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The 2016 Big Ten Conference season got underway this weekend, with the winning teams getting wins by wide margins. Defending conference champion, Indiana, picked up where it left off by thrashing Michigan State, 73-0, and 3rd place Wisconsin blew out Purdue, 81-8. Michigan started the new year clobbering Minnesota, 62-19, and Illinois blanked Iowa, 45-0. In non-conference play, Ohio State pounded Pittsburgh, 69-15.
In East Lansing, Mich., Indiana jumped out to an early lead over hosting Michigan State and never looked back. At the end of the match, Indiana walked away with 73-0 shutout.
Five minutes into the match, Indiana made an impact on the scoreboard with the first try of the day. Though Michigan State put up a solid defensive front, the Hoosiers kept exploiting gaps and amassed a 26-0 lead by halftime.
Michigan State tightened its defenses in order to try and stop Indiana’s offense. The Spartans stayed tight around the rucks and didn’t let any runs through the middle. Indiana shifted its angle of attack and moved the ball out wide. Teddy Terezis benefitted from this strategy by getting his team’s first try of the second half. The Hoosiers were clearly in control and the defense was playing lights out.
“Bryce Campbell had big influence on the game. Teddy (Terezis) converted nine of 11 tries,” said Sopa Enari, head coach at Indiana. “The opposition tackled well, but we adjust to moving the ball before contact.”
In the waning moments of the match, Michigan State made inroads into Indiana’s defensive territory. Fortunately for Indiana, its defense was a strong as its offense and kept the Spartans from crossing the whitewash. Terezis was on hand for much of the defensive stands, putting himself in the right place and making his one-up tackles.
Though this is the first Big Ten match of the season, this is Indiana’s third consecutive shutout while amassing a total of 230 points.
Wisconsin shook off the cobwebs of the summer and earned a convincing 81-8 win over Purdue. The Badgers went into the match sporting a fit team, as well as, new offensive and defensive systems. Though there were miscues along the way, everything flowed fairly well. Initially, on offense Wisconsin spread the attacks around the field, but Purdue’s defense adapted. When that happened, Wisconsin adjusted its mode of attack.
“We were at our best when guys were running straight, hard lines in the middle of the field,” said Wisconsin’s head coach Nic Tyson. “Then, we could play quickly off of that.”
Wing David Fleck put in three tries during the match as he was instrumental in creating scoring opportunities for his teammates. Outside center Kyle Pedraza got in on the act as well, distributing the ball effectively, while scoring two tries of his own.
Purdue put pressure on Wisconsin throughout the match, particularly at the breakdowns. The effective work at the breakdown earned Purdue some ground and caused Wisconsin to commit penalties early on in the match. Purdue took advantage of a few miscues in the Wisconsin defensive line scoring its lone try of the match. Second row Amos Mayberry and hooker Ben Lehrmann joined Pedraza in exerting on the Boilermakers.
Wisconsin plans to contend for the Big Ten title this year, and this weekend’s win was just the first step in that direction. The Badgers have depth, experience and fitness backing the new systems that have been put in place.
The University of Michigan rebounded from last week’s loss to beat Minnesota 62-19. The wet weather forced maintaining offense difficult, but the Wolverines adapted and put together a wining effort.
Led by the front row, the Michigan ran hard lines and tightened up offensive gaps to get the upper hand on Minnesota. Lee Moore, Kyle Gruebnau and Nick Azzopardi put in the hard meters for 80 minutes, while Tony Rakotolona and Albert Foo set off the offense attacks.
On the other side of the ball, Henry Phillips, Mike Shay and Andre Cargill led the defensive efforts for Michigan. Though Minnesota’s players supported runners well, tough tackles and pressuring the contact point kept the offensive phases from the Gophers to a minimum.
The Wolverines’ defensive pressure led to undisciplined play. The high number of penalties resulted in players from Michigan being sent off, and Minnesota took advantage.
“We had two yellow cards and the 19 points came from penalties that led directly to scoring chances for them,” said Michigan’s head coach Brandon Sparks. “The men did a great job overcoming them, but it’s not something they should have to overcome. They are far more disciplined than that.”
Michigan’s next two matches will be against Iowa and Indiana, respectively, on the road. To make sure those two road trips end with wins, the Wolverines will have to tighten up the red zone defense and cut down on penalties.
After applying suffocating defense, Illinois secured its first conference win over Iowa, 45-0, in its home opener in Champaign, Ill. The Illini’s win came from causing and taking advantage Iowa’s mistakes. Intense play from lock John Luchok spurred the rest of the team to follow suit and stay on top of the Hawkeyes. Fellow forward Brian Rice was an integral part in effecting turnovers and, as a result, he helped his team get on the front foot scoring a few tries of his own.
Although Iowa didn’t score, the Hawkeyes applied pressure on Illinois causing its opponent to work constantly at the breakdowns and reek havoc in the set piece. This pressure caused Illinois to commit penalties and cough up possession.
“Scrummaging helped us regain ball possession a couple of times after we knocked on the ball,” said Brian Nicolls, head coach at Illinois. “Kicking really helped us keep Iowa within their own half of the field.”
The win was a good start for Illinois’ season, but there are still improvements that need to be made. Illinois is taking a renewed sense of commitment and chemistry into this season, both of which will be tested next week on the road against Indiana.