Defense might be the Big Ten Conference's football trademark

Defense might be the Big Ten Conference's football trademark

Published Sep. 27, 2016 6:45 p.m. ET

While No. 2 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan are among the nation's top five scoring teams, the Big Ten Conference is just as good on defense.

After the first month of the season, the league has seven of the nation's top 25 defensive teams in terms of scoring defense, led by No. 8 Wisconsin. The Badgers are seventh, giving up an average of 11.8 points.

Ohio State (12.3 points) is ninth, Iowa (13.5) is tied for 11th, Michigan (13.8) is 13th, Maryland and Northwestern are tied for 22nd at 17 points and Nebraska (18.0) is tied for 25th.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald said the conference was in a similar position halfway through last season.


''The defensive coaches in this league are very sound,'' he said. ''You don't see typically a lot of guys running uncovered on plays that go for 60, 70 or 80 yards. Most of the defenses have become very sound, team orientated and very athletic, talented and physical.''

Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst said that many coaches have long adhered to the practice of putting their best recruits on defense.

Looking at Michigan's defense for this weekend, Chryst said there isn't one player to stop. There are a lot of playmakers.

''You take those good players and you coach them up, so with a good scheme and good players who understand what they are doing, that makes for good defense,'' Chryst said.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh sees the same thing on Wisconsin, which is giving up just 80.5 yards rushing and 277 yards in total.

''I had the pleasure of coaching (former Badger linebacker) Chris Borland in San Francisco, and I say this as the highest form of compliment, it looks like 11 Chris Borlands out there, the way they play,'' said Harbaugh, whose team is giving up an average 269.8 yards.

If there is a common link between the better defenses, it's their ability to force turnovers. All seven teams have a plus figure in the turnover differential, with Ohio State being plus-9.

Surprisingly, the Buckeyes retooled their defense this season after seeing defensive end Joey Bosa and cornerback Eli Apple taken in the first 10 picks of the NFL draft.

Rutgers coach Chris Ash, who was the Ohio State co-defensive coordinator last year, is not surprised the Buckeyes have made the transition.

''Ohio State recruits at a high level, it's just really reload, the next man in,'' he said. ''When someone goes to the NFL or their career is over, there is another talented player waiting to burst on the scene and became another Ohio State legend.

Other notes from around the Big Ten:


Purdue (2-1) has its first winning record entering October since 2012.

''I think we are work in progress,'' said Purdue coach Darrell Hazell, who won six games in his first three seasons. ''I think they are starting to understand all the things it takes to win games. They are playing hard and fast and with confidence. I am sitting here feeling good about the team but we have a long way to go.''


Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh and Wisconsin coach Paul Chryst have been friends for almost three decades, when Chryst's father, George, was the head coach at Wisconsin-Platteville.

''It's been a family friendship, the Chrysts and the Harbaughs going back to 1987,'' said Harbaugh, whose No. 4 Wolverines host the No. 8 Badgers on Saturday. ''Our dads were friends, the sons were friends, and it's been a 30-year friendship.''

Chryst was a San Diego Chargers' tight ends coach when Harbaugh was finishing his NFL career. Chryst's brother, Geep, was the offensive team's offensive coordinator. Geep Chryst also served as an assistant coach under Harbaugh when he coached the San Francisco 49ers.


Maryland (3-0) has not turned the ball over under new coach DJ Durkin. It is the only Power Five program and one of just three in the FBS that have not committed a turnover this season.


Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz is a little frustrated with the inconsistency of the calls regarding cut blocks by offensive linemen.

In four games, he said, he has seen four different interpretations. He lost a 75-yard touchdown run last weekend against Rutgers on a cut-block penalty and voiced his concern after the game.

''Once we start conference (play), I think there will be an effort made to get everyone on the same page,'' Ferentz said. ''Hopefully, that's coaches, players and the guys working the game. Clarity is always a good thing on any issue.''