ASA’s BIG TEN REPORT – for games Sept 6, 2019

ASA’s BIG TEN REPORT – For Games Sept 6th

BIG TEN MATCH UPS & ODDS FOR THIS WEEKEND

Army @ Michigan (-22.5 / 46.5)

Vanderbilt @ Purdue (-7.5 / 55.5)

Rutgers @ Iowa (-20 / 50)

Syracuse @ Maryland (-1.5 / 56)

Cincinnati @ Ohio State (-16 / 53)

Nebraska (-3.5 / 64) @ Colorado

Central Michigan @ Wisconsin (-35 / 51.5)

Illinois (-20.5 / 60.5) @ Connecticut

Western Michigan @ Michigan State (-16 / 46)

Buffalo @ Penn State (-29.5 / 58)

Minnesota (-3 / 46.5) @ Fresno State

Illini Head Coach Lovie Smith

ILLINOIS – The Illini (-18) look to us like they’ll be an improved team this year and they began to prove that narrative on Saturday with a 42-3 win over Akron.  It was their largest margin of victory since the 2016 opener when they crushed Murray State 52-3.  The offense was led by Michigan transfer QB Brandon Peters who attempted only 23 passes (163 yards passing) but ushered his team to TD’s on each of their first 3 possessions.  While Peters played well, the Illinois rushing game carried the load with 65% of their plays coming on the ground (207 total rushing yards on 46 carries).  However, they were dealt a blow when Mike Esptein, one of their key tailbacks along with Reggie Corbin, was lost for the year with a knee injury.  Head coach Lovie Smith, whose background is on the defensive side of the ball, is now the defensive coordinator as well.  He took over for Hardy Nickerson who resigned midseason a year ago.  Smith had his defense looking very good on Saturday.  After allowing nearly 42 PPG and over 500 YPG last year, the Illini held Akron to just 3 points on 198 total yards.  Last year Illinois opened with a MAC opponent as well and allowed Kent to score 24 points on 453 yards so progress looks like it’s being made in Champaign.  Keep in mind that Akron was just 4-8 last year and they are operating under a new head coach so the Illini enthusiasm may need to be tempered a bit.  Illinois heads to Connecticut this weekend.  The Huskies held on last week at home to beat Wagner 24-21. 

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INDIANA – The Hoosiers had a scare right out of the gate last week holding on to beat Ball State 34-24 in Indianapolis. IU was favored by 18 in the game and never came close to getting to that number.  Their largest lead was just 14 and that didn’t come until there was only 13:00 left in the game.  Ball State cut it to 7 with 6:30 remaining but Indiana closed it out with a late FG.  Head coach Tom Allen went with freshman Michael Penix Jr at QB as he beat out last year’s starter Peyton Ramsey who threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 19 TD’s a year ago.  Penix played well throwing for 326 yards along with 67 yards on the ground which led the team.  Only one other Indiana QB has been able to throw for over 300 yards in his freshman starting debut and that was Antwaan Randle El back in 1998.  We remember Randle El very well as we began handicapping in the late 80’s and launched ASA Inc back in 1997!  Back to Penix, while he is a freshman, he did get some experience last year playing in 3 games for the Hoosiers before being redshirted but his was his first start.  For Penix to lead Indiana in rushing with just 67 yards is a concern.  Especially facing a Ball State defense that allowed 240 YPG on the ground a year ago.  RB Stevie Scott, who had over 1,100 yards rushing last year, had just 48 yards on 19 carries.  However, IU’s rushing numbers may have taken a hit due to Ball State putting put 8+ defenders in the box for much of the game forcing the freshman QB to beat them and he did just that.  After allowing 424 YPG a year ago, Allen was hoping to see a much better Indiana defense vs Ball State.  Instead he was upset with their effort allowing 398 total yards mentioning the “shoulder tackling” has to go.  IU hosts Eastern Illinois next week before the Buckeyes come to town on September 14th.

