Michigan has arrived back in Ann Arbor, meaning spring football is finally and officially done across the Big Ten. College football’s annual rite of passage is also done, and there is plenty of curiosity to go around.
That means it is time to take stock of where things sit heading in to the summer workout sessions and the season ahead. It is also the perfect time to really dive deep in to what we did and didn’t see this spring.
Let’s start with the Big Ten West division, which had two new head coaches and another head coach with his first real spring camp in the books. Minnesota got the P.J. Fleck era under way and Purdue welcomed Jeff Brohm’s high-flying offensive attack to the division. Meanwhile, Illinois’ Love Smith finally got to run a full spring practice without rushing things.
Which teams answered questions, which ones have big-time questions to answer this fall? Let us take a look at every Big Ten West division teams’ biggest question post-spring football.
10 Things to know about Wisconsin vs. Purdue
Wisconsin takes on Purdue this weekend, here are the 10 things you need to know about these two teams heading in to Saturday afternoon’s contest.
The Wisconsin Badgers are only two games in to their Big Ten journey, yet they are seemingly firmly in the driver’s seat. However, Saturday sees a different kind of challenge come to Camp Randall.
UW will face off against Purdue, which with a 1-1 record in B1G play to date come in as the only team not down by two games to the Badgers. Can Wisconsin stand tall and seemingly put the West division race to bed or will Purdue pull of a potentially program-defining victory?
It might seem easy given Wisconsin owns an 11-game win streak in the series. But, this Purdue team isn’t the doormat it once was. There’s life to the bunch from West Lafayette, Ind. these days. So, what do we need to know ahead of UW hosting the Boilermakers?
Let’s check out 10 things you need to know…
1: Alex Hornibrook is No. 1 in the Big Ten in passer efficiency rating
This is a number that may surprise some people given a few up-and-down performances. However, his passer efficiency rating of 167.2 tops the Big Ten and is No. 8 in the country. Hornibrook has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 1,011 yards and has 10 touchdowns to just four interceptions on the season. Those numbers suggest a highly efficient passer, and it should be noted that his 107 attempts are the second-fewest amongst all quarterbacks in the nation’s top 10 of passer efficiency.
2: That is the number of weekly Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week awards earned by Jonathan Taylor
It’s an impressive start to Taylor’s career at UW to say the least. He earned Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors for the second time this season after rushing for 249 yards in Wisconsin’s win at Nebraska last week. He also has won two Big Ten Freshman of the Week awards as well. All of that in just five games so far this season. Taylor’s 767 yards also leads the Big Ten, as does his nine touchdown runs and his 153.4 yards per game average.
3: Purdue ranks 3rd in the Big Ten in passing offense
There’s no doubt the Badgers defense is going to get its biggest challenge, at least in terms of the passing game this week. Purdue comes in averaging 265.2 yards per game in the passing game, while the Badgers pass defense is just fifth in the league and has been susceptible to the big play. However, Purdue’s yardage doesn’t tell the whole tale about its passing game. They’ll use two quarterbacks for part of the game, with David Blough and Elijah Sindelar both seeing snaps. That’s created some inconsistency at times, as Purdue has 13 passing TD’s to six interceptions. Three of those came against Louisville, while Michigan’s pressure got a pair of interceptions.
4: Jonathan Taylor’s 153.4 rushing yards per game sits 4th nationally
For all the talk of Saquon Barkley as the best running back in the country, the raw rushing numbers suggest a very different tale. Taylor not only leads the Big Ten with 153.4 yards per game, he is fourth in the country behind Stanford RB Bryce Love (206.7 ypg), Navy QB Zach Abey (174.0) and San Diego State RB Rashaad Penny (165.5). With some of the worst Big Ten defenses coming up, Taylor has a chance to really cement himself in the national picture heading in to key battles against Iowa and Michigan later this year.
5: Through 5 games this season, Wisconsin has allowed only 48 rushing yards in the second half.
Just how dominant are the Badgers in the second half? Defensively you can’t even think of running the football, because it just doesn’t work. 48 rushing yards on 55 carries in five games speaks volumes, it also means about 1.1 yards per carry for opponents in the second half of games. Purdue may be a pass-first team, but they are also averaging a decent 4.1 yards per carry so far this season.
6: That is Wisconsin’s rank in tackles for loss thus far in the Big Ten
One of the hallmarks of Wisconsin’s stingy defense has been its ongoing ability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. The Badgers have racked up 35 tackles for loss so far this season, on pace to top last season’s 75 tackles for loss. UW has also put up two games with 10 or more tackles for loss (Florida Atlantic and Northwestern). Last weekend was a low mark, as the Badgers had just two TFL’s. Let’s see if that changes against Purdue’s pass-happy offense.
7: Wisconsin has allowed just 7.0 sacks so far this season
It’s an impressive number considering the moving parts for UW’s offensive line. Only David Edwards and Tyler Biadsz have avoided the injury report so far this season. Injuries have run deep beyond the starters as well, and so it is impressive that UW ranks 5th in the Big Ten in fewest sacks given up.
8: Purdue spreads the ball around a lot in the pass game, with an average of 8.8 players with a reception per game.
Wisconsin’s secondary has been pretty good at taking away multiple passing options this season, but the Boilermakers throw a lot more bodies at teams than UW is used to facing. Can an already thin Badgers secondary stand up to the pure volume of bodies the Boilermakers will throw at them?
9: UW ranks ninth in the nation in scoring defense
The Badgers defense has been stingy to say the least, allowing opponents just 14.2 points per game on the season. In fact, no one has scored more than 24 points on them all season long. Purdue comes in to this game averaging 29.6 points, so that should make things interesting at Camp Randall on Saturday.
10: (x2) That is the number of red zone chances Purdue has had on the season.
Purdue has been the best team in the Big Ten when it reaches the red zone, converting on 19 of 20 opportunities inside the opponents 20-yard line this year. Wisconsin’s defense has been the second best against opponents in the red zone, allowing just 10 of 15 possessions to end in a score. Something is going to have to give in this matchup, and the red zone is going to be a key factor on both sides of the equation it appears.
Every Big Ten West team’s biggest recruiting battle before national signing day
It seems like only yesterday that a Big Ten team was hoisting the national championship trophy, but we’re actually inching closer to the biggest day of the offseason — national signing day.
That means recruits are taking last-minute visits, coaches are crisscrossing the country to visit players and offers are going out on a nearly daily basis. To say these next few weeks will be crazy is a bit of an understatement, however the Big Ten is in on some major battles nationally and regionally as we head down the homestretch of the 205 recruiting cycle.
That means every team is putting out maximum effort to get the guys they want to sign to actually sign and fax in national letter of intent on the first Wednesday in February.
It also means that battles are heating up all over the country. Which battles are the Big Ten involved in? Let’s start by looking at the biggest battles for the Big Ten West.