Big Ten Teams Enter Second Week of Conference Play
Sept. 28, 2007
No. 21/19/19 PENN STATE (3-1, 0-1 Big Ten) at ILLINOIS (3-1, 1-0)
LAST TIME OUT
THE SERIES, including a comeback win last season when the Nittany Lions trailed the Illini, 9-3, at halftime. PSU holds a 10-1 mark against Illinois since the Lions.
From Michigan's Michael Hart to Illinois' Rashard Mendenhall, one of the nation's top rushing defenses won't be getting a break this week either. Heading into the Michigan game last week, Penn State was tops in the nation in rush defense, allowing just 17.7 yards per game. It was Hart who inflated that number after running for 153 yards in a 14-9 upset win over the Nittany Lions. PSU, now ranked sixth in the country with 54.8 rushing yards allowed each contest, faces an Illini team and rusher coming off one of the biggest ground performances in school history. Last week at Indiana, Mendenhall, the Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week, scampered for a career-high 214 yards and two touchdowns in Illinois' 27-14 win in Bloomington - its first win in a Big Ten opener since 1993. On the ground, the Illini currently rank fifth in the nation with 265.5 yards per game.
Penn State signal caller Anthony Morelli struggled last week with a Wolverine defense that denied him at least a 50 percent completion rate for the first time this season. With eight touchdowns on the year, Morelli managed only 15-of-31 passing for 169 yards, while the potent offense of Penn State recorded just three field goals in the upset loss. On the other sideline stands Illinois option-quarterback Juice Williams. Through the air this season, Williams has passed for just 377 yards and his three touchdowns match his three interceptions.
Illinois returns home after two straight wins on the road at Syracuse and Indiana. Defense has been a key for the Illini as they are 19th in the country in rush defense, allowing only 87.0 yards per game. Last week at Indiana, the Hoosiers were averaging 258.7 yards on the ground - seventh best in the nation - yet were held to just 134 for the game. Defensive end Will Davis posted a career-high five tackles for loss and four sacks in the win, which earned him the conference's co-Defensive Player of the Week honor. Davis and the rest of the Illini defenders will look to keep the Nittany Lion rushing attack inconsistent, as PSU still has not managed to find its star rusher in Austin Scott (57 carries, 250 yards, 4.4 ypc, 5 TD) or Rodney Kinlaw (52 carries, 313 yards, 6.0 ypc, 2 TD).
INDIANA (3-1, 0-1) at IOWA (2-2, 0-1)
LAST TIME OUT
Both Indiana and Iowa dropped their Big Ten openers and both teams fondly remember last year's meeting between the two in Bloomington. The Hoosiers outscored Iowa 24-7 in the final 34 minutes to knock off the No. 13 Hawkeyes, 31-28, and earn their first victory over a top-15 team since Oct. 10, 1987, against No. 9 Ohio State.
Despite scoring only 14 points in a home loss against Illinois last week, Indiana enters the weekend third in the conference in scoring offense, putting 36.8 points on the board each week. Iowa on the other hand, ranks 11th in the category, managing just 19.2 points per contest with nine touchdowns and five field goals this season. The tables turn, however, when the focus is put on scoring defense. Iowa is second in the Big Ten by allowing just 8.8 points per game, while the Hoosiers are allowing 21.2 points overall, just ninth-best in the conference.
Up until last week's loss at Wisconsin, the Iowa defense had not given up one touchdown. The Hawkeye defenders are allowing 235.5 total yards and 147.0 passing yards, both of which are second-best in the conference, and 88.5 yards on the ground, which ranks fourth. Senior linebackers Mike Klinkenborg and Mike Humpal lead the team in tackles with 32 and 30, respectively, while tackle Mitch King had recorded seven stops for loss.
While ranking third in the Big Ten in rushing offense at 227.5 yards per game, the Hoosiers have struggled to find consistency in the run game. Quarterback Kellen Lewis is the team's top and Big Ten's eighth-best rusher at 88.0 yards per game, while he ranks fourth in the conference with 226.5 passing yards in the air. Indiana's primary running back, Demetrius McCray, is not expected to play Saturday because of a foot injury, which leaves Bryan Payton with the brunt of the carries. The sophomore reserve is averaging 6.0 yards on 16 carries this season, including five rushes for 40 yards last week against Illinois.
