It's been about a decade since I started following the Big Ten closely, and I've started to realize some things about my hobby (for lack of a better word). I'm the type of normal, well-adjusted adult that sits down at home after a day of work and decides to spend my finite leisure time watching, like, Illinois vs. Minnesota. I could be doing anything else: watching the best basketball players in the world in some meaningless February NBA game, watching a college basketball game between two good teams in a different conference, or doing something different altogether from watching basketball.
Instead, it's like a compulsion. Get home, relax for a bit, and then when 7:00 rolls around, flip over to BTN, listen to the familiar jingles on the broadcast, and then let Jon Crispin whisk me away to the Bryce Jordan Center or whatever. I could be doing anything else with my free time (short of actually stepping away from one of my screens - let's not get too carried away), but I often choose to watch a crappy Big Ten game. It's not good. It's usually not fun. But I do it anyways.
The league has been in decline for the last few years. Thad Matta's back gave out on him, Bo Ryan retired, Rutgers became our giant anchor dragging across the ocean floor, so on and so forth. Only four teams made the NCAA Tournament last season. Michigan, fortunately, is still good; as long as John Beilein is in town, the Wolverines will play a pleasing style of basketball that stands in contrast with most of the league - really most of the rest of college basketball, period. But, especially now that the Big Ten has moved to a 20-game conference schedule, featuring December matchups against league foes, we have to pay attention to the other thirteen schools.
Well, you don't have to pay attention to them. I can do that for you. If this dour intro hasn't completely soured you from reading the rest of this post - which is to say, reading about the five worst* teams in the league according to my extremely powerful POWER RANKINGS - then your brain might be broken just like mine. If that's the case: enjoy.
*I don't know if this is just the BTN propaganda machine altering my perception of reality or what, but the more that I learn about these teams and write about them, I inevitably find myself feeling optimistic about them (except for Rutgers and Illinois, who will doubtlessly be terrible). So I guess you can consider this a disclaimer that even if these previews have a positive slant, you should realize that most of the teams in the bloated middle will probably be bad.
10/13/2018 – Michigan 38, Wisconsin 13 – 6-1, 4-0 Big Ten
Like anyone still standing after a 2-15 run against Ohio State, I have withered into a cynical-ass bastard more tree than man. We are the Michigan ents. The Ments. But even though this heart was long ago replaced by lignin, by God I felt it beat when Roy Roundtree and Denard Robinson popped up on the video board before the game. They talked about night games at Michigan Stadium in general. They also talked about one very specific game. I had feelings.
I did not know I had just been handed the most critical bit of the gameplan. Wisconsin did not, either. Wisconsin apparently did not know quarterbacks were, like, allowed to keep the ball. I feel like they should have known this. Even if they were completely unaware of the last 20 years of college football, surely their review of Michigan's game tape would tip them of that yes, occasionally the quarterback guy runs with the ball, and faster than you'd think.
Patterson pulled twice more, once for a redzone touchdown and once for another chunk run. The last saw Wisconsin actually respect the idea of a pull, somewhat, but Patterson was able to outpace a wrong-footed Badger defensive end anyway.
Then the backups came in and things went from intriguing to bizarre and hilarious. Dylan McCaffrey is slashing inside a block and outrunning an All-American linebacker to the endzone! Okay!
TJ Edwards is sad in the background [Eric Upchurch]
Joe Milton, who had approximately zero rushing yards in high school, is switching fields and outrunning the whole Badger defense to the other sideline! I thought this was Diet Coke, not Meth Coke! Who put meth in my Coke? Did you also give some to Paul Chryst? Ah that's fine then, good move.
Michigan's season-long con took in both the Badgers and your author; now revealed, it resets season expectations. Harbaugh noted the impact it had on Wisconsin's run defense when they suddenly had to play 11 v 11:
Coach, you had two quarterbacks that were a big part of things as far as running the ball. Was that element added to this game?
“Yeah, it was big. Shea (Patterson) really got things going in the first quarter with the long run. And the touchdown run he had, he was — allowed us to stretch their defense, get all their gaps, make them cover — make them account for as many gaps as we could. So that was a gameplan well-executed.”
Michigan spent most of their short yardage snaps in this game in a two-tight-end shotgun look that had everyone in Michigan Stadium agonizing about the absence of Ben Mason, but aside from one bad decision from Higdon to press outside Michigan converted every time. Frequently this was accomplished by a running back cutting back behind Juwann Bushell-Beatty, who was paving his man, as a Wisconsin defender gave Patterson his newfound due.
