Thursday’s college football: Ground games dominate Big Ten

Detroit News staff and wires

Three yards and a cloud of dust? Not good enough, not this year for the Big Ten.

In a conference that has long relied on the ground game, the Big Ten currently averages 4.66 yards per rush.

That’s only fourth-best among the Power Five conferences, but the Big Ten also has seven running backs averaging more than 100 yards a game — tops among 10 Bowl Subdivision leagues. At the moment, seven of the top 25 rushers in FBS are from the Big Ten; at the end of last season, there were only two.

The yards might be harder to come by once conference play begins in earnest, but in an age when many college teams seek victory through the air, the Big Ten has so far found the surest route to be on the ground.

“Teams want to run the ball,” Nebraska coach Mike Riley said. “You might win the game if you throw for 350 yards, but if you’ve run for 350, you probably won the game.”

Wisconsin true freshman Jonathan Taylor leads the conference with 310 yards in two games and is averaging a whopping 8.9 yards per carry.

“Certainly Jonathan has done some good things in his first two games, and we’re really glad we got him,” said Badgers coach Paul Chryst, who recruited Taylor out of New Jersey.

Another true freshman, J.K. Dobbins of Ohio State, is averaging 126.5 yards per game and racked up 181 in the opener against Indiana, a school record for a freshman.

Maryland opened the season with a 51-41 upset of Texas, then scored nine touchdowns in a 63-17 rout of Towson. Operating with true freshman Kasim Hill at quarterback, the Terrapins have relied heavily on a running game that’s amassed 630 yards compared to 386 passing.

Ty Johnson is averaging 15.1 yards for each of his 17 carries, which is impressive except when compared with teammate Javon Leake, whose has 78 yards on four attempts (a 19.5 average).

“Having a good running game always helps,” coach DJ Durkin said.

That’s exactly how Penn State coach James Franklin feels. Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley is averaging 9.3 yards per attempt and stands third in the Big Ten with 260 yards rushing, behind only Taylor and Tre Bryant of Nebraska (299 yards).

“We’re not just going to hand the ball to him 35 times,” Franklin said of Barkley.

UM regents approve design

Michigan’s Regents approved the schematic design for the new football performance center at Schembechler Hall.

The $14.8 million project will renovate approximately 24,000 square feet and 8,000 square feet added for athletic medicine, rehabilitation, wellness and nutrition for the football program. Schembechler Hall is connected to Oosterbaan Field House and the Al Glick Field House. The project also includes renovations to team meeting and equipment rooms and administrative spaces.

Project funding will be provided from athletic department resources and gifts.

Extra points

ESPN’s “College GameDay” will broadcast from Times Square on Sept. 23, the first time the pregame road show travels to New York City.

The network says the show will highlight New York’s college football history and “modern-day fandom.”

... The American Athletic Conference juggled its football schedule to make up a game between South Florida and Connecticut, which was canceled as a result of Hurricane Irma.

That game, originally scheduled for last Saturday, will now be played in Connecticut on Nov. 4, the conference said Thursday.

East Carolina’s game at UConn, which had originally been scheduled for Nov. 4, will now be played in East Hartford on Sunday, Sept. 24, which had been an open weekend for both teams.

The teams can’t play that Saturday, because an MLS soccer game is being played at Rentschler Field.

ECU and Houston will play Nov. 4 instead of Oct. 28.

USF will now host Cincinnati on Oct. 14 instead of playing a non-conference game with Massachusetts and will play Houston on Oct. 28.

... Former Indiana receiver Camion Patrick is one of four men facing criminal homicide charges in connection with the fatal stabbing of an 18-year-old from Tennessee. Patrick and Isaiah Wright, who also was charged, were featured in the Netflix series, ”Last Chance U.”