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Week 6 Takeaways: Purdue, Wisconsin, and Illinois Earn Wins in the West
Week 6 in the Big Ten saw Purdue (4-2) pull off its second straight upset on the road, this time at Maryland (4-2) by just two points. The return of starting QB Aidan O’Connell has been huge for the Boilermakers, whose two losses this season are looking better by the week (they lost close games to Penn State in Week 1 and Syracuse in Week 3). Purdue is looking like a stronger and stronger bet for the Big Ten West title this season; beating downtrodden Nebraska (3-3) this Saturday would help them on that journey.
Elsewhere in the Big Ten West, Wisconsin (3-3) found its footing under interim coach Jim Leonhard with a 42-7 win at Northwestern (1-5), and Illinois (5-1) got a 9-6 victory over Iowa (3-3) in a low-scoring affair that would have fit well in the recent slate of Thursday night NFL games. The win bumped Illinois to No. 24 in this week’s AP Poll.
In the East, Michigan (6-0) got off to a slow start against Indiana (3-3) on the road, but eventually pulled away for a 21-point victory, while Ohio State (6-0) had an easy time handing Michigan State (2-4) its fourth straight loss.
The Buckeyes, currently No. 2 in the AP Poll, have a bye this weekend while their division rivals face each other in Ann Arbor. Week 7 is here, and so are picks and predictions for the slate of conference games on a big weekend.
No. 5 Michigan and No. 10 Penn State face off in biggest conference game of 2022 so far (MICH -7, o/u 48.5)
Best Bets: Penn State +7, Over 48.5
The Michigan Wolverines (6-0) will host the Penn State Nittany Lions (5-0) at noon ET on Saturday in one of Week 7’s most anticipated matchups across all conferences.
Looking at the game on paper, Michigan’s stat lines are better almost across the board. They’re scoring more points, allowing fewer yards, and turning over the ball less frequently. Penn State has played the harder schedule, though, highlighted by road wins at Purdue and Auburn.
Michigan is also coming off two straight road games (at Iowa and Indiana) while Penn State had a bye last week. “Being rested physically and emotionally is important,” PSU coach James Franklin said Tuesday. “The players were able to get a head start on Michigan.”
The Michigan player Penn State should be most prepared for is running back Blake Corum, who ranks fourth in the FBS with 735 rush yards through six weeks. He’s gone over 100 yards in three straight games, taking pressure off quarterback J.J. McCarthy in the passing game.
That’s something Franklin pointed to on Tuesday. He complimented Michigan’s ability to “stay on schedule;” in other words, to move the ball efficiently on early downs so they don’t get caught in many third-and-long situations.
That early down movement is coming primarily off the run: the Wolverines have run the ball on nearly two-thirds of their first-down plays this season for an average of almost 6 yards per first-down run. Penn State’s defense, on the other hand, has allowed less than 2.5 yards per carry on first-down runs faced this season. Their ability to limit Corum and the rest of the Michigan running core will probably decide their fate on Saturday.
That’s not to say McCarthy can’t have an impact. While not the most explosive quarterback in college football, he is certainly one of the most accurate, having thrown only one interception this season (last week at Indiana). This weekend is the biggest game of his career since becoming the Michigan starter, one that he says he’s had marked on his calendar since last year. McCarthy said this week he’s excited for the opportunity and wary of what the Nittany Lions can do on defense, noting the talent of star cornerback Joey Porter Jr. in particular.
The sophomore QB feels the Michigan offense has yet to reach its full potential, despite outscoring opponents 258-68 so far. “With the talent we have (on offense), we shouldn’t be stopped,” he told media on Tuesday.
Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was, per usual, short-winded but complimentary in his assessment of the coming week’s opponent. “They’re always prepared. They’re always ready,” he said of Penn State on Monday, calling them the “biggest challenge of the year so far” for his team.
What version of quarterback Sean Clifford shows up for the Nittany Lions should make a big difference. The bright side for PSU is that Clifford’s two best games this season have been the road tests at Purdue and Auburn. The senior, along with the rest of the team, struggled to get things going against Northwestern two weeks ago (Penn State won 17-7), but that can partially be attributed to rainy conditions. The bye week should help them shake that off.
Freshman running back Nick Singleton has had a couple breakout games already and his production will be key for Penn State, given Clifford is unlikely to carry the team to victory. Singleton’s physicality is a big asset for the team: he’s averaging over seven yards a carry, with nearly five coming after contact.
In sum, Saturday’s game in Ann Arbor features two undefeated teams who are good on both sides of the ball. Does Michigan’s proclivity for slow starts catch up to them here, or does the Big House crowd propel them and their offensive weapons forward? Is Penn State as impressive as its road wins might suggest? James Franklin summed it up earlier this week: “At the end of the day, all that matters is what we do Saturday.”
Penn State vs Michigan Prediction: Penn State makes things just hard enough for Michigan’s offense and covers, if not wins outright in an upset. Total points hit the Over.
More Week 7 Predictions
The team at NBC Sports EDGE have taken a deep dive on this week’s Big Ten slate and are serving up their favorite plays for the week:
Minnesota at Illinois: Under 39.5 (-110)
Vaughn Dalzell (@VmoneySports)
Bret Bielema is not a home underdog often. It has only happened four times with Illinois.
However, when it has happened the Under has cashed all four times. The scores of those four Unders averaged 36.7 combined points per game and went Under 39.5 points three times and three-straight.
Quarterback Tommy DeVito is out for Illinois, so there is not much to like for the Illini offense outside of the running game. Looking at both of these teams, the best players are running backs Chase Brown (Illinois) and Mohammed Ibrahim (Minnesota).
Both teams also rank in the top 10 in time of possession with Minnesota #1 in the country, so expect a heavy dosage of both backs. The Illini’s defense has been stellar all year and I do not think they get blown out at home. However, rather than backing Artur Sitkowski and Illinois on the spread, we roll with the Under.
For more Big Ten analysis and Week 7 advice from the EDGE team, click here. And if you’re looking for a deeper dive into Michigan/Penn State, as well as other big games this week like Bama/Tennessee, you can catch NBC Sports’ college analysts breaking things down Saturday at 11am ET on the NBC Sports EDGE YouTube page.
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