Five B1G Things We Learned - Post Week Twelve
Phil Harrison solves the world’s problems one reflection at a time. If that falls short, he can at least give you five of the biggest things to take away from each week’s Big Ten action. It’s football in the heartland -- so read on.
By Phil Harrison
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Five B1G Things We Learned - Post Week 12
5. Michigan and Northwestern are the two biggest disappointments in the conference for 2013
I’d like to call it an epic battle, but the game in Evanston Saturday was more of a consolation game for letdown team of the year than anything else. Both teams came into the season ranked, both were supposed to contend for the Legends division and maybe more, but both have taken a dive into dangerous and rocky waters.
For Pat Fitzgerald’s crew, It’s remarkable and almost unfathomable that after sitting at 5-0, and ranked 16th in the country prior to a home game against Ohio State on October 5th, that they’ve now lost six-straight and are in danger of not even making a bowl. The culprit has been an inability to close out close games. All told, the Wildcats have now lost four-straight games by seven points or less -- two of them in overtime. That has to change.
And what can we say about Michigan? There were a lot of national folks picking the Wolverines as a dark-horse national-title contender, let alone Big Ten juggernaut. It simply has not happened for a myriad of reasons. There have been way too many turnovers from the quarterback spot, spotty offensive-line play at best, and curious coaching moves. The Maize and Blue are headed to a bowl-game, but it’ll likely fall much earlier on the calendar than anyone would have anticipated.
4. Illinois might be in a world of hurt after Nathan Scheelhaase graduates
Getting beat 60-35 isn’t anything close to a moral victory, and not having a conference victory since Ron Zook was wearing the headset certainly isn’t anything to retweet to Illini nation, but there have signs of life in Champaign. Yes indeed, the pulse appears to be getting a little stronger if you will.
Yeah, I know, defense is an optional package in Memorial stadium for the home team. But Tim Beckman is starting to get things turned around on the offensive-side as he installs his system in year two, largely on the arm and legs of senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase.
Did you notice I said he’s a senior? That means Scheelhaase -- who will likely leave Illinois as the all-time offense leader in program history -- is off to real-world next year. With him goes the over 280 yards of passing that has been the lone bright spot for Illinois this year. He displayed his talent and moxie against Ohio State on Saturday or the score would have been much worse.
With Scheelhaase’s departure, it’s time to re-tool with O’Toole next year as junior Reilly O’Toole will likely assume the starting roll under center. He’ll have running back Josh Ferguson to work with, but the Illini haven’t blown the doors off with recruiting under Beckman’s watch, so it doesn’t appear that there’s much else there to turn things around. It’s going to be tough to pull the program out of the abyss without some continuity at the quarterback position.
Well, at least there’s a game against Purdue next week ...
3. Indiana still has a long way to go before anyone can take it seriously
Remember everyone’s preseason surprise team of the Big Ten this year? C’mon, you believed that Indiana would make some noise in the conference too with another year under Kevin Wilson. Well, with two games left to go, it’s now safe to say that the Hoosiers still need some seasoning -- a lot.
You knew the offense would be there, and it’s sure fun to watch at times, but the defense hasn’t been able to make enough stops to keep up with their end of the bargain. Bottom line: When you’re ranked No. 117 in the nation in points against, well, you’d better score more points than a pinball machine. No dice. Kevin Wilson would be well-advised to put some athletes on that side of the ball in the future.
2. Nebraska misses Taylor Martinez
News out of Lincoln is that senior quarterback Taylor Martinez’s career may be over. That’s too bad because we’ll never know how good Nebraska could have been with him fully healthy this year.
To be fair, it’s not like freshman Tommy Armstrong has been horrible. In fact, it has been quite the opposite, as he’s filled in admirably going 5-1 as a starter when Martinez has been too injured to give it a go. But that’s not the point. Nebraska is a good enough program to win against lesser competition with a back-up quarterback. It’s the games against really good competition that you feel the pinch of missing a player the caliber of Martinez, and it was on full display Saturday.
Michigan State forced the ‘Huskers into five turnovers that literally decided the game. The Spartans were able to key on the run game while bringing pressure to disrupt things against a quarterback with little experience. The result was the turnover fest that ensued, and the rest was history.
With Martinez in the lineup, Sparty would have had to play more honest and respect the threat through the air, as well as keeping an eye on his running ability when things broke down. It’s doubtful that we’d still be talking about five turnovers and more likely that the Spartans could have been playing the “what-if” game.
If his college career is indeed over, we all wish Taylor Martinez well.
1. To truly have a shot against a Florida State or Alabama, Ohio State’s defense has to be better.
Yeah I’m a self-proclaimed Big Ten guy, but it’s time to call a spade a spade. It is highly unlikely that Ohio State could pull off a win against Florida State or Alabama (and hold the phone on Baylor) with the way its defense has played this year.
I’ll give you the offenses ability to put up points, but can you really in your heart of hearts believe that the Buckeyes could slow down a Florida State attack behind Jameis Winston and company, or push back enough against a talented, balanced, and physical Nick Saban led Alabama team? If you believe the answer is yes, then may I remind you of the inconsistencies that OSU has shown this year on defense? The Buckeyes currently rank No. 13 in total points allowed, but against teams that can move the ball, they’ve given up 34 (Cal), 24 (Wisconsin), 30 (Northwestern), and 35 (Illinois).
So where has all of the inconsistency come from? Yeah the front seven is young, but more importantly there are some depth concerns, most notably at linebacker and in the secondary. The defensive-line has played above expectations, but when it’s not firing on all cylinders, the linebackers and secondary have been exposed a bit.
Unfortunately, at this point of the season, depth isn’t going to get any better. That means if OSU does get an opportunity to play for a national championship, the D-line will have to play lights out, and the offense will need to be on point -- and then some.
At least, that’s how I see it right now ...