Task number one for Brady Hoke in Ann Arbor – repairing a defense that allowed more points in each of Rich Rodriguez’s three seasons than it had in any prior year in school history. Early returns were positive.
10, 14: The Wolverines gave up just 10 points against Western Michigan, albeit in a game that was called with 1:27 to go in the 3rd quarter. Michigan’s defense was actually responsible for 14 points in the game (counting the extra points that resulted from the two defensive TD’s), meaning the “D” scored more points than it allowed. It was the first time Michigan had accomplished that since a 31-3 win over Purdue in 2003 that included a fumble return TD by Markus Curry.
Minnesota’s defense needed work too – and the Jerry Kill’s team appears to be on the right track.
66, 2: The Gophers allowed 66 plays of 20 or more yards last year – the most in the Big Ten. That’s an average of 5.5 per game. They gave up just 2 such players in the season-opener against USC.
At Ohio State, the challenge for Luke Fickell is to continue the schools’ defensive excellence. So far, so good:
90, 5th: The Buckeyes allowed a meager 90 yards of total offense against Akron. It’s the 5th time since 2007 that they’ve allowed fewer than 100 yards in a game.
OSU has always been a place where outstanding freshmen have a chance to play right away. And this year proved to be no exception – thanks in part to a suspension-depleted roster.
12: The Buckeyes used 12 true freshmen against Akron. That was the 3rd most of any team nationally in week one, behind only Texas and defending National Champ Auburn.
The inverse has always been true at Indiana. The Hoosiers strategy under Bill Lynch was to redshirt almost every true freshman. It seems that will not be the case under Kevin Wilson – at least not initially:
10, 8: The Hoosiers used 10 true freshmen against Ball State. They had played just 8 in the last four seasons combined.
The loss to the Cardinals cost the Hoosiers a spot as what would have to be considered the most unlikely member of this quartet:
7: Prior to this season, IU had started 2-0 each of the last 7 years. They were one of just four schools nationally that could make that claim. The other three were Wisconsin, Alabama and USC.
The Badgers have actually won their first two in each of the last nine seasons and figure to make it 10 on Saturday when they host Oregon State, thanks in large part to an overpowering offense.
The Badgers’ 45.3 ppg in conference last year was the second-highest average ever, behind only Penn State’s 1994 team, and this year’s version looked equally as daunting in the season-opening romp over UNLV.
9.4: The Badgers averaged 9.4 yards per play in their opener. That was the best mark in the nation in week one for any school that played an FBS opponent. Georgia Tech averaged 10.3 yards per play in a 63-21 destruction of the Catamounts of Western Carolina, an FCS team.
While Northwestern’s offense wasn’t as impressive as Wisconsin’s, their performance on the ground merits some attention – particularly given the caliber of the competition. Remember, Boston College led the nation in rushing defense last year – allowed less than 83 yards per game.
227: The Wildcats’ 227 rushing yards against the Eagles were the 2nd most in a win in the Pat Fitzgerald era, trailing only the 269 the Tyrell Sutton-led ‘Cats rolled up in their season opening win over Syracuse in 2008.
Interestingly, they had two other games under Fitz where they also exceeded that total – but both were losses – at Nevada in 2006 and in last season’s Ticket City Bowl defeat against Texas Tech. The back-to-back 200 yard rushing efforts (Texas Tech and BC) are a first for the ‘Cats since 2003.
Penn State also had problems rushing the ball last year and also gave an encouraging performance in the opener. The Nittany Lions racked up 245 yards on the ground against Indiana State, thus continuing this trend.
7-0, 1-6: Penn State is now 7-0 dating back to the beginning of last season when rushing for at least 140 yards. Joe Pa’s crew is 1-6 when it fails to reach that mark.
It will be a challenge to get there this week against Alabama. The Tide limited Kent State to minus-9 rushing yards last week. That means they’ve held their last two opponents to negative rushing totals. Remember, Michigan State ran for minus 48 yards in their Capital One Bowl defeat at the hands of the Tide on New Year’s Day.
Throwing the ball was the issue for Purdue last season – understandably in a year in which the Boilers started four different quarterbacks. Early returns indicate they may be better through the air this season.
5.1, 6.3: Purdue averaged 5.1 yards per pass attempt last season – worst in the nation. They managed 6.3 yards per attempt in Saturday’s win over Middle Tennessee State. Not great, but a step in the right direction. Interestingly, their opponent this week appears to be ever more aerially-challenged. Rice managed just 3.1 yards per throw in its season-opening loss to Texas.
Illinois’ passing game started clicking at mid-season last year, as Nate Scheelhaase grew more and more comfortable in the Paul Petrino’s offense. On Saturday, Scheelhaase picked up right where he left off, tossing two touchdowns without a pick.
15,1: Scheelhaase has now thrown 15 TD passes and just 1 interception in the Illini’s last eight outings.
While Scheelhaase got better as last year went on, Nebraska’s fellow redshirt freshman QB, Taylor Martinez, got worse – largely due to injuries. Martinez returned to his early 2010 form in the Huskers’ win over Chattanooga.
135, 95: Martinez ran for 135 yards in the Huskers’ win over the Mocs. He rushed for 95 yards in Nebraska’s final seven games combined last year – though he sat out two of those contests.
As those two QBs flourish, opposing signal-callers continue to flounder against Iowa. The Hawks picked off two of Tennessee Tech QB Tre Lamb’s passes last week. Lamb, as it turns out, has plenty of company.
65: The two interceptions gave the Hawkeyes 65 since the start of 2008. That is the second most in the nation in that span behind only Florida, which has 68.
Though the opponent obviously wasn’t a great one, the play of the Iowa secondary was encouraging given the loss of playmakers Tyler Sash and Brett Greenwood.
Along the same lines, Michigan State is trying to fill the void left by the departures of Greg Jones and Eric Gordon at linebacker. That duo combined for 796 career tackles. On Friday, we got a sense of who might fill that void:
15: MSU’s Max Bullough made 15 tackles in the Spartans’ win over Youngstown State. That was the most of any player in the Big Ten in week one, and was only eight fewer than Bullough totaled in 13 games last year.
We have a huge day of action on Saturday on BTN, with six games on our air as part of a triple-header. You’ll be able to catch Ohio State, Illinois, Northwestern, Minnesota, Nebraska and Indiana in action. And, before, in between and after the games, tune in for all the highlights and analysis as I’m joined by Gerry DiNardo and Howard Griffith. All the fun starts at 10:30 a.m. ET with the Big Ten Football Saturday Pre-Game Show, presented by Auto Owners Insurance.
See you then.
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