Big Ten Power Rankings: What We Learned In Week Six
It was quite a week of Big Ten play.
The noon game offered the nation a chance to see two Big Ten teams clash in an inter-division showdown. Problem was, the teams were Purdue and Minnesota.
The afternoon time slot offered a clash between Illinois and Indiana and a race to 10 between Penn State and Iowa.Thank god then for prime time.
The two night games were both excellent with Michigan battling back against Northwestern in front of a packed house in Evanston, and Ohio State welcoming Nebraska to the conference with the gift of a 21-point comeback win.
We laughed, we cried, we all felt kind of dirty watching Purdue do that to Minnesota, but we also learned a thing or two about each team.
With a good lineup of games next week, let's look back on week six so we can better understand what is coming in week seven.
Last Week: Lost to Purdue 45-17
What we learned: Minnesota really is that bad.
Minnesota scored 17 points a week after getting shut out against Michigan. This is about where the good news stops, Gopher fans.
In the most winnable remaining game on the schedule (one that doesn't include Indiana this year) Minnesota was thoroughly beaten by Purdue—a team that didn't for a moment look like the perennial bottom tier Big Ten team it has been in the recent past.
Things fell apart quickly for Minnesota, which gave up 24 points in the first quarter on two rushing touchdowns, a field goal, and an interception return for a touchdown.
By halftime Purdue had scored another touchdown to a measly field goal for the Gophers, and the game was effectively over.
Minnesota managed one offensive touchdown in the fourth quarter to go along with a third quarter kickoff return touchdown.
At that point cheering for a positive Gopher play was akin to cheering for the third string running back in the fourth quarter of a pop warner blowout: more sympathy than joy.
Quarterback MarQueis Gray returned after missing last week, but his return was greeted with more of a whimper than a bang.
Gray passed for only 104 yards and his longest pass was still five yards shorter than the pick-six he threw to Ricardo Allen.
Completing 40 percent of his passes didn't help either. Even worse for Minnesota fans, Gray was held to just 20 yards on the ground after being one of the Big Ten's leading rushers before he went down with injury.
The Minnesota defense offered very little resistance, allowing Purdue to run for 4.6 yards per carry on average.
The Boilermakers didn't need many yards to rack up 45 points—just 372 on the day—because of three Minnesota turnovers and the the defensive touchdown.
Alright Minnesota fans, it is time to readjust your expectations for this team.
After losing the most winnable game left on the schedule in a painfully hapless effort, it is time to raise the obvious question: Is this the worst Big Ten team of the last 10 years? Of all time?
Watching the Gopher effort on Saturday, it isn't easy to definitively say no to either one. Things look like they could get a whole lot worse before all is said and done. Minnesota fans: this is your nightmare.
Next Week: Bye
Last Week: Lost to Illinois 41-20
What we learned: Indiana doesn't have the defense to keep pace with the better Big Ten teams.
For most of the first quarter it looked like Indiana might shock the world (or at least the handful of people who tuned in at home to watch this one).
Two big plays were all it took to effectively end the Hoosier's chances.
A kickoff return touchdown to open the game was followed by a long field goal. Indiana jumped out to a quick ten point lead on Illinois, but that lead disappeared in less than five minutes.
First Nathan Scheelhaase found AJ Jenkins open for a 77-yard touchdown reception. Then with the next possession the Hoosiers coughed the ball up and allowed a 66-yard fumble return for a touchdown.
It was all Illinois the rest of the way.
The Hoosiers defense was overmatched in this one, giving up 5.6 yards per rush attempt and 9.5 yards per pass attempt. Two Illinois running backs put up better than six yards per carry.
Meanwhile, the Indiana offense was underwhelming itself gaining just 302 yards. The lone bright spot was the play of freshman quarterback Tre Roberson.
After starter Dusty Kiel went down with an ankle injury, two weeks after replacing starter Edward Wright-Baker under similar circumstances, Roberson came in and completed 11 of his 17 passes for 148 yards.
He also added 36 rushing yards and a touchdown on the ground.