The good news is that McCray is expected back, but unfortunately for Iowa, Hawkeye wide receiver Andy Brodell is not. Brodell tore his hamstring last week at Wisconsin and is likely to miss the rest of the season. He was Iowa's primary wideout and punt returner, averaging 14.4 yards a return. Junior tight end Tony Moeaki, the team's leader with 14 receptions, could miss up to a month after dislocating his elbow and breaking a bone in his hand on the same play against Wisconsin.
At 65.5 and 61.0 rushing yards per game, respectively, Iowa's Albert Young and Damian Sims will need to penetrate the Hoosier defense more often, or help block for quarterback Jake Christensen who could be busy with Indiana's Greg Middleton, as he leads the Hoosiers with five sacks on the year. Cornerback Tracy Porter has intercepted three balls in the last five quarters.
MICHIGAN (2-2, 1-0) at NORTHWESTERN (2-2, 0-1)
LAST TIME OUT
Northwestern welcomes Michigan this weekend for its Big Ten home opener, while the Wolverines venture out on the road for the first time this season. Michigan has rebounded soundly from an 0-2 start with a convincing 38-0 shutout win over Notre Dame and last weekend's 14-9 upset over No. 10 Penn State.
Both teams have been playing the past few games without one of their primary starters. Michigan quarterback Chad Henne has been sidelined the past two-plus games with an injury, while Northwestern running back Tyrell Sutton has missed the last 10 quarters the Wildcats have played. In their place as stood U-M freshman quarterback Ryan Mallett and NU senior tailback Brandon Roberson. Mallett is coming off a 16-of-29 performance for 170 yards against Penn State and has connected on 29-of-61 pass attempts for 309 yards, three TD's and two interceptions on the year. Roberson is NU's leading rusher with 259 yards, averaging 64.8 yards per game on 5.2 carries.
Michigan (22.8 points per game) and Northwestern (21.0 ppg) rank ninth and 10th, respectively, in the conference scoring offense category. Not surprisingly due to the aforementioned injuries, Northwestern will attempt to do its damage through the air as it rates third in the Big Ten in passing offense at 242.2 yards per game, while Michigan is fifth in pass defense, allowing 193.5 yards per outing. The Wolverines will counter with the conference's fourth-best rushing attack, averaging 211.2 yards on the ground, behind the Big Ten's top rusher in Mike Hart. Northwestern is ninth in the conference with 138.8 rushing yards allowed per game, which is good news for Hart, who needs 138 yards to become Michigan's all-time leading rusher. Hart currently is tops in the Big Ten with 163.8 rushing yards per game.
NU quarterback C.J. Bacher ranks third among Big Ten passers with 239.5 yards per game, but is set to face a Michigan defense that has not allowed a touchdown in the last nine quarters. The Wolverines' Brandon Graham is tied for third in the Big Ten with five sacks, all of which came in the last two games. Shawn Crable leads the conference with nine tackles for loss and is sixth with 3.5 sacks.
Notre Dame (0-4) at No. -/25/- PURDUE (4-0, 1-0)
LAST TIME OUT
A win Saturday over Notre Dame would give Purdue its second 4-0 start (2004) under Joe Tiller and just the second since 1945. The Fighting Irish are simply looking for a win - something they haven't found this year against Big Ten squads Penn State, Michigan and Michigan State, which last week defeated them 31-14.
In all major offensive categories - rushing, passing, passing efficiency, scoring and total offense - Purdue ranks no worse than 30th in the nation and is among the country's top-15 teams in scoring (7th), total offense (8th) and passing (12th). Notre Dame on the other hand ranks last amongst 119 teams in the nation in rushing offense and total offense. The Irish are 118th in scoring offense, 117th in passing offense and 115th in passing efficiency. On the defensive side of the ball, Notre Dame ranks 111th in rushing defense, but perhaps the one threat the Irish could have for the Boilermakers is their fourth-best passing defense in the country.
Enter Curtis Painter and Dorien Bryant, the Big Ten's deadliest aerial combo. Painter leads the conference with 322.5 passing and 324.2 total yards per game, while Bryant boasts a Big Ten-best eight receptions per game for 92.0 yards. The Purdue offense has put up 48.5 points per contest - tops in the Big Ten - while Notre Dame is allowing its opponents 33.2 points per game and only registering 6.8 points per outing themselves. ND freshman quarterback Jimmy Clausen averages only 76.2 yards in the air should see some disruption in the secondary by Purdue cornerback Terrell Vinson, who is eighth in the conference with 7.2 tackles per game.
