Big Ten Football Preview: Week 6

Oct. 7, 2010


(2-2, 0-1 Big Ten)

Illinois at Penn State
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 • Noon ET • University Park, Pa. • Beaver Stadium (107,282)
ESPN2 • Announcers: Bob Wischusen, Brian Griese 
Series: Penn State leads, 14-3 • Last Meeting: Oct. 3, 2009: Penn State 35, Illinois 17

(3-2, 0-1 Big Ten)

Illinois and Penn State are meeting for the 18th time Saturday with the Nittany Lions leading the series, 14-3, including an 11-2 mark since the Lions began Big Ten play in 1993.  Penn State earned a 35-17 victory in Champaign on Oct. 3, 2009 – a game that was 7-3 midway through the third quarter. Illinois' last win over Penn State came in 2007, when the Illini topped the 21st-ranked Nittany Lions 27-20 at Memorial Stadium on the their way to the 2008 Rose Bowl Game.  Saturday’s contest is the Nittany Lions' 91st Homecoming Game, with Penn State owning a 65-20-5 mark all-time in the annual weekend.

The Illinois offense enters the weekend fifth in the Big Ten in rushing (201.5), ninth in scoring (22.2), and 11th in passing (130.5) and total yards (332.0).  Running back Mikel Leshoure has topped the 100-yard mark in three games this season and has continued his momentum from the midway point of last year.  In his last 10 games, Leshoure has run for 1,049 yards on 157 carries (6.7 ypc) with only Wisconsin’s John Clay posting a better mark. Leshoure is averaging 119.5 rushing yards per game this season, which puts him 13th in the nation and the second in the Big Ten.  In four games under center, freshman Nathan Scheelhaasse is averaging only 176.2 yards of total offense and has passed for just 489 yards this season.  The Illini have proven to be quite tough in the red zone this season, as they are one of only five teams in the nation to score on all of their red zone drives this season. In 12 trips inside the 20, the Illini have scored seven touchdowns and five field goals.  That could be the most intriguing stat of the game when you combine the fact that Penn State has allowed its opponents on the board in all nine trips inside the red zone this season, including seven touchdowns.  Both the TD mark and the 100 percent scoring allowance ranks last in the conference.  Despite its record inside the 20, Penn State has remained potent on the defensive side of the ball.  The Nittany Lions rank second in the league against the pass (172.2), third in scoring (15.0) and total defense (290.4), and fifth in stopping the run (118.2). Chris Colasanti paces all PSU tacklers and is sixth in the conference with 8.2 stops per game, while Pete Massaro and Nate Stupar each have a pair of sacks on the year.  Nick Sukay is second in the league with three interceptions in five games.

The Penn State offensive unit ranks eighth in the Big Ten in passing (217.0), 10th in rushing (138.2) and total yards (355.2) and 11th in scoring (19.2).  The Lions are the only conference squad to have scored fewer than 10 touchdowns this season and managed just a field goal against Iowa last week. QB Rob Bolden recorded his fourth 200-yard passing game of the season, going 20-of-37 for 212 yards and one interception, while Devon Smith tied his career-high with five receptions for 58 yards.  On the ground, Evan Royster gained 56 yards on 10 carries and moved into fourth place on Penn State’s career rushing list with 3,271 yards.  Last year against the Illini, Royster was one of two PSU backs to eclipse 100 yards on the ground.  There is no doubt that the Illini defense will look to make another statement Saturday after putting forth an impressive effort against Ohio State last week. The Illini held OSU's high-powered offense, which entered the game ranked third in the nation in scoring (49.3) and eighth in total offense (506.8), to season-lows in both points (24) and total yards (290), while limiting the Buckeyes to just 77 yards passing.  Currently the defense is holding opponents to just 18.0 points and 322.25 total yards per game, totals that rank 29th and 27th in the nation, respectively.  Additionally, Illinois is 42nd in rushing yards allowed (130.0) and 65th in pass efficiency defense (125.66). Already 11 different Illini defenders have at least 1.0 TFL, led by junior linebacker Martez Wilson's 5.0 stops behind the line of scrimmage, which ranks sixth in the Big Ten. Wilson also is tied for fourth in the conference with 2.0 total sacks and 8.5 tackles per game.  Junior Tavon Wilson paces the league with two recovered fumbles on the year.



