It was kind of a mixed-bag-type of weekend for the Big Ten during Week 4. Ohio State rolled against a cupcake. Iowa and Minnesota took steps forward. Purdue and Indiana took big steps back. Michigan State stunk up the joint and lost. Michigan was equally smelly but won. Nebraska managed to lose the first quarter but then dominated the final three over their own cupcake. Penn State got a shutout and Northwestern played it close to the vest against Maine. Illinois was idle. What did we learn? Well, MSU’s offensive output against Youngstown State last week was a mirage. Other than that, business as usual as the league has a lot of teams influx right now.
Hopefully this isn’t your first time checking out our stock report, but if it is, the above chart is the power rankings of the league. The buying/holding/selling stock in a team is relative to preseason expectations, making a better bowl, or surprising the league and competing for a division title. Just because I’m buying a lot of stock in a team doesn’t mean I think they are better than the first place team. Now that we are all in sync, let’s get after it!
Illinois – Idle
Michigan – Should we panic after two bad weeks? Maybe, but the root of the issue has been turnovers. UM had four more of them against Connecticut as Devin Gardner has become quite sloppy with the ball. So why do I still buy the Maize and Blue? That defense. UConn was held to 206 yards, 1/11 on third down and tallied just 47 rushing yards. This unit was going to be a work in progress with many new faces but they have gotten better as the season has progressed and I think they can settle into a top-five unit in the league. Week four grade: D
Northwestern – Northwestern was outgained by Maine, had more penalties and was careless with the ball. Even with that, however the Black Bears still needed a late cosmetic score just to make the game look tighter than it was at 35-21. I think NU played down to the level of competition and like I said last week, holding a few things off tape for their big showdown with Ohio State on the fifth. Week four grade: C
Ohio State – They won 76-0 … so, yeah, that happened. I’m curious how long the leash will be on Braxton Miller next week against Wisconsin. It is the Buckeyes’ first test of the year and Kenny Guiton has proven himself to be more than capable of running this offense. If UW jumps out to a 10-point (or bigger) lead and Miller is struggling, will Myer make the move? Very intriguing. Week four grade: A
Wisconsin – Very nice bounce back from the desert debacle against Arizona State in dismantling Purdue on Saturday. Coach Gary Andersen’s Badgers outgained the Train by almost 400 yards, played clean football (one penalty, one turnover) and had another monster day from the two-headed beastly backfield comprised of James White and Melvin Gordon. They each had 16 carries. Melvin had 147 yards to James’ 145. Melvin had three scores to White’s one, but White tallied the 70-yard long of the day. Wowza! Week four grade: A+
Minnesota – I gotta do it, bumping them up. Why? No more Philip Nelson! If I were Jerry Kill (or on his staff) I would make the move permanently. Mitch Leidner brings more to the table with his legs. Sure he was only 5-of-12 passing, but Nelson wasn’t exactly burning Minneapolis down with his arm and did nothing with his feet. Leidner’s raw talent and athleticism make him more of a threat than Nelson is. That defense also took a big step forward as they completely shut down a nice San Jose State team. Week four grade: A
Nebraska – Big Red Nation is still waiting on 60 good minutes against an FBS team. We didn’t see it last Saturday as they started slowly against FCS-level South Dakota State. Still too much offensive upside, with Taylor Martinez under center to sell on this team yet. Week four grade: C-
Penn State – The electric Kent State team of a year ago is a shell of its former self, currently sitting at No. 119 in the nation in scoring. After a rough week against UCF, Penn State’s defense had to enjoy getting the shutout. Does this mean PSU’s defense is back? I’m not sold yet, but it was an improved performance and quarterback Christian Hackenberg continues to grow. I think as his game develops and the defense comes around PSU will improve week to week. This could be a scary team to play in the final month of the year. Week four grade: A
Indiana – With an unbelievably tough league slate coming up, the Hoosiers had to get off to a good start in its non-conference games in order to earn a bowl game invite later on. Coach Kevin Wilson’s program sits at 2-2 after dropping the Navy game and being outclassed – frankly, embarrassed – by Missouri. I don’t see them going 4-4 with that schedule (PSU, at MSU, at Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, at Wisconsin, at OSU, Purdue) to make a bowl. Hate to say it since this team has improved offensively by leaps and bounds, but the clock is on Kevin Wilson now. Week four grade: F
