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Posts Tagged ‘Mitch Leidner’

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 9

Thursday, November 5th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

The first College Football Playoff rankings were released Tuesday and the Big Ten is well represented with five teams in the top 25.

Ohio State and Michigan State are firmly in the race for the final four with a potential play-in matchup in Columbus coming up later this month. Iowa, which can coast through the rest of its Big Ten West schedule, will need a win in the Big Ten Championship game to have a chance.

Michigan and Northwestern also made the top 25, though they won’t be playing in the four-team playoff.

There were also five conference matchups with only one major upset in West Lafayette. Here’s a look at how the Big Ten stacks up heading into Week 10.

East Division
1. Ohio State (8-0, 4-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Minnesota (4-4, 1-3), 8pm, ABC

f the College Football Playoff started this week, Ohio State would represent the Big Ten as the No. 3 overall seed. The Buckeyes had a bye this weekend, but took a moral victory on Tuesday when the committee deemed them worthy of such a high ranking. Despite the 8-0 start, Ohio State’s two best wins came over Penn State and Northern Illinois, which were both at home. But it wasn’t a perfect week for Urban Meyer’s team, which saw its starting quarterback arrested because he avoided a DUI checkpoint while driving drunk. What do you do when being the starting quarterback of the No. 1 ranked college football team in the country isn’t enough? Apparently you crush a few beers and jump in a car. It was an incredibly stupid move by J.T. Barrett, who won’t play in the team’s next cupcake game against Minnesota. For a kid with a previously unblemished record, Barrett will have to work on regaining a leadership role on the team.

2. Michigan State (8-0, 4-0) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat at Nebraska (3-6, 1-4), 7pm, ESPN

The Spartans also enjoyed a week off in Week 9, sitting pretty with a perfect 8-0 record. The committee ranked MSU No. 7 in the first poll, likely because of close calls against Oregon, Purdue and Rutgers and a somewhat fortunate win over Michigan. But Michigan State still controls its own destiny. A pair of cupcakes separates the Spartans from an essential play-in game in Columbus on Nov. 21. If Mark Dantonio’s group can knock off Ohio State, it’ll be a win over Iowa away from a playoff berth.

3. Penn State (7-2, 4-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Illinois 39-0 This Week: Sat at #21 NW (6-2, 2-2), 12pm, ESPNU

For the first time in three weeks, Penn State demonstrated just how well it can play when everything comes together. Christian Hackenberg completed 21 of 29 passes for 266 yards and two touchdowns and the Nittany Lions outgained Illinois 400-167. The only downer for Coach James Franklin was a pair of fumbles that kept the Fighting Illini within 50, but the defense’s first shutout of the season has Penn State at 7-2 with games against three straight ranked opponents on the horizon.

4. Michigan (6-2, 3-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Minnesota 29-26 This Week: Sat vs Rutgers (3-5, 1-4), 3:30pm, BTN

Well, Michigan certainly didn’t come out of the bye week in style. Fourteen days after having their hearts ripped out in a last-second loss to MSU, the Wolverines nearly lost the battle for the Little Brown Jug to a Minnesota team that looked heavily outmatched in Big Ten play. Mitch Leidner was a big play machine, passing for 317 yards and rushing for 37 more – finishing with two total touchdowns. Sophomore tight end Brandon Lingen torched the Michigan defense for 111 yards on the night. But the most concerning development for Michigan is a running game that has yet to show up for the Big Ten season. Pre-conference star De’Veon Smith was a nonfactor, picking up just 15 yards on nine carries. Only Drake Johnson, who gained 55 yards on 10 carries, could move the ball on the ground. Jake Rudock went 13 for 21 – for 140 yards, a touchdown and a pick – before being knocked out of the game on a missed target while sliding to the ground.

Luckily for the Wolverines, backup quarterback Wilton Speight completed four passes on the team’s final drive to score a touchdown and a two-point conversion that eventually won the game. The defense put up its worst performance of the season – allowing 461 yards to a below-average offense – but made a big stop on a quarterback sneak from the half-yard line to escape with a victory. The Wolverines will try to bounce back Saturday, when they need to blow Rutgers right out of Ann Arbor to get back on track.

5. Rutgers (3-5, 1-4) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 10-48 This Week: Sat at #17 Mich. (6-2, 3-1), 3:30pm, BTN

Rutgers scored as many points against Wisconsin as Iowa did, but the positive trends end there for the Scarlett Knights. Saturday marked their second straight loss by more than 30 points and the offense gained just 165 yards without star receiver Leonte Carroo. Kyle Flood’s squad needs three wins in the final four weeks to qualify for a bowl game.

6. Indiana (4-4, 0-4) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #7 MSU 26-52 This Week: Sat vs #9 Iowa (8-0, 4-0), 3;30pm, ESPN

Saturday was the first time since the start of the Big Ten season that Indiana didn’t lose in devastating fashion. Even though it was only a bye week, the Hoosiers didn’t get blown out or collapse in the fourth quarter. Things will likely go back to normal Saturday against Iowa.

7. Maryland (2-6, 0-4) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #10 Iowa 15-31 This Week: Sat at Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1), 3:30pm, BTN

When you drop into the cellar of the Big Ten East, things really aren’t going well. Maryland tried to hang around in Iowa Saturday, but Perry Hills threw three more picks and the Terrapins fell 31-15. Their bowl dreams will end Saturday against visiting Wisconsin.

B1G East Week 9

West Division
1. Iowa (8-0, 4-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maryland 31-15 This Week: Sat at Indiana (4-4, 0-4), 3:30pm, ESPN

The West-leading Hawkeyes got back on the field this weekend and outlasted Maryland, though it was far from overwhelming. C.J. Beathard threw for 183 yards for an offense that gained a total of 293 and the defense surrendered 241 yards. Luckily, Iowa forced four turnovers and controlled the ball for nearly 33 minutes. At No. 9 in the CFP poll, Iowa just has to keep winning to punch its ticket to the playoff.

2. Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs Penn State (7-2, 4-1), 12pm, ESPNU

Finally, somebody else took notice of Northwestern’s impressive body of work. The Wildcats are ranked No. 21 in the first playoff rankings thanks to impressive wins over Stanford and Duke and solid losses to top 20 teams. They can pick up another win over a winning team this weekend when they host 7-2 Penn State.

3. Wisconsin (7-2, 4-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 48-10 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-6, 0-4), 3:30pm, BTN

Wisconsin is flying under the radar at 7-2 thanks to that loss to Iowa that will likely keep them from winning the West Division. But the Badgers have a great chance to win their final three regular season games and enter the bowl season with a quiet 10 wins.

4. Minnesota (4-4, 1-3) – Up 2
Last Week: Lost to #15 Mich. 26-29 This Week: Sat at #3 OSU (8-0, 4-0), 8pm, ABC

Mitch Leidner and the Minnesota offense sure looked like they were playing for recently retired Coach Jerry Kill, putting up over 400 yards on the top-ranked defense in the country. But in the end, it was Kill’s absence that doomed the Gophers as they mismanaged the clock and failed to score on a 1st and goal from the half-yard line as time expired. Unfortunately, Minnesota will have to beat Ohio State, Iowa or Wisconsin to get to six wins this season.

5. Illinois (4-4, 1-3) – Even
Last Week: Lost to PSU 0-39 This Week: Sat at Purdue (2-6, 1-3), 12pm, BTN

Illinois was one of the most pleasant surprises in the West through seven games, playing some of the division’s top teams wire to wire. But the trip to Penn State got very ugly, as the Fighting Illini failed to score and got bombed by 39 points. Wes Lunt had a day to forget, completing just 16 of 37 passes for 129 yards and a pick.

6. Purdue (2-6, 1-3) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 55-45 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (4-4, 1-3), 12pm, BTN

Purdue? Purdue! The Boilermakers came out of nowhere to drop 55 points on Nebraska this weekend and secure their first Big Ten win in more than a year. Unfortunately it wasn’t enough to squeeze into the CFP’s top 25.

7. Nebraska (3-6, 1-4) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Purdue 45-55 This Week: Sat vs #7 MSU (8-0, 4-0), 7pm, ESPN

Wow, Nebraska really hit rock bottom this weekend. It doesn’t get much worse for a Big Ten team than watching Purdue run up and down the field to hand you a fourth loss in five games and drop you into the cellar of the West Division. Remember when fans got upset with Bo Pelini for winning nine games? What might they do to Mike Riley for losing nine?

B1G West Week 9

#15 Michigan 29 – Minnesota 26: Goal line stand brings back the Jug

Sunday, November 1st, 2015


Michigan-Minnesota(Patrick Barron)

Two weeks ago Michigan had the game won until an improbable fumbled snap was returned for a touchdown by Michigan State in the closing seconds. On Saturday, Michigan appeared to have lost when Minnesota quarterback Mitch Leidner connected with Drew Wolitarsky for a touchdown with 19 seconds remaining. But after review he was ruled down at the one and the Michigan defense kept the Gophers out of the end zone on two tries from the one to capture an unlikely victory.

Michigan’s defense looked flat for much of the game, far from the dominant group that imposed its will on BYU, Maryland, and Northwestern to the tune of three straight shutouts. On Saturday night, it let a Minnesota offense that ranked in the bottom half of the Big Ten in every offensive category rack up 461 total yards. It made Leidner look like Tom Brady, completing 16 of 33 passes for a season high 317 yards. It made a Minnesota running game that ranked 84th nationally look competent, rushing for 144 yards on 4.1 yards per carry. But when it needed a stop the most, the defense that entered the game ranked first nationally in most categories came up big.

UM-Min-small-FINAL
Final Stats
Michigan Minnesota
Score 29 26
Record 6-2 (3-1) 4-4 (1-3)
Total Yards 296 461
Net Rushing Yards 127 144
Net Passing Yards 169 317
First Downs 20 20
Turnovers 2 0
Penalties-Yards 5-47 7-53
Punts-Yards 5-220 5-190
Time of Possession 28:55 31:05
Third Down Conversions 5-of-12 5-of-14
Fourth Down Conversions 0-of-1 1-of-1
Sacks By-Yards 2-10 2-19
Field Goals 0-for-0 4-for-4
PATs 3-for-3 2-for-2
Red Zone Scores-Chances 4-of-4 3-of-4
Full Box Score

“That’s kind of disrespectful to the d-line to run a sneak because they’re trying to get us knocked back,” defensive tackle Maurice Hurst said of Minnesota’s decision to go for the win with two seconds left instead of kick a field goal to send the game into overtime. “We talked to each other and said it’s down to us. … We knew we had to get off the field and get the win.”

On the first play from the one-half yard line, Minnesota lined up with three backs directly behind Leidner, who was under center. Two of them then motioned out wide and Leidner moved back into the shotgun with just one back, who then motioned to the right. By the time the Gophers snapped the ball, 12 of the 19 seconds had run off the clock. Leidner’s pass was off the mark with Hurst applying pressure. Two seconds remained, and instead of kicking a field goal to send the game into overtime, interim head coach Tracy Claeys elected to go for the win. But Michigan’s defensive line held strong, stuffing Leidner’s sneak attempt short of the goal line as time expired.

