Dave Revsine, October 5, 2011
Wow. So, it seems like Wisconsin is pretty good. I don't normally focus the Numbers on teams that aren't playing this week because, well, then what would I talk about the next week? But, it seems reasonable to make at least a minor exception here.
A couple of things to ponder: First off, it is perhaps no great revelation by now, but the presence of Russell Wilson helps Wisconsin's run game (a run game that didn't need all that much help) nearly as much as its passing attack. Consider these numbers:
3.1, 5.7: The Badgers averaged just 3.1 yards per carry in the first half. But, they went into the locker room up 13 points. Why? Because they moved the ball through the air – with Wilson throwing for 233 yards. After recognizing that they couldn't simply beat the Badgers by loading up on the run, Nebraska gave up 5.7 yards per carry in the second half.
Second point - the gap between the Badgers and the rest of the Big Ten appears to be quite large. After the pre-season tour of the Big Ten that Howard, Gerry and I took, we felt that the Huskers may very well have been the second-best team that we saw. They were certainly in the top four. And then, we got this:
31: The 31-point margin of victory was tied for Wisconsin's largest-ever over a top 10 team. They beat No. 1 Northwestern 37-6 in November of 1962.
Now, that's not to say that Wisconsin will beat everyone by 31 points or that there's not someone who will catch them on a down day and knock them off. But that was awfully impressive.
More on the Badgers next week - but let's get to the teams that will be playing on Saturday, starting with another unbeaten - Illinois.
1st: The Illini have won three straight games by three points - topping Arizona State, Western Michigan and Northwestern by that identical margin. It's the 1sttime in school history that they've won three consecutive games by three or fewer points.
Their opponent this week, Indiana, has experienced the opposite side of the close game experience.
19: The Hoosiers four losses have come by a total of 19 points. No team in the nation has as many losses by as small a margin.
At the other end of the scoring margin equation, we find Minnesota.
35: The Gophers' 58-point loss to Michigan was the third-largest margin of defeat in school history. For a little perspective, consider this: Minnesota has had 35 seasons in school history in which they gave up fewer than 58 points combined all year. It's been a while since they've pulled it off, however. The most recent instance was in 1941, when the 8-0 Gophers outscored their opponents by a collective 186-38.
They will face another struggling team in Purdue on Saturday - though the Boilers do boast one national leader.
48.7: Purdue's Cody Webster is averaging a national-best 48.7 yards per punt.
Speaking of leaders, Ohio State puts an unmatched streak on the line on Saturday night in Lincoln.
2004: The Buckeyes have not lost consecutive games since 2004, when they dropped three in a row to start Big Ten play - losing to Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa. That is the longest span without losing back-to-back games of any team in the country.
As for what's gone wrong with the Buckeyes - it's fairly obvious:
11th, 91st: OSU was 11th in the nation in scoring offense last year. They are 91st nationally in that category this season.
While Nebraska's situation isn't as dire, the Huskers have had some well-documented problems on defense, perhaps best encapsulated by their inability to get off the field on third down. Wisconsin converted 8 of 12 3rd down opportunities on the Blackshirts last week (and threw in a 4th down conversion to boot), continuing a downward trend:
29.9%, 45.7%: Opponents converted just 29.9% of their third-down opportunities last year against Nebraska - 4th lowest percentage nationally. This year, teams have made good on 45.7% of their third downs against the Huskers - 97th nationally.
Like Nebraska, Iowa has seen its usually-dependable defense go into a bit of a tailspin:
6th, 52nd; 7th, 53rd: The Hawkeyes were 6thin the nation in Rushing Defense last year. They are 52ndnationally this year. They were 7th in Scoring Defense last season. This year, they are 53rd.
On the flipside, Iowa's opponent this week, Penn State, has seen its defensive fortunes rise, one year after struggling through a disappointing, injury-plagued campaign on that side of the ball.
1996: The Nittany Lions have held four of their first five opponents to 10 points or less. It's the first time they've accomplished that since 1996.
The problem is that Penn State's offensive production continues to slide:
38.9, 28.8, 24.5, 23.2: The Nittany Lions averaged 38.9 points per game in 2008 - which was the highest scoring offense in the Big Ten in 15 years. Since then, Penn State's offensive output has gone down every season. They averaged 28.8 points per game in 2009, 24.5 last year, and are at 23.2 this season.
As Penn State's offense sputters, Michigan's continues to flourish, both on the ground and through the air.
1976: The Wolverines have posted three straight games of 300 or more rushing yards, their longest such streak since 1976.
15.9: Michigan is averaging 15.9 yards per completion, fourth best mark in the nation.
This does not bode well for Northwestern, whose secondary got torched by Illinois last week, continuing a disturbing trend. Though it does provide a little symmetry.
15.9 Northwestern is allowing 15.9 yards per completion, second worst nationally.
There's more where that came from.
16, 13: Michigan has had 16 offensive plays go for 30 or more yards this season – most in the Big Ten. Northwestern has allowed 13 such plays - most in the Big Ten.
On the flipside, Michigan's vastly-improved defense has done a great job preventing the big play.
0, 15: Michigan has allowed 0 plays of 40 yards or longer this season. They yielded 15 such plays last season – most in the Big Ten.
Speaking of the Wildcats and the Wolverines - it's our primetime game Saturday BTN. As a special bonus, Gerry, Howard and I will be on-site at Ryan Field at 6 p.m. ET for a very special hour-long Countdown To Kickoff show. We're fired up for what will be our first-ever on-site pre-game show. We'll be in Chicago in the morning for the Auto Owners Insurance Pre-Game Show. That'll be a half hour later than normal - 11 ET. See you then.
Follow Revsine on Twitter @BTNDaveRevsine.