1 thing I learned about every Big Ten team in Week 4
Saturday made it clear that Ohio State and Minnesota should be considered the favorites to meet in the Big Ten championship game. But that was not the only thing that Week 4 revealed to us.
Here’s something each Big Ten team showed me this weekend, with the exception of idle Nebraska. (Well, that’s not completely true — Saturday’s outcomes indicated that the Huskers are even worse than we already think they are.)
Illinois: Minnesota’s greatest threat?
If I’m PJ Fleck, there are only 2 teams that would really worry me in the Big Ten West.
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One is Iowa, because Fleck has never beaten the Hawkeyes and the Hawks defense is good enough to stifle most opponents. The other, improbably, is Illinois, because the Illini might be the second-best team in the division.
Illinois is a step behind in the standings thanks to its loss to Indiana, but otherwise looks like the most complete team in the West behind Minnesota. The Illini are allowing 8 points per game while boasting the Big Ten’s leading rusher in Chase Brown.
Indiana: The Hoosiers are too sloppy
Indiana never stops fighting. But perhaps that wouldn’t be necessary if the Hoosiers could stop making repeated fundamental mistakes to put themselves behind the 8-ball in every first half this season.
Indiana turned it over 3 times at Cincinnati, including a backbreaking fumble return that put the Bearcats up 38-10 at halftime. Every element of the strip-sack was poorly handled by the Hoosiers.
— American Football (@American_FB) September 24, 2022
Indiana had multiple chances to cut it to a one-score game in the final 14 minutes. Instead, the Hoosiers roughed the punter after a key three-and-out, among other mistakes.
Tom Allen gets his team to play hard. But can he start making them play smart?
Iowa: Phil Parker’s defense still does Phil Parker things
For the second straight season, the Hawkeyes scored 2 defensive touchdowns in their Big Ten opener.
Nobody else does this. Anywhere. Except for Phil Parker’s Iowa defense.
Speaking of, the Hawkeyes have given up 20 points this season, which is their fewest allowed through 4 games since 1956. That defense was led by Mongo himself, Alex Karras.
Maryland: The Terps can hang
Moral victories are, quite literally, for losers. Nobody calls it a “moral victory” when you actually pick up the W.
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But there is a lot to be encouraged by from Maryland’s performance at Michigan. The Terrapins look to be the fourth-best team in the Big Ten East behind the division’s traditional 3 titans, and perhaps No. 5 in the league overall.
Maryland came in averaging 90 penalty yards per game and committed 1 for 5 yards. That’s a tremendous prep week from Michael Locksley.
Michigan: Blake Corum is a closer
A year ago, Hassan Haskins was Michigan’s closer and Blake Corum was the guy who loosened up opposing defenses. Corum averaged nearly 2 yards per carry more than Haskins, but Haskins scored 20 touchdowns to Corum’s 11.
This year, Corum is the closer. And the starter. Both of his long touchdown runs were brilliant displays of running back vision — and absolute backbreakers for Maryland.
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 24, 2022
— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) September 24, 2022
Michigan State: The Spartans have no depth
The Spartans were without 4 defensive starters due to injuries and lost a couple more guys during this game. The majority of the injuries are on the defensive front, with the absence of defensive tackle Jacob Slade being felt most acutely.
We’ve heard a lot about Mel Tucker’s recruiting acumen, but so far it is not applicable to Michigan State’s second-stringers. This team is suddenly in a bad way.
Minnesota: Best in the West
The road to the Big Ten championship game runs through the Twin Cities.
Questions were reasonably asked of Minnesota’s non-conference strength of schedule, but the Golden Gophers showed Saturday it doesn’t matter who you put in front of them. They’re prepared to maul you.
Minnesota’s 27-point win over Michigan State was its most lopsided in the series since 1958. And it was only that close because the Spartans got a garbage-time touchdown in the final minute.
That offense that kept the Gophers from winning the West last year? It gained 508 yards. And the defense is allowing 6 points per game.
Northwestern: Miami owns Evanston
After a 17-14 loss to Miami (Ohio), Northwestern is an unthinkable 3-7 all-time against the RedHawks. That includes a 2-7 all-time mark at Ryan Field.
Northwestern is 2-2 all-time against Miami (Florida).
Yet another kicker?
The Wildcats, at 1-3, are still tied for first place in the Big Ten West thanks to their season-opening conference win over Nebraska.
In the mood for even more kickers?
Northwestern has lost 6 straight home games. There’s something to be said for having the Big Ten’s worst home-field advantage.
Ohio State: Miyan Williams is also a dude
Running back Miyan Williams provided brief glimpses into his talent last season, but he proved Saturday that the Buckeyes have a pair of certified dudes in their backfield.
Williams had his third career 100-yard performance with 11 carries for 101 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He’s averaging 7.2 yards per carry this season.
As if their receiving corps wasn’t enough, Williams and TreVeyon Henderson give the Buckeyes a certified 2-headed monster in the backfield.
Penn State: 2 freshman backs are better than 1
After back-to-back weeks of the Nick Singleton show, Kaytron Allen showed what he’s capable of against Central Michigan.
The Chippewas contained Singleton for 42 yards on 12 carries, but could not stop Allen. Penn State’s “other” freshman running back burned them for 111 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Given Penn State’s struggles to run the ball post-Saquon Barkley, this is a revelation. The Nittany Lions might not let Ohio State and Michigan run away with this division race.
Purdue: Be concerned
The Boilermakers were outgained and mostly outplayed by Florida Atlantic, really needing Chris Jefferson’s fourth-quarter interception at the Purdue 10 to preserve a win.
Backup Austin Burton was adequate in place of the injured Aidan O’Connell, but also removed any doubt O’Connell is the best QB in the league behind CJ Stroud. Burton was 21-of-29 for 166 yards with 3 touchdowns and an interception.
O’Connell is no system quarterback. And Purdue needs him back ASAP.
Rutgers: The defense is good enough*
Obviously you take defensive stats against Iowa with a grain of salt, but the Scarlet Knights held the Hawkeyes to 277 yards. Iowa was just 1-of-9 on third down. When defensive touchdowns are removed, this is a 13-10 game.
For the most part, pretty good.
But the problem here is that Iowa’s defense (14 points) and Iowa’s offense (13) both outscored Rutgers’ offense.
Rutgers needs to model itself after Iowa as a program, and that means creating takeaways when your offense is limited. The Scarlet Knights didn’t force a turnover, and that’s why they could never chase the Hawkeyes down.
Wisconsin: Graham Mertz is still Graham Mertz
There was hope in Madison that Paul Chryst fixed Mertz this offseason. Mertz came into Saturday’s game behind only CJ Stroud in Big Ten passer rating, and was fourth in completion percentage and yards per attempt.
It was all an illusion.
Ohio State picked off Mertz’s first pass. He finished 11-of-20 for 94 yards as the Badgers spent Saturday night chasing the Buckeyes’ distant taillights.
It may be another season of squandered potential in Madison with the quarterback who couldn’t shoot straight.