Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Big Ten stock report: Week 8
By Brian Bennett
If my rap's soup, this post is stock.
Dan Herron: The Ohio State running back sat out the first five games as part of the tattoo scandal, then missed a sixth game because of a summer job-related suspension. He returned last week as if he'd never been gone, rushing 23 times for 114 times and scoring his team's only offensive touchdown in a 17-7 win over Illinois. Guess he was worth the wait.
Michigan State's offensive line: The Spartans had three new starters at the beginning of the season up front, then had to replace two guys because of injury. They struggled establishing a running game the first five weeks. But last week against Michigan, the line paved the way for 167 yards rushing by Edwin Baker and generally pushed the Wolverines around. Mark Dantonio said Dan France played with the most confidence he's had all season, while Fou Fonoti and Travis Jackson also showed strong improvement. If the line keeps playing like that, with the way Michigan State's defense is performing, the Spartans will be hard to beat.
Marcus Coker: Much was expected from Coker after his huge finish to 2010, but Iowa's sophomore running back was inconsistent earlier this season and had had some fumbling problems. He had perhaps his best game last weekend against Northwestern, running 22 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns and showing the power that got people got so excited about him in the first place. "It was almost like he'd been thinking a little too much when he'd been back there," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "I thought Saturday was clearly the most decisive he's been in terms of just going with the cut. He looked a little more aggressive as a result of that. Hopefully we're on the right track."
Stephen Houston: Kevin Wilson isn't real happy with his running game, but Houston has at least given Indiana something to work with. A junior-college transfer who had signed with North Carolina and ended up in Bloomington just before fall camp, Houston ran for 135 yards on 19 carries, including a 67-yard touchdown, last week at Wisconsin. He had 138 total yards a week earlier against Illinois. "He had to kind of play himself into shape," Wilson said. "He has practiced well for three or four weeks and has some good momentum."
Nate Stupar: Michael Mauti's season-ending knee injury looked like a big blow for the Penn State defense, and no doubt the Lions would love to have their star linebacker. But Stupar has stepped in superbly and helped keep the defense air tight. He came up with the interception that sealed last week's win over Purdue. "Now our problem would be if something happened to Stupar," Joe Paterno said. "But Stupar has played well. I think there's no question about that."
Against the Wind: Maybe the Big Ten should eliminate Chicago as a potential title game destination in the future. Based on what we saw this weekend, league quarterbacks would not enjoy the Windy City. The Purdue-Penn State, Michigan-Michigan State and Ohio State-Illinois games were all affect by severely windy conditions. The quarterbacks in those games went a combined 70-of-146 (47.9 percent accuracy). More hot dog wrappers hit Michigan receivers than Denard Robinson pass attempts. Ohio State had the best idea -- run the ball 51 out of 55 times. The Buckeyes scored as many touchdowns off an interception return as they did their own offense.
Purdue's special teams: Carson Wiggs may have the strongest leg in the league, but it's not always a precision-based tool. He missed an extra point and a 44-yard field goal try and sailed a kickoff out of bounds to aid a Penn State scoring drive as the Boilermakers lost by just five points. But it wasn't all Wiggs' fault (and the wind certainly didn't help him). Purdue's kickoff coverage team let Chaz Powell go 92 yards on a return to set up the game's final field goal. The Boilers don't have enough margin for error to give away points and so much field position on special teams.
Carlos Hyde's Twitter feed: The Ohio State running back rushed for more than 100 yards against Nebraska and then mostly stayed on the bench against Illinois as Herron returned. Hyde let out his frustration on Twitter, typing "Guess I'm not good enough. Take myself elsewhere." Hyde later deleted the tweet, but not before a flood of rumors began about him transferring. Unhappiness is understandable, but there are better forums to express it.
Illinois' rushing game: The Illini boasted a powerful ground assault earlier in the season against some lesser opponents, but against Ohio State that running game was mostly, uh, grounded. They managed just 116 yards on 35 carries, an average of only 3.3 yards per attempt. Two games earlier, Illinois had just 82 rushing yards versus a shaky Northwestern defense. Paul Petrino's offense is at its best when it is balanced, and that starts with a strong rushing game.
Eggheads: I realize strength of schedule plays a huge role and that these things will even out over time, but some of the BCS computer rankings of Wisconsin are laughable. My favorite is the Massey Ratings, which has the Badgers 17th, or one spot behind Nebraska, despite the tiny fact that Wisconsin beat the Huskers by 31 points. Massey also has Texas ranked 11th. Um, OK. Colley Matrix isn't much better with the Badgers at 14, while Peter Wolfe puts them 12th. I don't need any software to know that their wiring is all wrong.