Every Monday after the Big Ten slate of games, I will bring you some B1G thoughts on everything that happened! This will include analysis, stats, key players, moments, and maybe a joke or two. Check out the I-70 Football Show in the Land-Grant Holy Land podcast feed for more in-depth analysis and to preview the next week of B1G games.
State College, you have a Manny Diaz problem
State College, I regret to inform you that you have a Manny Diaz problem. I know there was a lot of hope when Franklin replaced longtime defensive coordinator Brent Pry with the former Miami head coach. It made sense; You could convince yourself that Franklin stole a great coach from a program that undervalued him. You may have even convinced yourself that with him at the helm he could make your already good defense a great defense.
After six games, that is not the case. Penn State may have the best claim of any school to be Linebacker University. Their most recent stud, Micah Parsons, may already be a top-10 defender in the NFL. Yet so far this season, the Nittany Lions linebacking corp has been abysmal. As has their defensive line. The only bright spot is a secondary led by Joey Porter Jr. and Ji’Ayir Brown.
Diaz’s defense allowed Michigan to run for 418 total yards, with the duo of Black Corum and Donovan Edwards running for 339 yards and four touchdowns. Against the only other team on the schedule with a pulse, Diaz’s unit gave up 31 points and needed some late-game heroics to win a game where they did not look like the better team. To make matters worse, they were bullied in all aspects of the game, and with games against Minnesota and Ohio State coming up this season, things could get out of hand.
Diaz is going to have to look at himself in the mirror and find a way to bring back LBU or Penn State is at risk of losing three-straight games and ending all thoughts of contending for the East.
The return of small-game James
Small game James has done it again, and no I don’t mean James Harden. James Franklin is an above-average coach, which can not be denied, but when it comes to big games — whether they be against rivals or in bowls — his teams typically come up small.
Under Franklin, Penn State has a record of 72-35, with a 44-29 mark in the Big Ten. That’s good for a 62% win percentage overall and 60% in the Big Ten. That’s solid. Very much above average, but not spectacular. The problem comes when the Nittany Lions play teams that are equal or better. Franklin is 10-22 against his East division rivals, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State, and in bowl games. Franklin has won 11 games in a season three times but also has a trio of seven-win seasons as well.
Penn State has been close to the mountain top, but more times than not they suffer frustrating losses to teams they should be equal to or better than. Penn State has tied its future to Franklin, but unless he finds a way to come up big in big games, Penn State has a ceiling and I don’t see them busting through it anytime soon. That should be concerning with Ohio State and Michigan separating themselves from the pack, as well as the addition of UCLA and USC.
Penn State is in the awkward position of having a coach who is just good enough, but not great. If you fire him, you risk ruining your program. But if you keep him, you risk never being great. With the 12-team playoff looming and changes to the conference, Franklin won’t have much longer to prove he’s still the guy.
10 years of success or regret?
After an 11-2 season with a win over rival Michigan, the Michigan State brass signed Mel Tucker to a 10-year, $95 million extension to lock him up for the next decade, and supposedly keep away LSU and other schools from trying to poach him. All of this shortly after Penn State locked up James Franklin to a 10-year $85 million extension. This one made less sense, because no one was coming after Franklin, and he’d been mediocre at best in his last few seasons.
Well, immediately after that extension, the Spartans are 3-4 and look like one of the worst teams in the Big Ten. With games against Illinois, Michigan, and Penn State left on the schedule, Michigan State may be looking at a season without making a bowl game.
Under Tucker, Michigan State has had one exceptional season, but has one of the worst secondaries in the country and an inconsistent running game without Kenneth Walker III making up for a horrible offensive line. Penn State, on the other hand, is 5-1, but after a brutal beating by Michigan, they are looking at a potential three-game losing streak and a disappointing season.
Neither coach had done enough to deserve a ten-year extension, but their agents ran laps around the administration. It’s too soon to determine if these schools will regret their decision, but maybe they should consider letting coaches earn the money before throwing it around.
Michigan is good, why are you all shocked?
After dismantling Penn State, many national pundits are declaring that Michigan is a good football team — which is true. My problem is: why are they so shocked?
Under Harbaugh, Michigan is 68-24 overall and 46-17 in the Big Ten. In his seven seasons, Michigan has won more than 10 games four times, and has won eight and nine games in two other seasons. He is well on his way to another 10-plus win season. His Wolverines sit at 7-0 so far in his eighth year with the program. Harbaugh is far from perfect as a coach and especially as a person, but one thing is true: Michigan has always been a good team under him.
