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Hot Reads: Bye Week Blues
Photo Credit: Dennis Schneidler - USA TODAY Sports

Hot Reads: Bye Week Blues

October 23, 2017

If you spent Nebraska’s bye week as a dutiful, if still somewhat new, conference loyalist, I’m sorry you had to watch so much rough football. The Big Ten slate didn’t offer much of anything to love. There were a pair of West-Division rock fights in Evanston and Minneapolis, an upset in New Jersey, the continued cruelty of Indiana’s season, Wisconsin doing what it does and, in the spotlight game, Penn State putting it to Michigan in all three phases.

Here’s a closer look at what happened (or maybe just what didn’t) in the Big Ten over the weekend:

Northwestern 17 Iowa 10: In a very on-brand Big Ten game, the Wildcats and Hawkeyes battled to a 10-10 tie at the end of regulation. Northwestern quarterback Clayton Thorson found running back Justin Jackson for a 23-yard gain for the key play in overtime, but the Wildcats probably should’ve won this game in regulation based on the box score. Iowa won yards per play, but had a lower success rate, the game’s only turnover and gave up 7 yards in average field position. The Hawkeyes fell to 1-3 in the Big Ten while Northwestern is all of the sudden 2-2, tied with Nebraska for second in the West. It’s not a very good division at the moment.

Wisconsin 38 Maryland 13: Not a ton to see with this one. Wisconsin had a 51-percent success rate (crushing efficiency), never trailed after its first touchdown three minutes into the game, averaged nearly a touchdown every time it crossed the Terps’ 40 and didn’t turn the ball over. Maryland, to its credit, was nearly even in first downs but the Badgers kept the Terps’ explosive offense (it is when it’s healthy) buttoned up. Meanwhile Wisconsin had four receivers with at least one catch of 20-plus yards.

Michigan State 17 Indiana 9: Looking at the box score, I’m really glad I didn’t watch more than a play or two of this game. The teams had the same awful success rate of 28 percent, gained nearly the same sad number of yards per play (3.7) and had essentially the same field position. The only real difference here was how the teams finished drives. Both scored three times, but all of Indiana’s were field goals, including a maddening 20-yard field goal to open the fourth quarter. If the Hoosiers get a touchdown there – the drive ended at the Spartans’ 2-yard line – and go up 13-3, they probably win. Indiana is 0-4 in the Big Ten, but much better than that record indicates. Michigan State is 4-0 and probably a little worse than that record indicates. The Spartans’ four conference wins have come by a total of 22 points.

Minnesota 24 Illinois 17: It wasn’t until doing this review that I fully realized what a aesthetically displeasing week of games it was in the Big Ten. Minnesota and Illinois played like equals from a yards-per-play perspective and scored the same number of points on trips inside the 40, but the Gophers kind of controlled things here.  A fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown put Minnesota up 24-10 with 4 minutes left and that would’ve been a more accurate result, but the Illini managed to put one more touchdown on the board with 23 seconds remaining.

Penn State 42 Michigan 13: The conference’s marquee matchup of the weekend wasn’t much of one. Penn State put its foot on the gas early and never totally let up. Michigan did put together two solid scoring drives to make it 14-13 shortly before halftime, but the Nittany Lions responded with a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took all of 52 seconds. It was a quick and lethal response. Penn State gashed Michigan’s very-good defense, averaging 8.3 yards per play (the most of the Harbaugh era) and tallying a 50-percent success rate. James Franklin’s 2016 hire of offensive coordinator Joe Moorhead should win the 2017 Heisman. I know the award usually goes to a player, but has there been a better decision made in college football the last two years? Seventeen games ago (four games into the 2016 season), Franklin was 16-14 over two-plus seasons at Penn State. Now he’s murdering Michigan and forcing Wolverine fans to consider Harbaugh’s performance.

Rutgers 14 Purdue 12: If you’re wondering how the team that lost to Rutgers is favored by 6.5 points over Nebraska, this is how – Purdue had a few key failings at exactly the wrong times. Rutgers running back Gus Edwards opened scoring with a 74-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The Scarlet Knights had 217 yards total, so the 54 other plays gained 2.6 yards on average. The Boilermakers’ offense wasn’t exactly burning things up (39 percent success rate) with Elijah Sindelar taking most of the snaps at quarterback, but it probably could’ve gotten by with that level of efficiency minus the turnovers. Rutgers didn’t commit any and Sindelar threw two picks on two deep shots. Prior to this point Purdue had beaten the teams it was better than and lost to teams it was worse than, but this game definitely doesn’t fit that pattern.

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