Minnesota got the first score of the game on a 23-yard Ryan Santoso field goal after Briean Boddy-Calhoun intercepted Jake Rudock on Michigan’s first possession. But Michigan responded with an 8-play, 57-yard touchdown drive to take a 7-3 lead. Joe Kerridge scored from a yard out.

After forcing a three and out, Michigan got great starting field position on its next possession thanks to a 41-yard punt return by Jabrill Peppers. Five plays later, Rudock found Jehu Chesson in the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. At that point, it looked as if Michigan would run away with the game, but Minnesota would have none of it.

Santoso kicked a 30-yard field goal on Minnesota’s ensuing  possession, and after forcing a Michigan punt, Minnesota wasted no time finding the end zone. Running back Rodney Smith ripped off a 23-yard run and two plays later Leidner connected with Rashad Still for a 52- yard touchdown pass to bring Minnesota within one at 14-13.

Michigan’s offense sputtered and Minnesota took advantage with a 32-yard field goal as the first half clock expired. The Gophers took a 16-14 lead into the half.

Michigan got the ball to start the second half and put together a 7-play, 75-yard drive that included a 14-yard completion to Amara Darboh and rushes of 22 yards and 13 yards by Drake Johnson. But no play was more exciting than Peppers taking a jet sweep six yards into the end zone for his first career touchdown.

On Michigan’s next possession, the Wolverines were forced to punt, but Dymonte Thomas was flagged for kick catch interference, giving Minnesota the ball at Michigan’s 33-yard line. Three plays later, on 3rd-and-1, Leidner faked a handoff and raced 24 yards for a Minnesota touchdown to retake the lead.

Michigan got a scare when Rudock scrambled and was hit awkwardly as he tried to slide. He came out of the game and was taken to the locker room for tests. Wilton Speight came on in relief, but wasn’t able to move the ball on his first two possessions. Minnesota added a field goal from 47 yards out to take a 26-21 lead with 11:43 to play.

Michigan began its next drive with Peppers in the wildcat, but after he gained four yards on the first play, Michigan couldn’t get a first down and had to punt. The defense forced a three and out, and after a short punt, the Wolverines took over at the Minnesota 40 with 8:36 remaining. Speight found Jake Butt for nine yards on the first play, then Khalid Hill for eight yards two plays later. On 3rd-and-10 from the Minnesota 12, Speight threw a strike to Chesson in the end zone to put Michigan back on top. Harbaugh elected to go for two to give Michigan a three point lead, and Speight hit Darboh for the conversion. Michigan led 29-26 with 4:57 left.

Minnesota needed a field goal to tie, but they only had their sights set on a win. On 3rd-and-17 from the Minnesota 18, Leidner found Smith for 17 yards and a first down. Michigan’s defense then forced a 4th-and-5, but Leidner connected with K.J. Maye for 12 yards to the Michigan 27. Two plays later, Leidner completed a 23-yard pass to Wolitarsky for what was ruled on the field as a go-ahead touchdown. But upon review it was ruled that Wolitarsky’s knee was down at the half-yard line, leading to the final goal line stand.

Minnesota out-gained Michigan offensively 461 to 296. Rudock completed 13 of 21 passes for 140 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. Speight completed 3 of 6 for 29 yards and a score. Johnson led Michigan in rushing with 55 yards on 10 carries (5.5 yards per carry), while De’Veon Smith was held to just 15 yards on nine carries (1.7 ypc). Darboh had six catches for 73 yards, while Butt caught four for 38 and Chesson three for 33 and two touchdowns. Peppers recorded 100 all-purpose yards, 84 in the return game and 16 on four rushes, including the touchdown, while playing more than 80 plays.

Now 6-2 and 3-1 in the Big Ten, Michigan returns home to face Rutgers (3-5, 1-4) next Saturday.

Game Ball – Offense

Jabrill Peppers (4 carries for 16 yards, 1 TD, 1 punt return for 41 yards, 1 kick return for 43 yards)
It was only a matter of time before Peppers made his mark, and he did so in all three phases of the game on Saturday night. His 43-yard kickoff return set Michigan in great field position to score their first touchdown of the game. His 41-yard punt return allowed the offense to start on Minnesota’s 29-yard line and score its second touchdown of the game. Then, Peppers himself scored the third touchdown on a 6-yard jet sweep. He also recorded three tackles — none bigger than a shoestring tackle of Leidner on Minnesota’s final drive — and two pass breakups. He was on the field for over 80 plays and his impact will only increase as his career continues.

Previous:
Week 1 – Jake Butt (8 rec for 93 yards and 1 TD)
Week 2 – De’Veon Smith (23 carries for 126 yards, 3 TDs)
Week 3 – Ty Isaac (8 carries for 114 yards, 1 TD)
Week 4 — De’Veon Smith (16 carries for 125 yards and 1 TD)
Week 5 — Drake Johnson (13 carries for 68 yards, 1 TD, 1 rec for 31 yards, 1 TD)
Week 6 — Mason Cole, Ben Braden, Graham Glasgow, Kyle Kalis, Erik Magnuson
Week 7 — Kenny Allen (3-for-3 field goals, 2-2 PATs)

Game Ball – Defense

James Ross (9 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 sack)
Perhaps no one on Michigan’s defense deserves this week’s game ball after turning in the worst performance of the season. Or perhaps the entire defense deserves it for stuffing Leidner short of the goal line on the game’s final play. But one play doesn’t decide the game ball, so we’ll go with the most consistent performer, and that was linebacker James Ross. He led the team with nine tackles and also sacked Leidner on 3rd-and-7 in the fourth quarter, backing the Gophers up to their own 11 yard line, which resulted in Michigan’s offense taking possession at the Minnesota 40. The Wolverines took advantage of the great field position by scoring the game-winning touchdown.

Previous:
Week 1 – Chris Wormley (5 tackles, 3 TFL)
Week 2 – Chris Wormley (6 tackles, 3 TFL, 1 sack)
Week 3 – Jourdan Lewis (3 tackles, 4 PBU)
Week 4 — Ryan Glasgow (3 tackles, 2 TFL)
Week 5 — Desmond Morgan (9 tackles, 1 INT, 2 PBU)
Week 6 — Jourdan Lewis (4 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 1 touchdown, 1 PBU)
Week 7 — Willie Henry (5 tackles, 3 TFL, 2 sacks, 1 PBU)

M&GB staff predictions: Minnesota

Friday, October 30th, 2015


StaffPicks_banner2015

Gopher

Michigan returns to action on Halloween night looking to bring home the best treat of the night: the Little Brown Jug. Let’s take a look at our picks.

Justin:

Michigan will come out focused and determined to reclaim the Little Brown Jug and stay in the Big Ten title hunt. Minnesota’s defense is just average against the run and allowed 203 yards on 5.3 yards per carry to Nebraska, which managed just 82 rushing yards last week against Northwestern. Expect a heavy dose of De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson, who should finally be healthy.

Staff Predictions
Michigan Minnesota
Justin 35 6
Derick 30 6
Sam 27 10
Josh 27 9
Joe 31 3
M&GB Average 30 7

Minnesota doesn’t have the offense to keep up with Michigan, so the main question will be whether or not Michigan’s defense can record its fourth shutout of the season. Northwestern shut Minnesota out 27-0 and the Gophers managed just 10 points against Kent State, who is just 3-5 at this point and has given up at least 10 points in every other game.

It won’t be a pretty or exciting game, but it will be classic Jim Harbaugh as Michigan pounds the ball on the ground and wears down the Gopher defense. Jake Rudock has a classic Jake Rudock day and Michigan wins and returns the jug to its rightly place.

Michigan 35 – Minnesota 6

Derick:

(Full disclosure, having a bye week after a loss like that completely sucked)

There’s a lot more to this Michigan-Minnesota game than it appears at first glance. For starters, Saturday’s winner will hold the Little Brown Jug for over two years, as the Golden Gophers aren’t on Michigan’s 2016 schedule. After Minnesota embarrassed the Wolverines, 30-14, in Ann Arbor last season, and pranced around the field with the Jug well after the final whistle, I fully expected Jim Harbaugh to run this ‘rival’ into the ground.

But on Wednesday, Minnesota’s widely beloved head coach Jerry Kill made the startling announcement that his health is forcing him to retire from football immediately. Kill battled health issues over the past several years, but he said the seizures have reached a point where he risks permanent mental damage if he doesn’t leave the sideline and get the proper care. I think Kill’s announcement takes some of the venom out of the contest and will likely rally the Golden Gophers, who’ve been awful since the start of conference play.

Minnesota’s only chance to steal this game will come in the passing game. Michigan’s passing game, to be more specific. The Gophers allow only 177.3 passing yards per game — 18th best in the country — and Michigan has been one of the worst passing offenses in the entire country. If Minnesota can focus entirely on shutting down Michigan’s running game and force Jake Rudock to win the game through the air, it’ll at least give the home team a fighting chance.

I don’t think that’ll happen.

Michigan owns the best defense in the country, and Mitch Leidner isn’t going to move the ball against a secondary that needs to bounce back from an awful week against two-man wrecking crew Connor Cook and Aaron Burbridge. That means Michigan will dominate time of possession and wear down the Minnesota defense with battering rams like De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson (who’s been fully cleared to play).

There’s a realistic chance Michigan will post another shutout in Minneapolis, but I’ll toss the Gophers a pair of field goals in a Michigan win.

Michigan 30 – Minnesota 6

Sam:

After a tough loss and a week of improvement, Michigan is ready to take the field on a chilly, spooky Halloween night against a Minnesota team that is sure to play inspired ball after losing its coach, Jerry Kill, to sudden health-induced retirement earlier this week. I’m sure the Golden Gophers will be giving it all they have, but Michigan’s defense should dominate what’s been a very mediocre offense so far. I’ll take the Wolverines to bounce back.

Michigan 27 – Minnesota 10

Josh:

After a much needed bye, er improvement, week Michigan looks to get back on track versus the Gophers this week. With the news of Jerry Kill’s sudden retirement one would expect the Gophers to play with a little extra umph. Sadly, for them anyway, this won’t do much to help them win the game. Michigan’s defense has been firing on all cylinders, no one can run on them and the only quarterback to have success in the air is a likely first-round NFL pick. Minnesota’s defense has been banged up but appears to have benefited from their bye as well and should be closer to full-strength.

On offense Michigan will continue to employ what former Buckeye Joey Galloway calls a boring offense; but he’s just too stupid to understand all the complexities of various alignments and personnel though, credit that ‘quality’ OSU education. Anyway, Michigan will keep up its ground and pound style and with Drake Johnson looking to get back in the mix I think we’ll see a rebound performance against a lackluster run defense. The one thing that worries me, or would if Minnesota was any good on offense, is that the Gopher’s pass defense is their strength and if Rudock is called upon to win the game with his arm that could make for a very close, and uncomfortable game for Michigan. I don’t see that happening unless there is a complete collapse of the Michigan defense and a complete shut down of the run game.