(3-1, 0-1 Big Ten)

Indiana at No. 2/2 Ohio State
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 • Noon ET • Columbus, Ohio • Ohio Stadium (102,329)
ESPN • Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Tim Brown, Ray Bentley
Series: Ohio State leads, 66-12-5 • Last Meeting: Oct. 3, 2009: Ohio State 33, Indiana 14

(5-0, 1-0 Big Ten)

Indiana returns to Ohio Stadium for the first time since top-ranked Ohio State earned a 44-3 win over the Hoosiers in 2006. Now the No. 2 Buckeyes look to extend their overall series advantage to 67-12-5 after a 33-14 victory in Bloomington last season.  OSU has won 15 straight from the Hoosiers since a 41-7 loss in 1988 in Bloomington, which represents the most lopsided setback for Ohio State in the 108-year-old series. OSU comes into this weekend at 5-0 overall after a 24-13 road win at Illinois last weekend.  Indiana battled Michigan until the end last Saturday, falling 42-35 at home to drop to 0-1 in conference play and 3-1 overall.  The Hoosiers are looking for their first win over the nation’s No. 1 or 2 team in 27 contests.

One thing that was known about the Indiana offense last week when facing the equally high-powered scoring attack of Michigan, and that was that the Hoosiers were going to be in a shootout.  Despite falling just shy last week, Indiana put up just as many mind-blowing numbers as Michigan, and perhaps even more. IU’s 35 points and 568 total yards were both all-time highs in the series, while the team’s 35 first downs tied a school record set at Kentucky on in 1994.  Senior quarterback Ben Chappell set school records with 45 completions (most in a single game nationally in 2010), 64 attempts (tied for most nationally) and 480 passing yards, which were the most allowed by Michigan in school history.  Junior wideout Tandon Doss finished with career highs of 221 yards (tied for the most nationally) and 15 catches (second nationally), while also totaling 363 all-purpose yards (second nationally). Damarlo Belcher also added 10 catches for 91 yards in the loss.  Statistically, Chappell is third nationally with 342.5 passing yards per game while Doss (7.67, 107.7) and Belcher (7.75, 93.8) own the top two spots in the conference in both catches and receiving yards per outing.  Not to mention a third aerial threat is listed among the Big Ten’s top receivers in Terrance Turner, who is third with 6.00 receptions and ninth with 61.5 receiving yards per game.  As a whole, Indiana ranks fourth nationally in passing offense (348.2), 13th in scoring offense (39.8), 14th in passing efficiency (161.2), tied for 21st in sacks allowed (1.0) and 24th in total offense (455.0). IU has scored at least 35 points in four straight games for the first time since the start of the 1990 season.  The Buckeyes will look to put an end to the Hoosiers fun, as they are fifth in the country allowing 242.4 total yards per game, 11th in scoring defense (14.2), eighth against the run (80.6) and 18th in defending the pass (161.8). Ohio State has a conference-leading plus-9 turnover margin and leads the conference with 14 takeaways.  Ross Homan has guided the defense with his 31 stops, while fellow linebacker Brian Rolle has 25. Unfortunately for OSU, Tyler Moeller learned this week he will undergo season-ending surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle following an injury suffered at Illinois last Saturday.  To date, Moeller had made 20 tackles with a team-leading 4.5 for loss and a pair of forced fumbles.

On the offensive side of the ball, Ohio State and quarterback Terrelle Pryor will look to silence the Hoosier defense with its balanced attack, just as Michigan did last week.  But look for OSU to primarily attack on the ground, even if Pryor remains gimpy from a slight injury last week.  The Buckeyes are eighth nationally in scoring (44.2), 14th in rushing (234.8) and 21st in total offense (463.4).  Pryor is averaging 74.6 yards on the ground, 203.0 yards through the air, and has been responsible for 16 touchdowns in five contests. He had a string of four straight 200-yard games snapped last weekend, when he totaled just 76 yards passing against the Illini. He has topped 100 yards rushing three times.  Daniel Herron (287 yards, 5 TDs) and Brandon Saine (183 yards, 2 TDs) have also been steady on the ground this season, while Dane Sanzenbacher has been the top aerial target for Pryor.  His six receiving TDs are tops in the Big Ten and his 351 yards rank third. DeVier Posey has added 18 grabs for 261 yards and a pair of scores as well.  On defense, Indiana ranks ninth in the conference in scoring (25.0) and total yards (397.2), and 11th against the run (207.0).  Despite allowing 277 passing yards – and 217 rushing yards – to the Denard Robinson show last week, Indiana remains fourth in the conference in pass defense (190.2).  The Hoosiers have a plus-3 turnover margin and are led by Tyler Replogle’s 8.7 tackles per game, an average that ranks third in the conference.