IOWA – Our interest in this one was the drastic line movement on gameday.  Iowa opened as a 21.5 point favorite vs Miami Oh back in late June and was sitting at -22 at most places on Saturday morning.  By game time the number had pushed all the way to -25 or -25.5 at a majority of shops.  The game ended with Iowa winning 38-14 so the line move and when people played the game was very significant.  The game was in the balance with under 6:00 minutes remaining and Iowa up by just 10.  They scored the final 2 TD’s of the game for the 38-14 win.  The Hawkeyes never led by more than 17 points until 3:03 remaining in the game when their final TD pushed the margin to 24.  Iowa dominated the stat sheet outgaining the Redhawks by 220 yards, including rolling up 213 yards rushing to just 59 for Miami.  Iowa’s main concern defensively was up front where they were replacing all 4 starting defensive linemen.  They held up more than well allowing just 2.5 yards per carry vs a Miami Oh team that is one of the favorites in the MAC East.  After holding just a 10-7 lead at half, Iowa completely controlled the 2nd half racking up 295 yards to just 106 for the Redhawks.  One major concern moving forward is starting LT Alaric Jackson, one of the best in the Big Ten, who exited with a knee injury and did not return.  He will be out for several weeks at the least.  Iowa opens the conference season next weekend hosting Rutgers before traveling to Iowa State the following Saturday as they try and hold onto the CyHawk Trophy.      

MARYLAND – The Mike Locksley era at Maryland got off to an impressive start as the Terps (-31) crushed Howard 79-0.  As you can see by the final score, not much to write here except total domination by Maryland.  They were +20 first downs, put up 623 yards while holding Howard to 68, rushed for 317 yards while limiting the Bison to 1 yard on the ground.  Howard only crossed midfield once and they were held inside their own 35 yard line on all but two of their offensive possessions.  New QB Josh Jackson, a Virginia Tech transfer, threw 4 TD’s in the first half leading Maryland to a 56-0 halftime lead, the most points the Terps have ever scored in half.   We’ll find out a lot more about this team on Saturday when they host Syracuse.  The Orange shut out Liberty 24-0 last weekend.

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MICHIGAN – The Wolves played host to Middle Tennessee State last Saturday and led just 24-14 late in the first half.  They pulled away in the 2nd half on their way to a 40-21 win but didn’t come close to covering the 36-point spread.  It was a bit of a disappointing performance vs an MTSU team that was replacing their all time leading passer and came into the game very inexperienced on the offensive line.  The Wolverines unleased their new no-huddle, up tempo, spread offense for the first time under new offensive coordinator Josh Gattis who came over from Alabama in the off season.  While they were very balanced with 233 yards rushing and 220 yards passing, Michigan only averaged 5.8 yards per play vs an MTSU defense that allowed 5.5 YPP last year vs a fairly pedestrian schedule.  The U of M defense, which was ranked #1 nationally for much of last season, closed out last year allowing 62 points to Ohio State and 41 points to Florida in their bowl loss.  They shut down the Blue Raiders rushing attack allowing only 67 yards on 28 carries.  However, they struggled a bit with their pass defense as MTSU first time starter O’Hara was 22 of 32 for 217 yards and 2 TD’s.  Michigan was without two key starters as OT Jon Runyan and WR Donovan Peoples-Jones both sat out with injuries.  Head coach Jim Harbaugh said he hopes to have both back next Saturday when they host Army.  That means just one week for the defense to prepare for Army’s option attack which is always difficult.  The Cadets won at home 14-7 vs Rice last week moving their record to an impressive 22-6 their last 28 games.

