The Big Ten training staff is putting in overtime the last week trying to get some of the conference’s star players back on the field.
Illinois traveled out west to take on Arizona State without third year starting quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and Nebraska traveled to UCLA without leading rusher Rex Burkhead. In addition to those pre-existing injuries, Wisconsin lost top receiver and security blanket to quarterback Danny O’Brien, Jared Abbrederis, to a chest injury against Oregon State.
The three things these teams have in common besides playing in the Big Ten is that all three teams lost on Saturday without the services of these players.
Scheelhaase was inactive vs. the Sun Devils with an ankle injury and the Illini sure missed him on Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium as his replacements combined to throw for a paltry 101 yards.
Reilly O’Toole got the majority of the snaps and the former highly regarded prep quarterback could not get the ball down the field accounting for 54 yards on 14 attempts. Those numbers are not good enough to compete at any level and why he was replaced with Miles Osei who did not fare any better.
Their play was exacerbated by the play of the Sun Devils two quarterbacks who completed their first 14 passes on the night and a poor performance by the Illini defense who could not slow down the Sun Devils’ offensive attack.
Scheelhaase is listed as probable this Saturday vs. Charleston Southern.
Burkhead sprained his MCL in the season opening win vs. Southern Miss and his replacement, Ameer Abdullah played admirably in his absence running for 119 yards and two touchdowns. A quick look at the numbers, and you would think they did not miss Burkhead too much.
A deeper look at the numbers and you will see that the 1,500 yard rusher from a season ago would have helped a Cornhuskers offense that struggled churning out yards in the second half when they managed only 55 yards on the ground from the running backs.
The inability to make first downs and keep the UCLA offense off the field on a night the Bruins accounted for 653 yards of offense was the difference in the six point loss at the Rose Bowl.
Burkhead is listed as questionable for Saturday vs. Arkansas State.
Abbrederis finished just shy of 1,000 yards of offense with eight touchdowns last season for the Badgers and had a stellar debut vs. Northern Iowa with two of his six receptions going for scores. Without his presence in the lineup keeping defenses honest, Oregon State could stuff the box in an attempt to stifle Heisman finalist Montee Ball, and they were successful, limiting Wisconsin to 35 rushing yards and kept Ball out of the end zone for the first time in 21 games.
Abbrederis is questionable this Saturday vs. Utah State.
As the college football season goes deeper into the schedule the depth of these teams will be tested, and it sure was this last Saturday when each team lost without their star player in the lineup.
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Patrick is a diehard Chicago sports and avid college football fan, and the host of “The Wake-up Call,” a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com Wednesday mornings from 8-10. View his show’s website here.