On defense Michigan will pick right up where they left off; stifling the run and causing fits in the passing game. Mitch Leidner isn’t a great passer and I don’t expect him to try and test this secondary all that often, so the game rests on the legs of two true freshman running backs to help the Gophers get things going. Unfortunately for them Michigan’s run defense doesn’t let anyone run on them, I don’t see this changing this weekend. Nor do I see great play calls by Minneosta, like the 74-yard pass to the fullback last week, or any coverage busts, like the same fullback play last week. I don’t want to say they’ll be shut out but I don’t see them hitting double digit points, aside from any garbage time points anyway.

Michigan should roll over Minnesota and reclaim the Little Brown Jug, and keep it for quite some time. This one starts slow with the Gophers getting some extra energy from playing for the former coach and what should be a raucous night crowd at TCF. But Michigan’s defense will quiet the crowd and take complete control of the game.

Michigan 27 – Minnesota 9

Joe:

Big week in Minnesota. Big..Big…Big. We will see which team is tougher, mentally. Minnesota lost their coach and we all know what the Maize and Blue lost two weeks ago. I’m pretty sure that Harbaugh will have this team geared up and ready to finish the season strong. Rudock will need to be smart and keep the turnovers to a minimum. Minnesota’s defense can be tough and will be looking for the upset in honor of their retiring leader. The offense will keep the ball moving with big plays from the rotating backfield while the defense will look to create turnovers and continue pressuring the quarterback. The Minnesota offense is not exactly a powerhouse and can be pressured into making huge mistakes. I look for Michigan to create pressure and therefore get a few interceptions. One or more may get taken back to the house.

Michigan 31 – Minnesota 3

#15 Michigan vs Minnesota game preview

Friday, October 30th, 2015


Game Preview_Minnesota_banner

After a week off Michigan returns to the field tomorrow night looking to get the bad taste of the Michigan State loss out of its collective mouth. The Wolverines travel north to Minneapolis to face a Golden Gophers squad that just lost its coach.

UM-Min-small
Quick Facts
TCF Bank Stadium – 7p.m. EST – ESPN
Minn Head Coach: Tracy Claeys (Interim)
Coaching Record: (0-0)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover (5th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys (5th season)
Last Season: 8-5 (5-3)
Last Meeting: Minn 30 – UM 14 (2014)
All-Time Series: UM leads 73-25-3
For the Little Brown Jug: UM leads 69-23-2
Record in Minneapolis: UM leads 32-12-2
Jim Harbaugh vs Minn: 1st meeting
Last Michigan win: 2013 (42-13)
Last Minnesota win: 2014 (30-14)
Current Streak: Minnesota 1

Jerry Kill abruptly announced his retirement due to health reasons on Wednesday. In the four-plus seasons on the job Kill turned around a struggling Minnesota program into a Big Ten title contender, achieving 8-5 records in 2013 and 2014. The Gophers finished second in the Big Ten West last fall and began this season with a close, six point loss to TCU. But after wins over Colorado State (23-20 in overtime), Kent State (10-7), and Ohio University (27-24), Minnesota has dropped two of its last three. Northwestern shut out the Gophers 27-0 the week before Michigan shut out the Wildcats 38-0. Then, after beating Purdue 41-13, Minnesota dropped a 48-25 contest to Nebraska.

Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys stepped in as the interim head coach for the balance of the season. Interestingly, the last time Michigan visited Minneapolis Kill missed the game due to a seizure and Claeys coached it. Michigan won that one 42-13, but the Wolverines were embarrassed a year ago in the Big House. Shane Morris started the game, but suffered a “probable, mild concussion,” which may have been the last straw for Brady Hoke and Dave Brandon.

Minnesota wants a win for Coach Kill and to avoid falling to .500. Michigan wants this win to regain the Little Brown Jug, to get past the Michigan State loss, and to remain in the Big Ten title hunt.

Let’s take a look at the matchups.

When Minnesota has the ball

Minnesota’s offense ranks 101st nationally and 11th in the Big Ten in total offense (351 yards per game), 84th and ninth in rushing (156.7 yards per game), 95th and 11th in passing (194.3 yards per game), 106th and 11th in pass efficiency (113.31), and 110th and 14th in scoring (20.4 points per game).

Quarterback Mitch Leidner ranks ninth in the Big Ten in passing, averaging 187.1 yards per game, one yard more than Jake Rudock. Leidner has completed 59.2 percent of his passes (Rudock 61.7 percent) for 1,310 yards, seven touchdowns, and six interceptions. He’s also the team’s third leading rusher with 121 yards (2.1 yards per carry) and three touchdowns.

Redshirt freshman Rodney Smith leads the way on the ground with 467 yards (4.1 yards per carry) and one score, averaging 66.7 yards per game. He had a 100-yard game in Week 2 against Colorado State, but managed just 20 yards on eight carries against Nebraska last time out. True freshman Shannon Brooks leads the team in yards per carry (7.0). He didn’t play in the first three games of the season but has shared the load with Smith the last four. He broke out for 176 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries against Purdue but like Smith was held to just 25 yards on eight carries against Nebraska.

Four Gopher receivers have over 100 receiving yards on the season, led by senior K.J. Maye‘s 350 yards and three touchdowns. Maye had his best game of the season against Nebraska when he caught 11 passes for 94 yards, but after scoring touchdowns in each of the first three games, he has been held out of the end zone in the last four. Junior Drew Wolitarsky is just behind Maye with 297 yards and one score, while redshirt sophomore Eric Carter has 21 receptions for 245 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore tight end Brandon Lingen is the fourth with more than 100 yards (109) and he’s the only pass catcher other than Maye with multiple touchdowns (two).

The offensive line has seen some injuries this season and left tackle Josh Campion, who had started 39 straight games entering the season, and center Brian Bobek, an Ohio State transfer who began the season as the starting center, are still out this week.

Redshirt junior left tackle Ben Lauer has 12 career starts under his belt. He was the starting left tackle entering the season, but an injury caused him to miss three of the next four games. He returned against Purdue and Nebraska. Fifth year senior left guard Joe Bjorklund has 10 career starts including seven last season. True freshman Tyler Moore is forced into action, while sophomore right guard Conner Mayes and redshirt junior right tackle Jonah Pirsig have both started every game this season.

When Michigan has the ball

Minnesota’s defense ranks 28th nationally and seventh in the Big Ten in total defense (328.7 yards per game), 52nd and 9th in rush defense (151.4 yards per game), 18th and 5th in pass defense (177.3 yards per game), 21st and 6th in pass defense efficiency (107.91), and 45th and 9th in scoring defense (23.1 points per game).

The defensive line is anchored by sophomore tackle Steven Richardson, who leads the team with 3.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss. The other tackle, Scott Ekpe has yet to record a sack, but has two tackles for loss. Fifth year senior defensive end Thieren Cockran has seemingly been around forever and is the Gopher that gave Shane Morris his concussion last season. He has two sacks and five tackles for loss, while the other end, Hendrick Ekpe, has a half of a sack.

Redshirt junior linebacker Jack Lynn is the team’s third leading tackler with 36 and has the second most tackles for loss with six. Fifth year senior De’Vondre Campbell is a multi-year stater and has 34 tackles, one sack, an interception and four passes defended. Sophomore Jonathan Celestin is the third starter at linebacker with 28 tackles and three for loss. Redshirt sophomore Cody Poock is the top reserve as the team’s second leading tackler.

Senior safety Antonio Johnson leads the team with 48 tackles to go along with two for loss, two passes defended, and a fumble recovery. The other safety is redshirt sophomore Adekunle Ayinde, who 22 tackles and four passes defended. Senior Eric Murray and fifth year senior Briean Boddy-Calhoun are the starting corners, while Jalen Myrick is the nickel corner. Myrick leads the team with three interceptions and six passes defended, while Murray also has a pick.

The other third

Both kicking specialists are veterans. Kicker Ryan Santoso was the team’s kicker as a redshirt freshman in 2014, connecting on 12 of 18 field goal attempts with a long of 52. So far this season he is 10 of 13 with a long of 50. Fifth year senior punter Peter Mortell ranks fourth in the Big Ten with an average of 44.0 yards per punt. He has booted 12 of his 43 punts longer than 50 yards and downed 18 inside the 20.

Myrick and Brooks share the kick return duties, averaging 21.4 and 18.7 yards per return, respectively. Sophomore defensive back Craig James is the normal punt returner, but is out with an injury, so Myrick and freshman KiAnte Hardin will do the job.

Prediction

Michigan will come out focused and determined to reclaim the Little Brown Jug and stay in the Big Ten title hunt. Minnesota’s defense is just average against the run and allowed 203 yards on 5.3 yards per carry to Nebraska, which managed just 82 rushing yards last week against Northwestern. Expect a heavy dose of De’Veon Smith and Drake Johnson, who should finally be healthy.

Minnesota doesn’t have the offense to keep up with Michigan, so the main question will be whether or not Michigan’s defense can record its fourth shutout of the season. Northwestern shut Minnesota out 27-0 and the Gophers managed just 10 points against Kent State, who is just 3-5 at this point and has given up at least 10 points in every other game.

It won’t be a pretty or exciting game, but it will be classic Jim Harbaugh as Michigan pounds the ball on the ground and wears down the Gopher defense. Jake Rudock has a classic Jake Rudock day and Michigan wins and returns the jug to its rightly place.

Michigan 35 – Minnesota 6

First Look: Minnesota

Monday, October 26th, 2015


Jerry Kill(GopherSports.com)

Michigan got a week to think about — or get over — one of the most heartbreaking losses in program history. When the Wolverines return to the field Saturday in Minneapolis, they still have the Big Ten title to play for, with a little help. It’s now a five game season and it begins with the Golden Gophers, a team that has underperformed this season after embarrassing Michigan in Ann Arbor in 2014.

