Dienhart: Here's what I learned in Week 6

My grandfather always told me to learn at least one thing every day. Well, he would be proud of me, because I didn’t learn just one thing on Saturday—I learned 10 during the first full Saturday of Big Ten action. Have a look at the knowledge I acquired.

[ MORE: Power RankingsTom's Take | Week 6 picks revisited | Week 6 Leaders of the Week ]

1. Ohio State can exhale. The Buckeyes have made it through the toughest two-game stretch of their season, beating Wisconsin at home last week and prevailing at Northwestern on Saturday. This team may not be as talented as, say, Alabama and Oregon. But no team is as hot as the Buckeyes, who have a feeling of invincibility around them that makes Ohio State deadly. That’s 18 victories in succession for the Buckeyes. It’s BCS title game or bust for OSU.

[ MORE: Dienhart: Nothing was going to stop OSU on this night ]

2. A trend is developing at Northwestern. And it’s disturbing. The Wildcats can’t seem to win the proverbial big game. Last year, NU squandered second-half leads against Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan in pivotal games. Win those, and who knows how great 2012 is for NU. The Wildcats did it again on Saturday night vs. Ohio State. Finding a way to protect leads and come out on top in these big games is the next step in the development of this outstanding Northwestern program that Pat Fitzgerald has built.

[ MORE: OSU-Northwestern game was one to remember ]

3. Nebraska has a pulse. Its win over Illinois wasn’t just a win; it was a dominating win. And that’s exactly what the doctor ordered. The Cornhuskers got embarrassed at home earlier this year by UCLA. And Nebraska didn’t look good in victories over Wyoming and South Dakota State. Aside from crushing a horrid Southern Miss team, the Huskers haven’t looked better than they did vs. Illinois. Has the defense turned the corner? Maybe.

4. Michigan State may be the team to beat in the Legends Division. The Spartans made a big statement with a workmanlike 26-14 win at Iowa in which the Hawkeyes didn’t score a point in the second half. It was yet another impressive defensive effort for Michigan State, as it steams toward big division games with Michigan (Nov. 2), at Nebraska (Nov. 16) and at Northwestern (Nov. 23). If the Spartan offense keeps playing like it did at Iowa City, this will be a very deadly team.

[ MORE: @BTNStatsGuys take in-depth look at Cook's passing at Iowa ]

5. Let’s go ahead and say it: Nate Sudfeld is a rising star. The Indiana quarterback got his feet wet last season as a true freshman. In 2013, Sudfeld didn’t win the starting job coming out of camp, Tre Roberson did, but he took over early last month and hasn’t looked back. Saturday, he hit 23-of-38 passes for 321 yards with two touchdowns and a pick in Indiana’s 44-24 win over Penn State.

6. Iowa is a mystery team. In fact, I’m not sure what to make of Iowa after Michigan State sat on the Hawkeyes, 26-14. The Iowa offense that showed so much life in a win at Minnesota last week had just 264 yards vs. a vaunted Spartans defense. The strong Iowa rushing attack had 16 totes for just 23 yards (1.4 ypc). The Hawkeyes are off next week and then play at Ohio State, vs. Northwestern and vs. Wisconsin. What direction will Iowa go?

7. Minnesota is gonna have to answer another round of Jerry Kill-seizure questions. He didn’t attend the game at Michigan after suffering another seizure. It’s the fifth game-day seizure Kill has had in three seasons at Minnesota, and the second this year. He didn’t coach the second half vs. Western Illinois, the third time he wasn’t able to finish because of a seizure. Kill returned for the next two contests. Now, this. He has the full support of his doctors, family and bosses. And I hope Kill stays. But outsiders will continue to wonder if having Kill continue as coach is good for the long-term development and progress of the Gopher program.

[ MORE: AP: Jerry Kill has seizure, misses Michigan game ]

8. Illinois still has work to do. That was evident in a 39-19 loss at Nebraska that wasn’t really even that close. We knew the defense would struggle, and it did by allowing 521 yards. Boy, it’s slow. But the high-flying offense looked pedestrian, notching only 372 yards. QB Nathan Scheelhaase struggled, hitting 13-of-26 passes for 135 yards with an interception. So, in losses to Washington and Nebraska, Scheelhaase was a combined 22-of-51 for 291 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. For this team to go bowling, he has to play well each game.

