About Last Week
The Road Ahead
Rutger (1-8, 0-6 B1G)
Last week: Lost at Wisconsin 31-17
Recap: We’ve passed the point of “damning with faint praise,” and we’ve moved firmly into “damning with utter contempt but not actual physical violence.” That said, this could have been way worse. Rutger put up 5.1 yards per play, their best outing since Week 1 against Texas State. Art Sitkowski threw for 261 yards at 6.7 yards per attempt, and had a positive TD-INT ratio for the first time in his career (1 TD to 0 INTs, BUT STILL), and has now gone two consecutive games without a pick (also a career high).
That said, this was actually way worse than it looks. S&P’s adjusted margin here was nearly 40 points. 43% of Rutger’s yards came on their last two drives, after the competitive portion of the game was already very much over. Before that, they averaged 3.9 yards per play. Defensively, the only way Rutger slowed Wisconsin was with two first half interceptions from a clearly busted Alex Hornibrook. Wisconsin rushed for 323 yards at 7.2 yards per carry (sack-adjusted), and Wisconsin was never really threatened despite a terrible day from Hornibrook.
This team is as frightening as: XXX Fear Level = XXX
Michigan should worry about: I mean, if it DID happen…
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Lest there be any concern about Michigan not being properly motivated, I’m sure they have not forgotten this happened:
In the 10 quarters since those players decided words were a good idea, Michigan has outscored Rutger 127-14, and has outgained it 1254 yards to 334 yards.
When they play Michigan: Michigan will likely be victorious.
Next week: vs. Michigan, 3:30 p.m., BTN (Rutger +two-thirds of a point per minute)
[AFTER THE JUMP: eleven other, better football teams.]
Indiana (4-5, 1-5 B1G)
Last week: Bye
Recap: No Recap. Bye.
This team is as frightening as: Verbal Kint. The last guy you would expect to be Keyser Soze… but that’s kind of the point. Fear Level = 3.5, and only because of history.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Indiana has imploded in conference play. They exited week 3 at 3-0, including a win over not-completely-awful Virginia, and were the #23 team in the country in overall S&P+. Since then they are 1-5, with their sole win being a 7-point win over Rutger. And the one thing you thought Indiana might be able to count on, the defense, has regressed over the year. They have surrendered 6.27 yards per play in conference, and they still have two top-25 offenses left to play in Purdue and Michigan (they also play Maryland, who is a top-25 offense if they roll the correct number on the 12-sided die that week).
Michigan should worry about: Indiana is possibly the ONE TEAM Michigan can’t look back on to find any purported slight or motive for vengeance. Like, they literally haven’t beaten Michigan during these players’ lifetimes, and the last decade has been nothing but shots to the dong.
When they play Michigan: Michigan has played the best of Indiana teams, and Indiana has played the worst of Michigan teams, and in each case the ending was the same. And this is most definitely neither the best of Indiana teams nor the worst of Michigan teams.
Next week: vs. Maryland, noon, BTN (IU -3)
Ohio State (8-1, 5-1 B1G)
Last week: Beat Nebraska, 36-31
Recap: Ohio State finally got their running game going. Their 229 yards and 5.73 yards per carry were both their best since week one against Oregon State. JK Dobbins and Mike Weber combined for 32 carries for 254 yards (7.9 YPC). Granted, it was against the #92 S&P+ rush defense, but it still counts.
The defense, continued to struggle, though this was a marginal step in the right direction coming off their bye week. Last season, Ohio State allowed 4.1 yards per play to conference opponents. This year, that number is 5.8 yards per play (and against non-Rutger opponents, it jumps to 6.4 yards per play). Nebraska is the third team this year OSU has held under their season YPP average, joining Tulane and Rutger.
Overall, this was Ohio State’s third straight wobbly performance. Minnesota took them to the fourth quarter. Purdue beat the hell out of them. And now Nebraska pushed them to the brink despite some major goofs. I mean, how many data points do you need before you see a pattern developing, say to yourself, “this is becoming a problem,” and take steps to correct it?
This team is as frightening as: A grizzly bear who ate all the food at your camp site, including a big tray of pot brownies. You have seen these creatures maul shit on the Discovery Channel, and you know what they are physically capable of. But you’re watching him like, “I know SOMETHING’s gonna happen, and it feels like that something is that he’s just gonna lay down and take a nap, but maybe he will suddenly freak the hell out and start wrecking things. Do bears freak out when they get stoned? We don’t have a lot of data points here.” Fear Level = 9
Trust me, bear… you do not want to know what has been in that cooler
Michigan should worry about: Bears still maul things.
