The two biggest surprises of the Big Ten meet Saturday with a lot to prove.
Who ever believed Northwestern would offer this type of suffocating defense so far? Many doubted that Jim Harbaugh would be able to get a scuffling Michigan program rolling this fast so soon.
And yet both are ranked, are a combined 9-1 and boast the top two scoring defenses in the nation. Northwestern is yielding only 7 points a game; Michigan 7.6.
Certainly, Pat Fitzgerald’s Wildcats still have some convincing to do, especially on offense. They did, though, just turn in their best all-around game in a shutout of Minnesota.
The Wildcats also are in the middle of tough run. After Michigan, they face undefeated Iowa in Evanston before hitting the road to play a desperate Nebraska team. A bye week then stands between them and Penn State.
Meanwhile, since a tough opening loss to Utah on the road, the Wolverines have roared back, especially on defense. Will playing in the Big House Saturday give them the edge in what appears to be a most evenly-matched game?
Michigan, under defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, is ranked nationally in total defense (No. 2), passing yards allowed (No. 3) and rushing defense (No. 5). The last time a Michigan defense held four-straight opponents to seven points or less was 30 years ago — when Harbaugh was its quarterback.
Northwestern and Michigan get together at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.
Check out this post from the Detroit Free Press that talks about a big loss for that Michigan defense and preparations for the Northwestern game.
Learn more here about the Wildcats from the Daily Northwestern.
Ohio State keeps searching for its power
The Ohio State Buckeyes continue to be the biggest mystery in the league despite their unblemished record.
Is it an issue of simply finding the right spots on the field for so much overwhelming talent?
Of course, that’s what Urban Meyer is getting paid so handsomely to figure out. And yet an offense with so many big expectations, one that appeared so dominant against Virginia Tech in the opener, has looked disjointed and underwhelming since.
It took a monster second half of running by tailback Ezekiel Elliott (274 yards and three long touchdown runs) to rescue the Buckeyes offensively at Indiana last Saturday. Meanwhile, former star quarterback Braxton Miller has all but disappeared as a receiver and starting quarterback Cardale Jones has looked pedestrian. Meanwhile, former standout starter J.T. Barrett watches from the sideline.
The results have not been pretty: The Buckeyes managed only six first-half points against the Hoosiers and only 20 for the entire game against Northern Illinois.
Also, turnovers and mistakes have proved costly. Despite rolling up 517 yards at Indiana they also turned the ball over three times and needed a last-gasp defensive stand just to survive.
Think about that. It took Elliott running for the second-highest single-game total in Ohio State history for the Buckeyes to hold off Indiana in the final seconds.
Let the Columbus Dispatch give you a more in-depth look at what ails No. 1 Ohio State.
Where do the Illini go from here?
It’s uncertain how much we truly learned about the potential of the Illinois Fighting Illini from their remarkable, last-second victory Saturday.
Mostly because their victim was self-destructive Nebraska, losers late three times already this fall.
Coming in, the Illini seemed to be in questionable shape under interim head coach Bill Cubit. After opening blowouts over lesser-lights, they were manhandled at North Carolina and needed every bit of mojo to edge Middle Tennessee State.
And then they rally from a 13-point hole in the fourth quarter to upset Nebraska?
The Huskers had every opportunity to put this away, especially on their final possession. They elected to pass on fourth down at the Illinois 28 yard line, knowing the Illini had no timeouts remaining.
Even then, the Illini only had enough time to complete their rally because of hitting a 50-yard pass and because of two ensuing pass interference penalties — giving them six final shots at the end zone.
Illinois is displaying a much improved defense but also lost offensive sparkplug Josh Ferguson to injury. That will be most critical to monitor, particularly when they travel to undefeated Iowa this week. Check out this piece to follow the story line.