If Roberson can continue to play at a higher level than the two quarterbacks currently ahead of him on the depth chart, he may be able to spark the Indiana offense.
However, that spark will only carry this team so far. The Hoosiers are showing time and time again that defense just isn't in their repertoire.
That isn't going to help much next week as Indiana gets to go to Camp Randall for a date with the Wisconsin offensive machine.
Try to hold 'em under 75 this time, boys.
Next Week: at Wisconsin; Noon, ESPN2.
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 45-17
What we learned: Purdue isn't in the Big Ten cellar... but they aren't far off.
A week after getting de-pantsed in prime time by Notre Dame, Purdue got to do a little bit of grandstanding itself.
Minnesota never really stood a chance against the Boilermakers as Purdue rolled up 217 yards of rushing offense in relative ease (4.6 ypc).
Two Purdue running backs gained over 50 yards, and another two chipped in better than 30, and three different Boilermaker backs scored touchdowns on the ground.
That wasn't the only place Purdue moved the ball with ease: Both Caleb TerBush (14/21, 140 yards) and Robert Marve (4/6, 15 yards) completed two thirds of their passes. They threw for a touchdown as the Minnesota secondary provided little resistance.
Defensively, you couldn't ask for a much better game than what Purdue played.
The Boilermakers held Minnesota to 213 yards of offense on low-per-play averages (4.9 ypa, 3.0 ypc).
They forced three turnovers and converted an interception into a defensive touchdown.
Purdue got a much needed win after last week's disappointment against Notre Dame, and the Boilermakers made an emphatic statement: We aren't in the Big Ten cellar.
While at this point that looks to be relatively true—both Minnesota and Indiana have looked much worse and neither has more than one win—Purdue seems to be hovering just below respectability.
Even a win at Indiana only gets Purdue to four wins on the season, so the Boilermakers are going to have to find a way to steal two more to make it back to a bowl game. No easy task as the schedule ramps up.
Next Week: at Penn State; Noon, BTN
Last Week: Lost to Penn State 13-3
What we learned: Iowa may not be capable of competing for the Legend's division crown this year.
To be honest, that is a pretty kind assessment. Iowa looked flat our bad on Saturday in what should have been a very winnable game.
Iowa had the more consistent offense coming in to the game, and a solid defense that was good enough to trip up the Nittany Lion two-headed monster in the backfield.
Instead it looked like Iowa extended its bye week.
James Vandenberg completed just half of his 34 passes in the losing effort. His 169 yards were a disappointment considering Iowa entered the game as the best passing offense in the Big Ten.
Vandenberg was also responsible for Iowa's three turnovers, including the fumble that led to Penn State's only touchdown and an insurmountable 10-3 lead.
The next three drives ended in back to back interceptions and a turnover on downs as Iowa gave away every opportunity it had to come back and win the game.
Marcus Coker ran for 74 yards on 4.1 yards a carry, but his contribution wasn't enough with no counter a terrible passing day.
Defensively wasn't much better, as Penn State rushed for five yards a carry on the way to 231 yards.
While the Penn State passing attack was largely held in check, it is tough to tell whether that was self inflicted or caused by the Iowa defense.
Iowa did get one very big interception by Micah Hyde that stopped a Penn State red zone attempt.
The next trip to the red zone for the Nittany Lions yielded a passing touchdown.
Iowa now has some very serious questions to answer. For a team that was expected to compete for the Big Ten Legend's division title, a three point, 250 yard effort is a bad sign going forward.
Penn State stopped Iowa's highly successful passing game cold, and closed out the game with three turnovers and a fourth down stop—bad news for a team that struggled to finish games on a positive note last year.
Next week Northwestern comes to town for a prime time game and a chance at redemption.
But between Iowa's problems finishing games and the recent history between the two teams, this could just be another step toward mediocrity for the Hawkeyes.
Next Week: vs. Northwestern; 7:00pm, BTN
Last Week: Lost to Michigan 42-24
What we learned: Northwestern has a second half problem.
A week after being outscored 28-14 in the second half, Northwestern allows itself to be outscored 28-0 in the same span.
It lead to a growing concern that Northwestern just may not be a great second half team.
