Written by: TJ Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Northwestern at Nebraska – Noon on ESPN2
Through five weeks, the Northwestern Wildcats (5-2, 1-2) were 5-0 and had just shutout Minnesota, 27-0. They were headed into a showdown against the Michigan Wolverines and appeared poised to challenge for the B1G West title. Things have changed a whole lot in two weeks. Michigan hammered the Cats, 38-0 and they returned home and got obliterated by West rival Iowa, 10-40. The Hawkeyes played most of the game without starting tailback Jordan Canzeri but Northwestern’s defense still surrendered 492 yards of total offense. The Wildcats offense is hurting this defense because they are unable to consistently stay on the field, causing the D to wear out. In addition, while the secondary is still very strong, the run defense has been gouged in two straight weeks for more than 200 yards.
The Cats now travel to Lincoln as underdogs to take on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (3-4, 1-2). Nebraska turned in a dominant performance last Saturday as they pounded the Golden Gophers of Minnesota and they’ll look to build on their newfound confidence back at home. As previously noted, Northwestern is susceptible to good rushing attacks so Nebraska will likely try to pound the ball with Terrell Newby, Imani Cross and perhaps even quarterback Tommy Armstrong. Clayton Thorson is still yet to prove he is capable of winning a high-scoring contest so the defense is going to need to rebound or the Cats will suffer their third straight defeat.
Wisconsin at Illinois – 3:30 on BTN
According to the S&P+ rankings, this is a battle between two Top 25 teams (Wisconsin is 20, Illinois is 24). According to the AP and Coaches Polls, neither team is ranked but this is still a huge game that serves as a de-facto elimination game in the B1G West. Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1) and Illinois (4-2, 1-1) both trail the Iowa Hawkeyes by one loss and both have already been defeated by the Hawkeyes.
Wisconsin has a very mediocre offense that has been surprisingly poor in the rushing department. The Badgers ran for only 96 yards (2.6 yards per carry) against Purdue, 147 (4.3 yards per carry) against Nebraska) and 86 yards (2.5 yards per carry) against Iowa. They have dearly missed Corey Clement at running back (Taiwan Deal is also injured now) and the inexperienced offensive line hasn’t gotten the same push we are used to seeing. However, Joel Stave has been mostly effective through the air and the defense has performed at an elite level for most of the season. Illinois scored a last-second TD to stun Nebraska in the B1G opener and then lost a competitive game against Iowa (19-10) before taking their bye week. It’d be nice to get Josh Ferguson back but the matchup to watch could be the Wisconsin secondary attempting to slow down Geronimo Allison who is averaging 15 yards per catch.
Penn State at Maryland – 3:30 on ESPN
The Penn State Nittany Lions fell to 5-2, 2-1 after a poor performance at Ohio State last Saturday night. PSU could take some positives from the defeat as they battled the Buckeyes for three quarters and only trailed by 11 after 45 minutes of play. Christian Hackenberg was pretty banged up and was even more immobile than normal so the Nittany Lions had to rely very heavily on the running game. Saquon Barkley answered the bell as the returned from injury to run for 194 yards on 26 carries. I’ve been incredibly impressed with the speed and vision of Barkley and I think he can have an absolute field day in Baltimore. That’s right, this game is listed as a home game for the Terps but it’s being played in Baltimore and there should be plenty of blue and white in the crowd.
It’s difficult to analyze the Maryland Terrapins (2-4, 0-2) because they are coming off of a bye week and they will be playing their first game without Randy Edsall at the helm. Edsall was fired after the Terps were blitzed by the Ohio State Buckeyes on October 10. While a bump in performance is certainly possible, it shouldn’t be assumed that replacing Randy Edsall with Mike Locksley is going to magically turn this season around.
The best part of both offenses would be the rushing attack. Maryland has the 4th ranked running game (according to S&P+) while Penn State has the 42nd ranked running game. That number would be significantly better if Saquon Barkley would have been healthy and getting the majority of the carries. Barkley is a true difference maker and he’s currently averaging 8.3 yards on 68 carries. While Penn State has a pretty stout rush defense (along with an elite pass defense), the Maryland Terrapins are only 55th in rushing defense and I expect Penn State to lean heavily on Barkley and Akeel Lynch to churn out this victory. Maryland relies on Brandon Ross, a big back that I don’t expect to be able to break through the sturdy duo of Anthony Zettel and Austin Johnson, and quarterback Perry Hills to carry the rock. In short, both teams want to run the ball. I feel much better about the more explosive Saquon Barkley than I do about Ross and Hills and I feel better about the Penn State run defense than I do Maryland’s.
A big advantage for Penn State is their pass rush, mainly Carl Nassib, going against a mediocre Maryland offensive line. Nassib is having a ridiculous season as he already has 11.5 sacks and 15.5 tackles for loss. According to Football Outsiders, the Penn State defensive line creates more “Havoc” than any line in the country. The secondary is elite and the defensive line has done a nice job of stopping the run and harassing passers when they attempt to pass. Maryland has a couple of decent defensive linemen in Yannick Ngakoue and Quinton Jefferson but I don’t think they can create near the problems that Ohio State did for Hackenberg last week and I like the ability of Chris Godwin to make a play when it’s necessary.
Penn State isn’t likely to blow many teams out and it’s a bit scary to bet against a team that has gone through so much change and that we haven’t seen in two weeks. However, I like the Penn State running game and their ability to stop the run and I like Penn State’s ferocious pass rush and think it’s likely they will cause major issues for Maryland’s offensive line.
Indiana at Michigan State – 3:30 ABC/ESPN2
Hoosier Huddle will have extensive coverage of this matchup so make sure to check back all week long!
Ohio State at Rutgers – 8:00 on ABC
The #1 team in the land, the Ohio State Buckeyes (7-0, 3-0) have made a switch that many people felt was a long-time coming. J.T. Barrett is now the starting quarterback for the Buckeyes as they travel to Piscataway for a primetime matchup against Rutgers (3-3, 1-2). Rutgers (as Hoosier fans know very well) is looking to build on the momentum they found late last week with a comeback victory against IU.
While the Buckeyes offense hasn’t quite caught fire yet, I see some smoke and I want to be slightly ahead of the curve as opposed to behind it. The Buckeyes scored 49 against Maryland and then put up 38 against a very stout Penn State defense. They now face a woeful Scarlet Knights D and it appears that Urban Meyer is finally ready to give extended playing time to J.T. Barrett. Barrett has seen his role expand in the past couple of weeks and he has responded by producing every time he’s on the field. Barrett is a bonafide playmaker that is really making things happen with his legs. The offense appears to be at a faster tempo with him and the running game with him and Ezekiel Elliott has been impossible for opponents to stop thus far. Barrett now has 29 carries for an average of 7.9 yards per carries and Elliott is just 12 yards shy of 1000 yards and is averaging 6.7 yards per rush.
The Buckeyes are banged up at wide receiver but they appear to be adapting their attack to compensate for that. If they stick with a run-heavy dose of Barrett and Elliott, I really think Ohio State could be ready to drop 50 on this highly-susceptible Rutgers defense.