Dienhart: 10 things I learned in Week 4

It was a busy Saturday in the Big Ten, with 10 games taking place. Michigan continues to live dangerously, no team runs like Wisconsin, Nebraska still loves Bo and the Michigan State offense still has a ways to go. I learned a lot. Take a look.

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1. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon is the Big Ten’s top running back. There, I typed it. But, honestly, that’s not too big of a statement, is it? I mean, the sophomore came into the weekend leading the Big Ten with 477 yards rushing, averaging a hefty 12.9 yards per tote with four scores. Saturday, the long-striding and hard-charging Gordon scampered for 147 yards and three touchdowns in a 41-10 win over Purdue. He is without a doubt the next great Badgers running back, primed to join the likes of Ron Dayne, Brent Moss, Terrell Fletcher, Anthony Davis, Brian Calhoun, Bill Marek and Alan Ameche, among others, in Wisconsin’s pantheon of stud runners.

2. Turns out, nothing has changed about the Michigan State offense after all. The Spartans had just 253 yards in a 17-13 loss at Notre Dame. Connor Cook got his second start at quarterback, but he didn’t impress by hitting just 16-of-32 passes for 136 yards with a touchdown. In fact, Cook was replaced late in the game by Andrew Maxwell. MSU apparently is back where it started at the beginning of the season at quarterback.

3. Minnesota has to pass better. The Gophers were executing their read option with aplomb vs. San Jose State, punishing the Spartans with 354 yards rushing in a 43-23 win with David Cobb pacing the way with 129 yards. That’s all nice, but the Golden Gophers need to pass better. Mitch Leidner, who started in place of the injured Philip Nelson at quarterback and had 122 yards on the ground and four touchdowns, hit just 5-of-13 passes for 71 yards. That’s 5.5 yards per attempt. That will have to improve with Iowa coming to town on Saturday in the battle for Floyd of Rosedale.

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4. Penn State needed that 34-0 win over Kent State. The victory came a week after the Nittany Lions allowed 219 yards rushing and 507 yards overall in a 34-31 home loss to UCF. Kent State notched just 192 yards of offense with just 58 yards rushing on 24 carries.

5. Yes, Ohio State rolled over FCS Florida A&M, but that proved nothing. Instead of celebrating too long and too hard, Buckeyes fans should wonder if Braxton Miller will be up to speed for Wisconsin’s visit to Columbus next week—if he’s deemed recovered from a MCL sprain to his left knee suffered in Week Two. Miller essentially has missed the last three games (he played a bit vs. San Diego State). If he plays Saturday vs. the Badgers, will Miller’s timing be off? Will he pass well? Will he run with his usual devastating effectiveness?

6. Iowa is looking better and better, playing perhaps its best yet this weekend. The unit had two interceptions for touchdowns on Saturday and limited Western Michigan to three points and 209 yards. And it all has started up front the last two games for a defense that has allowed only a combined 133 yards rushing the past two weeks. That’s three wins in a row for Iowa, which had a seven-game losing skid. Just think: If quarterback Jake Rudock had not tossed that late interception vs. Northern Illinois in the opener, the Hawkeyes may be 4-0.

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7. The Big Ten really didn’t have an impressive win in the non-conference. Michigan’s 41-30 victory over Notre Dame? Eh. This isn’t an elite Fighting Irish team, as it struggled to put away Purdue and Michigan State. The Big Ten will have to wait until the bowl season for a chance to score an impressive non-conference win.

8. Nebraska annihilated South Dakota State, 59-20. That’s nice and all. But the jury remains out on the Cornhuskers. Still, Nebraska—which is off next week—should win its next two: Illinois, at Purdue. Then comes a trip to Minnesota that could be dicey followed by a visit from Northwestern. My point: This team is still set up for big-time success if it can iron out its defense and keep humming on offense.]

9. Devin Gardner is a lost soul. That sensational game vs. Notre Dame that saw the junior hit 21-of-33 passes for 294 yards with four touchdowns and 82 yards rushing seems like years ago, doesn’t it? The last two games, near disastrous losses to Akron and UConn, Gardner has hit 28-of-55 passes for 347 yards with two touchdowns, five interceptions and five sacks. For the year, Gardner has seven touchdown passes and eight picks with five sacks.

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10. While the Leaders Division race likely will be decided on Saturday with Wisconsin playing at Ohio State, the Legends Division race is wide open. And I mean WIDE open. Yes, Northwestern and Michigan are unbeaten, but they certainly look beatable. Minnesota also is perfect, but it’s a work in progress. If Michigan State can figure out its offense and Nebraska can figure out its defense, they could be formidable. And how about Iowa? The Hawkeyes are lurking in the weeds as they build confidence with three victories in a row. This is going to be fun.

About Tom Dienhart 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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huskerfanbb on 9/22/2013 @ 2:45pm EST Said:

The Gardner for Heisman nonsense can stop now.

hadley smith on 9/23/2013 @ 2:29pm EST Said:

Hey huskerfan: the heisman hype for Taylor Martinez can be put to rest as well…oh right I forgot, he wasn’t even considered!