Big Ten Football Preview: Week 4

Sept. 24, 2009


(3-0, 0-0 Big Ten)

Indiana at No. 23/22 Michigan
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 • Noon ET • Ann Arbor, Mich. • Michigan Stadium (106,201)
ESPN2 • Announcers: Pam Ward, Ray Bentley

Series: Michigan leads 50-9 • Last Meeting: Nov. 11, 2006: Michigan 34, Indiana 3

(3-0, 0-0 Big Ten)

It’s been 42 years since Indiana has defeated Michigan in Ann Arbor, but the Hoosiers are searching for their sixth 4-0 start in school history this weekend and the first since 1990.  The Wolverines are also looking a 4-0 start and to keep climbing in the national rankings.  Traditionally, Michigan has dominated this series, winning 50 of the 59 contests between the two, including a 34-3 result that last time they met in 2006.  Indiana has not defeated Michigan since Oct. 24, 1987.

Both teams are coming off strong non-conference performances in Week 3.  Indiana’s offense used a balanced attack to control Akron last week, 38-21.  The Hoosiers ran for 180 yards and threw for 175.  They enter the weekend ranked just ninth in total offense (375.3 ypg) in the Big Ten, but Michigan boasts the ninth-best total defense (358.7 ypg) in the league.  IU has gotten it done primarily through the air this season, throwing for 228.7 yards per outing.  Quarterback Ben Chappell has thrown for 674 yards in three contests, including five touchdowns and three interceptions.  Currently he totes a 68.5 percent completion percentage, which is third-highest among conference quarterbacks. Demetrius McCray has been the featured back of the “Pistol” offense this year, rushing for 76.0 yards each time out and 5.4 yards per carry.  Leading the Hoosiers in the air is Tandon Doss and Demarlo Belcher.  Doss ranks third in the Big Ten in both receptions (7.00) and receiving yards (90.0) per game.  Belcher (5.33 rpg, 61.0 rypg) ranks fifth and 10th, respectively. The Michigan defense is allowing 19.3 points, 123.7 rushing yards and 235.0 passing yards per game. U-M enters with a plus-2 turnover margin, having picked off four passes, recovered three fumbles and collected three sacks on the year.  Junior linebacker Obi Ezeh leads the Wolverines with 24 tackles in addition to one forced fumble and 1.5 tackles for loss. Senior linebacker Stevie Brown has 20 stops, 3.5 TFLs and one forced fumble, while junior cornerback Donovan Warren has 19 tackles and a team-best 13 solos and four pass breakups.

On offense, the Wolverines have rebounded from a few off seasons.  Michigan now leads the conference in scoring (38.0), rushing (270.7 ypg) and is second in total offense (439.0 ypg). Freshman quarterback Tate Forcier has begun to step into the spotlight under center, solidifying his role as starter in the past few weeks.  Forcier, still fondly remembered for the comeback win over Notre Dame two weeks ago, averages nearly 200 yards of total offense, which 162 coming through the air.  He has completed 65.2 percent of his passes with five touchdowns and one interception and has a 149.10 passing efficiency.  While four Wolverines have amassed over 100 yards rushing this season, U-M is led by Carlos Brown (79.3 ypg) and QB Denard Robinson (51.7).  Brown is currently sharing Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week honors after averaging 14.4 yards per carry against Eastern Michigan, racking up a career-high 187 rushing yards on only 13 carries, and notching a pair of touchdowns.  But like the Michigan offense, the Hoosiers’ defense is also much improved. Through the first quarter of the season the Indiana defense has made significant strides from 2008 and ranks in the top four in the Big Ten in six defensive categories. The Hoosiers share the league lead in turnover margin (+3), rank second in rushing defense (76.0), sacks (9) and opponent third down conversion (29.4), and rank fourth in scoring defense (17.7) and total defense (312.3).  And after totaling a school record for fewest interceptions in a season with six in 2008, the Hoosiers almost reached that mark at Akron. IU tallied four on the day, including a pair by senior safety Austin Thomas.  Matt Mayberry and Will Patterson each share the IU tackles lead with 5.3 averaged per game.


