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What We Learned: Maryland Week

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Michigan looks great. The defense is playing at an elite level, and the offense is starting to establish its identity. The Big Ten race appears to be wiiiiiiiide open, and Michigan certainly has their name in the hat. Can they keep it up, now that they are getting to the meat of their schedule?

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT MICHIGAN

Michigan isn't giving opposing teams much to celebrate. Last year, this was Maryland head coach Randy Edsall's reaction to winning at the Big House.

This year, at home even, there wasn't much for Edsall to celebrate. Let's see here...there were a couple of first half turnovers by Michigan that led to absolutely nothing for Maryland's offense. The longest plays for Maryland's offense went for 22 and 18 yards. Aaaaaand that's about it. Right now, Michigan is kicking butt, taking names, and eliminating awkward coach celebrations. But don't worry, Harbaugh always provides entertainment to make up for the awkward coach celebration drought.

The running back depth chart appears to be established. At the beginning of the season, the running back position was a huge question mark. Would Green resume duties as starter? What about that 5-star transfer Isaac from USC? Will Drake Johnson be healthy enough to contribute? What about that Smith guy who had a yellow mohawk last year? Maybe Harbaugh goes with his own recruit, Higdon as a true freshman? And so on and so forth, with mention of putting Peppers at RB (which hopefully cannot be ruled out yet) and Ross Taylor-Douglas getting in the mix.

This appears to all be sorted out now. Derrick Green has established himself as a guy who can usually get a few yards, but can't make the first man miss to save his life, either with a juke or a broken tackle. He doesn't do any one thing better than his peers; kind of a jack of all trades, master of none. Ty Isaac has shown flashes of brilliance, but appeared to take himself out of the running Saturday with lack of ball security (2 fumbles, 1 lost), and a really dumb running into the kicker penalty.

The formula now appears to be De'Veon Smith running the ball between the tackles early in the game, to get the opposing front 7 battered and bruised. Hopefully he will return to action Saturday. This appears to be the case, as Harbaugh hinted toward his injury being a one week job. There is speculation that he could have even played this week if, you know, Michigan thought there was a chance they could lose to Maryland.

After De'Veon Smith has sufficiently brought the thunder, Michigan likes Drake Johnson to be the lightning. Every time he touches the ball, there is a possibility of a huge play ensuing, given his track star speed. This menacing duo should strike fear in the heart of defensive coordinators. It will also ensure that Jake Rudock always has open receivers, as teams are forced to load the box and do their best to contain the run. Rudock just has to start hitting these open guys.

Jake Rudock is what he is. On the first day of this millennium, Tom Brady led Michigan to an Orange Bowl victory over an elite Alabama team, with 369 yards and 4 touchdown passes. He has since won 4 Super Bowls, 2 NFL MVP awards, and the heart of a certain supermodel named Gisele. Unfortunately for Michigan, Jake Rudock is not Tom Brady. He won't win a great deal of individual awards, and he doesn't put the ball in the perfect spot every single time.

What he will do is show poise and not back down from anyone. He will put his head down and run for the first down when necessary. He avoids the sack pretty well, and he will (usually) avoid trouble in the form of costly turnovers. Harbaugh has come out and praised him many times in the media.

Don't look for a quarterback change any time soon. Rudock is the guy. And what he does works well for this particular team. Michigan's offense keeps the chains moving just enough to keep the outstanding defense at its freshest. Rudock also isn't getting the absurdly ill-advised turnovers that sets up the defense with short fields. I guess I can live with 31-0 and 28-0 wins. And yes, those wins are largely because of the defense. But one of the reasons the defense is playing so well is the offense doesn't shoot them in the foot. That was not the case last year, and that's why Rudock will be starting as long as he is healthy.

Here are the statlines of two quarterbacks. One is Rudock, and the other is from another Big Ten quarterback.

Player A: 62-105, 59%, 866 pass yds, 5 TDs, 5 INTs; 40 rushes, 127 yards, 1 TD.
Player B: 89-148, 60%, 956 pass yds, 5 TDs, 6 INTs; 25 carries, 73 yards, 2 TD.

Ok. So you've viewed them both. Pretty similar, right? One of them is obviously Rudock because I already said so. He is player B. But who is Player A? The statlines are remarkably similar, and Player A is also a Big Ten QB who has started all 5 games for his team.

The answer is Cardale Jones. Cardale entered the season as a Heisman candidate, and was expected to lead his team to a repeat national championship. Jake Rudock was the guy who couldn't cut it at Iowa, and a "hopefully Harbaugh can make something out of this guy" project. Not so bad now when you think of it from that perspective, right?

WHAT WE LEARNED: ABOUT THE BIG TEN

Greatness is coming from unexpected places. Iowa looks really strong, after going into Madison and getting a 10-6 win. At 5-0, they look like a team that wants to go to Indy. (Rudock Bowl, anyone?) They appear to have found the right guy in CJ Beathard at QB, and are getting it done on defense as well. 6 points for Wisconsin at home? That's solid defense by Iowa, no matter how you slice it.

Northwestern continues to play really strong, especially on the defensive side. They took care of Minnesota 27-0. This performance is somewhat tainted by Minnesota's offensive ineptitude. They are last in the Big Ten in rushing offense and only 40 yards away from being last in total offense. Still, Northwestern is right up there with Michigan in many defensive statistics. This isn't the Northwestern team of (well...every year besides 1995). One statistic that really jumps out to me is how well they do on third down on both sides of the ball. They are converting 49.0% of the time on offense (Michigan 42.7%) and letting opponents convert 20.0% of the time (Michigan nation-best 19.4%). I still like Michigan to win this week, but I don't see Northwestern going down easy.

A couple of rivals continue to underwhelm. MSU looks like a team that really misses Pat Narduzzi, their former defensive coordinator. OSU looks like they miss Tom Herman as well, their former offensive coordinator. My colleague Drew uses highly sophisticated computer rankings to quantify how much these departures are missed.

It's tough to get to the top in college football. It's much, much tougher to stay there, especially when your assistants start taking promotions elsewhere, an inevitability for top programs. Though MSU and OSU are still undefeated and highly ranked, they both played poor this weekend, and struggled to put away teams that they would have manhandled in previous years. And these aren't the "hey, we have this game won, so let's not show future opponents anything" close wins, the games this weekend went down to the final plays. We are talking Indiana and Purdue here, two teams that would be in the MAC, if the Big Ten had European soccer style relegation (which I will continue to campaign for, even though logistical issues would never allow it). Tom Dienhart sums it up pretty well here. And really Tom, no need to apologize.

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