Maybe I'd been primed by the pregame video, but I thought about Michigan's approach in Denard's other Notre Dame masterpiece, the one on the road: after a slant to Roundtree set Michigan up at the two on Michigan's winning drive, shotgun, QB zone stretch, easy cutback, TD.
Patterson's not Denard Robinson but he's certainly fast enough to demand someone account for him. When that gets combined with a mauling right side of the line and a rapidly developing whole, you get something. You get 320 rushing yards. You get nearly 240 of those in the second half. You get fourth quarter drives on which Wisconsin knows you're going to kill the clock and can't stop you on six straight runs; the clock only stops getting stabbed to death 40 seconds at a time because you accidentally score a touchdown.
With the mesh point suddenly a real thing, possibilities open up. Ends can't charge willy-nilly at the quarterback. You can make those token play actions into defense-crippling ones with the extra time that buys you—something that Ohio State just struggled to defend this weekend. The corner that Michigan could turn to become a juggernaut offense is there, shockingly in sight.
Known Friends and Trusted Agents Of The Week
JBB is almost out of this shot, which is good [Fuller]
you're the man now, dog
#1(t) Juwann Bushell-Beatty and Jon Runyan Jr. Seriously. Not ironically. Not even in a throw-these-guys-a-bone sense. Patterson was iffy, Higdon fumbled, the defense didn't have a guy contributing except in scattered bursts: JBB and Runyan were the Michigan players most consistently helping Michigan down-to-down.
I don't think either gave up a pressure. JBB paved guys on a series of plays that cut to his side of the line; he was also the source of some of those zone stretch cutback runs. Meanwhile Michigan was usually running to Runyan's side of the line.
DOD was low with Wisconsin in desperation mode at DE, but I be like dang all the same. Both guys get three points because they're made up and don't matter and also this portion of the writeup is indeed me throwing them a bone.
#2 David Long. Both Long and Hill were avoided all night until the late Wisconsin TD drive when Hornibrook went after Hill's excellent coverage. Long didn't suffer those Mr. Tight Windows slings and arrows and was able to sell him twice on man coverage that turned out to be a trap—more below—that turned into a PBU and an interception.
#3 Karan Higdon. Did fumble. Did miss a hole or two. Also went over 100 yards and made some nice zone cuts; his ability was a major reason Michigan won a game in which they had four second half passing yards.
Honorable mention: The Spirit of Denard. Paul Chryst.
We can do this because people support us. You should support them too so they’ll want to do it again next year! The show is presented by UGP & The Bo Store, and if it wasn’t for Rishi and Ryan we would be saying all of this to our confused offspring.
Denard blessed the Michigan quarterbacks so they ran for 138 yards and 2 TDs. Shea's keepers. Bless Ed Warinner. Bless your heart, Shea's vision in this game. Where was Bench Mason? A few too many "We did A, next comes B." Other goofy stuff: Joe Milton package, McCaffrey as a WR. Second half they finally learned to throw. JBB didn't allow any pressure, was grinding.
Starts at 24:20
Got pushed around by Wisconsin's big boys, managed to hang in there, though that was in part thanks to SIX(!!) carries by Jonathan Taylor. What does Chase Winovich have to do to generate a holding call? Yes this is the chart thing everyone's been talking about. Critical INT thanks to trap coverage. Hornibrook had one completion for over two quarters. Watson almost got the same INT as last week. M had a hard time with those jet sweeps. Got Randy Rivers moving around, which nerfs his accuracy.
3. What Are You Doing Turtle?
Starts at 43:22
So many bad decisions. Everything after the give-up punt is sad scoring. In the first half he forgot running the clock down was a thing. First play of the sad touchdown drive Hornibrook was almost injured. Wisconsin couldn't keep themselves off of Cheeseman. Shutting down Wisconsin was well worth 30 yards of penalties. Somebody held up a #ThankYouAce sign.
4. Around the Big Ten with Jamie Mac
Starts at 57:55
NOTE: This segment had a recording issue (Brian and David were almost completely muted) so the quality isn't up to our usual standards. I spent many hours on Sunday repairing it because we have an exciting Big Ten West race going on. March of the B1G West QBs: David Blough hammers Illinois. Thorson's arm almost went off throwing to Flynn Nagel. Frost has aged 10 years per loss. Indiana can't stop tight ends and played Iowa. Rutgers forgot to field a kickoff. McSorley's average weekend. Ohio State's screen-a-thon.