The Wildcats certainly looked like the better team over the first thirty minutes.
After a quick three-and-out followed by a Michigan touchdown, Northwestern scored back to back rushing touchdowns in the first quarter. They finished the second quarter with back-to-back scores again—this time a touchdown and field goal.
The 24-14 lead looked a lot closer than it was. Michigan looked helpless throwing the ball as Denard Robinson threw three downright awful first half interceptions and the Michigan ground game was held largely in check as well.
The good times quickly ended as the Wolverines opened the second half with back-to-back 80 yard scoring drives and a 47 yard scoring drive.
A missed field goal was the only thing that held the Wolverines back from scoring on each of the five second half possessions.
Where Northwestern lived by the turnover in the first half, it died by it in the second.
Coming in to the game, Northwestern had only turned the ball over twice. Unfortunately, two second half turnovers and a controversial failed fourth down conversion stopped the Northwestern offense dead in its tracks.
Dan Persa was an effective 32 of 44 for 331 yards in the game. All three of Northwestern's touchdowns came on the ground as backup quarterback Kain Colter came in to run the option for the Wildcats.
Ultimately the game came down to Northwestern's inability to stop the Wolverine drives.
Michigan was only forced into fourth down three times all game—one missed field goal, one punt, one conversion. The other 14 third down attempts by Michigan were picked up.
Once the Wolverines stopped giving away the ball and started taking it away, the game was completely different.
Now comes time for Northwestern fans to panic. The team is already 0-2 in the conference and almost certainly out of contention for the Legend's division.
A loss next week drops the Wildcats to 2-4 and makes bowl eligibility even a shaky proposition.
Next Week: at Iowa; 7:00pm, BTN
Last Week: Lost to Nebraska 34-27
What we learned: Ohio State's offense might not be hopeless after all.
A week after hitting rock bottom, Ohio State's offense showed some glimmers of hope against a Nebraska defense that.
Obviously, not up to the Top Ten expectations of the preseason, Ohio State is still a good unit.
First, let's give a hand to Braxton Miller, after a monumentally bad performance against Michigan State.
The freshman led Ohio State to a 21 point lead by making plays with both his legs (91 yards rushing on 10 carries) and his arm (five of eight for 95 yards and a touchdown).
Unfortunately, a third quarter ankle injury knocked him out of the game, and all the Buckeye's offensive progress got severely Bauserman'd. Joe, that is.
The fifth year senior completed just one of his ten pass attempts and threw his first interception of the season*.
Coincidentally, Bauserman's appearance in the game happened just after the Buckeye offense had stalled. The defense allowed Nebraska to score the first of four second half touchdowns to get the win.
Ohio State's defense struggled against Nebraska, allowing 232 yards at 4.5 yards per rush and almost nine yards per pass. Once the offense stalled in the second half and coughed up two turnovers, the defense struggled to slow down Nebraska.
The good news for Ohio State is that if Braxton Miller is healthy the offense might have a chance in hell of working.
Unlike the game against Michigan State, the Buckeye offense got players into space.They gave Miller a series of plays he could execute without telegraphing to the defense where the ball was going.
The bad news? Miller might be hurt, and if he is the Ohio State offense could be downright pathetic.
With a trip to Illinois next week Ohio State could be looking at being one step closer to a winless October.
Next Week: at Illinois; 3:30pm, ABC
*(A testament to just how bad Bauserman has been: he is so far off on his throws, even the defense can't get to them.)
Last Week: Beat Iowa 13-3
What we learned: Penn State's quarterback controversy is here to stay as long as Joe Pa has anything to say about it.
I wonder if Joe Pa has this much trouble deciding on what he is going to eat for breakfast.
Let me rephrase that: I wonder if Joe Pa has this much trouble figuring out which breakfast option is going to disappoint him least.
In the battle of "who can suck less", this round was won by Matt McGloin.
McGloin played most of the game and had a respectable 12/19 passing for 133 yards and a touchdown. In true Penn State quarterback fashion, he threw one interception in the red zone.