(1-2, 0-0 Big Ten)

Michigan State at Wisconsin
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 • 11 a.m. CT • Madison, Wis. • Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
ESPN • Announcers: Dave Pasch, Bob Griese, Chris Spielman

Series: Michigan State leads 27-20 • Last Meeting: Nov. 1, 2008: Michigan State 25, Wisconsin 24

(3-0, 0-0 Big Ten)

The first week of conference play is always pivotal for Big Ten teams, but for Michigan State and Wisconsin, these two squads will be battling extra hard on Saturday.  For Michigan State, the Spartans are off to a disappointing 1-2 start and after posting a 6-2 league record last year and being picked to finish third this season, they have quickly found themselves just trying to get back to .500.  For Wisconsin, which will be concluding its season-opening four-game homestand, the Badgers are off to a 3-0 start but are also focused on improving on a disappointing 3-5 mark in league play last year.  Michigan State leads the all-time series, 27-20.

Wisconsin and Michigan State are evenly matched on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball.  The Badgers are fourth in the Big Ten scoring offense (35.3), followed by the Spartans in fifth (33.7).  Defensively, both teams are tied for sixth with 21.7 points allowed each game.  MSU quarterback Kirk Cousins is guiding the conference’s top passing offense, which is averaging 295.7 yards per game.  Last week against Notre Dame, Cousins was 23-of-35 for 302 yards.  Blair White has been his main target as he paces the team with 22 receptions for 342 yards and four scores.  The Spartans have to find more success running the ball this week as they are one of only three conference schools that have rushed for less than 100 carries.  MSU is averaging only 127.0 yards on the ground.  On defense, Wisconsin allowed 214 rushing yards last week against Wofford and currently rank ninth in the league with 164.3 yards allowed each contest.  The Badgers are third-best in the Big Ten in pass defense, giving up just 169.3 yards in the air and having traded their four touchdowns allowed for four interceptions.  Last week against Wofford, the Badgers forced four turnovers, including three fumbles, and allowed just 45 passing yards. Culmer St. Jean had 15 tackles and a fumble recovery in that game, while Mike Taylor finished with nine stops and a sack. Jaevery McFadden leads all UW tacklers with 8.7 stops each time out, which ranks seventh in the conference, while O’Brien Schofield is tied for the NCAA lead with 7.5 tackles for loss.

The Badgers’ offense posted 430 total yards in last week’s win with an impressive 258 yards coming on the ground.  UW has scored a league-high nine rushing touchdowns this season and average just under 200 yards per game.  John Clay has a third of those scores and ranks second in the Big Ten with 85.3 rushing yards per contest.  Quarterback Scott Tolzien boasts the second-highest completion percentage (69.1) among Big Ten quarterbacks and helped his stats last week with a 15-of-20 performance for 159 yards. Nick Toon, the team's leading receiver with 15 catches, had six receptions for 70 yards last weekend.  And just as Wisconsin racked up 430 yards last week, Michigan State gave up 437 to Notre Dame.  MSU has allowed a league-high six passing touchdowns and ranks 10th in pass defense efficiency with a rating of 140.3.  In fact, the Spartans have only forced two turnovers on the season and are beginning to appear as a one-man defense.  Greg Jones, the Big Ten’s Preseason Defensive Player of the Year, is living up to the hype with 38 tackles on the season – a total that is 17 more than the next closest player on the roster.  Jones is averaging a conference-best 12.7 tackles per game and has 1.5 sacks as well.  Be sure to keep an eye on the red zone this week.  Wisconsin is the lone offensive unit in the league to boast a perfect percentage in the red zone (12of-12), while Michigan State’s defense ranks at the bottom of the charts having allowed its opponents to score on all eight trips inside the 20.



(2-1, 0-0 Big Ten)

Minnesota at Northwestern
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 • 11 a.m. CT • Evanston, Ill. • Ryan Field (47,130)
Big Ten Network • Announcers: Wayne Larrivee, Chris Martin, Charissa Thompson

Series: Minnesota leads 49-30-3 • Last Meeting: Nov. 1, 2008: Northwestern 24, Minnesota 17

(2-1, 0-0 Big Ten)

Minnesota opens its Big Ten schedule on the road at Northwestern, facing a Wildcats squad it has not defeated the past two years.  In fact, both the 2007 and 2008 contests went down to the wire with Northwestern pulling out both in the final seconds of the game.  The Golden Gophers fell 49-48 in double overtime in Evanston in 2007 and dropped a 24-17 decision last season at the Metrodome on a Wildcat interception return for a touchdown in the final minute of the game.  Both teams enter this week on the heels of their first losses of the season, with the Gophers falling at home to Cal, 35-21, and the Wildcats dropping a 37-34 heartbreaker at Syracuse.  Minnesota, which has lost three straight conference openers, owns an overall advantage of 49-30-5 in the all-time series.

