Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, September 18, 2014
The fourth week of the season doesn?t bring an abundance of pizzazz, but the Miami (Fla.) at Nebraska game has some sizzle and kindles some old memories of these long-ago rivals that met for the national title after the 1983, 1994 and 2001 seasons.
Here?s a look at the Best of Week 4.
BEST GAME: All eyes will be on Lincoln, Neb., with Miami coming to town. Nebraska is rolling along at 3-0, coming off a resounding triumph at Fresno State. The offense is really clicking. Good thing, because this will be the Huskers? biggest test yet. The Hurricanes haven?t been to Nebraska since making back-to-back trips in 1975-76, games the Huskers won. In fact, this will be the first regular-season meeting between these storied programs since then, as the others since all came in the postseason with four memorable Orange Bowl meetings and a Rose Bowl clash.
BEST MATCHUP: Nebraska linebackers vs. Miami running back Duke Johnson. The Cornhuskers have nice speed and athletic ability at linebacker. That should allow Nebraska to hem in Johnson, one of the country?s top backs. If Johnson gets on track and runs unchecked, the Hurricanes may leave Lincoln with a victory.
Get more of our Week 4 coverage:
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PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Michigan QB Devin Gardner. He has four interceptions in the last two games; the Wolverines have seven turnovers in that span. He hasn?t found a groove and rhythm in the new offense. Gardner needs to regain his early 2013 form to give this still developing Wolverine offense balance. Utah will be a stern test. Michigan can?t afford to lose and fall to 2-2.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Iowa?s rushing attack. The struggles of the Hawkeye ground game are well-documented. The lack of a threatening down-field passing game has allowed defenses to creep toward the line and stuff an Iowa rushing game that ranks 95th in the nation (131.0 ypg). Regardless, the Hawkeyes need to find a way to generate a more consistent ground game if they want to be a factor in the Big Ten West. Pitt has one of the nation?s better rush defenses, so Iowa will have its work cut out for it. FWIW: This 3-0 Panthers club dropped Boston College, 30-20, in Week 2, the same BC squad that just topped USC.
BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: Much was made about Michigan?s hiring of offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier from Alabama. The Wolverines ranked No. 10 in the Big Ten in total offense last year (373.5 ypg). But the Michigan attack has gone in fits and starts this season, as quarterback Devin Gardner doesn?t look overly comfortable running the scheme and has been turnover-prone. Michigan is just ninth in the Big Ten in scoring (28.7 ppg). This will be a nice test for Nussmeier and his ideas going vs. Utah defensive coordinator Kalani Sitake, one of the most underrated DCs in the nation. The Utes always are a physical team.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP: Let?s go with Pitt?s Paul Chryst vs. Iowa?s Kirk Ferentz. Chryst is a guy with deep Wisconsin roots. And we know how fierce the rivalry is between the Badgers and Hawkeyes. Each guy has an offensive background. But this game may come down to which coach's defense can make some plays.
BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Could be fun to watch Mizzou quarterback Maty Mauk battle Hoosiers? signal-caller Nate Sudfeld. Mauk looked good in making four starts last season when James Franklin was hurt. The kid can sling it and is off to a good start for 3-0 Missouri, completing 62 percent of his passes with 12 touchdowns and three picks. Sudfeld can deftly operate Kevin Wilson?s go-go attack, as Indiana led the Big Ten in passing last season. But IU is relying more on the run thus far this season, as Sudfeld has just one TD pass. Still, he is more than capable of a big passing day and is hitting 71 percent of his passes.
BEST CHANCE FOR AN UPSET: As long as it is dialed in, focused and motivated, underdog Rutgers can win at Navy. A big key will be controlling the line of scrimmage on offense. The Scarlet Knights need to run the ball behind Paul James and throw on their terms. It?s all about playing keep away with Navy and not letting the Midshipmen get their vaunted running game established. No doubt, Rutgers? strong defensive front seven will help battle the Navy option game. Still, this upset only will take place if RU can dominate on the ground.
MORE WEEK 4 NOTES
Iowa?s trip to Pitt is filled with intrigue, as the Hawkeyes look to get on track after a shaky 2-1 start. The Panthers are coached by former Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst, so he?s familiar with Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeye program. Can the Hawkeyes handle Panthers? 250-pound running back James Conner, who already has 544 yards rushing?
Michigan fans probably want to forget Utah?s last visit to Ann Arbor in 2008, when the Utes dumped the Wolverines, 25-23, in the debut of the Rich Rodriguez era. Sorry I brought it up.
A visit to Syracuse-Randy Edsall?s alma mater– is the final dress rehearsal for Maryland before it embarks on Big Ten action. The Orange went 7-6 last season in their ACC debut and are a program moving in the right direction. The Orange won last year?s meeting vs. Syracuse and have won five in a row in the series and six of seven. The Terps look to rebound from a tough home loss to West Virginia.
Playing Navy never is a treat. Playing Navy on the road is even less of a treat. Alas, that?s Rutgers? fate, as it travels to Annapolis and gets to deal with that confounding triple-option offense that vexes so many defenses. And the Scarlet Knights will do so coming off that tough home loss to Penn State. Rutgers has won four of the last five meetings, the last of which was in 2011.
Illinois takes on a Texas State program that is solid, beating Southern Miss and Wyoming in 2013. It?s also led by Dennis Franchione. You remember him, right? ?Fran? has had notable stops in New Mexico, TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M, where he left under dubious circumstances. The Fighting Illini got a bucket of cold water dumped on their head during a 44-19 loss at Washington that followed a 2-0 start.
If you are scoring at home, there are two more games vs. FCS foes: Southern Illinois at Purdue, and Western Illinois at Northwestern. Don?t be shocked if the Boilermakers are pushed to the limit by the Salukis. The Wildcats are 0-2 coming off a bye. They need to taste some success.
Ohio State is taking the week off with a bye.
|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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