Rob Bolden, on the other hand, is doing his best to play himself out of a job. Saturday it was just three completions on seven attempts and 31 yards before Bolden got the hook.
Another bright spot was the Penn State rushing attack. It featured Silas Redd carrying the ball 28 times for an impressive 142 yards (5.1 ypc).
Backup Curtis Dukes made a nice argument for more carries in the future, turning his nine into 60 yards (6.7 ypc).
However, the Penn State offense still couldn't finish drives with touchdowns.
Along with the aforementioned red zone interception Penn State converted just five of its 14 third down tries, and settled for two field goals in the red zone.
The defense, which has long been the only source of optimism for this team, was once again very good, shutting down James Vandenberg. The defense also forced three turnovers and fourth down stop on Iowa's final four drives.
It isn't pretty, but Penn State continues to find ways to hang in games and gut out wins late.
While this formula won't work against Wisconsin (and probably Illinois), it has been enough to get Penn State to five wins. Whether it is enough for a few more will be answered soon enough.
Next Week: vs. Purdue; Noon, BTN
Last Week: Bye
What we learned: Teams don't play during bye weeks*.
Michigan State couldn't have asked for a better week off.
After a crapfest in Columbus and a rash of offensive line injuries, Michigan State gets a chance to rest, regroup, and prepare for a home game against Michigan.
The Spartans still have a great deal of questions on the offensive line.
Those are even more apparent in light of Nebraska running all over Ohio State on Saturday—the same OSU defense that held Michigan State's ground game in check the week before.
However, Spartan fans were glad to see Ohio State's offense show some life against Nebraska's defense in the first half.
Hopefully meaning that the clinic the Spartan front seven put on last week is more a function of how good it is than how bad the Ohio State offense is.
Either way, Michigan State get a chance to knock Michigan from its fringe Top Ten spot in the polls.
They get to hand the Wolverines the first loss of the season and a fourth straight loss to Dantonio's crew, and take another big step toward a Legend's division title.
So yeah, no pressure on either team there.
Next Week: vs. Michigan; Noon, ESPN
*(What do you want from me?)
Last Week: Beat Ohio State 34-27
What we learned: Nebraska might have a defensive problem.
A week after getting blown out by Wisconsin, Nebraska had quite a scare before stopping the Buckeyes cold and coming back for the win.
Nebraska wasn't much on offense in the first half. Just two field goals in the first two and a half quarters were the only positive offensive output.
A handful of punts and an interception made it seem as though Nebraska was still stuck in Camp Randall.
However, after two three-and-outs to start the third, the Husker defense forced a turnover and the offense responded by scoring touchdowns on four of its next five drives.
Taylor Martinez recovered from a shaky start that included a first half interception to finish with 191 yards and two touchdown on 72 percent passing.
For good measure Martinez added another 102 yards on the ground and a touchdown at a rate of six yards per carry.
The real star of the show, however, was Rex Burkhead. He scored the final two Husker touchdowns on a 30-yard reception and a 17 yard run to put Nebraska up for good.
Defensively the Huskers were pushed around by the Buckeyes early in the game. They had no answer for Braxton Miller—just a week after Miller looked like a lost high school senior against Michigan State.
Miller had 186 yards of total offense before going down with an injury in the third quarter.
However, once the Huskers forced Miller to fumble and the Nebraska offense went to work, Ohio State was held to punts the rest of the way with the exception of a Joe Bauserman interception.
Nebraska followed a six quarter stretch of poor defense with a shutout over the last quarter and a half, but the timing of Joe Bauserman's entrance in the game is troubling.
Ohio State had moved the ball well and scored at about the rate it had against teams like Colorado and Akron before Miller went down. Bauserman has already been relegated to the bench as the clear number two option behind Miller.
If Nebraska's defensive shutdown was a result of good play and smart in game adjustments, it bodes well for the future.
If the defensive shutdown was the result of Joe Bauserman, things could get ugly in Lincoln. At least Nebraska has a bye week to sort it all out.
Next Week: Bye
Last Week: Beat Northwestern 42 - 24
What we learned: Michigan lives and dies by Denard Robinson, and that isn't always a good thing.
