Big Ten Football: What We Learned During Week 11

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Big Ten Football: What We Learned During Week 11

After 11 weeks of play, it has become abundantly clear that this isn't your daddy's Big Ten anymore. 

Penn State, Michigan and Illinois not being good? When was the last time you could say that? 

Week 11 provided perhaps the starkest of realities of just where the "old guard" of the Big Ten is these days. The league is much deeper, it's overall quality much better than anyone thought going into the season. 

Oh, and in case anyone doubted what the Big Ten was all about, Saturday's results from Camp Randall to Michigan Stadium served as a reminder that running the ball is still king for Big Ten teams. 

However, that is but a sampling of the lessons Week 11 taught us. What else did we learn? Let's explore what went down this week in the Big Ten. 

 

James White Puts Big Ten on Notice

Wisconsin's Melvin Gordon got all the hype and accolades early on this season, rushing for over 100 yards in six of the first seven games of the season. Yet, since Gordon went for 142 yards in a win at Illinois its been all James White. 

On Saturday, the Badger back had his most complete day of his career in the cardinal and white. He ran for a season high 147 yards, tied his season high with two rushing touchdowns and broke his career best with six receptions for 47 yards and another touchdown. 

Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

All of that against a BYU defense that came into the contest giving up 145 yards per game.

White was involved in every Wisconsin touchdown on Saturday afternoon, and that wasn't even the most interesting part of his day. 

All head coach Gary Andersen could talk about was how complete of a player White was because of his pass protection. It led Andersen to call White the most complete back on the team.

"You know what, James is (the most complete back)," said Andersen following the game. "I would agree with that. His ability to block and be physical, his ability to be our downhill runner, have some speed on the outside, and catch the football is a very unique package, and he can do all that stuff very well."

For the year, White has 951 yards rushing and 1,206 yards of total offense. 

While some may have forgotten about him in the hype of Gordon's fast start, White has come on at the most important time of the year for Wisconsin. 

If the rest of the Big Ten wasn't paying attention to White's all-around game, they will be after the BYU performance. 

 

Nebraska Needs Taylor Martinez Back to Have a Shot against Michigan State

We all know that Michigan State's defense is very good, but it can be scary good when you combine its talent with the lack of production on the other side of the line of scrimmage. 

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Both Tommy Armstrong Jr. and Ron Kellogg III of Nebraska have had their moments in the spotlight in place of Martinez, but as the season has gone on neither quarterback has shown the ability to take on better Big Ten defenses with their arms. 

Against Michigan, the pair combined to go just 12-of-23 for 145 yards and a touchdown. 

Those numbers can work against a defense that is as mediocre as the Wolverines unit has proven to be, but they won't work against Michigan State. 

For the season Armstrong is completing just 55 percent of his passes (52-of-94) for five touchdowns, and he's thrown six interceptions. He is also averaging only 3.3 yards a carry. 

Kellogg numbers look much better but are of a smaller sample size. He is completing 66 percent of his passes (33-of-50) for 462 yards and three touchdowns to one interception. He's also been a non-factor in the running game, carrying the ball nine times for zero yards. 

It all adds up to the Huskers needing Taylor Martinez to come back.

He gives defenses with something extra to worry about, something more than the combination of Armstrong and Kellogg can provide.

To put it in perspective, Martinez has played only four games this season and still leads the Huskers in passing yards and passing touchdowns. The next closest guy on the roster, Armstrong, has just five touchdown passes and eight fewer yards in one more game of action. 

Martinez clearly is the quarterback that gives Nebraska its best chance against Michigan State next week.

All that is on the line next weekend in Lincoln is the Big Ten Legends Division title. No pressure or anything, right?

 

Philip Nelson's Light Bulb Has Gone Off, and Minnesota Is Legit Because of It

Just three weeks ago the game plan against the Minnesota Golden Gophers was simple—stuff the box, stop the run and dare the Gophers to throw. 

Now? Not so much. And it's all because something clicked for Philip Nelson and the Gophers' passing attack.

Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight week Nelson showed that he's more than just a running quarterback, with a 186-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Nittany Lions. 

In fact, he outdueled Penn State's freshman phenom, Christian Hackenberg, who ended his day with just 163 yards on 14-of-25 passing with no touchdowns.

How many would've pegged that to happen?

Nelson has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 484 yards and five touchdowns in just the past two weeks alone. In fact, the 298 yards last week and the 186 yards this week are the best and third-best passing totals of his career. 

With Nelson putting those kind of numbers up in recent weeks, game-planning for the Minnesota offense becomes a tougher task for Wisconsin and Michigan State.

Could this change in Nelson's game lead the Gophers to a nine- or 10-win season, when most left this team for dead following back-to-back losses to open Big Ten play? 

 

Michigan State Is Clearly the Class of the Legends Division

The Spartans didn't even play this past Saturday, but they sure looked like the best team in the Legends Division. 

Nebraska, the only contender with a legitimate shot to control its own destiny outside of Michigan State, looked awful on offense. 

Minnesota may be surging, but with two losses already under its belt the Gophers would need a lot of help to make it happen, and, well, Iowa had its struggles at times with Purdue this past weekend.

What the Huskers offense has put down on film over the past three or four weeks shouldn't scare the Spartans defense at all. 

In fact, it should make them hungry for turnovers and defensive touchdowns. 

Nebraska is dead last in conference play, with a minus-7 turnover margin. Michigan State? They are third with eight turnovers forced in just five league games to date. 

Without playing a game this past weekend the Spartans managed to solidify their position as the best in the division, and it isn't even close. 

 

Michigan's Regression Is Troublesome; Especially Since Most of the Players Are "Hoke's Guys"

Brady Hoke was supposed to come in and fix all that was wrong with the Wolverines program after the disastrous Rich Rodriguez era. 

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

He has cleaned up recruiting, bringing in the No. 6-ranked class in 2012 and No. 4-ranked class this past year (according to 247sports.com)

Instead, things have progressively gotten worse over time under Hoke—and this with the players from those two classes getting significant time too.

13 of the 22 starters on this team committed to Brady Hoke as the head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. He owns the results for the progression or regression of all 13 of those players. In addition to that, 17 of the 22 players behind the starters on the two-deep are all Hoke's recruits.

Sure, some in the junior class committed while Rodriguez was the coach, but they signed on the dotted line knowing Hoke was going to be their head coach. Are there players that are holdovers from the Rodriguez era? You bet, but by year three those that can't or won't cut it for what Hoke and his staff have in mind should be replaceable. 

Instead of seeing a steady progress, things have trended downward for the young players Hoke has brought in.

Whether it's the performance of the offensive line, the lack of an adequate pass rush or some bad play in the secondary—it's all happening to players who should be growing and getting better, not sliding further and further down the progress ladder.

The regression of this team, with the talent of back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes, should worry not only Michigan fans; Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon should be concerned as well. 

Three years into Hoke's tenure, the "it's Rich Rod's fault" excuses being floated by some have got to stop. At what point does the buck stop at the top of the program and Hoke get the blame for the lack of development of "his guys?" 

 

*Andy Coppens is the lead writer for the Big Ten. All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow him on Twitter: @ andycoppens.

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