Five B1G questions heading into Week 2
1. How will Lovie Smith look in his first real college game?
Murray State doesn’t count. UNC does.
This is the first time that Smith will coach against a quality opponent, and it’s the first time he’ll coach against next-level offensive talent. The Heels have two explosive weapons out of the backfield in Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan, both of whom are capable of going off. Ryan Switzer is also dangerous, as Illini fans might remember from his punt return dominance last year.
How does Smith game plan for UNC? Does he send pressure and trust his secondary to cover some dynamic play-makers? Or does he let his defensive line — one defensive coordinator Hardy Nickerson, Sr. said stacks up against any group in America — try and generate pressure without blitzing?
Smith’s first real test won’t be easy, especially with the Heels desperate to avoid an 0-2 start. There will be plenty of people in Champaign interested in how he handles it.
2. Can Purdue finally get a quality win under Darrell Hazell?
There’s a feeling that Hazell needs to get to six wins to keep his job in West Lafayette. Considering the way Hazell’s teams have performed against Power Five competition (2-26 including Notre Dame), this Saturday’s game against Cincinnati is one he has to have.
This can’t be another one of those games in which Purdue is down three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and Ross-Ade Stadium is empty. Another Virginia Tech-like showing would hurt Hazell’s future even more.
But there could be reason to believe Purdue is ready to finally take that next step. Markell Jones looked solid and the defense stepped up when it needed to in the opener. Plus, Cincinnati struggled to score at home against Tennessee-Martin.
Maybe Saturday is finally the turning point for Hazell.
3. Will Michigan, Ohio State or Wisconsin start slow after big Week 1 efforts?
I wrote about the possibility of this being a sleeper week for the B1G. With the B1G’s three teams ranked in the top 10 all coming off big Week 1 statements, all play host to non-Power Five cupcakes. Do any have the makings for a slow start?
Recent history suggests that Ohio State could fit the “sleeper bill” best. The Buckeyes had slow starts against weaker non-conference foes frequently in the last two years, and with the showdown in Oklahoma around the corner, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see the Buckeyes a little sluggish. But Tulsa ranks 123rd in total defense since the start of 2015, according to ESPN Stats Info.
Tulsa ranks 123rd in the FBS in total defense since start of last season, per @ESPNStatsInfo. Tulsa plays at Ohio State on Saturday. Uh oh.
— Brian Bennett (@BennettESPN) September 8, 2016
Nobody is calling for an upset with numbers like that.
Michigan fans might not ever assume a win after what happened against Appalachian State. The Wolverines technically got off to a slow start vs. Hawaii and still dominated.
For Michigan and Wisconsin, this week should be about first-year starters settling in and allowing the game to slow down. Wilton Speight and Bart Houston both had their moments of inexperience. Neither of their jobs are on the line, but they have to show progress in favorable matchups to build confidence heading into B1G play. Saturday should bring more consistency out of both of them.
So are the top B1G teams primed for upsets? No, but crazier things have happened.
4. Can Mitch Leidner pick apart Indiana State with his arm?
With his foot finally healthy, we’re going to see the Minnesota quarterback run more. That’s a good thing. But against a team like Indiana State, Leidner shouldn’t have to get double-digit carries to move the offense. Exposing himself to injury that many times against an FCS school is dangerous.
Against the lowly Sycamores, I want to see Leidner throw for 250 yards and a couple scores. Do you know how many times Leidner has done that in his career? Once, and that was in a loss to Ohio State last year.
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With Shannon Brooks still hobbled, this is a prime opportunity for Leidner to show that he can pick a defense apart. Sooner or later, he’s going to have to do that for the Gophers to come from behind. He needs to establish who his weapons are and who is capable of going over the top of a defense.
After all, this is the same team that surrendered 289 yards and four touchdowns to former Purdue quarterback Austin Appleby last year. If Leidner can’t do it against a team like Indiana State, when is it ever going to happen?
5. Will Nebraska continue to pound the rock?
I couldn’t have been more relieved to see Nebraska stick to its game plan when things got tight against Fresno State. The Huskers, despite having a fourth-year starting quarterback and a loaded group of receivers, stuck with the run. I never thought we’d see the day that Mike Riley’s team would run the ball FOUR TIMES as much as it threw it. Bravo.
That leads us to this week’s game against Wyoming. Common sense suggests we’ll see more of the same, especially with Riley not eager to show Oregon too many looks. The Huskers have the line and the backfield options (how about Devine Ozigbo?) to continue to pound the rock.
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It shouldn’t matter that Brandon Reilly is coming off his suspension and De’Mornay Pierson-El will get more snaps. Nebraska would be wise to spread the ball to Ozigbo, Newby and maybe see if new fullback Luke McNitt has a little Andy Janovich in him.
Wyoming is going to do everything it can to try and throw Nebraska off its game. This is a program with a lot of Nebraska natives who were told they weren’t good enough for the Huskers. They’ll be amped up to return to Memorial Stadium. It’s up to Nebraska to stick with the game plan and let the rushing attack do the talking.