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Big Ten Monday mailbag

9/8/2014

That was a rough weekend for the Big Ten. Let’s check out the damage and move on to the mailbag:

Anthony from New York, N.Y., writes: Who had the worst weekend, Michigan State, Ohio State, or Michigan?

Josh Moyer: That’s a tough one, but I have to go with Michigan. The Buckeyes had a freshman signal-caller up against a strong defense, while the Spartans played arguably the best team in the nation. To me, those outcomes weren’t nearly as surprising as with the Wolverines. This was the final contest in the series against Notre Dame, and the entire game was an absolute embarrassment as U-M failed to score a point and lost 31-0. At least MSU led in the second half, and OSU kept the game close. This was the first time Michigan was shut out in 365 games – that’s 30 years – and it was the most lopsided victory for Notre Dame in a series that dates back to 1887. Michigan State and Ohio State didn’t help themselves with those losses, but those games weren’t historically bad. Michigan’s was.


Josh Moyer: I was more down on Ohio State after its Navy win than most people, so maybe this answer will surprise you: Yes. Sure, this offensive line still has a ways to go. But it showed improvement in the second half of the Navy game - and the unit didn't perform as badly as the Virginia Tech game indicated. On 43 of J.T. Barrett's dropbacks, the Hokies brought five or more pass-rushers on 34 of them. Frank Beamer blitzed mercilessly all night, and Ohio State just didn't have an answer. Any offensive line would've struggled under that kind of pressure. As Barrett matures and Urban Meyer opens the playbook, they'll be able to make teams pay with that kind of aggressive scheme. But it's just not in the cards right now. This line will get better, and Ed Warinner will get them "right." But it's going to take time.



Cal from Minneapolis writes: How do you really see Penn State-Rutgers playing out?  A lot of buildup for this one, but Penn State beat Akron 21-3, Akron beat Howard 41-0, and Rutgers beat Howard 38-25.  Is the game really going to go down to the wire?

Josh Moyer: Careful about comparing scores like that, Cal. Those don't mean much. And my view of Rutgers has changed quite a bit since the preseason. The Knights have proved they're far from a pushover. Paul James belongs with the group of B1G backs who sit a notch below the elite ones. Gary Nova has looked good, and Leonte Carroo provides a speedy threat at receiver. So I'd be surprised if Penn State plowed right through this team. I still think the Lions will - and should - be favored, but I do expect a close one. Sure, on paper, the Howard game looked tighter than it should've been - but it was 31-7 at halftime, and Howard scored only when the game didn't matter anymore. (It was 21-0 at Akron-Howard halftime, if you're curious.) Penn State has a better defense than Rutgers' first two opponents, but Rutgers should provide the biggest offensive test for PSU since UCF's Pete DiNovo struggled in the opener. Rutgers will need to force turnovers in this one, while Christian Hackenberg needs to remain calm and not force the ball. It should be a good one.


Josh Moyer: I hear knitting's a relaxing hobby. Or maybe B1G fans could adopt an NFL team or take to watching hockey? No doubt, it's difficult to be a Big Ten fan right now. I wish I could tell you that better times are ahead, but ... ummm ... it can't get any worse? That's the best I can do right now. It's basically impossible for this conference to prove itself the rest of the regular season. It missed its big chance. So the hope has to be this conference can regroup, solidify those weak points (e.g. Wisconsin - QB, Penn State/OSU - OL) and have a strong bowl season. That's quite a while away, but what more can I tell you? In the words of Jeremy Fowler, the whole Big Ten had an "Urban-Meyer-eating-pizza-outside-the-locker-room kind of day." And it won't get any better until the conference can change minds by beating better nonconference opponents, an opportunity that really won't present itself until bowl season. A team like Michigan State needs to win out, gain a playoff spot and put up a solid showing for outsiders' minds to change about the conference.