9. Penn State needs to look in the mirror after its 44-24 loss at Indiana. The defense may have some real issues, as the Hoosiers ripped off 486 yards with 336 coming through the air. Also worrisome was a moribund rushing attack that had just 70 yards on 38 carries (1.8 ypc). Indiana entered the game with the worst rushing defense in the Big Ten (247.8 ypg). I thought Penn State could just ram it down the Hoosiers’ throats with Zach Zwinak, Akeel Lynch and Co. It’s gonna be a long season in State College if this persists.

[ MORE: Twitter: Get Gerry DiNardo's Week 6 Sunday Ruminations ]

10. There shouldn’t be any more questions about who’s Michigan State’s starting quarterback. Connor Cook completed 25-of-44 passes for a career-high 277 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a 26-14 win at Iowa. Cook looked terrific, as he may have turned the proverbial corner with this effort on the road vs. a good Iowa defense. Was Cook really pulled for the last series vs. Notre Dame?

[ MORE: @BTNStatsGuys take in-depth look at Cook's passing numbers at Iowa ]

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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7 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (7 Comments)
bigtengrad on 10/6/2013 @ 11:32am EDT Said:

I’m not sure I’d call Iowa a mystery team, Tom. It seems to me they beat bad teams, and lose to average and better teams.

Matt Brown on 10/6/2013 @ 5:25pm EDT Said:

MSU needs to do well offensively against a better secondary before I will buy into them. The fact that they don’t play OSU is huge though. Granted, I don’t think there really is that good of secondaries in the conference.

I’ll blame NW’s losses on the lack of talent. They can only hang with teams for so long. It was obvious last night that OSU was a far more physical team and continued to wear down Northwestern. In the end, OSU has backups that would start for Northwestern. The talent is getting better at Northwestern but even now PSU is bringing in better classes despite the sanctions and every team that beat them last year has a better pool of talent to pick from.

Moonie on 10/6/2013 @ 6:22pm EDT Said:

Typical BTN and BTN sportswriter. Nothing to say good about Nebraska when they play well, but jump on the proverbial bandwagon when they have a bad game…….Keep up the good work BTN. we love being the red-headed step child.

Brent on 10/6/2013 @ 9:27pm EDT Said:

What I learned from Saturday’s action is that MSU is still plays “thug” ball in that they ripped off an Iowa’s players helmet, go after opponents knees/ankles, and hold players down after plays are over, but yet got no personal fouls or player ejections! Unbelievable what officials let go. MSU style of play is a disgrace to the B10 conference.

macgregor on 10/7/2013 @ 12:18pm EDT Said:

Michigan appears to have turned a corner (even if only to go from “shoulda lost to a really bad opponent” to “about time they beat a mediocre opponent”). Gardner under & over threw his targets through MOST of the game (a few good ones in there, but MOST of the game his receps were because a receiver made an outstanding catch) and this will be a HUGE issue against better DBs & LBs. Changes to the OLine look like they are better equipped to run the ball which is good because this team NEEDS that.
Or are they still just as likely to finish the season with no more than 8 wins as they are to contend for the Legends division?

Brent… I agree completely. I watched MSU vs ND & also vs Iowa and that is exactly the same impression I have of their style of ball in East Lansing. Pure Thuggery. Hoping the B1G officials start to pay attention.

Moonie… tough to be the new kid on the block when you’ve been on the block as long as Nebraska has. The Nittany Lion fans were happy to see the Huskers added… as I’m sure you all will be glad when the Terps & Knights join the fold!

Doug on 10/7/2013 @ 3:53pm EDT Said:

hey Brent, those grapes pretty sour? Just cause Iowa beat a crappy Minny team you thought you were good, MSU has the best defense in the land and your supposed great defense got tore up by the big ten’s worst offense, get over it.

Brent on 10/9/2013 @ 12:16am EDT Said:

No Doug, not “sour grapes” because even in the past when Iowa has beaten MSU, I have come away with similar feelings about MSU’s “thug” style of play. I guess if a team consistently plays that way, the refs can’t call everything.

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