(1-4, 0-1 Big Ten)

Minnesota at No. 20/19 Wisconsin
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 • 11 a.m. CT • Madison, Wis. • Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
Big Ten Network • Announcers: Eric Collins, Chris Martin, Charissa Thompson 
Series: Minnesota leads, 59-52-8 • Last meeting: Oct. 3, 2009: Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 28

(4-1, 0-1 Big Ten)

The most-played rivalry in NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision history will be renewed for its 120th edition Saturday in Madison.  Minnesota and Wisconsin will battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe for the 63rd time this weekend while the Golden Gophers hope to extend their slim margin in the overall series to 60-52-8. Wisconsin leads in games played for the Axe by a tally of 35-24-3 and the Badgers have won six straight in the rivalry.  Prior to playing for the Axe in 1948, the Gophers and Badgers played for the “Slab of Bacon” from 1930 to the early 1940s, but that trophy was lost and a few years later. Saturday will be the 103rd Homecoming game at Wisconsin. The Badgers are 52-45-5 on Homecoming and have won five of their last six.

Minnesota’s offense ranks eighth in the Big Ten in scoring (26.8), rushing (166.0) and total yards (407.4), but fourth in passing (241.4). The Gophers are 27th in the nation in passing efficiency (148.58), behind the success of quarterback Adam Weber, who is averaging 239.8 passing yards per game with nine touchdowns and four interceptions on the year.  Weber and the Minnesota offense have managed the clock impressively this season, rating second in the country with an average time of possession mark of 34:32.  Despite the close loss to Northwestern last week, Minnesota still owned the time advantage thanks largely in part to a solid rushing effort by junior DeLeon Eskridge. Before last week’s game, in which he rushed for 119 yards, Eskridge hadn’t eclipsed the 100-yard mark in nearly two years.  Tight end Eric Lair caught the first two touchdowns of his career in the loss, one of which signified Weber’s 61st career TD toss, which tied him for 10th on the Big Ten's all-time list. MarQueis Gray is tied for fifth in the conference with 4.80 receptions and sixth with 67.2 receiving yards this season.  Eight of Wisconsin’s last 13 opponents have failed to surpass 300 yards of total offense and the Badgers rank 25th nationally in allowing 301.0 yards per game, including 110.6 on the ground.  Although last week at Michigan State, UW gave up 444 total yards and 175 rushing yards in the loss.  Despite the outcome, Wisconsin forced three first-half turnovers.  Junior Antonio Fenelus recorded his third career interception, and second of the season, in the first quarter, while Devin Smith later notched his third career pick and first of the year in the second quarter.  Also in the second stanza, senior Niles Brinkley recorded his first career forced fumble.  The Badgers’ top tackler is J.J. Watt at 4.8 stops per game, which ranks just 41st among Big Ten defenders, although is 7.0 TFLs are fourth-best in the league.

Wisconsin’s offense continues to strive for consistent outings this season as the historically-dominant rushing game is there, but the passing attack has been struggling as of late.  The Badgers are 13th in the country and second in the Big Ten in rushing offense, averaging 239.0 yards per game and 5.61 yards per carry on the ground.  John Clay ranks third in the league with 116.2 yards per contest, but was held to 80 yards on 17 carries last week in East Lansing, snapping his streak of 10 straight games rushing for at least 100 yards.  Freshman James White continues to impress in the backfield after rushing for 243 yards and six TDs over the last two games, earning him Big Ten Freshman of the Week laurels each week.  UW is averaging 206.6 passing yards each time out, which rates just ninth in the league, while quarterback Scott Tolzien is also ninth among offensive gainers at 192.8 yards per game.  Tight end Lance Kendricks is eighth in the Big Ten with 63.2 receiving yards every Saturday and 10th with 4.00 receptions per game.  Like Wisconsin’s defense last week, Minnesota recorded three takeaways against Northwestern to improve its turnover margin to plus-4, which rates 15th in the country.  The Gophers’ unit is allowing 221.2 passing yards and 185.6 rushing yards per game, totals that rank eighth and 10th in the conference, respectively.  Minnesota currently sits 11th in the league in scoring defense (30.6), having allowed 10 touchdowns in the air and 10 on the ground, both of which are the most in the conference.  Junior Gary Tinsley is averaging 6.4 stops per game and has 5.0 tackles for loss this year. Jewhan Edwards has 5.5 TFLs and Mike Rallis has two picks in their five games played.


