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Hot Reads: A Closer Look at Week 1 in the Big Ten

September 25, 2017
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Now that Big Ten play has started, I think I’m going to use this Monday morning space each week to review the non-Nebraska box scores in the Big Ten. They’ll tell you a lot if you just bother to look, and bothering to look at box scores is sort of a hobby of mine.

So let’s examine at what happened in the Conference of Big Shoulders over the weekend.

UCF 38 MARYLAND 10: You probably heard a bit about this game in Nebraska. Central Florida, playing just its second game of the season, went to Maryland and handled the Terps’ explosive running attack. The Knights allowed just 1.14 yards per rush, and this looks like a dominant road win at first glance. But, Maryland was down to its third-string quarterback (not a runner like the other two) and was pretty unlucky on the turnover front. The Terps had seven pass breakups, but none of them resulted in an interception. Meanwhile UCF intercepted both balls it got its hands on, maximized its scoring-territory trips and ended up with a four-touchdown win. The Knights played well against a weakened Maryland squad, don’t get me wrong, but 38-10 is probably a maximized scoring margin.

INDIANA 52 GEORGIA SOUTHERN 17: The yards were closer in this game than the final score indicates, but, as Blackshirts fans are learning this season, who cares about yards? Georgia Southern, with its glorious helmets, fumbled five times and lost three, and didn’t net any interceptions from its three pass breakups, which is a little unlucky. When the Eagles did cross midfield they did a good job of getting points, but the Hoosiers played pretty efficient defense (keeping GSU off schedule two-thirds of the time) and got a special-teams touchdown. You could say this should’ve been closer to 45-24, but that’s still a comfortable enough win for Indiana. The Hoosiers look solid through three games.

PENN STATE 21 IOWA 19: Iowa almost Iowa’d the Nittany Lions. If you look at Penn State’s walk-off touchdown, a pass just past the fingertips of a Hawkeye defender, it feels like the Lions were a little lucky to win. If you look at the offensive stats, namely 579 yards for PSU, it feels like Iowa was lucky to even be in the game. But the Hawkeyes, who ran 45 plays to Penn State’s 99, had a better yards-per-play average and were a little unlucky on the turnover front, breaking up eight passes but only intercepting one. In short, Iowa played its brand of football and stayed in the game that way. Credit to the Hawkeyes for that. Penn State still found a way to win in a tough road environment, which is what good teams do. Credit to the Lions for that. All in all, a classic Big Ten game.

NOTRE DAME 38 MICHIGAN STATE 18: This one should’ve been closer than it appears. The yards per play were almost dead even, but the Spartans lost two fumbles and had an interception returned for a touchdown. The Irish averaged better than six points per trip inside the 40 and that’s really the difference here. Michigan State made one more trip but averaged just 2.8, and that, combined with being minus-three in turnovers, is how you end up with a 20-point loss at home. But Michigan State is much better than it was a year ago. The Spartans are going to spoil somebody’s season in the East. Mark it down.

OHIO STATE 54 UNLV 21: The Buckeyes are better than the Rebels. You knew that on Friday, you saw it on Saturday and the box score proves it again. Ohio State had a 23-yard edge in average starting field position, which is about all you need to know.

MICHIGAN 28 PURDUE 10: Michigan’s defense was stellar in this one. Purdue did everything it could to keep this close, working a small field-position edge and winning the turnover battle with a little luck, but the Wolverines are just better on a position-by-position basis. There’s really no shame in this loss for the developing Boilermakers. They stayed in a game through three quarters and the final margin probably should’ve been larger. As for Michigan, it’s still working out some kinks but the Wolverines are a quietly comfortable 4-0. They get Michigan State in two weeks in the Big House, which should be a telling game.

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