The Big Ten's wild Saturday mirrored college football overall: major upsets contrasting with dominanting performances. Wisconsin and Michigan State won big, Michigan and Illinois struggled, and Nebraska and Indiana won big out of conference matchups.
Buckeyes should be wary of Hoosiers
- 45th in F/+ now. 56 in 2013, 74 in 2012, and 105 in 2011. I see, you Kevin Wilson
The Hoosiers lost to Bowling Green in Week 2, leading many to question Kevin Wilson's progress at Indiana. But with yesterday's huge upset at Missouri, all seems to be forgiven. Looking at the Hoosiers' F/+ scores over the past few years reinforces Wilson's progress: 45th last week, 56th in 2013, 74 in 2012, and 105th in 2011.
The Hoosiers are not a defensive powerhouse, but they are more balanced on offense thanks to Tevin Coleman. Coleman's big play ability has the Hoosiers with the third-most 20+ yard rushes in the Big Ten.
Indiana ran 88 plays against a Missouri team that both knows something about going no-huddle and will likely win a fair number of games in the SEC East this year. The Hoosiers offense averaged 2.2 points per possession, but 35 yards per possession, meaning that they had a whole lot of boom-or-bust drives (8 punts even). While known as an explosive big-play back, Coleman also had a 59% efficiency rate against the stout Missouri defense.
The problem here for Ohio State is that the Hoosiers still have an effective screen/short pass game to compliment their new and efficient running game. The Buckeyes haven't demonstrated yet that they can successfully stop that short pass game, but the addition of an effective running offense makes the week before The Game that much more dangerous.
Ammer Abdullah makes case for Heisman race
We knew that Abdullah was the best Huskers' player entering the season, but the degree that Pelini and company have leaned on him is incredible:
Nebraska has run 33 of the last 36 offensive snaps in this game. Unreal. #Huskers— Rich Kaipust (@RKaipustOWH) September 21, 2014
In total, he toted the rock 35 times for 229 yards with 68% efficiency. Abdullah displayed his big-play ability against McNeese State and now his durability against Miami.
While that rushing prowess is good for Nebraska, their passing attack is still directed by wildly inconsistent Tommy Armstrong Jr. and is really concentrated in the hands of just Kenny Bell and Alonzo Moore, who had 7/9 receptions and 96/113 receiving yards. It wouldn't take much pushing for opposing defensive coordinators to stack the box, put their best corner on Bell, and call it a night.
Nebraska and Ohio State would have to meet in the Big Ten Championship, but neither is at all guaranteed a spot.
No one ever said the B1G couldn't run the ball, though.
The Big Ten may be without any elite quarterbacks (Hackenberg's not there yet), but it's got plenty of top rushing attacks. Outside of Indiana and Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin both had huge days running the ball.
In the preseason, Minnesota's David Cobb was one of those hip picks for top running back (you haven't heard much of) in the Big Ten. Much like Abdullah, Cobb has become a workhorse for the Gophers, earning 34 carries against San Jose State last night. Cobb was more boom and bust than Abdullah, though, with only a 50% success rate. Cobb did pace the Gophers with 207 yards while their quarterback Chris Streveler pitched in 161 more. Oh yeah, and the Gophers only completed a single pass for seven yards on the night (remniscent of the 2011 Ohio State-Illinois game).
Wisconsin just managed to break the Big Ten's rushing record with 644 yards on the ground. Melvin Gordon led the way with 253 yards, but both Corey Clement and Tanner McEvoy eclipsed the century mark as well. The Badgers ended with 4.25 points per possession and managed to average 47 yards per possession, meaning that on average they picked up almost five first downs per drive. That's an excellent way to win the field position battle. Furthermore, the Badgers were 5/5 on red-zone conversions with four of those being touchdowns. While most Buckeye fans are rightly concentrated on Michigan State, Wisconsin's outside run game from Gordon, Clement, and McEvoy could really give the Buckeyes fits.
Hoke and Rodriguez are Bizarro twins
Finally, Michigan. Between a shouting match breaking out between Hoke and Mattison, to failing to see the red zone against any Power 5 teams, to a now -10 turnover margin, things have gotten really, really ugly in Ann Arbor. Oh yeah, and they lost to Utah.
The issue is that Michigan is kinda/sorta competent statistically, but they simply give the ball away too many times to seriously challenge any halfway-decent teams. Michigan was actually 30th overall in rushing yards per game before play Utah, but Green and Smith were held to just 24 carries for 88 yards (3.67 ypc). The drive chart for Michigan's offense is astounding: a field goal, then four punts, interception, punt, downs, interception, interception, fumble, downs. It really doesn't get any more horrific than that. It's not like Utah played a great game either, with 6/17 on third downs and only 81 yards rushing.
The Wolverines are in a weird place because of how average they look. With RichRod, at least the offense was really pretty solid, but Hoke's defense is just good, not great. And that's the aspiration for the offense too -- good, not great. When you outgain your opponent by 22 yards and have six more first downs, but lose by 16 points and average just .88 points per possession, there's something wrong with the way you finish drives. For the Wolverines, that's turnovers. The question is whether that's just systematic or something that can really be turned around before the season is over.