Michigan can sleep soundly about: Ohio State has beaten one top-40 S&P+ team all season. Their opponents are 32-49 on the year. They’ve only played two teams with winning records, and one of those teams beat then by 29 points. And if you put their two-point win over Penn State (in which they were seriously outgained) into the context of PSU’s defenestration in Ann Arbor, and it’s fair to say that OHIO STATE AIN’T PLAYED NOBODY.
When they play Michigan: Finally.
Next week: @ Michigan State, noon, FOX (OSU -3.5)
Objects in the Rearview Mirror
Notre Dame (9-0)
Last week: Won at Northwestern, 31-21
Recap: Notre Dame was both lucky and unlucky. They were unlucky in that they nearly doubled up Northwestern on a yards-per-play basis (6.3 to 3.6), nearly tripled the yards per pass attempt (10.1 to 3.4), and had nearly twice as many scoring opportunities (7 to 4), yet somehow the game was still close at the end.
They were lucky, though, in that despite dominating this game, they really could have lost it. Northwestern managed to cut a 24-7 deficit to 24-21 through a classic Northwestern tactic of “some bullshit,” and forced Notre Dame into a couple of third downs that could have gotten the Wildcats the ball back with a chance to win.
If you believe S&P+ and/or Vegas, Notre Dame has a little better than a 50/50 shot to win their next three games. Florida State is gawdawful this year (they are probably going to miss a bowl game for the first time since 1981 and finish with a losing record for the first time since 1976), but Syracuse is somehow ranked #13 in the country (despite having two losses, having their second best win be over the aforementioned Florida State, and being ranked #58 in S&P+), and USC still has a lot of talent despite a coaching situation that can best be described as “Drevno-adjacent.” A loss would be *extremely* helpful for reasons we will ideally have to discuss on or after November 25th.
Next week: vs. Florida State, 7:30 p.m., NBC (ND -18)
Western Michigan (6-4, 4-2 MAC)
Last week: Lost to Ohio, 59-14
Recap: We discussed how the loss of starting quarterback Jon Wassink sunk Western Michigan in 2017. Well, what’s past is prologue, and what’s present is gonna be bad.
Western turned the ball over five times, missed a 39-yard field goal, and had a punt returned for a touchdown, all in the first half. At one point they fumbled back-to-back kickoffs; the offense left the field down 21-0, and the next time they ran an offensive play they were down 38-0. I mean, look at this first half drive chart:
Next week: Bye
SMU (4-5, 3-2 AAC)
Last week: Beat Houston, 45-31
Recap: This was rather unexpected. Houston was ranked #17. And were 7-1 overall and 4-0 in the AAC, with their only loss coming at Texas Tech. But SMU jumped out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter, and never trailed in the game. Twice Houston cut the lead down to one score, and twice SMU responded with touchdowns. Ben Hicks threw for 318 yards and 4 TDs, and SMU earned only their second win over a ranked opponent since 2011. The other win? Over #11 Houston two years ago.
So, now “SMU is Michigan’s best non-conference win” is a defensible position, which says something about something, or more likely says a little about a lot of things. But the ‘Stangs just need two more wins to become bowl-eligible, and this week they get the tastiest of cupcakes on the menu in an abject UConn team. Win that, and they need to pluck just one from either Memphis or Tulsa.
Next week: @ UConn, noon, ESPN3 (SMU -19)
Nebraska (2-7, 1-5 B1G)
Last week: Lost at Ohio State, 36-31
Recap: Make no mistake: Nebraska yakked this one up.
I know that sounds weird to say about a 2-6 team playing the #10 team in the country, but Nebraska really should have won this game. But they committed some really dumb, untimely turnovers…
Adrian Martinez throws backwards for JD Spielman, who misses the errant pitch on the run-pass option and Jonathon Cooper recovers the loose fumble at Ohio State's 16. Nebraska had 1st-and-goal from the 5. pic.twitter.com/VqMsMfzttU
— Garrett Stepien (@GarrettStepien) November 3, 2018
… and their execution was, shall we say, less than crisp.
All of this left Nebraska down 9 points with 8 minutes left and facing a 4th and goal from the Ohio State 1 yards line. And Scott Frost kicked an 18-yard field goal. Nebraska has struggled with some understandable transition pains, personnel issues, and lingering programmatic Mike Riley stank, but in the biggest moment of Frost’s young tenure, he blinked. He blinked hard.
It isn’t going to matter too much right now, but file this one away for the future. I don't think Scott Frost is James Franklin or Paul Chryst, but who knows what prolonged exposure to those two might do to Frost's brain.
