Hot Reads: Michigan is Fine
Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski - USA TODAY Sports

Hot Reads: Michigan is Fine, Penn State Might Not Be

October 09, 2017

It was a telling week in the Big Ten. Or at least it feels that way now, but you usually come back to regret making such claims. What feel revelatory in week three can feel foolish in week 12, but for now the games of the past weekend seemed to help clarify the hierarchy in the Conference of Big Shoulders.

You’ve already probably looked at the Nebraska game from every angle, so, as we do each Monday, let’s take a closer look at the non-Nebraska box scores to see what we can see:

INDIANA 27 CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 0: This game probably should’ve been closer to 42-0. It wasn’t because the Hoosiers went -3 in turnovers and averaged just 3.4 points per trip inside the opponent’s 40 (4 is about average). Given that the game turned rainy, there’s no shame in 27-0 but just now Indiana played better than that. CSU attempted just 10 passes and completed none of them, with Indiana getting credited with a breakup on six of those attempts. The Hoosiers are a solid squad. Put them in the West and they might be the second-best team in the division.

IOWA 45 ILLINOIS 16: This one looks a little strange at first glance, but makes sense upon closer inspection. Illinois had a nearly) equal amount of yards in this game (446/441) and an equal number of first downs (20), yet got beat by four scores. What happened? Iowa, as Iowa does, bowed up defensively on its half of the field. The Illini made seven trips into scoring territory (inside the opponent 40) and averaged just 2.3 points per trip. The Hawkeyes also had a nearly 13-yard edge in average field position, which exerts significant pressure on a defense. Illinois was also -2 in turnovers. In short, Iowa gave up some yards but did the “football things” a team needs to do to win the game.

OHIO STATE 62 MARYLAND 14: I told colleague Derek Peterson as this game was getting underway that it seemed like Urban Meyer had moved into “Murderin’ Meyer Mode,” and the stats from this one back it up a little bit. Through one-and-a-half seasons, Maryland’s put together a pretty impressive offense, one that is certainly greater than the sum of its parts. But in this one the Terps managed just 55 yards, six first downs and a 14-percent success rate. This game was 62-14 with an even turnover margin. I’m seeing hints of 2014 in this Ohio State team. After the home loss to Oklahoma — one that looks a little less reasonable after the Sooners lost to Iowa State in Norman – Ohio State shifted to another gear. That’s what will roll into Lincoln this week.

MICHIGAN STATE 14 MICHIGAN 10: Man, what’s wrong with Jim Harbaugh’s Michigan? Has he already reached the Pelini zone by elevating the Wolverines overall standing but continuing to find ways to lose the biggest, season-changing games? Heard that more than a handful of times after this one but before you go too far down either road consider that Michigan lost by four in a deluge while being -5 in turnovers, and that included plenty of bad luck. The Spartans intercepted three of the five balls they got their hands on (expected rate: about 30 percent) and got two touchdowns out of its three trips into scoring territory. Michigan only got 10 out of its three trips, including the opening drive which resulted in a field goal after stalling out at Michigan State’s 11. I know box-score wins don’t count at the end of the year, but the optics of this loss are way worse than the level at which Michigan actually played.

PURDUE 31 MINNESOTA 17: Now here’s a game that’s pretty true, but it took a late pick-six to look that way. Purdue’s really solid. (Underrated Big Ten Game of the Year pick: Indiana at Purdue to end the season.) The Boilermakers sort of dominated the stat sheet while being -2 in turnovers and narrowly losing the field-position battle. Meanwhile Minnesota is looking like a little bit of fool’s gold, whichisn’t the worst thing in year one of a new regime. Through nonconference play — games against Buffalo, Oregon State and Middle Tennessee State – the Gophers allowed a total of 717 yards and 24 points. In two Big Ten games (Maryland, Purdue) Minnesota has allowed a total of 855 and 62. Doesn’t bode well for a team whose schedule still includes Michigan State, Michigan, Iowa and Wisconsin.

PENN STATE 31 NORTHWESTERN 7: The Nittany Lions did what they needed to do to grind the Wildcats down on the road. Northwestern again put up a good defensive effort, including 12 tackles for loss and five sacks, against a good conference foe for the second straight week. But the average Penn State drive started at its own 40-yard line, and even though the run game was effectively shut down for most of the game, the Nittany Lions have enough weapons to do what good teams do: win when they’re not at their best. That said, there are some red flags with the Lions. Penn State averaged 6.44 yards per rush in nonconference play. Through two Big Ten games (Indiana, Northwestern) its down to 1.79. That could be real trouble down the road in this division. After a week off this week, Penn State plays Michigan, at Ohio State and at Michigan State. The Lions might lose two of those.

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