Big Ten explosion plays in 2010

The Big Ten showed a slight improvement in big-play offense in 2010, while the league continued a trend of limiting big plays on defense.

Thanks to colleague Chris Low and the fine folks at ESPN Stats & Info, I've acquired the breakdown of big plays (20 yards and longer) from the 2010 season. Let's take a closer look.


The Big Ten had three teams rank among the top 30 nationally in plays of 20 yards or longer after placing zero teams in the top 30 in 2009. Penn State and Illinois are the Big Ten's last teams to rank among the top 20. The Lions tied for 16th with 68 and the Illini tied for 19th with 67 during the 2008 season.

Here's how the Big Ten offenses ranked nationally in 2010:

T-18: Ohio State (67 plays of 20 yards or longer)

T-24: Michigan (65 plays)

T-32: Penn State (61)

T-35: Michigan State (60)

T-62: Illinois (54)

T-62: Wisconsin (54)

T-66: Minnesota (53)

T-72: Northwestern (51)

T-77: Iowa (49)

T-84: Indiana (47)

T-117: Purdue (28)

Other notable teams

T-21: Nebraska (66) -- Entering the Big Ten in 2011

T-7. San Diego State (78) -- coached by new Michigan boss Brady Hoke and coordinator Al Borges

9. Northern Illinois (77) -- coached by Jerry Kill and current Minnesota staff

17. Oklahoma (68) -- New Indiana coach Kevin Wilson served as Sooners' offensive coordinator

Quick thoughts:

  • Aside from Michigan, the Big Ten's pro-style offenses (Ohio State, Penn State, Michigan State) seemed more conducive to making big plays. Spread teams like Northwestern and Indiana moved the ball but lacked big-play ability, perhaps because both teams struggled to find capable running backs.

  • Wisconsin's record-setting offensive season didn't feature a ton of big plays. The Badgers picked up big gains on first down and second down, stayed out of third-and-long situations, and mounted sustained drives that usually ended in touchdowns.

  • Although Penn State's offense has seen some ups and downs in production, the Lions have been the steadiest big-play offense in the league, averaging 63.3 plays of 20 yards or longer in the past three seasons.

  • The Big Ten's three new coaching staffs and its new member (Nebraska) all boasted big-play offenses in 2010. It will be interesting to see how the Huskers and the new coaches fare in their new league.

That brings us to ...


The Big Ten had four defenses ranked among the top 20 nationally in preventing the big play (20 yards or longer) after placing three defenses among the top six in 2009. Three Big Ten squads -- Iowa, Ohio State and Penn State -- have been among the national leaders in each of the past three seasons.

Here's how the Big Ten defenses ranked in 2010:

T-4: Iowa (33 plays of 20 yards or longer allowed)

T-11: Ohio State (37)

T-14: Penn State (39)

T-14: Purdue (39)

T-31: Illinois (45)

T-36: Michigan State (46)

T-41: Wisconsin (48)

T-49: Indiana (49)

T-99: Northwestern (63)

T-102: Michigan (64)

106: Minnesota (66)

Other notable teams

T-25: Nebraska (43)

T-69: San Diego State (54)

T-69: Northern Illinois (54)

Quick thoughts:

  • We knew Michigan's porous defense had trouble preventing big plays, but Northwestern and Minnesota also struggled mightily. Northwestern's defense really needs to get back on track, while new coaching staffs hope to repair the Wolverines and the Gophers.

  • Purdue's rank is encouraging for several reasons. The Boilers surrendered 11 fewer explosion plays than they did in 2009. If they can get the offense healthy and back on course, they should be much improved this fall.

  • Illinois also made a significant jump under first-year coordinator Vic Koenning, allowing 12 fewer explosion plays than it did in 2009.

  • Iowa is the lone Big Ten team to rank among the top 10 nationally in preventing big plays in each of the past three seasons.