They have not been elite, which has led to some embarrassing losses to Ohio State, but they have been very good. So, yes you can choose to act surprised that Michigan is a good football team, but you just haven’t been paying attention. The only thing that matters for Michigan is whether they are good enough to compete with Ohio State, or was last year an aberration? We won’t know the answer until late November when it’s likely both teams will meet with undefeated records, with a trip to the College Football Playoff following a pit stop in Indianapolis on the line.
Blake Corum, I apologize for doubting you
I must apologize to Blake Corum. For way too long I did not view him as a top back in the Big Ten. I questioned if he could carry the load for the Wolverines in Hassan Haskins’ absence. I didn’t think he had it in him to be an every-down back and pick up the tough yards when Michigan needed them most.
It may have taken a few games too long, but Corum has changed my mind. Through seven games he has been the engine of Michigan’s offense, finding a way to wreck defensive game plans and break off big runs almost at will. Through seven games he has 146 carries — two more than he had in 12 games last year — for 901 yards and 13 touchdowns. He has turned himself into a top-five back in the Big Ten, which means he’s essentially a top-five back in the nation and a true NFL Draft prospect.
Michigan will go as far as he can carry them. His only job now is to stay healthy as he shoulders a heavy load.
Jim Leonhard can’t fix his defense, how can he fix Wisconsin?
Wisconsin fired Paul Chryst largely because he could not develop a consistent offense. Wisconsin was losing its identity, and the promise of Graham Mertz hasn’t shown any results so far despite Chryst assuming the mantel of quarterbacks coach for a season and Mertz getting more experienced in the offense. While the firing of Chryst was more than justified for multiple reasons, the hiring or potential hiring of Jim Leonhard may be a mistake they can’t recover from.
Leonhard is the native son, and for much of his career has led one of the best defenses in the country. That can not be said this year, as Wisconsin has lost four games this season, including giving up 52 points to Ohio State and 34 apiece to Illinois and Michigan State. The Badger’s offense is not great, but against the Spartans, they put up 27 points, and in previous years that would be more than enough to win as Wisconsin’s defense was not giving up 30-plus points to almost any offense. This is not to say that Jim Leonhard won’t be a good head coach, but if his defense is slipping, can you genuinely have faith that he can fix both sides of the ball and bring Wisconsin into the future?
A Big Ten Championship with the Illibuck on the line!
Illinois is the best team in the West. It’s as simple as that. They are on a crash course with Ohio State towards a Big Ten Championship game with the Illibuck on the line. Yes, the Illibuck. Not the championship trophy, not the playoffs. We have priorities here and that turtle trophy is at the top of the list!
Jacoby Windmon: Big Ten DPOY?
Michigan State has been a very bad team this season, but they have one bright spot. That is linebacker turned defensive end Jacoby Windmon. At the one-third mark of the season, Windmon led the Big Ten in just about every defensive category that mattered. After stepping up as a defensive end when his team needed him, he moved back to linebacker against Wisconsin and continued padding his stats.
He finished the game with 11 tackles, as well as one tackle for loss, an interception, a forced fumbles and pass breakup. He was all over the place for the Spartans, bringing his season total to 37 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and an interception. He is a versatile weapon for Michigan State, and at this pace could very well end up the Big Ten’s Defensive Player of the Year in his first season in the conference after transferring over from UNLV.
Trey Palmer is HIM!
Scott Frost made many mistakes as a head coach, but one of his best decisions was hiring Mickey Joseph from LSU. Mickey Joseph came home to Nebraska and brought with him LSU transfer Trey Palmer. Palmer has arguably been Nebraska’s best player this season, and he continues to dazzle. Against Purdue, albeit in a loss, he racked up an outrageous line with seven catches for 237 yards and two touchdowns. For the season, he has 47 receptions for 781 yards and five touchdowns. Nebraska has not had many bright spots, but the play of their transfers — specifically Palmer — is one of them.
The Mockabee train is leaving the station
Purdue for the past few seasons has had a non-existent running game, putting immense pressure on Aidan O’Connell and his wide receivers to win them games. Throughout this season, that has still been the case, but that may soon be changing with the emergence of freshman running back Devin Mockabee.
Mockabee has been used very sparingly this season, but already has two games with over 100 yards rushing. Against Nebraska, Mockabee was a workhorse with 30 rushing attempts for 178 yards and a touchdown. Mockabee is averaging 5.7 yards per carry, and has already shown he can handle a larger workload. The job should be his for the rest of the season.
With the threat of Aidan O’Connell launching passes to Charlie Jones, adding a running threat could boost Purdue’s chances of capturing a West division title. Plus, did I mention he wears No. 45? What more could you ask for in a running back?