Minnesota team stats & Michigan comparison
Minnesota | Michigan Rank Defense Rank
Points Per Game 20.4 | 28.6 110 | 70
23.1 | 9.3 45 | 1
Rushing Yards 1,097 1,270 1,060 453
Rush Avg. Per Game 156.7 181.4 94 49
151.4 64.7 52 2
Avg. Per Rush 4.1 | 4.4
3.9 2.1
Passing Yards 1,360 1,303 1,241 1,021
Pass Avg. Per Game 194.3 186.1 95 98 177.3 145.9 18 4
Total Offense 2,457 2,573 2,301 1,474
Total Off Avg. Per Game 351.0 367.6 101 90 328.7 210.6 28 1
Kick Return Average 18.4 33.4 103 2 21.4 18.8 73 | 27
Punt Return Average 2.3 10.3 122 48 9.9 6.1 89 | 27
Avg. Time of Possession 30:06 | 34:05 63 | 5
29:54 | 25:55
3rd Down Conversion Pct 37.0% | 41.0% 89 | 58
36.0% | 20.0% 47 | 1
Sacks Allowed-Yards/By-Yards 12-60 | 11-57
T51 | T39
10-53 | 18-135
T103 | 34
Touchdowns Scored 16 24
19 | 9
Field Goals-Attempts 10-13 | 10-12
10-13 | 1-4
Red Zone Scores (16-20) 80%|(24-25) 96% T93 | T4
(19-22) 86%|(7-8) 88% 87 T92
Red Zone Touchdowns (9-20) 45%|(17-25) 68% (12-22) 55%|(6-8) 75%

After setting high expectations with back to back 8-5 seasons in 2013 and ’14, Jerry Kill’s squad has been a letdown through the first seven weeks of 2015. It opened in promising fashion hard-fought six point loss to then-No. 2 TCU, but over the next six weeks, the Gophers have produced exactly one convincing win and that came by way of Big Ten doormat Purdue. A 23-20 overtime win over Colorado State, a 10-7 win over Kent State, and a 27-24 win over Ohio university don’t exactly look great on the resume even though they do go down in the ‘W’ column.

Minnesota was shut out 27-0 by Northwestern a week before Michigan turned around and spanked the Wildcats 38-0. In their last time out — Minnesota had a bye last weekend just like Michigan — the Gophers were dismantled by a 3-4 Nebraska squad, 48-25.

So what has gone wrong? Minnesota’s offense has struggled to move the ball and put up points against anybody not named Purdue. They’ve been shut out once, held to 17 points or fewer in three of seven games, and 27 or fewer in six. Their 20.4-point scoring average ranks 110th nationally and dead last in the Big Ten. Their total offense ranks 101st nationally and 10th in the Big Ten, ahead of Purdue, Penn State, and Northwestern. Northwestern’s offense is lower only because it has already faced Michigan’s defense.

Minnesota’s rushing offense ranks 94th nationally and ninth in the conference, but did get a spark from freshman Shannon Brooks with 17 carries for 176 yards and a touchdown against Purdue. But then again, it was Purdue. The passing offense ranks 95th nationally and 11th in the conference, one spot ahead of Michigan with about eight more passing yards per game.

Defensively, Minnesota is still pretty stout, ranking among the middle of the pack in the Big Ten in most categories, 28th nationally in total defense, and 18th in pass defense. It held TCU’s high powered offense to a season low 23 points — 22 fewer than the Horned Frogs’ next lowest point total of 45 against Iowa State last weekend. But on the other side of the coin, Minnesota allowed a Nebraska offense that averages 31.6 points per game to score a season high 48 two weeks ago.

Nebraska rushed for 203 yards, averaging 5.2 yards per attempt, against the Gophers’ rush defense, which is where Michigan’s offense can take advantage. Minnesota ranks 52nd nationally and ninth in the Big Ten against the run.

Special teams could also play a big factor this Saturday, although hopefully not nearly as dramatically as it did last time out. Minnesota ranks 122nd nationally in punt returns, 103rd in kick returns, 89th in punt return defense, and 73rd in kick return defense. Michigan, on the other hand, ranks 48th in punt returns, second in kick returns, and 27th in both kick and punt return defense. The Wolverines have used special teams to make up for its work-in-progress offense by averaging good starting field position.

So what can we expect on Saturday night? A Minnesota student section full of costumes is a given, but aside from any Halloween trickery, Michigan should come home with win number six. The main question will be can Michigan’s defense start a new shutout streak?

 

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 6

Wednesday, October 14th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

For the first time this season, all 14 Big Ten teams hit the field against conference opponents as the first half of the college football regular season came to an end. And though there were no surprises in the outcomes of these games, some of the winning margins definitely stood out.

In the only intra-division battle, the third-highest East Division team beat the highest-ranked West Division team into a pulp, branding the former as the more dominant half of the conference. Four East teams are 2-0 in conference while only Iowa is unbeaten in the West.

As a whole, the Big Ten has a legitimate chance to send 10 teams to bowl games at the end of the season. Three 6-0 squads are already bowl eligible and another three are just one win away. Assuming Minnesota and Wisconsin can win two more games each, it’s up to Indiana to find two more victories to give the conference 10 bowl-eligible teams.

Here’s how both division stack up after six weeks of football.

East Division
1. Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maryland 49-28 This Week: Sat vs Penn State (2-3, 0-1), 8pm, ABC

Ohio State holds onto the top spot this week because of the reemergence of the dangerous quarterback tandem that landed them the preseason No. 1 spot in the first place. No, being tied with Maryland in the 3rd quarter isn’t pretty, but the Buckeyes did pull away and win the game by 21 points. Cardale Jones completed 21 of 28 passes for 291 yards and two touchdowns while J.T. Barrett got a few red zone chances and scored three rushing touchdowns. Ezekiel Elliott rushed for a cool 106 yards and two touchdowns to cap off one heck of an afternoon for the trio. Ohio State did allow nearly 400 yards to a team that struggled to reach 100 against Michigan last week, but a 499-yard effort from a Buckeye offense that limped into the game eased any concerns. OSU didn’t turn the ball over, controlled the pace with 31 first downs and even got Braxton Miller going – finding the receiver five times for 79 yards and a touchdown.

2. Michigan (5-1, 2-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat #13 NW 38-0 This Week: Sat vs #7 Michigan St. (6-0, 2-0), 3:30pm, ESPN

That’s right, even though the Wolverines have a loss on their resume, they’ve finally jumped into the No. 2 spot in the rankings. Michigan put up one of the top performances of the year Saturday, dominating No. 13 Northwestern in all three phases for a 38-0 victory. Jehu Chesson drew first blood on the opening kickoff, returning it 96 yards for a quick touchdown. Michigan followed its first kick return touchdown since 2009 with drives of 59 yards and 75 yards against the No. 1 scoring defense in the country to stretch the lead to 21-0 in the 1st quarter. A Jourdan Lewis pick-six put the nail in the coffin before the Wildcats could even get to halftime. In addition to notching its third straight shutout, Michigan’s defense surrendered just 168 yards (after allowing 105 to both BYU and Maryland) and held Northwestern to 2-13 on 3rd downs. Jim Harbaugh has his team playing at a higher level than anybody could have expected this early in his regime. If the Wolverines can pull off an unthinkable sixth straight win on Saturday, it’ll enter into the Big Ten title discussion.

3. Michigan State (6-0, 2-0) – Down 1
Last Week: Beat Rutgers 31-24 This Week: Sat at #12 Michigan (5-1, 2-0), 3:30pm, ESPN

Mark Dantonio will probably use these power rankings as motivation for his team as it heads into Ann Arbor on Saturday. The Spartans drop out of the top two after needing a heroic Connor Cook-led drive in the final minute to beat a hapless Rutgers team. Cook made three legitimate NFL throws during the drive – highlighted by a 29-yard strike to R.J. Shelton on 3rd and 9 with MSU in danger of punting it back to the Scarlett Knights with three minutes remaining. Cook was great on the night, throwing for 357 yards and two touchdowns, but the Michigan State defense allowed recently-reinstated Leonte Carroo catch seven passes for 134 yards and three touchdowns to stay in the game. Carroo is an NFL talent, but the Spartan secondary is starting to look more and more porous as the season stretches on. Michigan doesn’t have the greatest passing attack, so if Jake Rudock can pick apart the Spartans on Saturday, it’ll be panic time for Dantonio.

4. Penn State (5-1, 2-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 29-7 This Week: Sat at #1 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0), 8pm, ABC

Much like Utah’s resurgence has improved Michigan’s resume, Temple’s six-game winning streak to start the season is starting to make Penn State’s 5-1 start look much more respectable. The Nittany Lions smacked Indiana, 29-7, for their fifth straight win and have a chance to shake up the entire East Division in Columbus Saturday night. Christian Hackenberg was just average passing against a terrible Indiana defense – 21 of 39 for 262 yards and two scores – but rushed nine times for two more touchdowns. Indiana was without star running back Jordan Howard and quarterback Nate Sudfeld, so the PSU defense cruised in the victory.

5. Rutgers (3-2, 0-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #4 MSU 24-31 This Week: Sat at Indiana (4-2, 0-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Maybe Rutgers has a little fight left after the return of Carroo to the offense. The senior wideout has caught six touchdown passes in just three games and gives the Scarlett Knights their only dangerous weapon on offense. Defensively, Rutgers can’t stop a nosebleed. Michigan State converted 11 of 17 chances on 3rd down en route to 489 total yards and 31 points. Only Norfolk State, an FCS team, and Kansas, the worst power five team in the country, couldn’t score at least 28 points against Rutgers this season. It’ll be up to the offense if Kyle Flood’s team wants to play in a bowl game.

6. Indiana (4-2, 0-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Penn St. 7-29 This Week: Sat vs Rutgers (3-2, 0-2), 3:30pm, BTN

Poor Indiana. Just when it looked like the Hoosiers could make some noise in the Big Ten – 4-0 and beating top-ranked Ohio State in the 3rd quarter – they lost their two best offensive players and spiraled into a familiar abyss of irrelevance. A huge home game against Rutgers could get Indiana a step closer to bowl eligibility. If the Hoosiers drop that contest, they’ll need two road wins over Maryland and Purdue at the end of the season.

7. Maryland (2-4, 0-2) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #1 OSU 28-49 This Week: Bye (10/24 vs Penn State)

Despite hanging with Ohio State for the better part of three quarters, Maryland is the lucky recipient of this week’s Dumpster Fire Award. Firing head coach Randy Edsall won’t teach Perry Hills, or Caleb Rowe, or Daxx Garman how to throw the football. The three quarterbacks own a combined completion percentage of just 44.1 percent and have thrown 17 picks to just 10 touchdowns. Hills – 47.4 percent, five touchdowns and four interceptions – might be the best option, but he still won’t get the Terrapins anywhere near bowl eligibility. On defense, look no further than the three teams (Bowling Green, West Virginia and Ohio State) who put up well over 40 points apiece against Maryland. The next four weeks will be a train wreck for the Terrapins. Athletic Director Kevin Anderson might have actually done Edsall a huge favor.

B1G East Week 6

 

West Division
1. Iowa (6-0, 2-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Illinois 29-20 This Week: Sat at #20 NW (5-1, 1-1), 12pm, ABC

For the first time this season, a new team sits upon the West Division throne. Iowa wasn’t overly dominant in a 29-20 win over Illinois, but Jordan Canzeri proved he’s the real deal, carrying the ball 43 times for 256 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback C.J. Beathard did just enough in the passing game to open the field for Canzeri, completing 15 of 31 passes for 200 yards and two touchdowns. His favorite target on Saturday was freshman Jerminic Smith, who made his first career catches (4) for 118 yards. As the only remaining undefeated team in the Big Ten West, Iowa sits in the driver’s seat heading into a crucial top-20 matchup in Evanston. If the Hawkeyes can escape with a win over Northwestern, the final five weeks will be a cakewalk to Indianapolis.