The standout combination of quarterback Adam Weber and wideout Eric Decker continue to lead the Gopher offense this season.  Weber, who has completed 60-of-103 passes for 693 yards and three touchdowns this season, as often found Decker for big yardage.  Decker leads the Big Ten in both receptions per game (9.0) and receiving yards per game (138.3).  But while Minnesota’s passing attack ranks fourth in the league (233.3), its scoring offense has been held back.  The Gophers are averaging 21.3 points per contest, which is 11th in the conference.  Minnesota has struggled to find a consistent running game outside of Duanne Bennett.  The Maroon and Gold rank last in the league with 85.7 rushing yards per game and have recorded only 10 first downs on the ground this season.  Northwestern is fifth in the Big Ten in defending the pass (211.3 ypg), which should prove beneficial for the Wildcats this week.  Junior Quentin Davie leads all Wildcat tacklers with 7.0 stops per game.   

Northwestern finds itself with a pretty good quarterback as well.  Mike Kafka was impressive in the close loss to Syracuse last week and earned Big Ten co-Offensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts. Kafka got it done everywhere, connecting on a school-record 16 straight pass attempts to open the game and setting a single-game record by completing 83.3 percent of his passes while accounting for five touchdowns.  The senior quarterback completed 35-of-42 passes for a career-best 390 yards with three touchdown passes. He also added a touchdown run and reception, becoming the first Big Ten player with at least one passing, rushing and receiving score in the same game since Penn State’s Zack Mills accomplished the feat against Akron in 2004.  NU (36.0) is outscoring Minnesota by nearly 15 points on offense, averaging 45 more passing yards, and boasts the league’s best completion percentage at 74.2.  Andrew Brewer leads all Wildcat wideouts with 78.7 yards per game, including a yards-per-catch clip of 19.7. Defensively, Minnesota is allowing just less than 23 points per game and giving up 352.7 yards of total offense each game.  Up front, Eric Small (8 total tackles) and Garrett Brown (6 total tackles) anchor the middle of the line, while the linebacking corps has had at least one double-digit tackler in each game this season.  One of those linebackers, Nathan Triplett, was named National Defensive Player of the Week two weeks ago and is currently eighth nationally with 8.0 tackles per game.


(1-1, 0-0 Big Ten)

Illinois at No. 13/11 Ohio State
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 • 3:30 p.m. ET • Columbus, Ohio • Ohio Stadium (102,329)
ABC • Announcers: Ron Franklin, Ed Cunningham

Series: Ohio State leads 61-30-4 • Last Meeting: Nov. 15, 2008: Ohio State 30, Illinois 20

(2-1, 0-0 Big Ten)

Illinois travels to Columbus this weekend to see its first action in two weeks.  Ohio State owns an impressive 61-30-4 record in the previous 95 meetings between the two teams and has captured four of the last five meetings.  The lone Illini win in that span came back in 2007 – the last time they came to Columbus – when they upset the top-ranked Buckeyes, 28-21.  Saturday’s contest marks the annual battle for the Illibuck trophy.

Most coaches prefer not to have their bye week just two games into the season, but for Illinois head coach Ron Zook, injuries to his top two offensive players in the second game meant the bye week came at just the right time.  Senior quarterback Juice Williams and junior wide receiver Arrelious Benn, who has been out with an ankle injury suffered in the opener against Missouri, are the Illini’s top offensive threats.  In Williams’ absence two weeks ago in a 45-17 victory over Illinois State, backup QB Eddie McGee passed for 164 yards and picked up another 55 on the ground. Sophomore running back Jason Ford is Illinois’ top gainer on the ground. He posted 137 yards on 10 carries and one touchdown in the win over the Redbirds. As a team, Illinois is second in the Big Ten with 247.0 yards per game on the ground, an average of 6.1 yards per rush.  Through two games the Illini are averaging 436.5 yards of total offense, but only 189.5 in the passing game, which ranks 10th in the league.  The Buckeyes’ defense is coming off an impressive 38-0 shutout of Toledo last week, which saw OSU hold the Rockets to just 210 total yards, with only 13 of those on the ground, and forced Toledo to punt on its first 10 possessions.  Ohio State has allowed an average of 288.3 yards of total offense in its first three games, but has had issues holding off its opponents in the red zone.  The Buckeyes have allowed the opposition to score on all five tires inside the 20, four of which have been for touchdowns.  Junior linebacker Brian Rolle is tied for ninth in the conference with a team-high 8.3 tackles per game, while Camero Heyward has two sacks on the season and Kurt Coleman has a pair of forced fumbles.

