Can you believe we’ve already surpassed the six-week mark of the season? Seriously, how can the weeks travel by so quickly?
Before we head into Week 7, it’s time to check in with every B1G team.
During the three-week checkup, we had one question for every team as we approached the start of conference play. Now that we’ve seen each team play in a few league games, teams are starting to develop identities and trends are beginning to form.
In the six-week checkup, we’re taking a look at one area that needs improvement for each team to be successful in the latter portion of the season. For some teams, we’re being a little nitpicky. For others, we could’ve probably listed four or five concerning areas. But, to be fair, we narrowed it down to one for every team.
Here’s one thing every team in the B1G West needs to improve on for the second half of the season.
Needs improvement: Defending the run
The same issue that plagued Illinois is crushing its hopes again this season. The Illini have been the B1G’s worst at stopping the run, allowing 181.8 yards per game. And the Illini haven’t even faced some of the top running backs in the conference yet.
Stopping the run is essential in the B1G and for a second straight season, the Illini have been unable hold their own in that capacity. Lovie Smith is going to have trouble winning another game this season if his team doesn’t show at least some improvement.
Needs improvement: Eliminating big plays
Iowa has been pretty good defensively in most areas, but its struggled with eliminating big plays. Nobody has given up more plays of 40+ yards (6) than the Hawkeyes. Opponents have also racked up 76 plays that have earned 10 yards or more, ranking 12th in the conference.
Most of those big yardage plays have come through the air. The return of Brandon Snyder to the secondary should help combat some of those holes defensively. Still, Iowa is too good defensively to give up so many big plays this early in the year.
Needs improvement: Passing attack
After Minnesota’s spring game, it looked like P.J. Fleck would implement a more balanced offensive mindset. So far, it’s been tough rowing for the Gophers as far as establishing a credible passing game.
Minnesota has eclipsed the 200-yard mark through the air just twice this year and ranks 12th in the B1G in passing offense. Conor Rhoda has had consistency issues, but that’s not too uncommon for a first-year starter. The Gophers can’t be written off yet, but they must find more success through their air if they want to be more competitive on Saturdays.
Needs improvement: Interceptions
Tanner Lee hasn’t been even close to the kind of quarterback most people thought he could be. He’s been an interception machine who’s thrown a fair share of pick-sixes. Those mistakes have smothered the Huskers offensively.
If Lee can cut down on the interceptions, Nebraska can have a decent shot to beat some decent opponents this season. But when the Huskers are turning the football over with such frequency, it’s difficult to win games in the B1G. It becomes nearly impossible when those mistakes translate to immediate points.
Needs improvement: Ground game
Seems weird to mention Northwestern’s rushing attack considering Justin Jackson is still in the backfield. But the Wildcats haven’t been able to establish a presence on the ground, due in large part to inefficiencies along the offensive line.
Northwestern ranks last in the B1G and 111th nationally in rushing yardage, averaging just 114.6 yards per game this season. Those struggles are a major reason why the Wildcats are all but cooked in the B1G West race. They’ll struggle to hit the six-win mark if they’re not more effective on the ground.
Needs improvement: Defensive line play
The Boilermakers have been abysmal at getting pressure on the quarterback and disrupting the backfield. They’ve recorded just five sacks and 21 tackles for loss through the first five games of the season.
Heading into the meat of the schedule, Purdue is going to have serious trouble slowing teams down if it can’t get better play from the defensive line. Having an effective pass-rusher and making stops in the backfield is a key for success for Jeff Brohm’s team moving forward.
Needs improvement: Offensive balance
Yes, this is very, very particular. But the Badgers are so good in just about every facet of the game that it’s hard to find something that needs improvement.
Alex Hornibrook has been really good early in the season and Wisconsin’s passing attack has been much better than it was a year ago. But against better defenses, the Badgers won’t simply be able to rely on the legs of Jonathan Taylor. Hornibrook is going to be tested by a top-notch defense at some point, and he’ll be asked to deliver.