2. Northwestern (5-1, 1-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #18 Mich. 0-38 This Week: Sat vs #17 Iowa (6-0, 2-0), 12pm, ABC

After winning five games to open the season and knocking off Stanford and Duke – neither of which has lost since falling to the Wildcats – Northwestern finally put itself on a national stage with the chance to make a statement. Simply put, it didn’t go well. The Wildcats fell behind by three touchdowns in the 1st quarter and never even made a peep as the Wolverines shattered their perfect record. Clayton Thorson’s best drive ended in a missed field goal and Justin Jackson rushed 12 times for only 25 yards. Luckily, Pat Fitzgerald only has to wait a week for a chance at redemption. A home win against Iowa Saturday would put Northwestern back on top of the West.

3. Minnesota (4-2, 1-1) – Up 2
Last Week: Beat Purdue 41-13 This Week: Sat vs Nebraska (4-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, ESPN2

Minnesota finally broke out of its offensive slump in Week 6, rushing for 326 yards and dropping 41 points on Purdue. Mitch Leidner only threw for 59 yards, but there was little reason to pass as the Gophers had seven different ball carriers combine to average 6.8 yards per carry. The defense bounced back from the 27-0 drubbing it suffered against Northwestern, allowing just 275 yards and forcing four turnovers. Minnesota needs a win over Nebraska this weekend before dates against Michigan and Ohio State after the bye.

4. Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1) – Even
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 23-21 This Week: Sat at Minnesota (4-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, ESPN2

Wisconsin nearly dropped to 0-2 in the Big Ten Saturday, but a 46-yard field goal from Rafael Gaglianone with four seconds left in the game lifted the Badgers over the Cornhuskers, 23-21. Joel Stave threw the ball an uncharacteristic 50 times, completing 24 passes for 322 yards and one touchdown. Dare Ogunbowale added 117 yards rushing to give Wisconsin just enough for its first conference win. Nebraska gained just 13 first downs against the Badger defense and scored only one in the second half. Wisconsin faces an easy four-game stretch – Purdue, Illinois, Rutgers and Maryland – while it waits for Iowa to let it back into the race.

5. Illinois (4-2, 1-1) – Down 2
Last Week: Lost to #22 Iowa 20-29 This Week: Bye (10/24 vs Wisconsin)

For a few glorious moments in the 4th quarter, it looked like Illinois might actually pull a road upset at Kinnick. But the offense managed just two touchdowns as the Fighting Illini fell back to even in conference play. The Illini defense embraced the ‘bend but don’t break’ mentality Saturday, allowing 478 total yards but surrendering just three touchdowns. Marshall Koehn made three field goals after stalled Hawkeye drives to eventually outlast Illinois.

6. Nebraska (2-4, 0-2) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to Wisconsin 21-23 This Week: Sat at Minn. (4-2, 1-1), 3:30pm, ESPN2

Nebraska has really got this heartbreak thing down to a science. After losing on a last-second field goal on Saturday, the Cornhuskers have lost four games by a combined 11 points. Two of those losses came on Hail Mary passes and a third came in overtime. If Mike Riley can’t teach his team to finish, they’ll watch the rest of the conference from home during the bowl season.

7. Purdue (1-5, 0-2) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Minnesota 13-41 This Week: Sat at Wisconsin (4-2, 1-1), 12pm, BTN

To nobody’s surprise, Purdue’s near upset of Michigan State turned out to be a one-week wonder. The Boilermakers turned the ball over four times – including three picks by David Blough – in a 41-13 home loss against Minnesota. Purdue held the ball for under 24 minutes and converted just three of 17 attempts on 3rd down. Rutgers and Maryland have a better chance to play each other in a bowl game than Purdue has to qualify.

B1G West Week 6

Big Ten power rankings: Week 5

Thursday, October 8th, 2015


Power Rankings_header

A full week of Big Ten games is in the books as the conference season officially kicked off Saturday with six intra-league battles and one nonconference matchup.

In the only cross-divisional game of the week, Michigan State topped Purdue in a nail-biter at Spartan Stadium. The East also picked up a win from Penn State, which snuck by Army. Meanwhile, a major power shift rattled the West Division as two of the division’s best teams went down to the wire in Madison.

Here’s a look at where the teams stand after one Big Ten game.

East Division
1. Ohio State (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Indiana 34-27 This Week: Sat vs Maryland (2-3, 0-1), 12pm, BTN

It wasn’t an impressive performance for the No. 1 team in the country, but Ohio State held off a pesky Indiana team Saturday to pick up a win in the conference opener. Cardale Jones completed 18 of 27 pass attempts for 245 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. The defense surrendered over 400 yards, but was saved by Ezekiel Elliott’s 274 yards and three touchdowns. Elliott ripped off runs of 55, 65, and 75 yards in the game, keeping the Buckeyes afloat in the second half.

The Hoosiers came into the game undefeated, but OSU couldn’t pull away despite injuries to Indiana starting quarterback Nate Sudfeld and star running back Jordan Howard. Much like in the opener against Virginia Tech, Ohio State needed an injury to Indiana’s best offensive player to swing the momentum and take the lead for good. Though they’re clearly one of the most talented teams in the country, the Buckeyes have underwhelmed in four of their five games and can’t find a consistent rhythm on offense. They shouldn’t have a problem getting to 6-0 this weekend as a lost Maryland offense comes to the Horseshoe.

2. Michigan State (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Purdue 24-21 This Week: Sat at Rutgers (2-2, 0-1), 8pm, BTN

If not for Michigan’s opening loss to Utah, the Wolverines would be well above the Spartans in the power rankings based on the past few weeks. Saturday was Michigan State’s worst performance yet as it nearly blew a 21-point halftime lead to a Purdue team with only one win. Michigan State led 21-0 at the break and needed a stop on the Boilermakers’ final drive to secure a 24-21 win.

MSU’s secondary was a great concern early in the season, but it was Markell Jones, Purdue’s starting running back, who smacked the Spartans on homecoming. Jones gained 157 yards on 22 carries and found the end zone twice. David Blough completed fewer than half his pass attempts and threw for just 136 yards, but Michigan State couldn’t pull away, despite forcing three turnovers. Michigan State did outgain Purdue by 105 yards, but the worst team in the league shouldn’t be within a field goal of the No. 2 ranked team in the country. Connor Cook needs to escape from his funk (just 139 yards passing Saturday) and lift the Spartans to where they were last year on offense.

3. Michigan (4-1, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Maryland 28-0 This Week: Sat vs #13 NU (5-0, 1-0), 3:30pm, BTN

In a Week 4 win over BYU, Michigan scored all 31 of its points in the first half before playing to a scoreless tie in the second half. In Maryland, the Wolverines mustered only a pair of field goals before the break and exploded for 22 points in the second half. The common denominator? Neither the Cougars nor the Terrapins could put up a single point against a stout Michigan defense.

For the second straight week, the Wolverines surrendered just 105 yards, this time holding Maryland to seven first downs and fewer than two yards per play. Quarterback Caleb Rowe has struggled all season, but Michigan forced him into his worst performance yet: eight completions in 27 attempts for 47 yards and three interceptions. One of the picks came from emerging star Jourdan Lewis, who’s been near impossible to beat downfield all season. Lewis burst onto the scene as Michigan’s top lockdown corner last year and he’s already made enormous strides under Jim Harbaugh.

But it wasn’t all good news for Michigan at Byrd Stadium. The offense struggled to run the ball with De’Veon Smith out due to injury. Derrick Green and Ty Isaac rushed 13 times for just 43 yards and a pair of fumbles. Drake Johnson struggled in the first half, but made an adjustment after the break and finished with 68 yards on 13 carries. He also took a screen pass 31 yards and dove to the pylon early in the 3rd quarter to break the seal for the Wolverine offense.

Even more serious for Michigan going forward is the loss of Mario Ojemudia for the rest of the season. Ojemudia had developed into Michigan’s top pass rusher out of the buck linebacker position, but now those duties will fall on the shoulders of Royce Jenkins-Stone, a talented but largely unproven senior who made eight tackles last season. Northwestern will visit Michigan in the Big House this weekend in what promises to be a defensive slugfest. The two teams enter Saturday’s matchup ranked Nos. 1 and 2 in the country in terms of scoring defense.

4. Penn State (4-1, 1-0) – Up 1
Last Week: Beat Army 20-14 This Week: Sat vs Indiana (4-1, 0-1), 12pm, ESPN2

Penn State was the only Big Ten team to play out of conference in Week 5, holding off a second-half charge from Army to improve to 4-1. The Nittany Lions were bailed out by three Army fumbles that wiped out a 293-yard effort. Army outgained Penn State 293-264, picked up more first downs, and averaged more yards per play. Christian Hackenberg threw only 19 times, picking up 156 yards and a touchdown — a disappointing sequel to his 296-yard, three-touchdown effort against San Diego State. James Franklin’s team just doesn’t have anything going on offense this season, so it’ll rely on a top-tier defense to carry it through conference play.

5. Indiana (4-1, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to #1 OSU 27-34 This Week: Sat at Penn State (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Injuries to Jordan Howard and Nate Sudfeld couldn’t have come at a worse time for Indiana, which had a legitimate chance to dethrone the top-ranked Buckeyes in Bloomington before their top offensive threats went down. Indiana played its best defensive game of the season, but still allowed over 500 yards to the offensively-challenged Buckeyes. Two recovered fumbles and an interception kept the Hoosiers in the game, but three huge runs from Ezekiel Elliott handed Indiana its first loss of the season. The Hoosiers won’t do much damage in the Big Ten behind their high-powered offense and risk-taking defense, but the road ahead won’t get any easier as they visit Penn State and Michigan State and host Iowa and Michigan in the next five games.

6. Rutgers (2-2, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Bye This Week: Sat vs #4 MSU (5-0, 1-0), 8pm, BTN

Rutgers took an early week off after beating a winless Kansas team, 27-14, in Week 4. The extra preparation likely won’t do much good this weekend as the Scarlett Knights host an angry Michigan State team. They might not be competitive in another game until a Week 11 home date with Nebraska.

7. Maryland (2-3, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #22 Mich. 0-28 This Week: Sat at #1 OSU (5-0, 1-0), 12pm, BTN

Believe it or not, there’s a team in the Big Ten that would love to have Jake Rudock as its starting quarterback. Maryland’s situation under center is as grim as it gets, and those struggles were on full display against Michigan. Starter Caleb Rowe was pulled from the game after completing just eight of 27 passes for 47 yards and three interceptions. Rowe was replaced in the 3rd quarter by Daxx Garman, who went just 2 of 9 for 29 yards. Brandon Ross was smothered by the Michigan run defense, racking up just 44 yards in the team’s 105-yard effort. The defense was solid, allowing just 378 yards and 28 points despite spending over 34 minutes on the field, but with this offense, Maryland won’t be competitive for the rest of the season.