MICHIGAN STATE – The Spartans looked just as we thought they would last weekend.  Great on defense and not so great on offense.  MSU (-23.5) topped Tulsa 28-7 giving them wins in 21-straight home openers.  The defense was outstanding holding Tulsa to just 80 total yards.  To say the Golden Hurricane couldn’t do anything on the ground would be an understatement.  They had -73 yards on 25 carries for an average of -3 YPC.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Sparty was #1 in the nation against the run last season and they have a great jump on defending that title this year.  After the game Tulsa head coach Philip Montgomery said that MSU probably had the best defensive line he’s ever faced which is obviously high praise.  If only the offense could hold up their end of the bargain.  They were held to 24 points or less in every Big Ten game last year and they were far from a well oiled unit last week.  The offense scored just 2 TD’s and had only 303 total yards vs a Tulsa defense that allowed 30 PPG and 408 YPG a year ago.  After averaging only 125 yards rushing last year, the Spartans tallied just 108 yards on the ground on 40 carries last week (2.7 YPC).  Again, that was against a Tulsa defense that gave up 233 YPG on the ground last year.  Brian Lewerke is back at QB and completed just 56% of his passes last Saturday after completing only 54% last year.  This team can be very good but the offense needs to play much better.  They can get by on defense alone vs the likes of Tulsa and some of the lower tier Big Ten teams.  That won’t cut it against the top teams they play this year.  MSU actually LOST 2 games last year in which their defense gave up less than 10 points.  That simply can’t happen.  Sparty hosts in state MAC foe Western Michigan next weekend.

MINNESOTA – The Gophers played host to FCS powerhouse South Dakota State last Saturday in a game that went to the wire.  Minnesota (-14.5) never led by more than 13 and they were actually down 21-20 entering the 4th quarter before pulling out a 28-21 win.  While it may look like a ho-hum performance by the Gophers keep in mind South Dakota State is a top 5 FCS team that was in the National Championship game last year, a loss to North Dakota State.  That being said, Minnesota was not sharp.  The Jackrabbits actually outgained Minnesota (367 to 308) with both accumulating 60 offensive snaps.  One big concern coming out of the game was the performance of the offensive line.  There was some uncertainty entering this game up front and the Gophers were only able to run for 132 yards on 42 carries (3.1 YPC).  They were pushed around at times up front by their FCS opponent.  The defensive line wasn’t much better as the Jackrabbits rushed for 5.1 YPC.  The Gophers need to play much better in the trenches moving forward as they face better opponents.  Minny scored 28 points but two of their TD’s came as a direct result of SDSU turnovers – one interception returned for a TD and a fumble that led to a 34-yard TD drive.  In the end, a win is a win, but we weren’t impressed with Minnesota’s first game.  They travel to Fresno State this weekend which is a revenge game for the Bulldogs who lost 21-14 @ Minnesota last year.

NEBRASKA – In our opinion Nebraska has been overhyped the entire off-season and they proved us correct last Saturday.  They entered as a 35 point chalk and were lucky to win 35-21.  The talk of this team being a top 10 or 15 team in Scott Frost’s 2nd year at the helm was much to premature in our minds.  While their offense was very good at the end of last year and QB Adrian Martinez is a potential star in the making, their defense was terrible.  They allowed 434 YPG on nearly 6.0 yards per play last season.  While we expect some improvement on that side of the ball, they’d have to make an awfully big jump to reach the lofty expectations put on them by the media and their fans.  On Saturday, it was actually their offense that looked like it was stuck in neutral.  They tallied just 276 yards on 66 offensive snaps and scored only 14 points.  What makes matters look worse is they were facing a South Alabama defense that allowed 39 PPG on 450 YPG a year ago.  The Huskers can thank their defense for this one which has been rare as we mentioned above.  They forced the Jaguars into 5 turnovers, 2 of them going for TD’s on an interception return and fumble recovery in the endzone.  The other Nebraska TD came on a 76-yard punt return.  The fact is, they were outgained, had fewer first downs, lost the time of possession by nearly 10:00 minutes at home, as a 5 TD favorite, vs a team that was 3-9 last year.  Let’s hold off on anointing this team the best in the Big Ten West.  They may get there, but they are nowhere near where they need to be right now.  This weekend they head to Boulder as a road favorite to take on Colorado.      

