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The BIG Blog: The Big Ten Defenses Never Rest

This week, the BIG defenses showed their muscle, but part of the reason they never rest is that most of the offenses don’t stay on the field long enough for them to get any rest. A series of futile offensive efforts combined with staunch defense to produce more low scoring games this week and one major surprise.

Of course, the highest scoring game of the week came between teams featuring the best total defense in the nation against the team with the best scoring defense.  Makes sense, although Penn State did most of the scoring in their 42-13 domination of Michigan.

(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)

The Nittany Lions, perhaps feeding off the energy of their frantic white-out crowd of 110,823, came out at the start and punched the Wolverines in the face.  A 69-yard Saquon Barkley touchdown on the second play from scrimmage gave Penn State momentum they used to jump out to a 14-0 lead.  They had outgained Michigan 153 to -5, and it appeared a rout was in the making. 

The tide turned on Penn State’s next possession, when their offense seemed to fall out of rhythm and QB Trace McSorley threw an interception.  The Wolverines clawed their way back into the game and drew within 14-13, but a 7-play, 75 yard drive that took only 52 seconds off the clock reestablished momentum for the Nittany Lions and gave them a 21-13 halftime lead.  Michigan gave up 302 yards in the first half, already exceeding their nation’s best 224 yard average per game.

Penn State dominated the second half, as it was their defense that looked like the best in the nation (which it still is in scoring, allowing only 9.6 points per game).  The difference in the game, from my view, was playmakers.  Barkley and McSorley combined for all six Nittany Lion touchdowns and badly outplayed Michigan QB John O’Korn and RB Karan Higdon.  That’s what All-American candidates are supposed to do.

All in all, it was a very impressive performance by Penn State, one I can’t help but think was fueled by last year’s 49-10 beatdown by Michigan at the Big House.  My respect for Nittany Lion Head Coach James Franklin continues to grow.  From the direct snap to Barkley for the 69-yard touchdown, the Penn State offense kept a truly outstanding Wolverine defense off balance.  Franklin and his staff clearly outcoached Jim Harbaugh and his staff and, with their second loss of the season, there will be no national championship celebration to include in Michigan’s 200th anniversary festivities.

Are you ready for the surprise?

RUTGERS WINS!  RUTGERS WINS!  OH MY GOD, RUTGERS WINS TWO CONFERENCE GAMES IN A ROW!

The Scarlet Knights eked out a 14-12 win over Purdue despite being outgained 474-217.  How did they pull it off?  Rutgers had two big plays, a 74-yard touchdown run and a 35 yard touchdown pass that accounted for nearly half of their offensive output, they didn’t screw up (no turnovers, only four penalties), and held Purdue to 4 of 19 conversions on third and fourth down situations.  When the Boilermakers scored with 25 seconds left, the Scarlet Knights’ defense smothered the two-point conversion attempt that could have tied the game.

Rutgers, now with back-to-back BIG wins for the first time, is looking at the possibility of escaping last place for the season, and could even be talking bowl game if not for that killer loss to Eastern Michigan.  The loss is a setback for Purdue, but at 3-4 they still have a viable path to six wins and a bowl.

Rutgers and Michigan play at the Big House next week, tied in the East Division with a 2-2 conference record.  If you thought they would have the same conference record when they played, raise your hand, then put it back down because you are lying!

The Terps are in serious danger of replacing Rutgers as the last place team in the East after absorbing another whipping, this time 38-10 at Wisconsin.  Ty Johnson and Lorenzo Harrison III continue to have success running the ball for Maryland, but when opponents are successful running and passing the ball, it hurts being down to your third-string quarterback.

The Terps’ next two games are at home vs. Indiana and at Rutgers.  Losing both of those games would clinch a major step back for the program, which would be looking at a 3-9 season with Michigan, Michigan State, and Penn State remaining on the schedule.  Indiana, sitting at 0-4 in the conference, probably feels a similar sense of desperation about next week’s trip to College Park.  This “thriller” could be labeled “The Showdown for the Lowdown.”

The BIG Preview:

Penn State visits Ohio State on the Fox Network at 3:30 Saturday in a game that is one of the biggest regular season games to be played this year.  A Penn State win puts them in the driver’s seat to win the BIG East division and ensures that a playoff spot is theirs to lose.  An Ohio State win would also put them in that driver’s seat and make a strong case for a playoff berth if they can win out, which they would be favored to do.