Still, this has been an encouraging month or so from Nebraska, especially offensively. Adrian Martinez has a passing touchdown in every non-Michigan game he's played this year, and has at least two total TDs in every non-Michigan game other than Northwestern. He is averaging 8.1 yards per attempt, which is just behind Shea Patterson and ahead of the likes of Alex Hornibrook, Nate Stanley, Trace McSorley, Clayton Thorson, and Brian Lewerke.
Next week: vs. Illinois, noon, BTN (NEB -17)
Northwestern (5-4, 5-1 B1G)
Last week: Lost to Notre Dame, 31-21
Recap: The score was close, so we’ll call this a moral victory for Northwestern. Just don’t look too closely.
The more important thing is that the dream of a 5-7 Big Ten West Champion is still alive. And, if anything, it was strengthened this weekend with Iowa’s loss to Purdue. Here are the remaining hurdles:
- Northwestern obviously has to lose out. If you believe S&P+, that’s about a 10% likelihood event.
- Iowa has to drop at least one of Nebraska and @ Illinois. Dropping both would be ideal, as it would remove any need for a multi-team tiebreaker.
- Wisconsin and Purdue each need to drop two games. They play each other in two weeks, so we’re a quarter of the way there already. But that means we need probably Indiana to beat Purdue in Week 13, and we’re going to need Minnesota to knock off at least one of these teams.
Also… and I know this is only tangentially related to The Dream, but… in this scenario, Illinois can still technically get to 5-4 in conference as well, and they just played their best game of the season.
Next week: @ Iowa, 3:30 p.m., FOX (NW +10)
Maryland (5-4, 3-3 B1G)
Last week: Lost to Michigan State, 24-3
Recap: During the 20 minute period during which DJ Durkin was reinstated as Maryland’s head coach, I thought to myself “I wonder if Maryland is going to refuse to play football this weekend.” But, in hindsight, I’m not sure whether we would notice the difference.
This kind of was outing was probably inevitable after the week Maryland had, but it was still jarring. A week after totaling 712 yards at 10.3 yards per play against Illinois, Maryland was held to 100 total yards at 1.9 yards per play against Michigan State. They were held to 26 rushing yards.
Maryland’s season is hard to put into words. Each of their last 8 games has seen a margin of victory of 21+ points. They are 4-4 in those 8 games, and they have alternated perfectly between blowout wins and blowout losses. Each week their scoring margin has been at least 48 points better or worse than the week before. They’re like a metronome of derp. A werewolf of incompetence, but one who is triggered by half-moons. And the variation has been almost entirely a result of offensive inconsistency. Look at their yards-per-carry for every game this season:
Not unlike garage doors
So what I’m saying is that Maryland will average $Texas yards per carry against IU this weekend, and then be set ablaze on a literal Viking funeral barge the against Ohio State in two weeks. The math has spoken.
And if Maryland wants to make a bowl game, they'd better win this weekend. Because they close with Ohio State at home and Penn State on the road.
Next week: @ Indiana, noon, BTN (MD +3)
Wisconsin (6-3, 4-2 B1G)
Last week: Beat Rutger, 31-17
Recap: Beat Rutger.
Next week: @ Penn State, noon, ABC (WIS +8)
Michigan State (6-3, 4-2 B1G)
Last week: Won at Maryland, 24-3
Recap: Yes, they outgained Maryland 356-100. But that doesn’t mean they weren’t considering Sparty No-ing this one anyway. They were up 10-3 when Connor Heyward fumbled on the Maryland 1 yard line (known as the LJ Scott Special), but MSU recovered in the end zone to go up 17-3. A couple of possessions later, Rocky Lombardi had a deflected pass intercepted at about the 15 yard line, but on his way into the end zone Byron Cowart was stripped and fumbled into the end zone where once again MSU recovered. Connor Heyward ran the next play 80 yards for a touchdown, and the game was over.
Brian Lewerke and Rocky Lombardi combined to go 11/22 for 87 yards, 0 TDs, and 2 INTs. Lewerke is broken at this point, but Dantonio continues to put him out there for reasons. That's his second straight start with fewer than 100 yards passing and less than 4.4 yards per attempt. Against Michigan in adverse weather, I get it. Against Maryland… yeah maybe sit him down.
Well there's your problem (Barron)
Now, after years of watching Michigan State/Ohio State with a mild bitterness and a rooting interest in a sudden localized zombie apocalypse scenario, Michigan fans can now happily cheer for Michigan State to win this game. And while that might seem a little uncomfortable for Wolverines, imagine how that feels for Spartans. Knowing that a win almost certainly hands Michigan the Big Ten East title. Knowing your happiness gives Michigan fans happiness. It isn't a comfortable peace; more of a Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta situation. As they say, the enemy of my enemy is my brother.
Next week: vs. Ohio State, noon, FOX (MSU +3.5)