B1G East Week 5

West Division
1. Northwestern (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Min. 27-0 This Week: Sat at #18 Michigan (4-1, 1-0), 3:30pm, BTN

Wow. It looks like the Wildcats are even better than we thought they were, and we already thought they were pretty good. Northwestern steamrolled Minnesota on Saturday, holding the Gophers to 173 yards and scoring a season-high 27 points against Jerry Kill’s defense. Justin Jackson continues to quietly get the job done on the ground, picking up 120 yards on 20 carries to pace the offense. Clayton Thorson didn’t have a huge impact, but he completed 14 of 19 passes and didn’t turn it over. He also rushed for the team’s only two offensive touchdowns. Pat Fitzgerald’s team has climbed to No. 13 in the AP Poll with a chance to jump into the top 10 if it can knock off a streaking Michigan team in the Big House this weekend. Northwestern will need an outstanding effort from the defense allowing the fewest points per game in the country.

2. Iowa (5-0, 1-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat #19 Wisconsin 10-6 This Week: Sat vs Illinois (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Northwestern might be the hottest team in the Big Ten, but Iowa picked up the biggest win in Week 5. The Hawkeyes knocked off perennial West Division champ Wisconsin in Madison by essentially out-Badgering the Badgers. Iowa scored just 10 points in the game, but controlled the clock with its own running game while holding Wisconsin to 2.5 yards per carry. C.J. Beathard was underwhelming, completing just nine of 21 passes for 77 yards as Iowa was outgained 320-221 overall. But the defense forced four turnovers and held Wisconsin to just 4 of 13 on 3rd down to sneak out of Madison with a power-shifting victory. Iowa is now in position to seize control of the West Division if it can win in Evanston on Oct. 17.

3. Illinois (4-1, 1-0) – Up 3
Last Week: Beat Nebraska 14-13 This Week: Sat at #22 Iowa (4-1, 1-0), 12pm, ESPNU

Don’t look now, but Illinois is 4-1! Despite a pair of shaky performances leading up to the Big Ten opener, Illinois shut down the Nebraska offense on Saturday and came away with a thrilling, shocking victory in Champaign. The Cornhuskers opened the door for the Illini by throwing twice on the final drive instead of running the clock down inside 20 seconds. When Illinois took over with 55 seconds left, Wes Lunt led a 72-yard drive that lasted just 41 seconds and ended with a one-yard, game-winning touchdown to Geronimo Allison. Illinois’ record is a bit deceiving, as it was blown out by its only solid non-conference opponent (a 48-14 loss at North Carolina). If the Fighting Illini somehow win one of their next two games – at Iowa or at home against Wisconsin – that’ll be reason to buy in.

4. Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1) – Down 1
Last Week: Lost to Iowa 6-10 This Week: Sat at Nebraska (2-3, 0-1), 3:30pm, ABC

The Badgers are treading in unfamiliar territory midway through Paul Chryst’s first season as head coach. A rare home loss Saturday against Iowa landed Wisconsin behind the eight ball in the West Division and dropped the Badgers to 3-2 on the year. Joel Stave isn’t playing like a typical Wisconsin senior, turning the ball over twice on Saturday and failing to lead his team into the end zone in the 10-6 loss. Even stranger: Wisconsin’s running game has yet to awaken. Taiwan Deal and Dare Ogunbowale took 26 of the team’s 34 carries against the Hawkeyes but gained just 87 combined yards and an average below 3.5 yards per carry. Wisconsin’s defense was excellent, holding the C.J. Beathard-led attack to just 221 total yards and one touchdown. But the offense is struggling on all cylinders right now and there’s no NFL-caliber running back to pull it out of the rut.

5. Minnesota (3-2, 0-1) – Even
Last Week: Lost to #19 NU 0-27 This Week: Sat at Purdue (1-4, 0-1), 3:30pm, ESPN

Since nearly upsetting No. 2 TCU to open the season in early September, Minnesota has performed steadily worse each week. A pair of three-point wins over MAC schools preceded a 27-0 beat down at the hands of a Northwestern team that was struggling to score points before rolling over the hapless Gophers. Minnesota rushed for just 2.2 yards per carry and Mitch Leidner was awful through the air, completing 10 of 21 passes for 72 yards and a pick. A defense that had been leading the charge through four weeks surrendered 20 points and 312 yards on the night, though it was put in bad position by two offensive turnovers. The style points Minnesota gained by sticking with TCU have expired, and now it’ll need a desperation win in Purdue to get the train back on the tracks.

6. Purdue (1-4, 0-1) – Up 1
Last Week: Lost to #2 MSU 24-27 This Week: Sat vs Minn. (3-2, 0-1), 3:30pm, ESPN

For the first time since a Week 2 thumping over Indiana State, Purdue showed a little fight in a 24-21 loss in East Lansing Saturday. The Spartans carried a commanding 21-0 lead into the half, but Purdue scored 14 unanswered points over the next 16 minutes to pull within a score. A 10-play, 28-yard drive stalled at their own 48-yard line as the Boilermakers’ comeback effort finally ran out of gas. Freshman quarterback David Blough was awful in the first half, but he finished the game with 136 yards passing, a touchdown and an interception after a solid 2nd half effort. If not for MSU running back L.J. Scott’s 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Purdue might have pulled the most shocking upset of this college football season.

7. Nebraska (2-3, 0-1) – Down 3
Last Week: Lost to Illinois 13-14 This Week: Sat vs Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1), 3:30pm, ABC

How could Nebraska possibly fall below a lousy, punchless Purdue team? It’s simple: Mike Riley’s team is playing a sloppy, ugly brand of football through five games and it starts with their junior quarterback. Tommy Armstrong Jr. completed less than one-third of his passes Saturday for 105 yards and an interception. He had zero passing yards in the team’s 76-yard touchdown drive in the 1st quarter and the offense mustered only 13 points against an Illinois team that allowed a combined 73 points to North Carolina and Middle Tennessee State the last two weeks. Nebraska could actually be undefeated at this point in the season – the three losses are by a combined nine points – but mammoth mistakes in the 4th quarter an overtime have dropped them to a disastrous start. If Nebraska can’t pull off a win over Wisconsin this weekend, it’ll have to knock off Northwestern, Michigan State or Iowa down the stretch to qualify for a bowl.

B1G West Week 5

2015 Big Ten power rankings: Week 1

Thursday, September 10th, 2015


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You see the excitement everywhere you go. Fans are sporting their favorite schools on their chests, talking about fantasy drafts and predictions and looking forward to Saturday tailgates and kickoffs. Rece Davis has taken over as host of College Gameday. Recruits are taking to Twitter to support their final schools. Jim Harbaugh is back in Ann Arbor to face off with Urban Meyer and Dark Dantonio. Finally, football is back.

Now maybe somebody should tell the Big Ten.

It was a terrible opening weekend for the conference, which won only eight of 14 games over the extended weekend. There were losses on the national stage with the whole country watching, losses to schools that have no business beating Big Ten teams and even a loss to a backup quarterback on a final-play Hail Mary.

Here’s how the conference shapes up after Week 1:

East Division
1. Ohio State (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Virginia Tech 42-24 This Week: Sat vs Hawaii (1-0), 3:30pm, BTN

After being crowned the first unanimous No. 1 team to open a season in college football history, Ohio State kicked the year off with a comfortable drubbing of Virginia Tech on the road. Cardale Jones won the highly-anticipated starting quarterback job and underwhelmed, completing just 50 percent of his passes for 186 yards. But Ezekiel Elliott gained 122 yards on just 11 carries and Braxton Miller gained a total of 140 yards in his first game as H back. The Buckeyes are loaded with playmakers and will likely cruise through the next nine games with ease.

2. Michigan State (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Western Michigan 37-24 This Week: Sat vs #7 Oregon (1-0), 7pm, ABC

Michigan State did not impress during a 37-24 win over Western Michigan on Friday, allowing Zach Terrell to tear apart the Spartan secondary for 365 yards passing. Connor Cook completed just 48 percent of his passes, a disappointing start for the senior. So why did Michigan State land at No. 2? The defense held Western to 0.8 yards per carry and the offense gained 452 total yards. If the Spartans can beat Oregon at home this weekend, they’ll be home free until October.

3. Michigan (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Utah 17-24 This Week: Sat vs Oregon State (1-0), 12pm, ABC

How can Michigan be No. 3 after a loss to open the Harbaugh era? The Wolverines held Devontae Booker, one of the nation’s best running backs, to just 3.1 yards per carry, showed a pulse in the passing game with Amara Darboh and Jake Butt combining for 194 receiving yards and stuck with a top 25 team on the road. Jake Rudock had a disastrous debut for Michigan, tossing three interceptions and overthrowing two wide open receivers in the end zone. But the senior has a long track record of taking care of the ball, so his performance in one game isn’t likely to throw his entire season off the rails. The more pressing concern is Michigan’s running game, which picked up just 2.6 yards per carry with a long of seven yards. If the Wolverines want to compete, even in an average Big Ten, they have to be more effective in the ground game.

4. Maryland (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Richmond 50-21 This Week: Sat vs Bowling Green (0-1), 12pm, BTN

Maryland opened the season against an FCS opponent and took care of business, beating Richmond 50-21. Senior Brandon Ross stole the show, rushing for 150 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries. As a team, Maryland gained 341 yards on the ground and just 138 yards through the air. We won’t know much about the Terps until Sept. 26, when they travel to Morgantown to clash with West Virginia. Once Big Ten season rolls around, Maryland will find it much tougher to average 7.6 yards per carry.

5. Rutgers (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Norfolk State 63-13 This Week: Sat vs Washington State (0-1), 3:30pm, ESPNU

The largest victory of the weekend went to Rutgers, which stomped a bad FCS team by 50 points. Quarterbacks Hayden Rettig and Chris Laviano scorched the Norfolk State secondary for 248 passing yards on just 15 total attempts for an average of 16.5 yards per attempt. On the ground, three running backs earned 10 or more carries and combined to gain 269 yards. Leonte Carroo enjoyed the second three-score game of his career, catching three passes (all touchdowns) for 129 yards. On defense, Rutgers held Norfolk State to an astounding minus 3 rushing yards on 23 attempts. The Scarlett Knights outgained the Spartans 539-196.

6. Indiana (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Southern Illinois 48-47 This Week: Sat vs FIU (1-0), 8pm, BTN

It looks like another long season is on tap for Indiana after a 48-47 home win over an FCS team that went just 6-6 in the Missouri Valley Conference last season. Jordan Howard stepped into Tevin Coleman’s shoes and ran for 145 and three touchdowns on 20 carries to lead the Hoosiers. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld contributed 398 total yards of his own to lead Indiana’s 595-yard offensive attack. But the defense, which allowed 32.8 points per game last season, surrendered 659 yards to the Salukis, including 517 to quarterback Mark Iannotti (411 passing, 106 rushing). Indiana came within a two-point conversion attempt of losing the home opener to Southern Illinois, which doesn’t forecast a strong 2015 season.

