Quality over quantity was the theme Saturday in the Big Ten, which had just four games. The marquee matchup between Wisconsin and Ohio State lived up to its billing, as the Buckeyes reaffirmed that they are the best team in the conference. Iowa and Illinois also showed they mean business, as each program continues to surprise. Purdue? Well, it’s gonna be a long season in West Lafayette. See what I learned this Saturday.
1. Braxton Miller is A-OK. He essentially had missed the last three games recovering from a strained MCL in his left knee. Rusty? Out of synch? Off center? Heck no. Miller hit 17-of-25 passes for 198 yards with four scoring strikes in an impressive 31-24 victory over Wisconsin. He also carried a team-high 22 times for 83 yards. Miller reminded all of us why he’s the Big Ten’s best player. All hail Braxton!
2. If I voted for Big Ten coach of the year right now as I’m typing this, I’d cast my ballot for Illinois’ Tim Beckman. He already has improved on last year’s win total. And the possibilities the rest of the season seem limitless—especially if the defense can play like it did vs. struggling Miami (Ohio), which had just 250 yards.
3. Wisconsin is the best two-loss team in the nation. Heck, you could argue that the Badgers are the second-best team in the Big Ten. (I still think Northwestern is No. 2.) Wisconsin more than acquitted itself in a 31-24 loss at Ohio State. The Badgers’ other defeat was the debacle in the desert, when incompetent officiating cost Wisconsin a shot at kicking a winning field goal in the dying seconds. The Badgers have a balanced offense and developing defense.
4. Is Nathan Scheelhaase the best quarterback in the Big Ten? I know, I know. Braxton Miller is pretty good, but he has been hurt. Scheelhaase looked good again Saturday, hitting 19-of-24 passes for 278 yards and five touchdowns with a pick. All five of his scoring strikes came in the first half (four in the second quarter), as the Fighting Illini built a 43-0 lead and never looked back vs. Miami (Ohio) in a 50-14 triumph. No quarterback over the first month has looked better than Scheelhaase.
5. Iowa quarterback Jake Rudock is one of—if not the—most surprising players in the Big Ten in 2013. He had never taken a snap at Iowa, making him a great unknown entering the season as the winner of a three-man quarterback derby. What has Rudock done? Only impressed with his efficient play, showing moxie in pocket and nifty feet. The sophomore seems unflappable and mature beyond his years. What a bright future for a dangerous Hawkeye team.
6. Purdue needs to turn the page to 2014 and start Danny Etling the rest of the season. Things got so bad for the Boilermakers during an embarrassing 55-24 homecoming loss to Northern Illinois that they pulled Rob Henry in the second quarter after the senior threw his second pick of the game. It had to be done. Henry isn’t a quarterback. Never really has been. He’s a safety. The staff inserted true freshman Etling, who showed some promise. The touted prospect from Terre Haute, Ind., hit 19-of-39 passes for 241 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Yes, the numbers largely came in garbage time, but Etling gives Purdue something it desperately needs: hope.
7. Illinois has one of the best collections of tight ends in the Big Ten. And it finally showed on Saturday with Evan Wilson, Matt LaCosse and Jon Davis all making scoring catches. The Illini need to continue to utilize this array of athletic talent, which poses matchup issues for defenses.
8. The Boilermaker offense does have a pulse. The attack had totaled less than 300 yards in each of its first three games. But vs. Northern Illinois, Purdue notched 524 yards. Yes, the Huskie defense is rotten and a lot of Purdue’s yards came when the game already was in hand for NIU. Still, the Boilermakers can at least take heart in having some success moving the ball.
9. Iowa will be a factor in the Legends Division. In the Hawkeyes’ 23-7 workmanlike win at Minnesota, Iowa dominated in every phase of the game—especially up front in the trenches. Iowa rushed for 246 yards and allowed only 30 yards rushing. Enough said. Iowa still hasn’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season. What a difference a year makes for a program coming off a 4-8 season.
10. Minnesota may have a quarterback controversy. After missing the last two games with a hamstring injury, Philip Nelson started in place of Mitch Leidner and didn’t look great. Nelson hit just 12-of-24 passes for 135 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Without the ability to make defenses respect the pass, Minnesota’s ground game suffers. Vs. Iowa, the Gophers ran 27 times for 30 yards (1.1 ypc). So, who will start going forward: Nelson or Leidner? To me, they essentially are the same quarterback. Can either pass well enough to get the job done? I don’t know.
|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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