NORTHWESTERN – This one literally came down to the final play (or 2nd to last play) of the game to decide the spread.  Stanford was a 6.5 point chalk and led 10-7 with 30 seconds remaining and Northwestern had the ball at their own 20 yard line.  It would take a miracle for Stanford to cover and that’s just what transpired.  The Cats QB Hunter Johnson was sacked, fumbled and Stanford recovered in the endzone with 20 seconds remaining in the game to pick up a cover and a 17-7 win.  Johnson was the much ballyhooed former 5-star transfer from Clemson and he struggled to say the least.  The QB duo of TJ Green and Johnson were only able to complete 44% of their passes and gain just 4.3 yards per pass attempt.  On the ground the Wildcats were held to less than 3 YPC.  They were outgained by 155 yards in the game.  Just an ugly all around offensive performance for the Cats.  They lost QB Green, son of former NFL QB Trent Green, to a foot injury.  He’s already had surgery and might be gone for the entire season.  Injuries were the lead story for NW coming out of this game as starting LT Slater, leading rusher Bowser, and team captain DB Williams all left the game.  The good thing for Northwestern is they have a bye this week before hosting UNLV on September 14th.

OHIO STATE – Those who were on OSU (-28) on Saturday were getting ready to cash their tickets early on as the Bucks jumped out to a 28-0 lead with 6:50 still remaining in the first quarter.  New starting QB Justin Fields, who transferred from Georgia, looked fantastic running for a TD and throwing for 3 more all less than 10:00 minutes into the game.  The Buckeyes tallied 220 of their 469 total yards in the first quarter alone.  Unfortunately for Buckeye backers they took their foot off the gas early.  After scoring their 28th point with 6:50 left in the first stanza, OSU went more than 2 full quarters without a point scoring their next TD with 2:37 left in the 3rd quarter.  FAU had two long scoring drives of 75 & 76 yards in the 4th quarter to pick up the cover losing 45-21.  Those two 4th quarter drives accounted for almost 70% of the Owls yardage for the game (228 total yards).  OSU will get a much tougher test at home next Saturday when they host in-state program Cincinnati.  The Bearcats are coming off a 10-point win over UCLA, they are 13-2 their last 15 games, they are coached by former Buckeye interim head coach and defensive coordinator Luke Fickell, and we can guarantee this will be Cincy’s biggest game of the season.  Should be interesting.

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PENN STATE – Similar to our Maryland synapsis above, really not much to say here.  PSU came into the game as a ridiculous 41 point favorite and walked away with a 79-7 win.  When’s the last time a team was favored by 41 and covered the number by 31 points!  As expected when taking the final score into consideration, PSU completed dominated the ground game with 331 yards rushing while holding Idaho to just 4.  The Nittany Lions averaged 7.4 YPC and 8.2 yards per play overall.  They scored 10 TD’s in the game in their 82 offensive snaps for an average of one TD every 8.2 plays.  Just ridiculous.  If you remember, Penn State was thrown for a loop when probable starting QB Tommy Stevens, a 5th year senior, decided to transfer to Mississippi State where he is now the Bulldogs starter.  After that, Penn State head coach James Franklin turned to sophomore Sean Clifford, who had 7 career pass attempts, as his starting QB.  Clifford looked great on Saturday throwing for 280 yards in the first half before sitting the rest of the way.  Clifford also showed he can move very well with almost 60 yards rushing.  Not much to take away from this game vs a terrible Idaho team that dropped from FBS to FCS status this year.  Penn State hosts Buffalo on Saturday.