7. Penn State (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Temple 10-27 This Week: Sat vs Buffalo (1-0), 12pm, ESPN2

Remember Christian Hackenberg’s freshman season, when he completed 58.9 percent of his passes for 20 touchdowns and 10 interceptions? Well, all of those numbers worsened during his sophomore season, and this year he’s off to a terrible start following his performance on Saturday. The former No. 1 recruit completed just 11 of 25 passes for 103 yards and an interception against Temple, good for a quarterback rating of 3.2. Penn State couldn’t get its running game going, either, averaging just 2.9 yards on 28 carries. The defense, which allowed the eighth fewest points per game (17.7 – fewest in Big Ten) in the country last season, let Jahad Thomas run for 135 yards and two touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Temple also completed 76 percent of its passes and outgained the Nittany Lions 313-183. A 17-point loss to Temple in the season opener makes next week’s matchup with Buffalo look much less like a sure blowout win.

West Division
1. Northwestern (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Stanford 16-6 This Week: Sat vs N. Illinois (0-1), 3:30pm, ESPNN

Okay, obviously Northwestern isn’t the best team in the West, nor do I expect them to finish ahead of Nebraska or Wisconsin — both Week 1 losers — this season, but after a week one upset of No. 21 Stanford, the Wildcats earned the top spot. The game certainly wasn’t pretty, but nail-biters in Evanston rarely are (see Michigan vs. Northwestern, 2014). The Wildcats absolutely stifled the Stanford offense, allowing just a pair of field goals. Stanford’s vaunted rushing attack gained just 85 yards and Senior Kevin Hogan was held to 155 through the air. Northwestern was led by redshirt freshman quarterback Clayton Thorson, who threw for 105 yards and ran for 68 yards. Though he completed just half his passes, Thorson’s 42-yard touchdown run was the only non-field goal score of the game and ultimately led the Wildcats to their 10th opening week win in 11 seasons (lost to Cal, 31-24, in 2014). Northwestern has another tough matchup in Week 3 at Duke and will enter Big Ten play as one of the more battle-tested teams from its nonconference schedule.

2. Wisconsin (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Alabama 17-35 This Week: Sat vs Miami OH (1-0), 12pm, ESPNU

After Northwestern, the West didn’t have many inspiring efforts in the opening weekend. Wisconsin got pounded on the national stage by an incredibly talented Alabama team, looking nothing like the Wisconsin teams of the past decade. The team that sent running backs to the NFL each of the last three seasons (Montee Ball, James White, Melvin Gordon) was nowhere to be found against the Crimson Tide, running for just 40 yards on 21 carries. They were led by wide receiver Alex Erickson, who picked up 25 yards on just one carry. Joel Stave had a solid game to kick off his senior season, completing 26 of 39 passes for 228 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The story of the game with Derrick Henry, who ran all over the Badger defense for 147 yards and three touchdowns on 13 carries. Wisconsin should roll through the rest of its nonconference schedule, but it missed its only regular-season chance for a statement win.

3. Minnesota (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to TCU 17-23 This Week: Sat at Colorado State (1-0), 3:30pm, CBSSN

Northwestern pulled off the biggest upset in the country on Saturday, but Minnesota came within a score of one-upping them on Thursday night. With the No. 2 team in the country visiting, the Golden Gophers fell a touchdown short of a win as TCU escaped by a score of 23-17. Minnesota’s defense wasn’t great, allowing 449 yards and 25 first downs. But it played well in its own territory and forced the Horned Frogs to kick three field goals, which kept the Gophers in the game. Mitch Leidner couldn’t get anything going in the passing game, throwing for just 197 yards 19 of 35 passing. Minnesota’s best weapon was Rodney Smith, who picked up 88 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Jerry Kill’s squad is coming off of back-to-back 8-5 seasons and could surpass that total thanks to a reasonable schedule.

4. Iowa (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Illinois State 31-14 This Week: Sat at Iowa State (1-0), 4:45pm, FOX

For the second straight year, Iowa opened the season against a Missouri Valley opponent in Iowa City. This time things went much smoother for the Hawkeyes. Iowa controlled the entire game, scoring midway through the fourth quarter to take a 31-0 lead and surrendering just a pair of garbage time touchdowns. Illinois State gained just 106 yards before those final two drives as Iowa’s defense held the Redbirds to 1.2 yards per rush. Ruduck’s replacement, C.J. Beathard, threw for 211 yards and a touchdown while LeShun Daniels carried 26 times for 123 yards. Iowa’s defense looked dominant coming off a season of allowing 24 points per game. The Hawkeyes will look to avenge last year’s home loss with a trip to Iowa State in Week 2.

5. Illinois (1-0, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Beat Kent State 52-3 This Week: Sat vs W. Illinois (1-0), 12pm, BTN

If a team opens the season against a reigning 2-9 MAC opponent, it’d better end in a blowout victory. Luckily for Illinois, that’s just what happened Saturday against Kent State. The game was postponed Friday due to lightning, but that didn’t help the Flashes’ offense the following day. Illinois held Kent State to 245 yards and forced four turnovers in the 52-3 thrashing. Quarterback Colin Reardon had a miserable day, completing just 15 of 34 passes for 156 yards and three picks. The rushing game was no better, as Miles Hibbler led the team with 15 yards on eight carries. The Fighting Illini weren’t flashy on offense, either. Wes Lunt completed 11 of 19 passes for 162 yards and four touchdowns. The ground game picked up just 3.7 yards per carry, but five receiving scores were more than enough to bury Kent State. Next week’s matchup with Western Illinois should yield similar results.

6. Nebraska (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to BYU 28-33 This Week: Sat vs South Alabama (1-0), 8pm, BTN

The Cornhuskers’ last-second, Hail Mary defeat was both painful and untimely, but they definitely deserved it. Mike Riley’s team was sloppy in his first game under the helm at Nebraska, committing 12 penalties for 90 yards, turning the ball over twice and allowing BYU to gain 511 total yards. It looked like Big Red would come away with a win after knocking electric duel-threat quarterback Taysom Hill out of the game in the 4th quarter. But backup Tanner Magnum came into the game and scored 10 points in three drives to complete the come-from-behind win. His 42-yard Hail Mary to Mitch Mathews was poorly defended by Nebraska as the clock expired, and in the end, it was BYU receivers hugging the refs after a 33-28 win. Like Wisconsin, Nebraska struggled to run the ball after losing a starting running back to the NFL Draft. With Ameer Abdullah suiting up for the Detroit Lions, Riley couldn’t find a consistent rusher against a solid BYU front. Terrell Newby led the team with 10 carries and 43 yards, but the team’s 3.4 yards per carry wasn’t enough to erase a horde of penalties and miscues. Jordan Westerkamp was a rare bright spot in the loss, catching seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. He’ll have to be a consistent playmaker for the Cornhuskers if the running game continues to struggle.

7. Purdue (0-1, 0-0) – Even
Last Week: Lost to Marshall 31-41 This Week: Sat vs Indiana State (1-0), 12pm, ESPNN

Coming off a winless second half to end the 2014 season, Purdue stretched its losing streak to seven games Sunday with a 41-31 loss to Marshall. Starting quarterback Austin Appleby showed flashes of brilliance early in the contest, but a pick six on the team’s first offensive play of the season would ultimately prove prophetic. Appleby threw four interceptions in the opener despite completing 31 of 48 passes for 270 yards. D.J. Knox and Markell Jones were a great one-two punch out of the backfield, combining for 174 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 34 carries. The Boilermakers outgained Marshall 454-397, but the four turnovers were too much to overcome. Purdue will finish the nonconference season with three straight home games.

Michigan-Minnesota game preview

Friday, September 26th, 2014


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Michigan limps into conference play with a 2-2 record, but as Brady Hoke has said over and over again in the last couple of weeks, the goal of a Big Ten championship is still within reach. A turnaround in conference play can erase the futility of the first four weeks of the season and get back the fans that jumped off the bandwagon. It all starts tomorrow when Minnesota comes to town looking to beat Michigan for just the fourth time since 1968.

UM-Minnesota-small-final
Quick Facts
Michigan Stadium – 3:30 p.m. EST – ABC
Minn. Head Coach: Jerry Kill (4th season)
Coaching Record: 147-95 overall (20-22 at Minn)
Offensive Coordinator: Matt Limegrover (4th season)
Defensive Coordinator: Tracy Claeys (4th season)
Returning Starters: 14 (7 offense, 7 defense)
Last Season: 8-5 (4-4 Big Ten)
Last Meeting: Michigan 42 – Minnesota 13 (2013)
All-Time Series: Michigan leads 73-24-3
Record at Mich Stadium Michigan leads 33-10-1
Last 10 Meetings: Michigan leads 9-1
Current Streak:  Michigan 6

Minnesota entered Jerry Kill’s fourth season on an upward swing, having gone from 3-9 to 6-7 to 8-5 the past three seasons. If they can improve their record again this fall — a tall order, to be sure — Kill will have done something that hasn’t been done since the 1940s — improve Minnesota’s record for three straight seasons. Minnesota’s legendary coach, Bernie Bierman, was the last to do it from 1945-48. Glen Mason had a chance to achieve the feat twice during his tenure, but each time fell back to earth. He did, however, reach 10 wins in 2003, and Kill will hope to parlay the momentum he has built into a similar outcome.

Kill got a nice vote of confidence in the offseason in the form of a new contract that bumps his salary up from $1 million per year to $2.3 million through 2018.

Minnesota enters Ann Arbor winners of three of their first four this season, the only loss a 30-7 defeat at the hands of TCU. The Gophers beat Eastern Illinois 42-20, Middle Tennessee 35-24, and San Jose State 24-7. Unlike Michigan, who has out-gained all four of its opponents offensively, Minnesota has actually been out-gained in three of its four games.

Michigan has had Minnesota’s number the last half century, winning the last six, 22 of the last 23, 30 of the last 32, and 41 of the last 46 since 1964. The Little Brown Jug basically lives in Ann Arbor these days, and even during Michigan’s 3-9 season in 2008, the Wolverines found a way to beat the Gophers. So how do the teams match up this season? Let’s take a look.

Michigan defense vs Minnesota offense: When Minnesota has the ball

Through the first four games, the Minnesota offense averages a field goal more per game than Michigan (27 points). The Gophers rank 104th in total offense (336 yards per game), 29th in rushing (236.2 yards per game), and 121st in passing (99.8 yards per game). The also rank 95th in third down conversions (37 percent) and 90th in red zone scores (10-of-13).

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

David Cobb is averaging 134.8 yards per game so far this season

Senior David Cobb is one of the best running backs in the conference. Our former feature writer Drew Hallett ranked him seventh-best in his preseason Big Ten position rankings. He came out of nowhere to rush for 1,202 yards on 5.1 yards per carry in 2013, becoming the first Gopher to eclipse 1,000 yards since 2006. He was held to just 22 yards on seven carries against Michigan, but had six 100-yard games, including against Michigan State. So far this season, Cobb has been the Gopher offense, averaging 134.8 yards per game on the ground. But he has gained most of that yardage in just two of the four games — 220 yards against Middle Tennessee and 207 against San Jose State last week. TCU held him to just 41 yards on 15 carries in Week 3 and you can be sure Michigan will load the box to do the same.

