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Around the Big Ten: Point taken
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Around the Big Ten: Point taken

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It took 31 points to win a Big Ten football game last week.

No victorious team scored fewer than that on a Saturday that saw Ohio State put 63 points on the board against Nebraska, Michigan score 44 against Purdue and Penn State collect 39 against Northwestern.

Eight of the 10 Big Ten teams which played last weekend scored at least 27 points, and three of those teams lost.

“I think that’s where college football is right now,” Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said. “Watch the way everybody is in a spread mentality, is playing with tempo. Right now, it’s just a matter of time until teams score. That’s why it is so critically important to create turnovers and get off the field on third down.”

That can be easier said than done.

Three Big Ten quarterbacks — Denard Robinson of Michigan, Braxton Miller of Ohio State and Taylor Martinez of Nebraska — average more than 268 yards of offense, and each ranks in the top 10 in the conference in rushing in addition to occupying lofty spots on league passing charts.

“I think it all goes in circles to some degree, but the offense has an advantage right now,” Wolverines coach Brady Hoke said. “I felt like there were some good defenses in the league a year ago. Some of those guys have graduated, and new young guys are in there. It’s a learning process.”

Defensive difference

Michigan joins Iowa as the only teams in the Legends Division without a league loss, but at 1-0 in the Big Ten coaches of both seem room for growth from their teams.

The Wolverines’ Hoke is not pleased with what he has seen from a defense which is allowing 21 points per game, seventh among Big Ten teams, and is 10th in the league in rushing defense.

“I think we’re making progress, but we’re no where near playing the type of defense we need to play to win a Big Ten championship,’’ he said. “The guys on the back end are doing a decent job, but the game of football starts up front on both sides of the ball and that’s where we need to improve the most as a team.’’

Blackshirts, red faced

After surrendering 63 points in a 25-point loss at Ohio State, a bye week has brought a focus on fundamentals for players on the Nebraska defense.

“Our problems last weekend were self imposed,’’ Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini said. “We did play our technique the right way and guys were not reading or playing to their responsibilities. We left guys unblocked at times, we lost our composure and didn’t execute. That’s not a good combination.’’

Gophers’ Gray makes progress

Minnesota quarterback MarQueis Gray remains questionable for Saturday’s game with Northwestern, but Gophers coach Jerry Kill said the senior is making progress as he works to return from a high ankle sprain.

“He took no reps last week (during Minnesota’s bye week), but he is doing a few things now,’’ Kill said. “It’s going to be a matter of seeing what he can and can’t do in a game situation. He’s got a chance, where he had no chance the last two weeks.’’

Something to chew on

After having to deal with getting caught on camera stuffing a wad of chewing tobacco into his cheeks prior to last week’s game at Wisconsin, Illinois coach Tim Beckman is vowing not to repeat the situation.

“It’s a bad habit and one that definitely is being corrected,’’ Beckman said. “I’m done with that, oh yeah.’’

Early indicator

The idea that winner of Saturday’s game between Purdue and Wisconsin will be sitting in the driver’s seat for the watered-down Leaders Division berth in the Big Ten championship game is being downplayed this week by coaches of both teams.

“This is a huge game for both teams, but there is so much football left to be played,’’ Boilermakers coach Danny Hope said. “It’s hard to pick a team in any game in this league right now.’’

Hope concedes that a win over the Badgers could be an important springboard for his team, while Badgers coach Bret Bielema prefers to keep a narrow focus.

“At the end of the year, we might look back at a game like this as an important one, but right now, it’s important because it is the next one and we aren’t getting caught up in looking at the big picture,’’ Bielema said. “We still have six games, half the season, in front of us.’’

By the numbers

6:0: Touchdown-to-interception ratio for Michigan State quarterback Andrew Maxwell in his last five games

103: Points that have separated Wisconsin from Purdue in the team’s last three meetings, won by the Badgers by a combined 133-30 score

23.1: Big Ten-best average yards per reception for Nebraska sophomore Kenny Bell

0: Points scored by Penn State opponents in the first quarter this season. The Nittany Lions have out-scored foes 52-0 in the opening quarter

Quick stat

When Northwestern’s Vendric Mark returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown against Penn State last week, he became the first Big Ten player since Wisconsin’s Brandon Williams in 2005 to accomplish that twice in a season.

Saturday’s TV lineup

Iowa at Michigan State, 11 a.m., ESPN

Illinois at Michigan, 2:30 p.m., ABC

Northwestern at Minnesota, 11 a.m., ESPN2

Wisconsin at Purdue, 11 a.m., BTN

Ohio State at Indiana, 7 p.m., BTN

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