Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, October 4, 2015
I learned a lot on Saturday, including the notion that Michigan has played better than any team in the Big Ten East-or perhaps the Big Ten. And they have a boatload of grape soda in the Northwestern press box.
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Here's what I learned in Week 5:
1. Michigan is playing better than any team in the East. There, I typed it. Sorry, Ohio State and Michigan State. The Jim Harbaugh honeymoon rolls on into Week 6, with a huge visit from Northwestern on Saturday in the Big House. The Wolverines are coming off a 28-0 whitewashing of Maryland, Michigan's second shutout in a row. The Wolverines have allowed 14 points in their last four games since a 24-17 loss at Utah to open the season. Again, you simply can't argue with this: No Big Ten East team has been as impressive.
2. I remain vexed by the offensive inconsistency at Ohio State. This basically is the same personnel as 2014, when OSU won it all. The key losses were WR Devin Smith and Evan Spencer. Are you telling me their absence is holding back this Buckeye attack? Hogwash. You think the loss of offensive coordinator Tom Herman is a factor? Just throwing it out there. There's no reason to be vexed by RB Ezekiel Elliott, he of 10 consecutive 100-yard games, though. Feed him the ball!
3. Iowa is a force to be reckoned with. The Hawkeyes are off to a 5-0 start for the first time since a 9-0 beginning in 2009 that ended with an 11-2 season and a trip to the Orange Bowl. The Hawkeyes are playing great defense and have offensive balance. Yes, C.J. Beathard didn't look great (9-of-21 for 77 yards with a pick and four sacks) in the 10-6 win at Wisconsin, but he makes defenses respect the deep ball which opens up the ground game.
4. Still don't believe Northwestern is legit? It is. The Wildcats have a strong foundation built on a physical rushing attack that is the best in the Big Ten to go along with a defense that is among the best in the Big Ten. RB Justin Jackson is one of the best backs in the Big Ten. NU entered the day No. 1 in the Big Ten in rushing (265.0 ypg), and it ripped off 184 yards. Jackson showed why he is No. 2 in the Big Ten in rushing, running 20 times for 120 yards–the 10th time in the last 12 games he has eclipsed the 100-yard mark. Jackson entered the game carrying a league-high 118 times for 516 yards (129.0 ypg). And the defense pitched its second shutout of the season and is yielding a Big Ten-low 7.0 points per game. Incredibly, the Wildcats have allowed three TDs all season.
Is that the Macarena? That's the Macarena.— Big Ten Network (@BigTenNetwork) October 3, 2015
When your team records their 1st B1G shutout since 1995, anything goes. pic.twitter.com/fqdpdHrlxa
5. Nebraska has no mojo. First, it lost to BYU on a Hail Mary. Then, it saw a 23-point fourth-quarter rally at Miami (FL) go for naught by losing in OT. Now, the Huskers will be analyzed and scrutinized to death after a gut-punch 14-13 loss at Illinois. NU had a chance to ice the win, just needing to run out the clock with a little over a minute to go. But the Huskers' mismanaged the situation, giving the ball back to Illinois for one last shot. And, the Illini took advantage, covering 72 yards in six plays and 41 seconds to score the winning TD with 10 seconds left. I have no idea what direction this team will go in 2015.
6. Looks like it's Demry Croft time in Minnesota. The heralded freshman replaced Mitch Leidner, and the staff really had no choice. Leidner has been largely ineffective most of this season. Saturday, he really looked bad in completing just 10-of-21 passes for 72 yards with an interception and lost fumble that was returned for a TD. Yes, Croft lacks Leidner's experience. But he is much more talented and offers much-needed promise and hope for a moribund offense.
7. Purdue can build on its 24-21 loss at Michigan State. The Boilermakers battled back from a 21-0 halftime deficit and had a chance to win late. This is the type of effort Purdue needs each week. (Where was that ground game vs. Bowling Green?) Next week's visit from floundering Minnesota will provide the Boilers with a great shot for the first Big Ten home win for Darrell Hazell. I'm gonna call it a "must win" for Hazell. How about that?
8. Indiana's home loss to Ohio State stung. But, if a loss can feel like a win ? this was it. I just wonder if the Hoosiers' fortunes would have been different had QB Nate Sudfeld and RB Jordan Howard not gone down with injury. Regardless, I still think the Hoosiers will go bowling. But next week's game at Penn State will be telling. How will IU rebound from the emotional loss to OSU in a game at Penn State it figures to have a good chance to win? Fascinating.
9. I still am not worried about Michigan State. Have the Spartans played their best? No. But they are 5-0. And QB Connor Cook is much better than anything Ohio State has under center – at least right now – which is why I have less concern for the Spartans. This thing will start to click soon. Then, look out!
10. The Wisconsin offense could be in trouble. Iowa's defense is terrific. In fact, the unit hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown all season. Regardless, the Badgers may struggle to move the ball in Big Ten play until star running back Corey Clement returns from injury. The Badgers turned it over four times and averaged just 2.5 yards per carry in Saturday's rare home loss. I'm not sure which of those stats is more surprising, considering Wisconsin is a program that's used to racking up eye-popping rushing totals on a weekly basis.
11. Are the Big Ten defenses that good? Or, are the QBs ? well ? average? Look at some of the lines from Saturday:
Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong 10-for-31 for 105 yards with 1 INT
- Minnesota's Mitch Leidner 10-21, 72, 1 INT
- Purdue's David Blough, 15-31, 136, 1 TD 1 INT
- Iowa's C.J. Beathard 9-21, 77, 1 TD 1 INT
- Maryland's Caleb Rowe, 8-27, 47, 3 INTs
- Michigan's Jake Rudock, 16-32, 180, 1 TD, 1 INT
- Penn State's Christian Hackenberg, 10-19, 156, 1 TD
- Indiana's Nate Sudfeld, 10-21, 134
- Indiana's Zander Diamont, 6-14, 76
Talk amongst yourselves.
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