UM-NU Matchup Highlights B1G Slate

By John Carey, October 9th, 2015

Big Ten football returned last week in all of its Midwestern glory – gray, wet, and physical.

The conference is no longer home to the two top-ranked teams in the country as Michigan State slipped to No. 4 in the polls after squandering a 21-point lead at halftime to squeak out a 24-21 victory over Purdue.

No. 1 Ohio State also survived a scare on Saturday in Bloomington, needing a stop on fourth-and-goal to beat Indiana 34-27 on the back of Ezekiel Elliott’s three second-half touchdown runs of 55, 65, and 75 yards, respectively. The Buckeyes held on to their top ranking, though, as they extended the nation’s longest winning streak to 18 games.

In total, the B1G has five teams ranked in the top 25 at the moment, with Iowa replacing Wisconsin after their 10-6 victory over the Badgers in Madison.

As for the games this week, all 14 teams in the conference are active and all of them are matched against a conference opponent. Here is what you need to know going into Saturday (all TV times Eastern):

Maryland (2-3) at No. 1 Ohio State (5-0) – noon on BTN

The Terrapins come into Columbus after losing their previous two games by a combined score of 73-6 including a shutout loss at home last week against Michigan. They will need to stay disciplined if they want to pull the upset against the top-ranked team in the nation on the road – the Terrapins give up an average of 76.4 yards per game as a result of penalties, second-worst in the B1G.

While Maryland deploys one of the best special teams in the conference on the back of return man Will Likely, their offense – 13th of 14 teams in B1G in scoring – will need to show up to compete against a hungry Ohio State offense looking to silence their doubters after an up and down beginning to their season. Elliott will be looking to bust some more big runs against the B1G’s worst statistical rushing defense – 199.8 yards per game allowed.

None of this is good news for embattled UM coach Randy Edsall, who is in serious danger of being fired following the game according to an ESPN report.

Illinois (4-1) at No. 22 Iowa (5-0) – noon on ESPNU

Illinois was able to slow down Nebraska’s potent passing attack last week and will look to do the same to the ground-and-pound rushing attack of Iowa. The Hawkeyes were able to fight their way into the top 25 by fighting their way to a win over Wisconsin on Saturday while scoring only 10 points.

Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri is tied with OSU’s Elliott with eight touchdowns on the season to lead the conference and quarterback C.J. Beathard accounts for the third-most total yards per game in the B1G. Despite only scoring 30 combined points last week, both of these offenses average over 30 points per game this season. Offenses tend to tighten up once league play starts but both of these teams are capable of putting points on the board.

Indiana (4-1) at Penn State (4-1) – noon on ESPN2

Though the Hoosiers were within seven points of the defending national champions last week, Indiana’s two best playmakers left the game with injuries against Ohio State. Running back Jordan Howard and quarterback Nate Sudfeld both injured their ankles and are questionable for this weekend. Howard returned to the game a few times but was clearly hobbled while Sudfeld never returned after he went down on Saturday. That ankle could seriously limit Sudfeld, as he would be going against the defense with the most sacks in the B1G.

Backup QB Zander Diamont showed off his legs with a 79-yard TD in relief of Sudfeld and will certainly need to be accounted for in Penn State’s game plan for Saturday. The Nittany Lions come in on a four-game win streak after losing their opener to Temple. PSU quarterback Christian Hackenberg likely will look to air it out against the conference’s second-worst pass defense.

No. 13 Northwestern (5-0) at No. 18 Michigan (4-1) – 3:30 p.m. on BTN

Northwestern and Michigan enter Saturday with the Nos. 1 and 2 scoring defenses in the country, respectively. Michigan has not allowed a point in its last two games and Northwestern is coming off of a shutout of Minnesota. Perhaps the most interesting matchup of the game is NU’s rush offense against the UM defense. The Wildcats rank 14th nationally and first in the B1G in rush offense with 248.8 yards per game while the Wolverines allow only 71.4 rush yards per game – fifth nationally, first in the B1G.

Matchups with such stellar defenses often come down to who wins the turnover battle. Michigan quarterback Jake Rudock has thrown just five touchdown passes to six interceptions this season while Northwestern QB Clayton Thorson isn’t exactly setting the world on fire either with just four touchdowns and three picks. Without a ton of offensive firepower in this game, the outcome will hinge on whose defense can make more big plays.

Wisconsin (3-2) at Nebraska (2-3) – 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2

Both teams enter this game coming off of a loss where their offenses failed to show up. Wisconsin only managed 6 points while Nebraska’s normally potent offensive attack only mustered 13 points against Illinois. Wisconsin desperately needs a win to stay anywhere within a realistic chance at making it to Indianapolis for the B1G championship in December, while Nebraska has been virtually eliminated with two teams in their division still undefeated.

Though his team hasn’t seemed to have recovered from its opening weekend Hail Mary loss to BYU, Huskers’ quarterback Tommy Armstrong is the only player in the B1G to average more than 300 yards per game this season and will look to keep Nebraska on track for a bowl game berth.

Minnesota (3-2) at Purdue (1-4) – 3:30 p.m. on ESPN

Purdue will look to take the momentum from the second half of last week’s game, where it outscored then-No. 2 Michigan State 21-3 and fell just three points short of the upset in Lansing. Minnesota, on the other hand, was shut out 27-0 against No. 13 Northwestern last weekend and only managed 173 total yards on the day.

The Golden Gophers are dead-last in the B1G, averaging only 15.4 points per game this season, while Purdue gives up the most points in the conference, 33 on average. The biggest playmaker on the field will be Minnesota’s Rodney Smith, who sits at 10th in the conference in total yards per game with 95.6.

No. 4 Michigan State (5-0) at Rutgers (2-2) – 8:00 p.m. on BTN

Michigan State is looking to get back on track after a very disappointing second half against Purdue last Saturday, which resulted in a drop from No. 2 to No. 4 in the polls. The Scarlet Knights are coming off of a bye week that they needed desperately after losing so many players and their head coach early in the season. They were given a week to reset and could catch the Spartans sleeping this weekend.

However, Mark Dantonio likely was on his team all week after being outscored 21-3 in the second half by Purdue. MSU quarterback Connor Cook could have a big day against the B1G’s third-worst passing defense. Rutgers’ best chance at an upset will come on the back of its rushing attack, good for fourth in the B1G with 211 yards per game.