The stakes are higher for the Buckeyes, because a loss would be their second of the season, virtually eliminating them from the national playoff.  Penn State would still have a chance to bounce back into playoff consideration, but would likely need to win the East and the BIG, which would require some help from someone beating Ohio State.  Ironically, that could depend on Michigan winning their rivalry match at the end of the season, but I wouldn’t want to count on a Jim Harbaugh team winning a big game at this point.

Somewhat quietly, Ohio State’s offense has bounced back from a sluggish start to stand second in the nation in scoring with 47.3 points per game, and third in the nation in total offense, gaining 577 yards per game.  Even though they have not been playing against defenses nearly as tough as Penn State’s, that’s still a lot.  The Buckeye’s defense is not quite as good as the Nittany Lions, but at 16th in the nation it is still formidable. 

Few quarterbacks if any have been playing as well as Ohio State’s J. T. Barrett in recent weeks, and he has resurfaced as a Heisman candidate.  Freshman running back J. K. Dobbins (apparently your name has to be in initials to play for Urban Meyer these days) has emerged as a star averaging 7.8 yards a carry. Ohio State is likely still smarting from last year’s 24-21 loss at Penn State on a blocked field goal return late in the game. Last year, Penn State had their home crowd and a bye week preceding that meeting.  This year, Ohio State will be playing at home after a bye week with their own posse of 110,000 screaming fans. Everything is setting up well for a Buckeye win.

There is one problem with that, however.  Although I think both teams are outstanding, I believe Penn State is slightly better.  I’ve gotten some grief on the message boards here about the high esteem in which I hold this Nittany Lion team, but I’ll stand by that view this week, giving their defense the edge and picking a Penn State win, 20-17.

BIG Notes:

Maryland’s game vs. Rutgers on November 4 has been moved from Yankee Stadium back to the Rutgers campus due to the possibility of the Yankees making the World Series, which they didn’t.  I never really thought that was such a great idea anyway and seemed like a trouble to play in front of empty seats.

BTW, remember when James Franklin was the coach-in-waiting to succeed Ralph Friedgen at Maryland in 2010?  That’s when Kevin Anderson came in as Athletic Director and said he would consider Franklin, but opened up the job for other candidates.  Franklin took the hint, and then the job at Vanderbilt, where his success positioned him to get the Penn State job.  Enjoy that “sabbatical” Kevin Anderson.

Wisconsin’s Jonathan Taylor tied the record for fewest games (seven) for a freshman to reach 1,000 yards rushing.  Take a look at the list of elite runners he joined; P. J. Hill (also from Wisconsin), Adrian Peterson, Jamario Thomas (North Texas), Marshall Faulk, and Emmitt Smith.  That’s two Hall of Famers and one who surely will be-not bad company at all.

The BIG continues to dominate the football polls, with Penn State #2, Wisconsin #5, and Ohio State #6.  In the preseason college basketball coaches’ poll, Michigan State is #2, then Minnesota #15, Northwestern #20, and Purdue #21.  Maryland received a few votes, as did Wisconsin and Michigan.  Yes, I think that gap between the Spartans and the rest of the conference could well be representative of how the season will play out.  Much more on college hoops in the weeks to come.

Don’t forget, you can follow me on Twitter @The_BIGBlog and reach me by e-mail at [email protected]  I also hang out on the message boards, mostly in the University of Maryland & NCAA sections, where I periodically post links to BIG news stories you might find interesting.  You can also go there to find the Deified Dozen football national rankings by the experts (?) here at BSL.

Net week I’ll look back at the Penn State-Ohio State showdown, and forward to challenging road games for the top BIG teams the following week.  Until then, live large and have a BIG week everyone

 

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Jim Johnson

Jim Johnson is a life-long Maryland Terrapins and college sports fan and a proud U of Md. alum. Jim started writing about the Terps on his own blog during the Steve Francis season of 1998-99. He then moved on to cover ACC hoops and football across the Internet, adopting the moniker "The Courtmaster" and becoming a frequent "expert" guest on Bob Haynie's old WNST show and other sports radio stations across the country. You can find some of his classic (?) work on his old blog. Jim laid down his gavel in 2007 and is returning to sportswriting after a sabbatical he spent furthering his career as a non-profit executive and senior accounting professional, becoming an ordained minister, and gnashing his teeth/sulking about Maryland joining the Big Ten. He figured the best way to scratch his sportswriting itch was to dive in head first to learn about the Big Ten, the current teams, schools, and history, and share what he learns with our readers. Jim enjoys interacting with readers, exchanging ideas, and most of all having fun. You can chat with him on the message boards or by e-mail at [email protected]

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