What We Learned About the Big Ten in Week 4
Week 4 of the season for the Big Ten got better as the day went on, and as fans that's all you could hope for—given the schedule that was presented on Saturday.
The weekend began with over-matched opponents getting blown out and finished with a nail-biting ending as Michigan survived.
Despite a perceived multitude of cupcake matchups, there was plenty of action and plenty to have learned from Week 4 of the season.
So, what was it that we all should've learned from the Big Ten this week? Let's check it out, shall we?
Don't Read Too Much into Buckeyes Blowout
Yes, Kenny Guiton looked amazing and set the school record for touchdowns in a game with his six TD passes in the first half alone, but let's be real here—Florida A&M had no business being on the field with Ohio State.
This was originally supposed to a game against Vanderbilt, but the Nashville school got scared and pulled out of the game. That's not OSU's fault in the least, but paying $900,000 for a glorified scrimmage was pretty insane.
Taking away anything at all from the results, stats or individual performances from this type of a game is pointless, really.
No one won in this type of a matchup. I mean, seriously, what did this game serve to prove at the end of the day? We already knew the Buckeyes could hammer inferior opponents and that Florida A&M was a bad football team, too.
So, if you are a Buckeyes fan, slow your roll a bit and realize whom you just destroyed on Saturday afternoon. It wasn't nearly as impressive as the numbers suggest.
Hoke, Pelini Continuing to Have Issues in Areas at Which They Made Names
What do a former offensive line coach and a defensive coordinator have in common? Both of their supposed strong suits are killing the teams they are head coaches of this season.
Hoke's offensive line has been, well...offensive as of late. Michigan's five guys up front have struggled against two really bad defensive lines the past two weeks, and because of it the results have been nervy, to say the least.
Devin Gardner went from a world-beater following the Notre Dame game to looking like a true freshman making his first start over the course of the last two games.
Sure, some of the turnovers and bad decisions are on Gardner, to say the least, but at the same time, when you are constantly running for your life or having to worry that you won't have time to throw the ball in the pocket, that only increases the potential for mistakes.
Whose issue is that? It rests squarely on the offensive line, if you ask me. It's given up four sacks in the past two weeks, twice the number it gave up in the opening two games of the season.
Clearly, something is up with the line in Ann Arbor.
Over in Lincoln, things aren't looking much better for Pelini's defense. It gave up 465 yards of total offense and 21 points to FCS South Dakota State at home on Saturday afternoon.
You wouldn't know it by the final 59-20 score, but Nebraska was actually losing this football game at the end of the first quarter, down 17-14 before putting the clamps down a bit.
Luckily, Nebraska got some good play out of backup quarterbacks Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III, and the offense was able to bail out the defense.
Pelini's defense gave up an average of six yards a carry and allowed SDSU 227 yards on the ground. That right there is the most distressing number of the game for Nebraska, because it seems that no matter the opponent, they struggle to hold them down in the run game.
Nebraska is 10th in the Big Ten against the run, giving up 179.5 yards a game as they enter conference play, and that should never happen when you, as a head coach, have built your reputation as a defensive guy.
For two coaches who made their names at specific spots, seeing those groups struggle have to be major red flags, to say the least.
Penn State Defense Isn't as Bad as Some Thought
Those around the Nittany Lions program spent the better part of this past week wondering what was up with the PSU defense. Some suggested it was because of scholarship reductions and the NCAA sanctions. Others thought it was just a bad outing.
Whatever it was, the defense answered its critics in emphatic fashion on Saturday at Beaver Stadium, pitching a shutout over a Kent State team that went into the jungle of LSU's Death Valley the week before and managed 13 points.
Sure, there was no Dri Archer (Kent State's star player) on Saturday. However, the Golden Flashes still had dynamic quarterback Colin Reardon playing, and he was completely bottled up.
Reardon finished the day with just 100 yards on all of 12-of-28 passing to go along with minus-seven yards rushing on six carries.
After being questioned all week long, this type of a performance was exactly the answer the Penn State defense needed.
Now with a week off to heal up and get ready for Indiana's high-powered offense, let's see what PSU has in conference play.
Minnesota Is Really Taking on Kill's Personality, and That's a Good Thing
Spend any time around or talking with Gophers head coach Jerry Kill and you understand what he is all about. He's a tough-nosed, no-nonsense guy who likes to play physical football.
On Saturday against a very good San Jose State opponent, Minnesota took on the personality of their head coach in the biggest way to date in the Kill era.
The Gophers just physically pounded on the Spartans to the tune of 383 yards rushing (averaging 5.3 yards a carry) and 41:02 in time of possession.
Freshman quarterback Mitch Leidner, making his first start, threw the ball all of 12 times, but he led the Gophers in rushing with 151 yards and four touchdowns.
Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner had 4 rushing TDs Sat. He's 1st FBS QB w/ 4 rushing TDs in a game this season. http://t.co/ZY54fwOozB— ESPNU (@ESPNU) September 22, 2013
The question now is what to do at quarterback. Leidner wasn't awesome through the air, but he didn't have to be, and with him at QB the team produced the best offensive performance of the season against the best opponent they have seen to date.
Philip Nelson hasn't exactly lit the world on fire to date either. One has to wonder if Kill and Co. will keep the hot hand going next week regardless of Nelson's injury status.
As we sit here on the Sunday before the battle for Floyd of Rosedale, Minnesota is 4-0 on the season and heading in the right direction. If they can keep up the physical domination up front, this team has the potential to be really dangerous during conference play.
Northwestern's Defense Is for Real
Every week someone steps up on defense, and as a result this team as a whole becomes more and more of a true contender.
Well, consider me sold as of Week 4—and that's because the defense forced three turnovers and took two of them for touchdowns in a 35-21 victory that was really a less than stellar offensive performance against FCS opponent, Maine.
The final score and the gaudy overall stats aside in this one, what Northwestern's defense showed on Saturday against Maine is that it is aggressive and capable of winning football games for this team.
You couldn't say that in any of the last three years, and that is the biggest difference overall.
Would they have liked to have not seen the game so close? Sure, but it was more about letting off the gas when up 28-7 in the fourth quarter than anything else.
The defense only allowed 3.6 yards rushing and 5.8 yards per pass—numbers that are very good regardless of the opponent.
Wisconsin Has the Running Game, but Does It Have the Quarterback to Be a Contender?
Melvin Gordon is unreal and James White is no slouch, either. Both went for more than 140 yards rushing in 16 carries apiece as the Badgers pounded Purdue, 41-10, to open the Big Ten season.
That was all well and good, and Gordon may be a legit Heisman candidate at this point in time, but guess who stares the Badgers in the face this coming week?
O-H-I-O State stares them in the face.
In order to beat the Buckeyes, the Badgers are going to need more than just a good running game. They are going to need a quarterback capable of at least making a big play or two.
After yesterday's game, one has to wonder about Joel Stave's ability to hit those important plays.
He twice missed a wide-open Jared Abbrederis for potential touchdowns. On one he overshot a ball on a bit of a scramble, and then there was a case of Stave's supposed "strength" of throwing an accurate deep ball.
Instead, on the biggest potential pass play of the game, Stave decided to lead a wide-open Jared Abbrederis away from the sideline vertical route and into a post route by throwing the ball about 10 yards inside toward the hash mark.
Needless to say, it didn't end well, and it wasn't the first time Badgers fans have seen that happen.
In order to take down teams like OSU or Penn State on the schedule ahead, Stave needs to prove he can hit those routes. Otherwise, teams won't respect the deep ball, and that means less potential for the running game to be explosive, too.
*Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. Follow him on Twitter for more of everything Big Ten.
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