Iowa – Look I loved crushing Western Michigan as much as the next Hawkeyes fan but there are still some issues with this club. First of all, if you remove the two pick-sixes and punt return touchdowns, that is just 31 points against a woeful team. Two turnovers and six penalties for 60 yards means the sloppiness that plagued this team a season ago is still there. Let’s see how Iowa looks against Minnesota in the Bank and at home against Michigan State before we push our chips all-in on Iowa. Improved product, yes. Are we buying that product again? Check back with me. Week four grade: A
Michigan State – Two words: Zero offense. With that glaring hole in the team, they will struggle to be consistent. Worse, they have developed a nasty habit of picking up penalties, racking up 10 of them for well over 100 yards against Notre Dame. They have a championship-caliber defense and will win games, but I don’t see how they can make it to Indy with that “scoring ability.” Week four grade: F
Purdue – Here’s a recipe for failure: Score 15.3 points a game and give up 32 points a game. Those are the Boilermakers’ scoring splits this season – brutal. We knew with a lot of graduating contributors that the 2013 Purdue team was going to have an uphill climb and that was even before the coaching change. Now green players are still green but learning a new system and players with experience are like new again learning a new system. The mix was never going to be good and a tough schedule is making things that much worse. One way to show improvement over the next eight games is improving that rushing game. It continues to be anemic. Those who saw Kent State (first-year coach Darrell Hazell’s previous post) last year remember how good they looked running the ball. Purdue’s production, or lack thereof, on the ground is making the team woefully one-sided and the tools in the passing game aren’t good enough to help this team consistently move the ball. Bad mixes all over the place. Purdue is clearly putting the chili pepper in the crystal. Week four grade: F
Buy The Kid Dinner (if the NCAA allowed it):
The Two-Headed Hell Beast (James White and Melvin Gordon, RB, Wisconsin) – Tempted to give it to Mitch Leidner up in Gopher-land, but what the running backs did against Purdue was amazing. James White had 16 carries, 145 yards, 9.1 avg, one touchdown and a long run of 70 yards. Not to be outdone, Melvin Gordon had 16 carries, 147 yards, 9.2 avg, three scores, long of 27. By comparison, Leidner had 24 carries, 151 yards, 6.3 avg, four scores and a long of 27.
B.J. Lowery (DB, Iowa) – A week after making an incredible interception, Lowery had an amazing encore. In addition to four tackles he had two pick-sixes.
Kevonte Martin-Manley (PR, Iowa) – Also a gifted wideout, KMM was a beast out there returning punts. He had back-to-back trips to the house as he totaled four returns for 184 yards (46.0 avg) and the two scores – bonkers. Fifty-nine seconds is a pretty quick path to 14 points.
Dunce of the Week:
Let’s circle back to the Spartans. There is a phrase about living a Spartan Life and it is about how the ancient society made do with few possessions. To say this is a “Spartan Offense” wouldn’t even be a good pun because they aren’t made-doing or make doing, or whatever the past-tense of that is, at all. Their lack of execution and coaching is ruining a great chance at the Rose Bowl since the defense is already there. I hesitate to throw talent in there because the recruiting has been pretty solid and MSU has had good offenses in the past under Dantonio, so what gives now? Execution is the biggest issue – I would assign a healthy 70-percent to it. Passes sailed against Notre Dame and ones that were on target were dropped far too often. There were missed blocks and poor vision by the backs. When the holes were there or identified, the ground game wasn’t too bad. Jeremy Langford averaged almost five yards a pop. You don’t do that with no talent. The other 30-percent has to go to the coaching. I liked the split of 35 rushing and 36 passing yards but they still seem to make vanilla calls and refuse to expand the playbook. Even more puzzling, Connor Cook was yanked from the game before MSU’s two-minute drill offense in an effort to win the game. A cold Andrew Maxwell predictably went 0-for-3 and then scrambled on fourth and long to end the game. If Cook was that bad, take him out early. He wasn’t though: 16/32, 135 yards, one TD, zero INT. Not good but not awful either. Certainly a better option than Maxwell at that juncture.
The good news is MSU has a week to prepare for its Big Ten opener at Iowa. The bad news is, if they couldn’t figure all this out in the offseason, what can they do in two weeks to fix its offensive woes? In their failure to find a solution months ago, the coaches’ depth chart issues are now being compounded by terrible execution and then divided by poor in-game offensive decision-making. All of it equals one nasty formula.
The result will prevent one of the league’s best defenses from playing for a Big Ten title – which is a shame, because that side of the ball has been nothing short of amazing. For letting this problem fester for way too long, the MSU offense has the distinction of being this week’s dunce for the Big Ten.