(5-0, 1-0 Big Ten)

No. 17/16 Michigan State at No. 18/17 Michigan
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 • 3:30 p.m. ET • Ann Arbor, Mich. • Michigan Stadium (109,901)
ABC• Announcers: Sean McDonough, Matt Millen, Quint Kessenich
Series: Michigan leads, 67-30-5 • Last Meeting: Oct. 3, 2009: Michigan State 26, Michigan 20 (OT)

(5-0, 1-0 Big Ten)

Saturday marks the 58th all-time meeting between Michigan and Michigan State for the Paul Bunyan Trophy, but this weekend’s matchup brings a little extra flavor to the gridiron.  Both the Wolverines and Spartans enter the contest 5-0 on the season and 1-0 in conference play with bowl eligibility going to the winner. The Maize and Blue hold a 67-30-5 all-time advantage in the series and a 7-3 edge in the last
10 games between the in-state rivals.  Also in Michigan’s favor is the fact that the home team has won 14 of the last 18 games in the series.  But the Spartans have their own motivation, playing for head coach Mark Dantonio, who was readmitted to a local hospital prior to last week’s game with a blood clot issue that stemmed from a mild heart attack he suffered following the Notre Dame win.  This series was first contested in 1898 and the two programs have met every year since 1945, a streak of 64 consecutive seasons.  Michigan has won six of the past eight trophy games, but the Spartans have claimed the last two with a 35-21 win in 2008 and a 26-20 overtime victory in 2009.

You don’t have to look far to find the key stat in the Michigan State-Michigan series. The team with the most productive ground attack has won 37 of the last 40 games. During its two-game winning streak, MSU has outrushed the Wolverines, 364-112 (yards).  This year, however, the rushing stat is proving hard to decipher.  Michigan leads the conference with 324.4 rushing yards per game, while Michigan State is fourth at 220.2.  U-M quarterback Denard Robinson posts 181.0 yards on the ground, which leads the nation, but the Spartans’ Edwin Baker (107.2) and Le’Veon Bell (94.2) rank fourth and sixth, respectively, in the Big Ten.  It begs the question, “Who really has the best ground game?”  Outside of the rushing attack, MSU is third in the conference in total yards (460.6), fifth in scoring (36.2), and sixth in passing (240.4). Kirk Cousins is fifth in the league with 226.4 passing yards per game, having thrown nine TDs to four interceptions this year.  His primary targets -- senior Mark Dell and junior B.J. Cunningham – have combined for 204 receptions, 2,995 yards and 14 career touchdowns.  Much like Indiana did last week, Michigan State could be poised to post big points and yardage numbers Saturday against a Michigan defense that has struggled to make stops.  The unit is allowing 25.4 points, 125.8 rushing yards, 307.8 passing yards, and 433.6 total yards per game – all totals ranking seventh or worse in the Big Ten.  However, when stops do come, they typically do so in damaging fashion.  Seven of Michigan’s nine takeaways this year have been interceptions, which rank 16th nationally, and the Wolverines’ last four games have featured at least one pick. The Wolverines have collected seven sacks on the season, including five in the past two contests.  U-M has five defenders with 30 or more stops so far, including Big Ten leader Jonas Mouton (47, 9.4 tpg) and second-place Jordan Kovacs (46, 9.2 tpg).  Mike Martin and Greg Banks each have a pair of sacks this year.

Michigan is second in the nation in total offense (565.0), third in rushing (324.4) and ninth in scoring (41.4).  U-M has rushed for over 280 yards, gained 500 yards or more of total offense, and scored a touchdown on every scoring drive in each of the last four games.  As mentioned above, the majority of those yards come from the talented Robinson who is making the national headlines each week.  In addition to his 181 rushing yards per game, Robinson is averaging 201.6 passing yards each time out and has been remarkably consistent as well.  He is just one of three Big Ten quarterbacks to average better than a 69 percent completion clip and one of two to throw just one pick on the year.  In fact, Michigan’s signal callers are completing nearly 75 percent of their passes (73.1 pct., 87-of-119) to give the Wolverines a pass efficient rating of 181.3, which is fourth-best in the country.  It has been that type of accuracy and Robinson’s big play ability that has contributed to Michigan scoring 15 touchdowns on drives that have elapsed two minutes or less, with eight of those drives spanned less than one minute this year.  Roy Roundtree leads the receiving group with 5.00 catches and 67.4 yards per game, which rank third and fifth, respectively, in the Big Ten.  Roundtree could be an emerging target Saturday as the Spartans’ defense ranks ninth in the league against the pass (227.4) and seventh in scoring (18.6).  Michigan State will look to limit Robinson’s ground game as it ranks third-best in the Big Ten and 20th nationally by allowing 101.2 rushing yards per game.  MSU’s defense has recorded six picks in five games with Greg Jones securing two of those.  Jones is tied for sixth in the league with 8.2 stops per game and is eighth with 5.0 tackles for loss.  Chris Rucker is averaging 7.4 tackles per game, while Eric Gordon is 15th in the Big Ten at 6.8.