OSU’s Terrelle Pryor currently leads the Big Ten in total offense at 263.0 yards per game. His 372 yards of total offense against Toledo marked a career high for the sophomore signal caller, and the best total offense game of his career. His previous high was 232 against Penn State last season. Against the Rockets, Pryor recorded career highs with 17 completions, 27 attempts and 262 yards. He also rushed 12 times for 110 yards, including a career-long 43-yarder in the third quarter. It was the second 100-yard rushing game of his career.  Ironically, his first was for 110 yards at Illinois last year.  Pryor and Dan Herrron are eighth and ninth in Big Ten rushing with 58.7 and 52.7 yards per game, respectively.  Dane Sanzenbacher has already hauled in four touchdowns on the season and is averaging 80.3 receiving yards per game, including a ridiculous 26.8 yards-per-catch average.  The Buckeyes, however, are just eighth-best among league teams in total offense, racking up 383.3 yards per game.  Illinois has shown it can swarm to the ball. The Illini defense has racked up 16 tackles for loss in the opening two games, which ranks them second in the Big Ten and 14th in the nation at 8.0 TFL per game.  UI suffered a major setback last week as it learned linebacker Martez Wilson, who played in the season opener against Missouri, will miss the remainder of the 2009 season with a herniated disc neck injury.  Illinois is third in the Big Ten against the run (80.5), but 10th against the pass (189.5) and in scoring defense (27.0).  Look for sophomore linebacker Ian Thomas to continue leading the unit with 8.5 tackles per game.  Junior DB Garrett Edwards is second on the team with 7.5 stops each outing.


(3-0, 0-0 Big Ten)

Iowa at No. 5/4 Penn State
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 • 8 p.m. ET • University Park, Pa. • Beaver Stadium (107,282)
ABC • Announcers: Brent Musburger, Kirk Herbstreit, Lisa Salters

Series: Penn State leads 11-10 • Last Meeting: Nov. 8, 2008: Iowa 24, Penn State 23

(3-0, 0-0 Big Ten)

ESPN's College GameDay Show will originate from University Park this Saturday, setting up would could be another memorable night between the Hawkeyes and the Nittany Lions.  Riding a seven-game win streak, Iowa travels to Penn State this week with hopes of evening the all-time series between the two teams at 11-11. The Hawkeyes have won seven of the last nine meetings, including a 24-23 win last season in Iowa City when they converted a 31-yard field goal with one second to play. Iowa is 6-4 in games played at Penn State, with wins in four of the last five played in Beaver Stadium.     

Perhaps most intriguing about Saturday’s contest is that both teams will field offenses that rank near the bottom of the Big Ten, while fielding defenses that rank near the top.  Iowa boasts the 10th-best offense in the conference with 364.3 yards per game, while Penn State is allowing a league-low 212.3 yards per contest.  Conversely, Penn State’s offense rates seventh (397.3) and Iowa’s defense is third (303.3).  The two teams have the Big Ten’s best scoring defenses with Penn State leading at 6.7 points per game, followed by Iowa at 12.0.  Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi is one of only three conference quarterbacks to have attempted 100 or more passes on the year, completing 60.0 percent of them for 214.7 yards per game.  Last week in a win against Arizona, he completed 20-of-32 for 205 yards.  Freshman Adam Robinson improved his rank among Big Ten rushers last week, as he moved up to fifth at 77.7 yards per game after an 18-rush, 101-yard performance.  Penn State has always been tough against the run and this year is no different.  The Nittany Lions rank first in the league with just 46.3 yards allowed and an impressive per-carry average of 1.6 yards.  Sean Lee, who earned Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors after turning in 12 stops against Temple, ranks third in the league with 10.7 tackles each time out.  Lee also paces the conference with 7.5 tackles for loss.