In a strange week of shifting fortunes for teams, perhaps none was stranger than Michigan's comeback win over Northwestern.
Just looking over the final score and the box score you wouldn't think the Wolverines had any trouble.
Michigan gained 541 yards of total offense, passed for 362 on a nearly 70 percent completion rate, and gained 179 yards rushing.
Even the conversion rates make Michigan's day seem pretty easy: 14 for 17 on third down and one for one on fourth.
However, at halftime Michigan was down by 10 points. No one was sure that Michigan would be able to slow Northwestern down enough to catch up.
Two eighty-yard touchdown drives later, Michigan was back in control and wouldn't look back.
The story is largely one of turnovers. Denard threw three interceptions in the first half, and not one of them was even close to excusable.
Robinson was under or over-throwing his receivers badly.
It was these three interceptions that killed the Wolverine offense in the first half, giving the ball back to Northwestern. The rest of the offense was slowly but effectively moving the ball.
After leading the team the length of the field for an opening drive touchdown Robinson followed up on the next two drives with an interception. He threw one before halftime that set up a Northwestern score.
In the second half Robinson settled down and started completing his passes at a better rate and avoiding turnovers. Meanwhile, the Michigan defense started to take over.
In the second half the Wolverines forced an interception, a fumble, a (controversial) failed fourth down try, and a punt. Northwestern had the ball less than ten minutes in the second half.
Just as the Notre Dame game showed how much Michigan depends on Robinson, so too does this game. When Robinson was off—and by that I mean very off—the Wolverines were abysmal.
When Robinson was on, Michigan moved down the field with ease for touchdowns.
Next week the Michigan State defense won't be so forgiving.
If Robinson struggles—and remember, he threw three interceptions against the Spartans last year, two in the red zone—Michigan State will have an easy path to a win.
If Robinson plays confident and doesn't turn the ball over? Maybe the Wolverines justify the lofty ranking.
Next Week: at Michigan State; Noon, ESPN
Last Week: Beat Indiana 45-17
What we learned: Nathan Scheelhaase may have made "the leap".
The knock on Nathan Scheelhaase last year was that he was just like any other dual threat quarterback.
Capable of big plays on the ground, but easily bottled up if the running lanes weren't open.
Last week against Northwestern the running lanes were shut down, but Scheelhaase responded with his best day through the air yet.
This week against Indiana, it was once again his arm that got things going for the Illini.
Scheelhaase threw three touchdown passes in the first half, including two long bombs (77 yards and 67 yards) to AJ Jenkins to help Illinois storm out to a 27-13 halftime lead.
Scheelhaase completed just 55 percent of his passes, but threw three touchdowns. Meanwhile on the ground he added another 88 yards a one score.
While the last two games haven't been against the stiffest competition, Scheelhaase is showing a remarkable amount of comfort throwing downfield, as well as developing quite a fruitful relationship with receiver AJ Jenkins.
He caught half of his quarterback's passes (six) for 182 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively Illinois played a solid game, holding Indiana to just 302 yards on two yards per carry and six yards per pass attempt.
The Hoosiers were only able to convert on five of the 18 third down attempts faced, and two turnovers also hurt Indiana's offensive consistency.
The early returns this year on the development of Nathan Scheelhaase are positive. He is throwing the ball more accurately and has avoided turnovers better than a year ago.
If this continues as the Illini face tougher and tougher opponents, it could be a very good sign for the future of Illinois football—and Ron Zook's future employment.
Next Week: vs. Ohio State; 3:30pm, ABC
Last Week: Bye
What we learned: Bye weeks are the bane of a college football power ranker's existence.
Seriously. The Badgers didn't play.
The only Big Ten team that Wisconsin has faced, Nebraska, beat Ohio State telling us what we already knew: Wisconsin is better than Ohio State.
Honestly though, the world probably learned more about Wisconsin this week than it will next week when Indiana comes to town in a battle against the 80-point barrier.
The only thing we learn this week is whether or not Wisconsin has a chance to put up 100 on Minnesota*.
Next Week: vs. Indiana; Noon, ESPN2
*(Yes, yes they do.)