Cobb is the workhorse with 92 carries, but three other running backs have double-digit carries. Berkley Edwards, the younger brother of former Michigan star receiver Braylon, has 16 carries for 92 yards and two touchdowns. Rodrick Williams and Donnell Kirkwood each have 10 carries for just 35 and 24 yards, respectively.

With last year’s starting quarterback, Phillip Nelson, gone the man who supplanted him by the end of 2013 was supposed to grab the reigns. Redshirt sophomore Mitch Leidner threw just 78 passes for 619 yards and three touchdowns last season. About a third of that came in the bowl game in which he completed 11-of-22 for 205 yards and two scores. He also saw extensive action against Michigan, completing 14-of-21 for 145 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. He was much more of a running quarterback last season, rushing 102 times for 407 yards and seven scores.

But after starting the first three games this season and completing just 48.1 percent of his passes for 362 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions, he missed last week’s game with turf toe. In his place was redshirt freshman Chris Streveler, who threw just seven passes and completed just one for seven yards. On the other hand, Streveler rushed 18 times for 161 yards and a touchdown. He’s likely to be the starter tomorrow.

The receiving corps is young, led by tight end Maxx WilliamsDrew’s second-best tight end in the conference this fall, who caught 25 passes for 417 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. Williams leads the team with six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns so far, also missed last week’s game with an injury, but should play tomorrow. Last year’s leading wide receiver, Derrick Engel, is gone, leaving Donovahn Jones, K.J. Maye, and Drew Wolitarsky to step up. Jones has six catches for 92 yards and a score, while Maye has two for 65, and Wolitarsky has four for 31.

Experience isn’t an issue with the offensive line. Of the nine linemen that started a game last season, seven returned, and those seven started a combined 55 games in 2013 and 124 in their careers. Left guard Zac Epping is the most experienced of the bunch, having started 38 career games. While none of Minnesota’s linemen rank among the Big Ten’s best, and the line as a whole won’t be the best, it has paved the way for a powerful running game.

Michigan offense vs Minnesota defense: When Michigan has the ball

Defensively, Minnesota has allowed exactly the same number of points as Michigan has, 20.2 per game. The total defense ranks 66th nationally (383.8 yards per game), the rush defense ranks 51st (131.5 yards per game), and the pass defense ranks 82nd (252.2 yards per game). In addition, the Gophers are allowing opponents to convert 40 percent of their third downs, which ranks 72nd nationally. By comparison, Michigan allows 33 percent.

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

Linebacker Damien Wilson leads the team with 44 tackles

The main loss from last season is a big one in nose tackle Ra’Shede Hageman, who was drafted by the Atlanta Falcons in the second round of the NFL Draft. He led Minnesota with 13 tackles-for-loss in 2013 and also recorded two sacks. Defensive tackle Roland Johnson, who added 5.5 tackles-for-loss, also departed, leaving a big hole in the middle of the defense.

Senior Cameron Botticelli is now the main man in the middle and leads the team with 3.5 tackles for loss. He also has one sack. Nose tackle Steven Richardson has started the last two games and has eight tackles, 2.5 for loss, and one sack. The ends are redshirt junior Theiren Cockran, who ranked third in the Big Ten last season with 7.5 sacks, and senior Michael Amaefula, who recorded 19 tackles for loss a year ago. The two have combined for 12 tackles, three for loss, and a sack so far this season. Sophomore Hendrick Ekpe started the first two games and has 10 tackles, three for loss, and 1.5 sacks.

Two of the top three linebackers from last season are gone, but middle linebacker, senior Damien Wilson, returns. He was Minnesota’s second-leading tackler last season with 78, and had the third-most tackles-for-loss with 5.5. He currently leads the team with 44 tackles and also has three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, an interception, and a fumble recovery. Junior De’Vondre Campbell, who started three games last season, is the second leading tackler with 21 to go along with one tackle for loss. The Gophers have gone with more nickel the past two weeks, but when they use a third linebacker it is usually redshirt sophomore Jack Lynn, who is third on the team with 20 tackles and two for loss.

The strength of Minnesota’s defense was supposed to be the secondary, despite the loss of cornerback Brock Vereen, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the fourth round. The other starting corner from last season, Eric Murray, led the team with 10 pass breakups, which ranked sixth in the Big Ten. Just a junior this fall, Murray has 16 tackles, one interception, and two pass breakups so far. The other corners are junior Briean Boddy-Calhoun, who tore his ACL last season, and senior Derrick Wells, who was hampered most of 2013 with a shoulder injury. Boddy-Calhoun leads the team with two interceptions and five pass breakups so far.

The safety spots are filled by Cedric Thompson — last season’s leading tackler — junior Antonio Johnson, and junior Damarius Travis. Johnson and Travis each have a pick so far this season.

Special Teams: The other third

Redshirt freshman kicker Ryan Santoso was rated the seventh-best kicker in the 2013 class by ESPN and is replacing Chris Hawthorne, who made 14-of-18 last season. Santoso has made just 1-of-3 so far this season with a long of 38. Redshirt junior punter Peter Mortell is a nice weapon to have after ranking third in the Big Ten with a 43.3-yard average a year ago. He’s currently averaging 46.2 yards, which ranks second in the conference, behind only Nebraska’s Sam Foltz.

Defensive back Marcus Jones ranked sixth in the Big Ten in kick returns last season, averaging 24.9 yards per return. He’s currently right on pace, averaging 24.4 yards. He’s also handling most of the punt return duties with six returns for an average of eight yards.

Prediction:

Minnesota is going to try to run the ball, run the ball some more, and run the ball some more. The good news is that plays right into Michigan’s defensive strength. Expect Greg Mattison to load the box to stop the run and force Streveler to try to make big plays with his arm. He has completed just 4-of-11 passes for 37 yards in his career, so that’s a good thing for Michigan’s young corners, Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers.

Offensively, Michigan is also going to try to run the ball a lot with Derrick Green, but given the success teams have had passing on the Gophers so far, Michigan can have some success through the air. Could this be Shane Morris’ coming out party? I wouldn’t go that far, but I am looking forward to seeing what he can do as the (presumed) starter.

Expect a fairly low-scoring game with neither team able to pull away. Michigan will win, and while I don’t think it will be decisively, it won’t be too close for comfort either.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 13

Minnesota Q&A with JDMill of The Daily Gopher

Thursday, September 25th, 2014


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Each Thursday throughout the season we collaborate with that week’s opponent blog to get some questions answered by the guys who know more about their team than we do. This week, we partnered with JDMill of the Minnesota SB Nation blog, The Daily Gopher. He was kind enough to answer questions about the stagnant Gopher passing game, whether Minnesota can run on Michigan’s defense, how Minnesota fans view the Michigan current state of affairs, and more. You can follow The Daily Gopher on Twitter at @TheDailyGopher and you can follow JDMill at @jdmill.

1. What’s up with the Minnesota passing game? Less than 100 yards a game? Only seven yards last week? What’s the deal?

What came first, the chicken or the egg? That’s kind of the deal with the Gophers. Do they not pass very often because the running game is so good, or do they not pass very often because the passing game is so bad?

If you ask the coaches, they will tell you that the running game has been working, so there hasn’t been a need to pass. I think the fans are a little bit more nervous. Take a look at the TCU game. The Gophers were forced to pass because they got behind early and the run game wasn’t as effective as needed. As such, Mitch Leidner threw 26 times, completing just 12 for 151 yards, no touchdowns and three interceptions. Not. Pretty.

So while the coaches will tell you that if the running game is working there is no reason to pass, they have also admitted this week that they are going to need to be able to throw the ball more effectively to keep teams honest now that we’re hitting the conference schedule.

2. The running game on the other hand has been pretty good, especially David Cobb. Michigan’s rush defense has only allowed one of its four opponents (Appalachian State in Week 1) to rush for over 100 yards. Do you think Minnesota will be able to run on Michigan?

I do think we’ll be able to run a bit on Michigan, but we’ve been averaging over 230 yards rushing per game in the non-con, and I don’t think we’ll be able to do that against the Wolverines. The trump card, however, is quarterback Chris Streveler. With him behind center the Gophers have a true, fast addition that seems to be able to run the read-option pretty effectively. I could see a scenario where Minnesota puts up 150 yards rushing with at least half of that coming from the quarterback.

3. Minnesota also has a pretty good run defense, but three of the four opponents have thrown for over 250 yards. Michigan’s offense has had well-publicized problems against the only power-five teams it has played (Notre Dame and Utah). Do you think Minnesota’s defense can force Michigan’s offense into those same types of mistakes?

This is a defense that gives up a fair number of yards, but not a lot of points. The Gophers give up 122 yards per game more than Michigan, but we’ve allowed the exact same number of points. In fact, Minnesota has given up more yards than it has produced in three out of our four games this season so far.

The Gopher defense is opportunistic and that’s an important characteristic for a team that is going to struggle to throw the ball. The defense has given this team points and short fields, and I believe they will continue that trend and win the turnover battle with Michigan.

4. What’s your view on the current state of the Michigan program? Things are falling apart at the seams here, but what does it look like from the outside? And do Gopher fans enjoy seeing Michigan struggle like this?

Well, from the outside it looks like things are falling apart at the seams

I think the biggest eye-opener for everyone else in the conference was when Notre Dame took the Wolverines behind the wood shed. For me, anyway, that was just shocking. We expect Michigan to at least be competitive and they just didn’t even show up. And then to follow that up with the effort against Utah…well, you guys lived it so I won’t go on.

I’m hard pressed to say that Gopher fans enjoy it. I mean, I think schadenfreude is always alive and well in the B1G and Michigan has beaten the tar out of us for 45 years, so it certainly doesn’t hurt us to see this happening and I think Gopher fans smell blood in the water and a chance to get a trophy back. But the reality is that a competitive Michigan is good for the B1G, and I think deep down we know that.

The interesting piece of the puzzle here is that Brady Hoke is who many Gopher fans wanted as coach when Minnesota got Jerry Kill. The rumor is that Hoke turned down the job knowing that the Michigan job was probably in his grasp.

5. What’s your prediction, and why?

I REALLY want to predict a Gopher win here. I REALLY want to believe that Michigan is down on itself enough that Minnesota will be able to take advantage, dominate defensively, and do enough on offense to put up some points. In order for that to happen I think we’d be looking at a 17-10 type of game and one of the Gopher touchdowns would be from defense or special teams.

However, I’ve been around long enough to know that weird things happen to Minnesota when we play Michigan. Things fall apart for the Gophers. Michigan wakes up. Quarterbacks have career days against our defense. And knowing the history of this rivalry, my fragile psyche just won’t let me predict a Gopher win. To paraphrase the Gin Blossoms, if I don’t expect to much of the Gophers I might not be let down.

Michigan 24 – Minnesota 17.