In the 31-6 domination of Temple last week, Penn State rushed for 186 yards and had 173 passing yards in gaining 359 yards total offense.  Tailback Evan Royster led PSU with 134 rushing yards on 19 carries, including a seven-yard touchdown run. QB Daryll Clark completed 16-of-26 passes for 167 yards, including scoring strikes of one and four yards.  Penn State manages only 133.3 yards on the ground each game – 9th in the conference – but has found several new receivers in an aerial attack that rates third in the league at 264.0 yards per game.  Derek Moye leads that receiving corps with 68.0 yards per game.  Clark leads all Big Ten passers with 253.3 yards per outing and a league-best eight touchdowns.  Iowa’s pass defense ranks 25th in the nation at 162.7 yards per game and is led by Tyler Sash, who recorded his fourth INT of the season last week. On the ground, Iowa's defense held Arizona to 148 rushing yards, with 58 yards coming on one play and 34 yards on another. Arizona entered the game averaging 305.5 rushing yards per game, fifth best in the NCAA through two games.  The Hakweyes tackled by committee as DL Adrian Clayborn had six tackles, including a sack, linebacker Jeremiha Hunter had a team-best seven tackles, and linebacker Pat Angerer had six stops and matched a personal best with two pass break-ups.


(2-1 Independent)

Notre Dame at Purdue
Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009 • 8 p.m. ET • West Lafayette, Ind. • Ross-Ade Stadium (62,500)
ESPN • Announcers: Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge, Erin Andrews

Series: Notre Dame leads 52-26 • Last Meeting: Sept. 27, 2008: Notre Dame 38, Purdue 21

(1-2, 0-0 Big Ten)

For the 81st time since 1896, Purdue and Notre Dame will battle on the football field. The Irish hold a 52-26-2 lead in the series and captured last year's meeting, 38-21, in Notre Dame Stadium, but dropped their last outing in Ross Ade Stadium, 33-19, in 2007.  In fact, ND has dropped four of the last six contests at Purdue, but has won six of the last nine and 18 of the past 23 in the series.  The Irish enter on the heels of thrilling win over Michigan State, while Purdue looks to rebound after heartbreaking losses to Oregon and Northern Illinois.

Purdue has opened the season will a dominant rushing attack and currently ranks 22nd in the nation with 210.7 yards on the ground per game. Individually, Purdue sophomore Ralph Bolden lost his top spot nationally in rushing to Fresno State's Ryan Mathews, but the Boiler back still leads the Big Ten and is second among all FBS players with a 140.3 yards per game average. Bolden also ranks 10th nationally and first in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards (182.7) and is tied for 19th in the country and first in the Big Ten in scoring (10.0).  QB Joe Elliott even notched a pair of touchdown runs in last week’s loss, but will need to find more consistency in the pocket.  Despite completing 61.0 percent of his passes for an average of 224.7 yards per game, Elliott has thrown a league-high five interceptions on the season.  Keith Smith ranks fifth in the conference in receptions per game (5.67) and sixth in receiving yards (74.0).  Defensively, it will be interesting to see how Notre Dame defends Bolden and the Boilermaker rushing attack.  The Irish surrendered 153 and 190 yards on the ground against Nevada and Michigan, respectively, and then allowed another 76 yards on the ground to the Spartans in the first half of last week's victory.  Notre Dame, however, responded in the second half against the Spartans and limited MSU to just 29 yards on nine carries after halftime (just 3.2 per rush).  Overall, Notre Dame is 74th in the country stopping the run (149.3).  Should the Boilermakers be forced to the air, Notre Dame senior strong safety Kyle McCarthy will be waiting.  McCarthy is looking to become the first Irish player since 1950 to open a season with an interception in four straight games.

But just as the Purdue will rush against a questionable ground defense, the same could be said about Notre Dame’s passing game and the Boilermakers’ struggles to defend it.  ND enters with the nation’s most efficient passing attack (186.1) and the 10th-ranked aerial offense (324.0) against the Boilers' 95th-ranked passing defense (253.3). Junior QB Jimmy Clausen ranks eighth in the country in passing yards per game (317.0), while sophomore wideout Michael Floyd ranks seventh in receiving (119.33).  The Irish have also found success with moving the ball right away as they did not have a single three-and-out in the victory over Michigan State. In fact, the Irish have had just four three-and-outs over their first three games and three came against Michigan.  Linebacker Jason Werner continues to shine on defense for Purdue as he intercepted his first pass last week and currently ranks tied for 14th in the nation with 6.0 tackles for loss.  Werner owns a tackles-per-game average of 9.0, which is sixth best in the conference, and is followed by teammate Torri Williams in 14th at 7.7.  Last week Williams tied his career high with 11 tackles, while Chris Carlino finished with a personal best 10 total stops.