What we learned from Week 4 in the Big Ten

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Some observations from Saturday in the Big Ten:

1. Spartans sputter on offense

Michigan State uncovered another defensive weapon, but it's the Spartans' offense that needs help. Notre Dame managed just 224 yards of offense, but that was enough for the Irish to down the punchless Spartans, 17-13.

A week after rolling up 547 yards against FCS foe Youngstown State, Michigan State reverted to early-season form and had just 254 yards.

Michigan State's defense, for the most part, dominated. Unheralded sophomore strong safety R.J. Williamson started for injured senior Isaiah Lewis and finished with a team-high 10 tackles. Four NFL prospects played well, too: Senior free safety Kurtis Drummond had seven tackles and two tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Denicos Allen had nine stops. Senior linebacker Max Bullough had seven tackles. And senior cornerback Darqueze Dennard had a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. But as well as they played, the offense again couldn't pick up the slack.

Michigan State didn't have a play longer than 19 yards and averaged just 3.4 yards per rush. The Spartans don't have a receiver who can gain separation against competent defensive backs, and they have no breakaway threats in the backfield.

The defense -- led by Allen, Bullough and Dennard -- is good enough to win the Big Ten. It is loaded with senior and underclass prospects. But the mediocre offense, which doesn't look to have any certain draftees, means the Spartans will probably finish no better than third in the Legends Division.

2. Nittany Lions' Hackenberg struggles

Penn State true freshman QB Christian Hackenberg played beyond his years in the first three games, but he looked like a freshman against Kent State. Yes, Penn State won, 34-0, but Hackenberg was 13 of 35 for 176 yards, a TD and an interception, and the Nittany Lions scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to finally pull away. It rained for much of the game, and Hackenberg never seemed to find a rhythm. He was helped by a rushing attack that piled up 287 yards. TB Zach Zwinak scored on three runs totaling 4 yards and finished with 65 yards on 15 carries. Third-teamer Akeel Lynch had 123 yards on 14 carries.

3. Northwestern's Scott stars in win

Northwestern senior DE Tyler Scott (6-4, 265), who tied for the Big Ten lead with nine sacks last season, got his third of the season in a 35-21 victory over Maine. Scott also had eight tackles and two tackles for loss. Northwestern returned two interceptions for TDs in the first quarter and put it on cruise control from there. Maine threw for 272 yards against a Northwestern secondary that was supposed to be a team strength. The Wildcats have next week off, then get Ohio State and Wisconsin in back-to-back weeks to prove their worth.

4. Guiton shreds, but no QB controversy

Ohio State backup QB Kenny Guiton threw a school-record six TD passes -- all in the first half -- to lead a 76-0 rout of outclassed FCS opponent Florida A&M. Guiton has played well in relief of injured starter Braxton Miller, who was hurt on the first drive of the second game of the season. In his postgame news conference, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer said Miller will be the starter when he returns, presumably next week. Ohio State opens Big Ten play next Saturday against Wisconsin, which will be a huge step up in competition from the Buckeyes' first three foes. Meyer said last week that even when Miller did come back, he wanted Guiton to get some snaps each game.

Saturday's shellacking was the sixth time in 16 games under Meyer that the Buckeyes scored 50 points. They had scored 50 only four times in the previous 190 games.

5. Many happy returns

It's hard to read much into Iowa's 59-3 blasting of Western Michigan, but at the least Iowa junior WR Kevonte Martin-Manley became a guy to pay more attention to as the season progresses. Martin-Manley (6-feet-0, 205 pounds) led the Hawkeyes with 52 receptions last season, for 571 yards and two TDs. He had 19 receptions in the first two games, with a TD, but he was averaging only 8.6 yards per catch. In short, he's a possession receiver and not a deep threat. But Martin-Manley had showed some skills as a punt returner in the first two games (11.3 average on three returns), then exploded Saturday with four returns for 184 yards and two TDs. He scored on an 83-yard return early in the second quarter, then on a 63-yarder less than a minute later.

6. Gophers' running game is golden

Minnesota might have a quarterback controversy. With starter Philip Nelson sidelined by concussion-like symptoms, the Golden Gophers went with redshirt freshman Mitch Leidner (6-4, 230) against San Jose State. He came through, rushing for 151 yards and three TDs on 24 carries as Minnesota pulled away in the second half to win 43-24. In all, the Gophers ran for 353 yards. Afterward, coach Jerry Kill said Nelson would remain the starter but did admit Leidner "allows us to be aggressive."

The Gophers also regrouped, made some defensive tweaks and shut down San Jose State QB David Fales in the second half. The Spartans managed only one second-half TD, a garbage score with five minutes left. Fales threw for 294 yards in the first half but was held to 145 in the second.

7. Huskers roll, but 'Blackshirts' ripped again

Nebraska's defense did some good things -- the Huskers forced three turnovers, and DE Randy Gregory returned an interception 25 yards for a TD -- but it was far from a dominating performance in a 59-20 win over FCS foe South Dakota State. The Jackrabbits led 17-14 after one quarter and TB Zach Zenner ran for 202 yards and two TDs on 21 carries; Zenner ran for more than 100 yards in the first quarter. But the Huskers' offense eventually overwhelmed South Dakota State; the Huskers finished with 645 yards of offense, and for the first time in school history, they had more than 300 yards rushing and passing. Still, allowing a FCS team to control the first quarter and finish with 465 yards of offense points to Nebraska not having enough playmakers on defense. Outside of Gregory, a touted JC transfer who is living up to the hype, the defense doesn't really have anyone that opponents need to worry about.

8. Not enough offense for Hoosiers

Indiana's only shot at beating Missouri was to have a huge offensive output and it didn't happen in a 45-28 home loss. But two of Indiana's wide receivers did show off again. Junior Cody Latimer had eight receptions for 136 yards and a TD, and senior Shane Wynn had five catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. But Mizzou did a nice job defending senior TE Ted Bolser, who had four TD receptions coming in but finished with only one catch. Indiana struggled to run and, as usual, its defense got shredded. QB Nate Sudfeld also struggled; he threw three picks and former starter Tre Roberson played a lot. It will be interesting to see what coach Kevin Wilson decides to do at the position. Sudfeld has a high upside as a passer, but Roberson gives IU a running threat. The Hoosiers can only win shootouts, putting pressure on the passing attack to come through every week. With Latimer, Wynn, Bolser and senior WR Kofi Hughes, Indiana is going to make things tough on a few Big Ten defenses. But it's hard to see IU getting to six wins, which means no bowl. Latimer, in particular, deserves attention. Latimer (6-3, 215) has good size, is physical and can get deep. Last season, he had 51 receptions and led the Hoosiers with 805 receiving yards (15.8 yards per catch).

Mike Huguenin can be reached at mike.huguenin@nfl.com. You also can follow him on Twitter @MikeHuguenin.

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