No. -/23/25 MICHIGAN STATE (4-0, 0-0) at No. 9/9/9 WISCONSIN (4-0, 1-0)
LAST TIME OUT
Wisconsin is looking for its 11th-straight home win at Camp Randall Stadium and to extend the nation's longest win streak to 14 games, which would be just three victories shy of tying the all-time school record. However, Michigan State also enters Saturday's matchup a perfect 4-0 and both teams have offensive averages that are strikingly comparable. Both Wisconsin and Michigan State are averaging over 400 total yards of offense each game, with plus-200 yard totals in both passing and rushing. Of the Spartans' 430.5 total yards per game, 229.8 come from the air, while 200.8 are gained on the ground. Wisconsin averages 415.8 total yards an outing, with 213.0 in passing and 202.8 from the rush. On the scoreboard, Michigan State averages 32.8 points per game, while Wisconsin follows at 31.0.
Several similarities highlight Saturday's matchup between the two. In addition, both have accomplished running backs in their systems. Wisconsin's P.J. Hill is coming off his third-straight 100-yard game on the ground after finishing with 113 yards in a 17-13 win at home against Iowa last week. Michigan State's Javon Ringer dominated a dismal Notre Dame rushing defense last week, posting a season-high 144 yards on 26 carries, while Jehuu Caulcrick rushed for 83 yards on 20 attempts. This week's rush defense will be tougher as the Badgers have allowed just 96.8 yards on the ground this season.
In the air, Wisconsin's Tyler Donovan has compiled a career-high 761 yards this season, but will be put the test this week against the Big Ten's third-best pass defense. Michigan State has allowed only 170.0 yards per game through the air and currently leads the nation with 21 sacks on the year. Jonal Saint-Dic, who has registered a Big Ten-best six of those sacks, all of which were solo stops, also leads the conference with five forced fumbles.
History points to a lopsided game, as Michigan State routed Wisconsin, 49-14, in the teams' last meeting in 2004 in East Lansing. However, the Badgers won 56-21 the last time the Spartans visited Camp Randall back in 2003. But the numbers side with the defenses in this game and it could be a Big Ten battle in the trenches Saturday. If this game stays out the 30s, advantage Wisconsin. Since 2001, the Badgers are 36-32 in games where they scored less than 30 points, while Michigan State is just 12-53 over the same span.
No. 8/8/7 OHIO STATE (4-0, 1-0) at MINNESOTA (1-3, 0-1)
LAST TIME OUT
Simply put, Minnesota enters Saturday looking for its first win against the Buckeyes on its home turf in 11 games with an offense ranked in the nation's top 20 and a rushing game that is the country's 15th-best. Ohio State on the other hand, boasts the nation's second-leading total defense and an offense that is only getting better.
The Buckeyes have given up 177.8 yards per game and their 7.3 points allowed per game rank third among the country's scoring defenses. Only 29 points have been scored on Ohio State through four games, which is the school's fewest since allowing 13 points in four games during the 1973 season. Minnesota will need to minimize its mistakes this week, as it turned the ball over four times, including three fumbles, in a loss against Purdue last week and has recorded 16 turnovers in four games.
Offensively, Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber rates second in the conference with 257.8 passing yards and 322.0 total yards per game, but has also thrown eight interceptions. His primary target Eric Decker is second in the Big Ten with 7.5 catches and 105.2 yards per game. In the backfield, Amir Pinnix (109.8 ypg) ranks fourth in rushing offense.
The Golden Gophers will be playing against the Big Ten's best defense on Saturday. Ohio State ranks first in total defense and pass defense efficiency, allowing just 79.9 yards through the air and only one touchdown on the season. OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis has recorded two interceptions and, 29 tackles and three sacks this season.
Minnesota rates 11th in the conference in total defense, allowing 543.2 yards per game. Look for Ohio State quarterback Todd Boeckman and running back Chris Wells to exploit the Golden Gopher defense. Last week against Northwestern, Ohio State captured a 58-7 win over the Wildcats. Boeckman, the Big Ten's most efficient passer with a rating of 172.1, was 11-of-14 in the air for 179 yards and four touchdowns, while Wells scored twice on the ground. Minnesota's Dominique Barber is second in the Big Ten, averaging 9.8 tackles per game, while Jamal Harris leads the conference with a total of eight passes defended this season.