Big Ten No Huddle takes a look at some of the top storylines heading into week 4 of the 2012 season:
Minnesota moves to 3-0 for the first time since 2008 despite losing starting quarterback Marqueis Gray to an ankle injury in Saturday’s 28-23 win over Western Michigan. The Golden Gophers wereboosted by the play of Max Shortell, who passed for 188 yards and 3TDs. Sophomore running back Donnell Kirkwood ran for another 110 yards on 23 carries for the Gophers.
The Gophers will host Syracuse on Saturday. Gray’s status for the game is uncertain, pending the results of an MRI on his ankle. The good news for Minnesota fans, however, is that their three wins already match the season totals from both 2010 and 2011.
Nebraska received a scare last Saturday afternoon despite easily dispatching of Arkansas State 42-13. Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini was rushed to the hospital for tests mid-way through the Cornhuskers game versus the Red Wolves, although tests came back negative. The Cornhuskers have not provided a reason as to why coach Pelini was taken to the hospital; this is certainly a situation to keep an eye on as the Big Ten moves toward conference play in the coming weeks.
Penn State notched its first win of the season in a blowout, routing the Midshipmen of Navy 34-7 in Happy Valley. Quarterback Matt McGloin played a near flawless game on Saturday, passing for 231 yards and 4 TDs. The Nittany Lions will look to make it two in a row as they host the Temple Owls this Saturday.
Illinois routed Charleston Southern 44-0 despite missing starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhasse and running back Josh Ferguson. Backup quarterback Reilly O’Toole threw for 333 yards and 5TDs for the Illini, who improve to 2-1 under first-year head coach Tim Beckman.
A week after looking like the cream of the Legends division, Michigan State fell flat on its face against Notre Dame, losing 20-3 to the Irish in East Lansing. Despite tailback Le’Veon Bell rushing for 77 yards, the Spartans never really got into any offense rhythm against the Irish. The Spartans will face a tune-up in Eastern Michigan this weekend before hosting Ohio State to open Big Ten play.
Speaking of Ohio State, it appears that Urban Meyer’s squad will be undergoing more than a bit of growing pains in his first year as head coach. While it was assumed the offense, without the necessary speed at the skill positions, would be a work in progress, the defense was supposed to be the strong point of this team.
Last Saturday, against California, at times it looked as if a defense that gave up 512 yards of total offense would be hard-pressed to stop even some high school teams.
It is apparent that the athletes on this Buckeyes’ defense have been trained to make a big play, whether that means they are stripping the ball, disrupting the pass, etc. However, if they can’t execute proper form tackling in the next few weeks, a four or five loss season is a distinct possibility.
Wolverine fans shouldn’t get too excited about Michigan’s 63-14 win on Saturday; after all, it was just Massachusetts. Yet it should be noted that these teams also played in 2010, and Michigan barely notched a 42-37 win then.
It would appear at least for the time being that the offense has regained the swagger it had at the end of last season. Of Denard Robinson’s 397 yards total offense against the Minutemen, 291 came thru the air on 16 of 24 passing. If the Wolverines are to win the Big Ten this year, they will need more performances like that from their senior quarterback.
Up next for the Wolverines are the aforementioned Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, who just dispatched of Michigan State. Michigan has won the last three in this series, each by four points.
Wisconsin continues to struggle offensively, as the Badgers eke out a win over Utah State by the narrowest of margins, 16-14. The Badgers were not only preseason favorites to win a Leaders Division in which OSU and Penn State are ineligible for postseason play, but they were also considered to be a dark horse candidate for the BCS championship. As it stands now, the Badgers are far from a lock to make it to the Big Ten Title game.
Finally, Purdue is a team that has been flying under the radar in the Big Ten to date. The Boilermakers, who lost a heart breaker to Notre Dame two weeks ago 20-17, put up 576 yards of total offense last weekend against Eastern Michigan. It may be too early to say whether this team is a legitimate contender, but they are certainly a squad that shouldn’t be overlooked.