I never would have thought this at the outset of the year, given their struggles down the stretch last season and my concerns about Taylor Martinez in the passing game, but I’m more and more convinced that the Huskers have the Big Ten’s best offense. By one measure, it’s the best production in Lincoln since the school’s most recent glory days.
30+: The Huskers have scored 30+ points in each of their first five games. It’s the first time they’ve done that since the phenomenal 1995 National Championship team that was among the best college teams of all-time. That group, you’ll recall, scored more than 35 points in every game, and was only held under 40 twice all season.
Aside from the one big flop against UCLA, the Huskers have looked good on defense as well – improving dramatically in an area that really hampered them last season.
1st/12th: Nebraska has 43 tackles for loss this year. Not only is that the 1st in the Big Ten, it’s not even close (Indiana is 2nd with 29 – though the Hoosiers have played one fewer game than the Huskers). It’s an amazing turnaround considering Nebraska was 12th in the conference in tackles for loss last season.
The Huskers also lead the Big Ten in sacks with 19 – only two fewer than they recorded all of last season. It sets up an interesting battle in the trenches with an Ohio State team that has also made a dramatic jump.
3.5/1.4: Ohio State allowed 3.5 sacks per game last season – for a total of 46 on the year. Only two teams in the nation yielded more. This year, the Bucks are allowing just 1.4 sacks per game. Only four Big Ten teams have given up fewer than Ohio State’s seven sacks allowed.
While Ohio State’s offensive line has clearly improved, Wisconsin’s has regressed in almost shocking fashion. The Badgers were once again completely incapable of running the ball against Nebraska – totaling just 56 yards on the ground.
2nd: That marked the 2nd time this season Wisconsin had been held under 60 rushing yards. Before this year, the Badgers hadn’t had a single game under 60 since 2007.
While the Badgers have been arguably the most disappointing team in the conference thus far, their opponent this week, Illinois, is giving them a run for their money. The Illini returned a ton of talent, but have been embarrassed in their last three outings against FBS teams, falling to Arizona State, Louisiana Tech and Penn State by a combined 87 points.
Turnovers and general sloppy play have been the biggest culprits, but the injury to Nate Scheelhaase clearly hasn’t helped. Scheelhaase’s ankle injury has severely limited him in the running game, an element that was a big part of the Illini’s attack last season.
624/11: Scheelhaase rushed for a team-high 624 yards last season. He has totaled 11 rushing yards so far this season.
The run game did in Michigan State, as well, in its loss to Ohio State on Saturday. The Spartans totaled just 34 yards on the ground.
84/655: Michigan State had 84 combined rushing yards in its two losses this season. The Spartans had 655 combined rushing yards in their three wins.
As it has for years, Michigan State’s success is dependent on being able to establish a run game. The Spartans had just 22 rushing attempts against Ohio State, continuing this consistent trend:
27-0, 13-18: Michigan State is 27-0 when totaling 35 or more rushing attempts since 2008. The Spartans are 13-18 when they fail to reach that total.
If there’s any week they should be able to run the ball, it’s this one.
Northwestern torched Indiana for 394 rushing yards last week, as the Hoosiers defense continued to struggle.
284.3: Since the start of last season, Indiana is allowing an average of 284.3 rushing yards per conference game. That is the worst of any team in the nation.
Northwestern totaled 704 yards against the Hoosiers – a school record. Those 394 rushing yards were the most in the Pat Fitzgerald era.
NU is now 5-0 and has earned its first AP ranking since 2008. It’s been even longer since a ranked Northwestern team has won a game.
2001: Northwestern’s last win during a week in which they appeared in the AP Top 25 came in 2001. Since then, the ‘Cats have gone 0-4 when ranked by the AP.
As good a story as Northwestern has been, Penn State has been fairly impressive itself. The Nittany Lions’ season appeared to be spiraling downhill after season-opening losses to Ohio University and Virginia. Since then, they’ve won three straight.
0-2/3-2: Penn State is the first Big Ten team to go from 0-2 to 3-2 since Michigan in 2007. That team, you’ll recall, lost to Appalachian State and Oregon to start the season before running off eight straight wins.
Speaking of the Wolverines, they’re back in action Saturday after a week off to recover from their six turnover debacle against Notre Dame. The Irish had just two turnovers, meaning it was the fourth time in as many games that the Wolverines failed to win the turnover battle.
-7, +7: Michigan is -7 in turnover differential on the season. That is worst in the Big Ten. Michigan was +7 in that category last year – tied for second-best in the conference behind only Wisconsin.
They’ll face a Purdue team that brought two interceptions back for touchdowns last week – the most memorable moments in their 51-41 win over Marshall. That game was the continuation of a positive early-season trend for the Boilers.
12: Purdue has forced 12 turnovers – the most in the Big Ten – a fact made even more impressive when you consider that nine of the other 11 teams have played one more game than the Boilers.
Purdue’s game with Michigan is the second of two on BTN on Saturday. It kicks off at 4 p.m. ET. Michigan State and Indiana get the day started at noon ET. See the full Big Ten schedule. Don’t forget to join Howard Griffith, Gerry DiNardo and me for the Auto Owners Insurance Pregame starting at 11 am 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.|