(2-2, 0-0 Big Ten)

Purdue at No. -/25 Northwestern
Saturday, Oct. 9, 2010 • 6:30 p.m. CT • Evanston, Ill. • Ryan Field (47,130)
Big Ten Network • Announcers: Tom Hart, Anthony Herron, Lisa Byington 
Series: Purdue leads, 49-27-1 • Last Meeting: Oct. 3, 2009: Northwestern 27, Purdue 21

(5-0, 1-0 Big Ten)

Again we ask, “Is Northwestern thrilled with returning to Evanston to play?”  It seems like a silly question, but all it seems the Wildcats have been doing lately is winning on the road.  Following last weekend's 29-28 come-from behind victory at Minnesota, Northwestern has now won a Big Ten-best 10 road games dating to the start of the 2008 season. The Wildcats also have won their last five road contests, which is their longest streak since 1995.  NU carries an eight-game regular-season winning streak into its Big Ten home opener, which is also the team’s longest since 1995.  Saturday night’s contest at Ryan Field is likely to bring a little nostalgia to the gridiron as well. The game will be played almost 75 years to the day of the first-ever night game in Big Ten history, which ironically involved Northwestern and Purdue on Oct. 5, 1935 in Evanston. Purdue and Northwestern have not met in a night game since that inaugural game under the lights.  Following its bye last week, Purdue, which leads the overall series with Northwestern 49-27-1, will look to open its conference season with a win and break the Wildcats’ two-game win streak against the Boilermakers.

Let’s hope Purdue used its bye week to simply catch its breath.  With everything that has happened to the Boilermakers this season, they might as well be known as the “Bad News Boilers.”  All to season-ending injuries, they have lost last year’s top rusher, top receiver, and its starting quarterback in the opening weeks of the campaign.  All this drama has caused redshirt freshman Rob Henry to be vaulted into the spotlight.  Two weeks ago against Toledo, Henry posted career-bests with 70 yards rushing and 140 yards passing, while completing 17-of-31 attempts. Senior Keith Carlos saw his first action of the season at running back, carrying the ball seven times for 41 yards in his debut.  Senior Dan Dierking is helping out the Boilermakers’ cause with 51.2 rushing and 20.8 receiving yards per game.  As a team, Purdue ranks sixth in the conference in rushing (188.0), ninth in total yards (374.2), and 10th in scoring (21.8) and passing (186.2).  By comparison, Northwestern is sixth against the rush (122.2), eighth in total yards (372.4), fourth in scoring (18.0) and 10th in pass defense (250.2).  The Wildcats boast a plus-5 turnover margin that ranks second in the Big Ten, which is good news for them should this game be a repeat of the last two years.  In NU’s two recent victories over Purdue, the Wildcats had five takeaways in the 2008 win and then followed up with six takeaways a year ago.  Quentin Davie, who leads Northwestern with 192 career tackles, paces the league with three interceptions, while Vince Browne owns the conference lead with 5.0 sacks.  Junior Brian Peters ranks tied for 11th in the conference with a team-best 7.4 stops per game this year.

Northwestern’s offense and Purdue’s defense enter Saturday ranked near the middle of the conference in their respective categories.  The Wildcats are sixth in total yards (433.0) with the Boilermakers seventh in yards allowed (349.5).  NU is ninth in rushing (155.2) while Purdue is ninth defending the run (148.0).  The similarities stop in the passing game, however, as Northwestern ranks second in league (277.8) and the Boilermakers are seventh in pass defense (201.5). Junior Dan Persa has been responsible for the success of the Wildcats’ aerial attack this year, showing remarkable consistency in his passing. Persa leads the nation in completion percentage (.794), is third among FBS quarterbacks in pass efficiency (184.6) and sixth nationally in total offense (325.8). Wideout Jeremy Ebert leads NU in receptions (24), receiving yards (436), yards per reception average (18.2) and TD receptions (5), while Drake Dunsmore (18), Sidney Stewart (18) and Demetrius Fields (14) are Northwestern’s other wideouts with double-figure reception totals this year. The Wildcats have had three different players lead the team in rushing after five games with Persa, Arby Fields and Mike Trumpy leading the way.  Looking to stop the NU offense is Purdue’s Ryan Kerrigan, whose 12.0 TFL total is tops in the Big Ten and his sack tally of 4.5 is just a half behind Northwestern’s Browne.  As a team, the Boilermakers lead the conference with 12 sacks and share second in the conference with 31 tackles for loss.  On a per-game level, the Boilers' 3.0 sacks and 7.75 TFLs are tops in the conference and rank 11th and 14th nationally.