Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, September 6, 2017
If you have heard it once, you have heard it 382 times: Teams typically make their most improvement from Week 1 to Week 2. Having typed that, here 10 things that I will be watching this week. Will they be better?
1. Nebraska defense. The arrival of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco created a buzz across the Big Ten. His goal: Craft a championship-caliber defense. Diaco trashed the Cornhuskers? 4-3 alignment and installed a 3-4. The hyper-energetic Diaco brought a whirling dervish style to the practice field, displaying boundless energy. Hopes were high. But the 3-4 got shredded last Saturday by Arkansas State of the Sun Belt. How bad was it? The Red Wolves racked up 497 yards with 415 coming through the air. Yes, the Huskers won, hanging on for a 43-36 triumph–barely. Arkansas State was throwing into the end zone in the waning moments of the game. All together now: Whew!
Up next: A visit to Oregon, which notched 703 yards in a 77-21 win vs. Southern Utah. Gulp.
2. Iowa QB Nathan Stanley. He assumed the throne of C.J. Beathard after edging Tyler Wiegers in a heated battle. But the sophomore was uneven in a 24-3 win vs. Wyoming in the opener. Stanley connected on just 8-of-15 passes for 125 yards with three turnovers (interception and two fumbles). The 6-5, 212-pounder did toss three touchdown passes. More good news: Stanley looks to have some emerging targets in Nick Easley (four catches, 77 yards, one TD) and tight end Noah Fant (two catches for two TDs.)
Up next: A visit to Iowa State, which won 42-24 vs. FCS Northern Iowa. ISU allowed 259 yards passing.
3. Indiana rushing attack. The Hoosier pass game was prolific vs. Ohio State. The run game? Not so prolific. IU ran 27 times for just 17 yards in the 49-21 loss. Last year, Indiana averaged 152.2 yards rushing. If Indiana wants to return to bowl action, this run game will need to amp up.
Up next: At Virginia, which won 28-10 vs. FCS William & Mary, which ran 41 times for 168 yards vs. the Cavs.
4. Michigan QB Wilton Speight. There was a lot to like about the Wolverines? 33-17 win vs. Florida. But the play of Speight wasn?t among the positives. He hit just 11-of-25 passes for 181 yards with a touchdown and two picks, both of which were returned for TDs. Is Speight the guy to lead Michigan to the summit?
Up next: Cincinnati, which allowed just 89 yards passing to FCS Austin Peay but gave up 224 yards rushing in a 26-14 win.
5. Northwestern rushing attack. Sure, 156 yards on the ground isn?t bad. But it took NU 50 carries to reach that. Add it up, and that comes to 3.1 yards per tote ? vs. Nevada. The longest run for the Wildcats? It was 13 yards. The front needs to get a better push for stud RB Justin Jackson, who needed 30 carries to get to 109 yards (3.6 ypc).
Up next: At Duke, which yielded 64 yards rushing in a 60-7 win vs. FCS North Carolina Central.
6. Ohio State vertical passing game. J.T. Barrett hit 20-of-35 passes for 304 yards with three touchdowns. Still, the consistency of the vertical pass game was missing. Barrett didn?t complete a pass that went more than 18 yards. And almost half of his 304 yards came on yards after the catch, according to Cleveland.com.
Up next: Oklahoma, which allowed only 94 yards passing in a 56-7 victory vs. UTEP.
7. Purdue rushing attack. Running the ball has been an issue for a while in West Lafayette. Last season, the Boilermakers were last in the Big Ten in rushing (96.2). And the run game struggled in an opening 35-28 loss to No. 16 Louisville, as Purdue ran 21 times for 51 yards (2.4 ypc). The Boilers haven?t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2008.
Up next: Ohio, which permitted just 47 yards rushing on 32 attempts in a 59-0 win vs. FCS Hampton.
8. Illinois offense. The Fighting Illini had to make some plays late to take down Ball State, 24-21. Illinois needs more from its offense, which had just 216 yards vs. a MAC foe. The Illini had 71 yards rushing on 30 carries (2.4 ypc) and 145 yards passing. Lovie Smith?s crew needs more productivity across the board.
Up next: Western Kentucky, a 31-17 victor vs. FCS Eastern Kentucky. The Hilltoppers allowed 345 yards, with 320 coming through the air.
9. Rutgers big plays. There was a lot to like in a 30-14 loss to No. 8 Washington. But the Scarlet Knights need more big plays on offense. The longest run? It was 13 yards. The longest pass? It was 34 yards. More explosiveness is needed from the attack of coordinator Jerry Kill.
Up next: Eastern Michigan. The Eagles allowed a 51-yard pass and a 26-yard run in a 24-7 win vs. Charlotte.
10. Minnesota scoring. The offense got off to a solid start vs. Buffalo, notching 14 first-quarter points. But after that, the Golden Gophers managed just three points in a 17-7 victory. It will help if the rushing game picks it up. Minnesota ran 51 times for 169 yards (3.3 ypc). And the long run was just 16 yards.
Up next: At Oregon State. The Beavers eased by FCS Portland State, 35-32, as the Vikings had 515 yards.