in the 38-17 loss to the Wisconsin Badgers. The game was tied 17-17 midway through the third quarter after the 14-yard interception by Aaron Williams but the Nebraska offense went stagnant and couldn’t move the ball and the defense gave up three consecutive touchdowns which sealed its fate. Quarterback Tanner Lee played ok but still has to find a way of making the big play when the offense needs it. Maybe head coach Mike Riley should rely on the run game more as Devine Ozigbo rushed for 112 yards. The Cornhuskers’ hopes for a division crown may be up in smoke but its still possible for them to play spoilers to other teams.

Northwestern Wildcats 2-3 (0-2)

Missed opportunities doomed the Wildcats in the 31-7 loss to the Penn St. Nittany Lions on Saturday. The Northwestern defense did the best it could to slow down the potent Penn St. offense and for a half, it did a great job. It was the offense that failed to hold up its end of the deal as quarterback Clayton Thorson had one of his worst games in his Northwestern career. On the afternoon he only completed 19-of-36 passes for 142 yards and had two costly interceptions. Running back Justin Jackson rushed for 66 yards but never seemed to get into the flow of the game when it mattered. Despite playing well early, Northwestern’s defense couldn’t continue to hold the fort and eventually surrendered big plays to the Penn St. offense. Thorson has been good for the Wildcats but when he is off, the team suffers mightily.

Purdue Boilermakers 3-2 (1-1)

For almost four quarters it seemed as if head coach Jeff Brohm would have to wait another week to get his first Big Ten win as coach of the Boilermakers, but an 88-minute delay helped shift momentum to Purdue’s side in the 31-17 win over the Minnesota Golden Gophers. Despite surrendering four turnovers the Boilers found a way of taking a 16-14 lead and turning it into a 24-point victory. Quarterback David Blough started the game but was ineffective and eventually replaced by Elijah Sindelar who finished the game with 246 yards and one touchdown. DJ Knox had a productive day at running back but it was the return of the oft-injured Markell Jones that provided a huge lift at the running back position. Jones ran for 52 yards on 12 carries but it was his 12-yard touchdown with one minute remaining that gave Purdue the lead for good. Despite the horrible weather Purdue’s defense also played well — highlighted by a 76-yard interception return by linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley for the final score of the game.

Wisconsin Badgers 5-0 (2-0)

There are some talented freshmen in the country but there may not be one as talented as running back Jonathan Taylor. in the 31-17 win over the Nebraska Cornhuskers, Taylor rushed for 249 yards on 25 carries including a 75-yard touchdown in the second quarter. With a back as talented as Taylor, the need for great play from quarterback Alex Hornibrook has been lessened which takes the pressure off of him. Against the Cornhuskers Hornibrook only completed 9-of-17 passes for 113 yards and one touchdown but the offense was saved by Taylors great play. Wisconsin’s defense set the tone for the game early as linebacker Chris Orr returned an interception 73 yards for the first score of the game. The Badgers continue its winning ways thanks to Taylor, but what happens if/when a team finds a way of slowing the freshman down… will Hornibrook be able to pick up the slack?

 

Sports Q&A Big 10 Player of the week: 

Jonathan Taylor- RB Wisconsin

Saquon Barkley and JK Dobbins may get more attention but I’m not sure there’s a more talented running back in the conference than Jonathan Taylor right now. Against Nebraska, Taylor registered the second 200-yard game this season and is playing with the balance, power, and vision of a much older running back. My only worry is what happens if he hits that freshman wall as the season progresses, will the Badgers have enough to overcome a less than stellar performance from Taylor. Badgers fans hope they never have to find out.

Game of the Week

Michigan vs. Indiana

With the offense struggling as bad as it is, the Wolverines have to make sure that it avoids going into a further tailspin against the dangerous Hoosiers. Indiana’s offense may not be as potent as it was under former head coach Kevin Wilson, but it still has the potential to be dangerous. Michigan cannot afford to lose this game and the defense makes sure it doesn’t. Michigan 23 Indiana 13  

 

Week 7 Picks: 

Illinois over Rutgers

Wisconsin over Purdue

Northwestern over Maryland

Ohio St. over Nebraska

Michigan St. over Minnesota

BYE WEEK: Penn St., Iowa

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