From where I sit, the Purdue-Notre Dame battle is the most interesting one on the slate. As we’ve attended Purdue practices over the last four years, Howard Griffith, Gerry DiNardo and I have had the privilege of watching Danny Hope craft his roster. His strategy has been clear – become faster and more athletic. I think we all believe he has done that. But, at a certain point, that group has to step up and win some big games. Beating Notre Dame gets people’s attention. The Boilers are well-positioned to pull it off, and, in the process, help change this number.
2 of 26: Purdue has won just 2 of its last 26 games against AP ranked teams. Those two wins came last year against a free-falling Illinois team and in 2009 against Ohio State. The Irish are ranked 22nd this week. The opportunity is there.
The Boilers were impressive in week one, dominating Eastern Kentucky 48-6. Then again, it was Eastern Kentucky. It’s always tough to know just how much credence to put into opening weekend. Still, when compared to last seasons’ results, a couple of Big Ten teams sent very positive offensive messages.
49, 25: Nebraska scored 49 points in its win over Southern Miss. It’s a good sign for a Huskers attack that didn’t total more than 25 points in any of its final six outings last season.
56, 14: Along the same lines, Ohio State put up 56 against Miami of Ohio. That’s 14 more than the Buckeyes scored in any game last season.
Of course, you can always tell the opposite story. There were some fairly negative week one messages as well.
31: Michigan gave up 31 points in the first half against Alabama. For a little perspective, consider that the vastly-improved Wolverines defense only gave up more than 31 in an entire game once last season – and they won. Ohio State got 34 on them in a 40-34 Wolverines victory.
And then, there’s Penn State. There were a lot of scary numbers that came out of the Nittany Lions’ loss. What surprised me was that the bulk of them were on defense. When we were at Penn State’s camp, we really felt they had the pieces for a very competitive starting 11 on “D.” They still might, but numbers like 301 second-half yards for the Bobcats and zero punts make me wonder. And then, there’s this one:
11 of 12: The Bobcats went 11 of 12 on third down in the second half against Penn State. That’s 92 percent. For purposes of comparison, consider that Penn State gave up just over 38 percent on third down last season.
The Nittany Lions have now been outscored 99-35 in their last three games.
Michigan State’s defense, on the other hand, was everything we believed they’d be.
1997: The Spartans held the Broncos without an offensive touchdown. It was the first time that had happened to the high-scoring Broncos since 1997.
While we might have expected that kind of performance out of Michigan State’s defense, the one Minnesota came up with was a pleasant surprise.
3, 4: The Gophers picked off three passes in their win against UNLV. Impressive. Even more impressive when you consider that Minnesota had a grand total of four interceptions all of last season.
The last one, by Derek Wells in the third overtime, put the Gophers in position to pull out a come from behind win. And, while wins have been infrequent in Minneapolis in recent years, many of them have looked similar to that one.
9th: The win over UNLV was Minnesota’s 9th since 2009 in which they had trailed at some point in the fourth quarter. That is the most in the nation in that span. Pretty amazing when you consider they’ve only won 13 games in that time period.
Interestingly, Iowa is tied for second on that list, with eight such wins, including last week’s rally to top Northern Illinois.
New offensive coordinator Greg Davis had expressed some concern in the offseason about the lack of speed on the flank, a shortcoming reflected in his play-calling.
20.9, 31: Last season, the Hawks averaged 20.9 passing attempts per game that traveled ten yards or less through the air. In their opener, 31 of the Hawkeyes’ passes were thrown less than ten yards, including 8 which were thrown behind the line. For what it’s worth, last year’s team threw a total of 28 behind the line all season.
10.3, 2: With the speedy Marvin McNutt in the equation, last year’s Iowa team averaged 10.3 passes per game that were thrown 11 or more yards. They threw two such passes against NIU.
Illinois doesn’t just have new coordinators – they have an entirely new staff. But, at least in week one, the defense looked just as stout as last year’s outstanding group.
1998: The Illini limited Western Michigan to minus-six rushing yards. It was the first time Illinois held an opponent to a negative total on the ground since 1998, when Middle Tennessee got just minus-9 on them.
The seven points the Illini allowed were the fewest they’ve given up to an FBS opponent since 2003, when they held UCLA to six. This against a Western Michigan team that scored 45 or more points in three of its last five games last season.
Indiana’s defense was a serious weakness last year, as it has been for quite some time. Though the Hoosiers did hold Indiana State to 17 points, the Sycamores still had some success moving the ball.
6.04: Indiana State gained 6.04 yards per play against IU. Over the course of a season, that would have ranked 93rd nationally last season – though it is only a very slight improvement against the 6.44 yards per play the Hoosiers allowed last season (109th nationally).
The level of competition will get better for IU, though not necessarily this week. UMass totaled three first downs, three yards rushing, and 59 yards of total offense last week in its FBS debut, a 37-0 loss to UConn.
Wisconsin, surprisingly, had some issues against an FCS team as well, as the Badger had to hold on for a 26-21 win over Northern Iowa.
Among the illuminating numbers:
50%, 85.3%: Only 50 percent of the Badgers’ Red Zone trips resulted in TDs against the Panthers. They had to settle for field goals on two of their four trips inside the Panthers’ twenty-yard line. Sure, it’s just one game, but, especially when you consider the level of the opponent, it does stand in fairly stark contrast to the 85.3 percent TD success rate that the Badgers had in the Red Zone last season – best in the nation.
The Badgers head on the road to take on Oregon State this week – a bit of a rarity for Wisconsin. It’s their first non-conference road game against a team from an automatic qualifying FBS conference since 2005, when Barry Alvarez took his team to North Carolina.
Rare, yes – but nowhere near as rare as the scheduling stretch Northwestern is about to embark on.
1934: Northwestern’s game against Vanderbilt is the first of four straight home games for the Wildcats. NU last played four straight at home in the same season in 1934. It didn’t help much back then. They went 1-3 in that stretch.
NU’s primetime battle with the Commodores is the last of three games on our air on Saturday (full scoreboard here). Game one is Minnesota and New Hampshire at noon ET. After that, it’s the battle for the Cy-Hawk, as Iowa State visits Iowa. All the fun starts with the Auto Owners Insurance Pre-Game at 11 a.m. ET. See you then.
|BTN’s Dave Revsine hosts a number of TV shows, including our Big Ten Football Pregame show every Saturday at 11 a.m. ET. His popular Big Ten football stats column “Numbers” runs Thursdays during the football season. Find previous columns here, subscribe to his “Numbers” RSS feed, and follow him on Twitter @BTNDaveRevsine.|