Big Ten Football: What We Learned During Week 7
Raise your hand and take a bow if you saw what took place in East Lansing, Madison and State College happening on Saturday—because few saw how those three games played out coming.
Sure, the winners of those games may have been picked by quite a few, but the fashion in which they happened was stunning to say the least.
Needless to say, Week 7 provided some major lessons to be learned and even a team that didn't play learned something too.
Let us take a look at what we all should have learned from Week 7 in the Big Ten.
Michigan Can't Win with Devin Gardner as the Leading Rusher in Big Ten Games.
Yes, I may have been hard on Michigan after last week's win over Minnesota, but I also said that what we saw out of Gardner and the game plan as a whole in that game was the recipe for success for Michigan.
Meaning—less Gardner running, more Gardner in the pocket and fewer turnovers.
That isn't what happened at all in Beaver Stadium on Saturday night and Michigan lost because of it. Well, that and Christian Hackenberg going all legend-building on the Michigan defense in the final 50 seconds...but I digress.
Back to the point at hand, Gardner ran for a team-best 121 yards on 24 carries and threw for 240 yards with three touchdowns to two interceptions.
If this were Denard Robinson we'd likely be talking a W for the Maize 'N Blue, yet as we've seen in the two close wins and Saturday's loss, the more Gardner is running, the more this team isn't doing good things on offense.
Running back Fitzgerald Toussaint may have had more carries (27) than Gardner, but he was completely bottled up on the night—rushing for just 27 yards.
The simple truth is, Michigan's offensive line is not good enough (and I'm being kind there) or consistent enough to allow the one playmaker they have on offense to do what needs to be done to win football games against good teams.
That would be actually playing in the pro-style system offensive coordinator Al Borges has put in with Gardner behind center.
Unless something changes up front and Gardner isn't forced to rush nearly as many times as he passes, it could be a long stretch ahead for the Wolverines.
Games against Michigan State, Nebraska, Northwestern, Iowa and Ohio State are all still left and there's no way a repeat of this week (which was a near repeat of the UConn game in my opinion) wins a majority of those games.
Nebraska Is Hitting Its Stride at Just the Right Time.
On the flip side of Michigan, we have what the Huskers have put down over the last few weeks.
Yes, games against Illinois and Purdue (not exactly the cream of the defensive crop) need to be taken into consideration, but the reality of the situation is this: Nebraska's defense just carried this team to a near shutout victory on the road.
Over the last three weeks the Huskers D has gotten better and better and they had their best day to date on Saturday.
Nebraska held Purdue to just 216 total yards of offense, 32 yards of rushing and the most impressive number of all—just 3-of-14 on third downs for the day.
Some of that was on Purdue's offense to be sure, but Nebraska's defense contributed a lot to those numbers as well.
The good news is that the defense carried a team that got a less-than-stellar performance out of redshirt freshman quarterback Tommy Armstrong, Jr. (6-of-18 for 43 yards) and a less-than-stellar day from Tim Beck as a play-caller too.
Even better news than the defensive performance? Nebraska has another bye week ahead and a more healthy Taylor Martinez coming back to this team out of the bye week.
It sure feels like the Huskers are hitting their stride at just the right time, especially given where things stand in the division.
Wisconsin's Defense Made a Serious Statement on Saturday.
Northwestern may not have had Kain Colter or Venric Mark, but that's hardly been a new situation this season for the Wildcats and earlier this year that never stopped them from putting up huge offensive numbers.
On Saturday in Camp Randall that didn't happen at all and the vast majority of the credit goes to the Wisconsin Badgers.
This was perhaps the weakest performance we've seen from the Wildcats in the Pat Fitzgerald era and it started on the very first series of the game.
Trevor Siemian threw an interception to Badgers freshman Sojourn Shelton (one in which the corner skied to grab) and it was all downhill from there.
Northwestern was just 2-of-17 on third downs and only ran for 44 yards on the day. Wisconsin's defense also had seven sacks in the win, a single-game total it hadn't had in just over a decade.
What we witnessed on Saturday was the challenger to Michigan State's perceived crown as the "best defense in the Big Ten."
The numbers certainly suggest they are in the conversation. Wisconsin now leads the Big Ten in scoring defense (13.2 points per game), is second in total defense (267.3 yards a game) and passing defense (177.2 yards a game) and is giving up under 100 yards rushing a game (90.2), which is good for fifth best in the conference to date.
On Saturday the Badgers defense played perhaps their most complete game of the year and by using a safety closer to the line of scrimmage they clearly caused major issues for Northwestern's offense.
Holding a group that scored 30 points or more in every game before Saturday to just 6 and not giving up a touchdown says a lot about how good this group is.
Wisconsin's defense made one heck of a statement, but it may have been two weeks too late to matter on the championship level.
DeAngelo Yancey is Reason Enough to Watch Purdue the Rest of the Season.
Allen Robinson, Jared Abbrederis and the host of great wide receivers at Nebraska grab a lot of the attention at that position in the Big Ten, and for good reason.
However, a youngster playing for what could easily be the worst team in the Big Ten is giving us all reason to watch.
Of course I'm talking about DeAngelo Yancey of Purdue.
The final score on Saturday may have read 44-7 to Nebraska, but the leading receiver on the field wasn't Quincy Enunwa or Kenny Bell or even Jordan Westerkamp—it was freshman DeAngelo Yancey.
He caught a game-high five passes for 146 yards and the lone touchdown in the loss.
Yancey is a physical specimen on the field and he simply overpowers defensive backs and safeties in this league.
So far this season Yancey has just 14 catches for 295 yards, but since fellow freshman Danny Etling came on board he has been a major target.
Those two hooking up could be the answer to what ails the Purdue offense, and if performances like Saturday keep coming, Yancey will be a household name sooner than later.
Michigan State's Offense Looks Amazing...Against Really Bad Defenses.
Who saw Michigan State putting up 42 points in a Big Ten football game this season? I mean, I knew Indiana's defense was bad and I gave a bit of credit to MSU's offense in saying it would score 31 points, but no one should've rightly seen 42 points coming.
Then again, this was Indiana's defense and well, that group isn't exactly setting the world on fire.
Connor Cook looked poised, and he had 235 yards and two touchdowns passing (sure, he also threw a bad interception) and the running game went off for a change too—going for 238 yards as a team.
Running back Jeremy Langford also had himself a break out day, rushing for over 100 yards and three touchdowns.
However, call me crazy, but I'm not ready to say Michigan State's offense is ready for prime time just yet.
That's because the devil is in the details and the details remain that MSU's offense has only looked good against one "respectable" defense (and calling Iowa's defense that is a bit of stretch in my mind) this season.
The good news is that MSU hasn't ebbed and flowed yet in Big Ten play, but with contests against Michigan and Nebraska coming down the pipeline, this offense will still have tests to pass.
Amazingly, it could be the schedule that helps this team become a contender as they also face bad defenses in Illinois, Northwestern (however opportunistic they have been) and Minnesota.
If they can win those three games and take one of two against Michigan and Nebraska, they could be a force to be reckoned with in the Legends Division.
I'm not saying they can't do it or that the offense won't look good, I just need to see it actually happen to be a believer in this team as anything other than one that needs to lean on its defense to win football games.
Andy Coppens is the Big Ten Lead Writer. You can follow him on Twitter: @andycoppens.
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