PURDUE – Meltdown!  That is the theme of this one.  Purdue (-11) led Nevada 31-14 with under 4:00 remaining in the 3rd quarter and allowed the Wolfpack to come back for the 34-31 win.  Nevada walk-on kicker Brandon Talton kicked a 56-yard FG as time expired to win.  Talton was awarded a scholarship by head coach Jay Norvell after the game in a now much viewed twitter moment.  Purdue had over 500 yards of total offense and outgained Nevada by 115 years but lost the turnover battle 5 to 0.  That was the difference in the game.  The final giveaway was the most damaging as Boilermaker starting QB Elijah Sindelar threw an interception with under 1:00 remaining in the game which led to the game winning FG for Nevada.  Sindelar did throw for a career high 343 yards in the game.  After taking a 31-14 lead on a 2-play 75 yard drive with 6:19 to go in the 3rd quarter, they gained only 55 yards on 24 plays from that point on.  Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm admitted after the game they should have stayed more aggressive late in the game even though they had a 17-point lead.  The running game struggled with just 96 yards and the offense was far from balanced with 29 rush attempts and 54 pass attempts.  Not a great start facing a Nevada team that started a redshirt freshman at QB who had never attempted a pass in a college game.  Purdue attempts to get back on track this weekend as they host a Vanderbilt team that was smoked 30-6 at home vs Georgia.  One bonus for the Boilers, they played last Friday (Vandy played on Saturday) giving them an extra day to prepare for this one.  

RUTGERS – Rutgers has already matched their win total from a year ago after topping UMass 48-21 in their season opener.  It didn’t look great early for the Scarlet Knights, who were favored by 17, as UMass jumped out to a quick 14-0 lead midway through the first quarter.  The game played out in an odd way.  The 2 teams combined to score 59 points on 619 yards in the first half which actually topped the game total of 54 before halftime.  In the second half, they combined to score just 10 points on 239 total yards.  After finishing 1-11 last year, Rutgers needed much better production from the QB position as last year’s starter Artur Sitkowski threw just 4 TD passes and 18 interceptions.  New starter McLane Carter, transfer from Texas Tech, definitely looked like an upgrade with 340 yards passing and 2 TD’s.  Problem is, he also threw 3 picks which would never cut it for a team like Rutgers vs a solid FBS opponent.  They were minus 14 in turnovers last year and that obviously has to be cleaned up or the Knights will remain at or near the bottom of the Big Ten.  The Rutgers defense struggled early in the game allowing the Minutemen to score TD’s on their first 3 offensive possessions, but they locked down after that holding UMass scoreless over the final 45 minutes of the game.  The Knights now kick off their Big Ten season @ Iowa on Saturday.           

WISCONSIN – Being in Madison, we receive very solid info and usually have a great feel for this Wisconsin team.  We had been hearing that the defense, which struggled last year, was back to their form of 2015 – 2017 when they finished in the top 5 nationally in scoring defense each of those 3 seasons.  They definitely looked the part last Friday as the Badgers (-10.5) shut out South Florida on the road 49-0 which was the worst loss EVER for the Bulls.  The emphasis defensively during the off season was to get back to stopping the run.  Last year UW allowed an uncharacteristic 155 YPG on the ground after giving up just 95, 99, & 98 the previous 3 seasons.  On Saturday they allowed just 26 yards on 23 carries.  The USF offense didn’t cross midfield until there was 4:43 remaining in the game and tallied just 157 total yards.  A dominant performance for Wisconsin’s defense vs a team that averaged 28 PPG on 438 YPG last season.  Offensively it was the Jonathan Taylor show as everyone expected.  He had 183 total yards and 4 TD’s and he didn’t play the final 28:00 minutes of the game.  QB Jack Coan was decent completing 19 of his 26 attempts but missed at least 2 TD’s on deep overthrows to wide open receivers.  Wisconsin did not escape unscathed as starting LB Orr is questionable while starting RT Bruss, starting DE Green-May, and starting safety Nelson are all out as they host Central Michigan.  After hosting the Chippewas, Wisconsin has a week off before Michigan comes to Camp Randall.