Hot Reads: The Big Ten West Race is Crazy . . . For Now
Photo Credit: Jesse Johnson - USA TODAY Sports

Hot Reads: The Big Ten West Race is Crazy . . . For Now

October 02, 2017

It was a strange week in the Big Ten, but having watched this conference closely now for six-plus seasons it feels like every week is a little weird. So maybe this latest one was just normal? Maryland, with its third-string quarterback, going on the road and delivering Minnesota its first loss was to be expected. Maybe Iowa at 0-2 to start Big Ten play should’ve been expected.

Neither was for me, but here we are. Let’s a take a closer look at the five non-Nebraska games in the conference last week in hopes of gaining an accurate view of what actually happened.

Penn State 45 Indiana 14: How’s this for a nightmare start for Indiana? Saquon Barkley returns the opening kickoff for a touchdown. Indiana fumbles on the second play of its first drive, leading to a Penn State touchdown. Two drives later the Hoosiers get a stop only to fumble the ensuing punt, which was scooped and scored to make it 21-0 less than 10 minutes into the game. The final score here is disguising that Indiana played pretty well defensively. It held Penn State to just 5 yards per play overall and Barkley only had 56 yards rushing on 20 carries.

Maryland 31 Minnesota 24: Statistically speaking this one was pretty even. Yards per play, success rate and scoring opportunities were all about even, so let’s turn to toxic differential. Minnesota was minus-two in turnovers, and Maryland, as Maryland does, won the explosive play battle. Do that and a team is probably going to win, even as a two-touchdown underdog on the road with its third-string quarterback. If you don't know Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell's name already, it's time to learn it.

Michigan State 17 Iowa 10: This one wasn’t very pretty. The Hawkeyes had nearly as many punting yards (227) as total yards (231). This Michigan State defense is looking legit. The Spartans are giving up just 4.23 yards per play so far (fourth in the Big Ten) and, after bizarrely ranking last in tackles for loss last year, have gotten back to forcing some negative plays. The Hawkeyes’ offense only had 11 drives and five of them started inside their own 20, which is how Iowa has beaten a bunch of teams over the years. On Saturday, Michigan State gave it a dose of its own medicine.

Ohio State 56 Rutgers 0: Urban Meyer has faced his former assistant Chris Ash twice now. Ash’s Rutgers squad has yet to score a point against the Buckeyes, losing by a combined score of 114-0 the past two seasons. Ohio State crossed the Knights’ 40-yard line eight touchdowns and came away with touchdowns each time. Rutgers also lost the turnover battle. This one was as bad as it looks for the Scarlet Knights.

Wisconsin 33 Northwestern 24: Listened to most of this game on my drive back from Champaign. If you saw the halftime score – Northwestern up 10-7 – and wondered “what’s wrong with the Badgers?” here’s what was wrong: Wisconsin fumbled six times, losing two, and threw two interceptions in the first half. Being down only three was a win in that scenario. The Badgers exerted their will early in the second half going on a 27-0 run before Northwestern rallied to make it close in the fourth quarter. The success rate for the two offenses was almost even here, but Wisconsin’s defense only gave up two gains of 15-plus yards while the Badgers' offense hit for three passes of 30-plus yards and that was really the difference. Strip away the turnovers and explosive plays, and this game was pretty even.

If you haven’t looked at the Big Ten standings recently, the West Division race is pretty interesting. Wisconsin is still clearly the best team in that half, but Nebraska currently leads with a 2-0 record (I know, Illinois and Rutgers). The remaining five West teams are all winless in conference play. 

The Grab Bag

  • Interesting tweet from cornerback Chris Jones on Sunday. Suspect will learn more about that in a few hours when Mike Riley meets with the media.
  • ESPN's Adam Rittenburg is back with his "The Plays that Swung Saturday" feature.
  • How are things in Louisville? Well, Rick Pitino says he's selling his house despite not officially being fired yet. Meanwhile some big-time boosters – people with their names on stadiums – are lobbying for AD Tom Jurich to keep his job.
  • Will Tennessee be in the market for a new coach? Tom Fornelli of CBSSports.com thinks so.

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