Big Ten Links: On stats, defense & injuries

In my Wednesday edition of Big Ten links, I’ve found a hearty offering headlines from around the conference. Through two weekends the stats don’t look so good for the Big Ten, but there’s time to turn that around. Even if he’s able to play, maybe Illinois’ Nathan Scheelhaase should sit Saturday out. And Nebraska’s defense has struggled on third downs, but why? All that and more in this post.

For instance, the Big Ten statistics haven’t been much better than the results, according to Lee Barfknecht of the Omaha World-News. Check out some of these “gems” unearthed by Barfknecht.

He notes:

  • Sacramento State and Youngstown State have combined for as many wins over BCS schools and Notre Dame (2-0) as the Big Ten (2-7).
  • In total offense, Northwestern is 95th, Wisconsin is 105th, Illinois 110th and Iowa 112th teams. And the Hawkeyes are tied for last with one touchdown.
  • In total defense, Nebraska is 95th, giving up more yards in one game (653) than the nation’s top three teams in that category (TCU, Florida State and Connecticut) have in five games combined (571).
  • And Michigan, the majority preseason pick as the league’s best team, has no national ranking better than 74th in the eight major statistical categories.

Why the struggles? Well, let’s just go with this one: It’s early in the season. And know this: The Big Ten coaches say it’s too early to write off the league after that rough 6-6 Saturday last week, and you can listen to their Tuesday teleconferences with reporters here. Then again, what else are they supposed to say?

Time will tell. But, for now, Michigan State looks like the lone legit national title contender.

Husker breakdown: Nebraska has its share of issues on both sides of the ball. On offense, the Huskers need to solve second-half woes.

At UCLA, the Huskers had 333 yards and 24 points at halftime. In the second half, they had 106 yards, six points, two turnovers and three penalties. On defense, many issues loom, but one of the biggest is performing better on third downs. Foes are converting 47.1 percent on third downs.

But, as coordinator John Papuchis points out, that third-down number would improve if Nebraska did better on first and second downs.

Sit or go? Illinois QB Nathan Scheelhaase missed the Arizona State game with an ankle injury. And, while he may be ready for this week’s visit from some team called “Charleston Southern,” Scheelhaase still may sit out.

Why not? Save Scheelhaase. We saw how indispensable he was in the debacle in Tempe, when the offense got no traction in the demoralizing defeat. Bigger games loom. If the Illini can’t beat Charleston Southern with Reilly O’Toole at quarterback, then they have bigger issues.

Line call: Who is Bart Miller? He only happens to be arguably the most important assistant coach for Wisconsin, taking over the offensive line from fired Mike Markuson. Oh, and the former graduate assistant is 27 and has never been an assistant coach.

Bret Bielema says Miller will revert to the style of philosophies of departed line coach Bob Bostad. Bielema also says Miller has energized the unit, too. Good thing, because the Badgers will be pressed this Saturday against a Utah State team that is 20th in the nation against the run.

This is what they call a “career defining move” by Bielema. We watch, wait and wonder.

Critics’ corner: The Kirk Ferentz critics are out in force after that ugly 9-7 home loss to Iowa State, thanks largely to an offense that has scored a grand total of one touchdown this season. But Pat Harty of the Iowa City Press-Citizen says two of the fans’ beefs aren’t legit.

No. 1, some fans don’t think Iowa is playing its best players. Namely, that Ferentz isn’t using his four freshman wideouts despite the attack struggling. But the youngsters aren’t playing because they aren’t better than what Iowa already has at receiver. Pretty simple.

No. 2, fans complain that Ferentz doesn’t show enough emotion. This is comical. He hasn’t changed his sideline demeanor over this tenure. When the Hawkeyes were winning Big Ten titles, Ferentz was calm, cool and collected. When the Hawkeyes are struggling, Ferentz is unemotional and uncaring.

Just crazy, isn’t it?

Shoring things up: Much has been made of Michigan’s reliance on Denard Robinson in the Air Force game. Others need to step up and help move the ball. But the defense also had its issues against Air Force. And coordinator Greg Mattison is shouldering the blame.

The Wolverines allowed 417 yards, with 290 coming on the ground. For the year, Michigan’s defense ranks 92nd in the nation. But remember this: The Wolverines had arguably the most difficult 1-2 punch of opening games in the nation, playing Alabama—the best team in the nation–and Air Force, a team that is difficult teams to prepare for. Michigan is 1-1. Now is when the season starts, with UMass and Notre Dame next. This is when I start to judge the Wolverines.


TWEETS THAT MATTER

My take: Purdue can only hope. Robert Marve brings a playmaking ability to an offense that needs it. He’s also a fiery player who the players respond well to. But this is Marve’s third torn ACL of his injury-riddled college career.


My take: File this under “I can’t believe it.”


My take: This is a matchup that Michigan State must exploit. If Andrew Maxwell can pass, imagine the success Le’Veon Bell will having running.


My take: Which of these is most surprising? I think it’s Gray leading in pass efficiency.


My take: Yes, losing Shawney Kersey hurts. Big time. This team can’t afford any attrition. Especially voluntary attrition.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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