Dienhart: Here's what I learned in Week 7
There were only four Big Ten games on Saturday, but there still was a lot to learn. Wisconsin is good—very good. Purdue? Not so good. Nebraska is sitting pretty. Penn State has life. Northwestern may be on the edge. Oh, and Michigan is a team of mystery. Here’s what I learned.
1. Michigan State is looking scarier and scarier. The Spartan offense came alive in last week’s 26-14 win at Iowa (412 yards). And it showed even more spunk in a 42-28 win vs. Indiana today (473 yards). Couple this developing offense with the top defense in the Big Ten and, well, you can see why it’s easy to get excited about the Spartans. This team just may win the Legends. Wouldn’t it be fun to see MSU play Ohio State in the Big Ten title game?
2. It’s too bad Wisconsin isn’t in the Legends Division, because I think the Badgers may be able to win it. This is a talented team with an underrated defense and an offense that continues to thrive despite a dearth of overly productive wideouts. Wisconsin was at its best in a 35-6 win over Northwestern on Saturday. Just devastating. Alas, that loss at Ohio State puts the Badgers in what essentially is a two-game hole behind the Buckeyes in the Leaders Division.
3. Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner is what he is. The guy is going commit turnovers. But he is also going to make a lot of big plays. It was all there in the wild 43-40 quadruple overtime loss at Penn State. Yes, Gardner had three turnovers (two picks and a lost fumble). But he also threw for 240 yards and three scores and ran for 121 yards. You’re going to have to take the good with the bad with the junior signal-caller. I’m not sure it’s ever going to change.
4. Things are setting up well for Nebraska. The Cornhuskers are 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Big Ten, riding a three-game winning streak heading into a bye week. Taylor Martinez should be ready to go after a turf toe injury has kept him out the last three weeks when Nebraska plays next, at Minnesota on Oct. 26. Then comes a huge November, with a visit from Northwestern, trip to Michigan, visit from Michigan State, trip Penn State and visit from Iowa. Buckle up, Herbie.
5. Northwestern is now 0-2 in the Big Ten. The Wildcats lost at home to Ohio State (40-30) and got hammered on Saturday at Wisconsin (35-6). Northwestern still has games at Iowa, at Nebraska, vs. Michigan and vs. Michigan State. My point? This schedule may be Northwestern’s undoing. Will NU unravel or rise up?
6. If Purdue wins another game this season, I will be surprised. This is looking more and more like the school’s worst team since Jim Colletto’s 1993 club went 1-10. That’s all I am going to say.
7. The Legends Division race seems to get whackier with each passing Saturday. Michigan’s loss at Penn State means Michigan State and Nebraska are the only Legends teams that don’t have a Big Ten loss. Hence, the Spartans and Cornhuskers are in the driver’s seat–at least for one week. By the way: Michigan State plays at Nebraska on Nov. 16, if you were wondering.
8. Connor Cook is settling in as the Michigan State signal-caller. Cook’s improvement has brought new life to what once was a moribund Spartan offense. He hit 22-of-31 passes for 235 yards with two touchdowns and a pick vs. Indiana on Saturday. The last two games, Cook has hit 47-of-75 passes (63 percent) for 512 yards with four touchdowns and two picks. Don’t you wonder where Cook would be in his development if he had started all season?
9. Purdue true freshman quarterback Danny Etling showed some promise in his starting debut—but he also looked shaky. He hit only 14-of-35 passes for 184 yards with a touchdown and interception in a 44-7 loss to Nebraska. He was sacked five times and took a safety, too. Etling did show some nice chemistry with fellow freshman DeAngelo Yancey, who made five catches for 146 yards (29.2 ypc) and a score. It’s not going to get any easier for the kid. The next two games: at Michigan State; vs. Ohio State. Ugh.
10. Wisconsin’s Melvin Gordon showed why he’s the Big Ten’s best back. The Badgers’ sophomore back torched Northwestern for 172 yards rushing on 22 totes (7.8 ypc) with a touchdown. Gordon is simply electric with his long, sliding stride.
|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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