Last week, I opened the column by dwelling on the negative. Not happening this week. We’re starting with the positive – the Big Ten’s three unbeaten teams.
Ohio State is the first, and perhaps least surprising, of those unbeatens – and Urban Meyer’s team has gotten there with, no surprise, a high-powered offense.
30: The Buckeyes have scored at least 30 points in each of their first three games. If they can do it for a fourth straight time Saturday against UAB, it would be just the second time OSU has pulled that off in the first four contests of a season since 1970. The 2010 season was the other such season – a year in which the Bucks went 12-1 before later vacating those results.
As for unbeaten number two, Minnesota – the Gophers have won with what appears to be a vastly improved defense. While far from overpowering, the offense has hung its hat on some impressive balance.
629, 658: The Gophers have 629 rushing yards on the season and 658 passing yards. With MarQuies Gray sidelined, I’m concerned whether Minnesota will be able to maintain that balance. Gray has rushed for 234 of those yards.
Northwestern has also ridden an improved ground attack to its surprising 3-0 start.
2007: NU has had two straight games with a 100-yard rusher – Venric Mark against Vanderbilt and Mike Trumpy versus BC. If the ‘Cats can get a runner over the century mark this week against South Dakota, it’ll be the first time they’ve accomplished that in three straight games since 2007.
It’s the Wildcats’ defense that has really stepped up the last couple of games, though – leading to this accomplishment.
17: The ‘Cats have gone two straight games without allowing a rushing touchdown. Before that, they had given up at least one TD on the ground in 17 straight – the longest such streak in the Big Ten.
Michigan State’s opponent this week, Eastern Michigan, could perhaps learn a thing or two from that NU run “D.”
312.3: The Eagles are giving up 312.3 rushing yards per game. That is dead last nationally – 120th out of 120 FBS teams.
EMU’s brutal defense is a big reason why I’m not sure we’ll learn that much about the Spartans this week. No matter how successful they are on the ground coming off the struggles against Notre Dame, I’m just not willing to read too much into it.
As little as we might glean from the Spartans’ game, I think we’ll learn even less about Nebraska’s biggest concern – its defense.
308: Nebraska’s opponent, Idaho State, rushed for a grand total of 308 yards last year. For the season. Everyone on the team combined. That was far and away the fewest in the nation. The Bengals throw the ball around quite a bit, though not all that successfully – they lost their last eight games in 2011.
Idaho State is coming off a win, though – and a convincing one at that – 38-5 over Black Hills State, which, like the hills themselves, is in South Dakota. You may know of Black Hills State from its long-standing rivalry with the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. I didn’t – but you may. Turns out it’s the second most-played series in the US behind only Harvard-Yale. At least if you believe what you read on Wikipedia. But, I digress.
[Related: Who will win Week 4 Big Ten games? Vote now!]
From the “won’t learn much” games to the “could learn quite a bit” games.
Penn State gets a Temple team that has played them tough the last couple of times they’ve met. The Owls haven’t beaten the Nittany Lions since 1941, a date I’m sure Steve Addazio has thrown around a time or two this week.
That being said, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by Penn State the past couple of weeks. The defense has obviously stood out after a poor 2nd half against Ohio, but I’m also impressed at some of the little things that Penn State is doing, or, in the case of turnovers, not doing.
3, 0, 0: After turning the ball over 3 times against Ohio, the Nittany Lions’ turnover totals for the last two games have been 0 and 0. PSU has a +5 turnover margin – tops in the Big Ten. Keep that up and they will definitely win some games.
Like Penn State, I expect Illinois to get a battle this weekend, as the Illini host Louisiana Tech. The Bulldogs come in boasting one of the nation’s highest-powered offenses, having scored 56 points in each of their first two games. They are nothing if not efficient.
14 for 14: The Bulldogs are a perfect 14 for 14 in the Red Zone this year – and all 14 of those scores have been touchdowns. They are one of only five teams nationally that has scored a TD every time they’ve gotten inside their opponent’s 20, and the only one of those five that has reached the end zone more than 10 times.
120th: On the flipside, the Bulldogs are 120th out of 120 teams in the nation in total defense. This figures to be a high-scoring affair.
While the Bulldogs seemingly score at will, the points have been much harder to come by for a couple of Big Ten teams.
51: Iowa has scored just 51 points through three games. That is the fewest for the Hawks since Kirk Ferentz’s second team managed just 42 in its first three games in 2000. The encouraging news is that that team started (0-3), while this one has managed to win two games despite the offensive struggles.
Wisconsin’s offensive woes are equally as bad as Iowa’s – and far more surprising in my opinion. The Badgers have managed just 49 points through three games, their fewest since mustering just 40 in their first three games in 1989.
How’s this for perspective:
5: The Badgers had 5 individual games last year where they scored at least 49 points – the total it’s taken them three games to get to this season.
Points may be hard to come by in the game of the weekend, as well, as Michigan travels to South Bend to take on an Irish team that has been great defensively.
30: Notre Dame has given up just 30 points through three games. That is the best start for the Irish “D” since its last National Championship season in 1988, when Lou Holtz’s team gave up just 27 in its first three contests.
Denard Robinson has had his way with the Irish the last two years, accumulating a staggering 948 total yards – an average of 474 per game. He needs a far more modest total on Saturday to make some history.
191: Robinson is 191 yards away from passing Chad Henne for first place on Michigan’s all-time total yardage list.
Howard Griffith, Gerry DiNardo and I will get you ready for that one and the rest of the day’s action Saturday on the Auto Owners Insurance Pre-Game – starting at 11 a.m. ET. It’s a prelude to another busy day on BTN, which includes seven games on our air. Be sure to check out our GameFinder in advance to see what channel the game you want to watch will be on in your area.
See you on Saturday.
|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.|