Big Ten Football Preview: Week 8

Oct. 20, 2011


(1-6, 0-3 Big Ten)

Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 • 11 a.m. CT • Iowa City, Iowa • Kinnick Stadium (70,585)
BTN • Announcers: Eric Collins, Chris Martin, Dionne Miller
Series: Iowa leads 41-27-4 • Last Meeting: Nov. 6, 2010: Iowa 18, Indiana 13

(4-2, 1-1 Big Ten)

After battling in the Leaders Division the past few weeks, Indiana travels over to the Legends Division and into Iowa City to meet an Iowa team that was forced to rally past the Hoosiers last year for an 18-13 win.  The Hawkeyes hold a 41-27-4 advantage in the series and have won 17 of the last 25 games, including six of the last eight, but few have been easy. Indiana won three straight meetings between 1998-2000.  Iowa holds a 22-10-3 advantage in Iowa City, having won five of the last seven in Kinnick Stadium. Indiana's most recent win in Iowa City was a 38-20 victory in 2007. The Cream and Crimson led throughout much of the game in 2009, including 21-7 late in the third quarter, before Iowa rallied for a 42-24 win.  Saturday marks the 100th Homecoming contest for the Hawkeyes, who will look to improve to 5-2 overall on the year. Iowa defeated Northwestern, 41-31, last week to even its Big Ten record at 1-1 following a 13-3 loss at Penn State.  Indiana is still searching for its first conference win, as the 1-6 Hoosiers have suffered league losses to Penn State (16-10), Illinois (41-20) and Wisconsin (59-7) in the past three weeks.

IU enters the weekend ranked fifth in the conference in passing (223.4), 10th in total yards (357.1), and 11th in rushing (133.7) and scoring (21.0).  Despite its weekly rushing totals, the Hoosiers had success on the ground last week against Wisconsin, racking up 223 yards on 45 attempts, marking the first time IU had eclipsed 200 yards rushing against a Big Ten foe since 2007.  Leading the way was Stephen Houston, who recorded his first 100-yard game as a Hoosier with 135 yards on 19 carries, including a 67-yard touchdown run. Houston, who also has nine receptions for 92 yards on the year, sits atop the team with 354 yards, 73 carries and a 4.8 average to go along with two touchdowns.  Indiana did not find the same success in the air last week, as the Hoosiers totaled just 64 passing yards on the day. Edward Wright-Baker returned from an injury to earn 54 of those yards on 6-of-15 passing.  No Hoosier receiver had more than two receptions.  On the year, Demarlo Belcher ranks eighth in the conference with 4.2 catches per game, but did not see the field in the second half last week due to injury.  Look for the action in the red zone to help determine the outcome of the game.  Indiana is 12th in the conference in red zone offense, having scored just 13-of-18 (72.2) times.  Iowa on the other hand, rates second-best in the league and 10th nationally in red zone defense, allowing its opponents on the board just 69.2 percent of the time.  The Hawkeyes are eighth in the league against the rush (152.3) and in points allowed (23.2), ninth in total defense (405.5), and 11th defending the pass (253.2).  Last week against Northwestern, sophomore Tanner Miller recorded his first career pick to go along with a personal-best eight stops, while senior Tyler Nielsen posted a career-best 12 tackles.  DT Steve Bigach stopped five Wildcats, earned a sack, and recovered a fumble in the win.  On the season, linebackers James Morris (10.6) and Christian Kirksey (9.7) are tied nationally for 13th and 24th in tackles, respectively, while Micah Hyde is tied for 13th with three interceptions.

Iowa has scored 31 points or more in five of its first six games, which is the first time that feat has been accomplished since 2002.  The Hawkeyes enter the weekend ranked second in the Big Ten in passing (253.0), fourth in scoring (32.5), eighth in total yards (386.5), and 12th in rushing (133.5). Last Saturday, sophomore Marcus Coker led Iowa's rushing game with 124 yards on 22 carries, while junior James Vandenberg completed 14-of-22 passes for 224 yards.  Senior Marvin McNutt, Jr. (6-87) and junior Keenan Davis (5-109) led the Hawkeyes’ aerial attack.  Against the rest of the Big Ten, Vandenberg is second in passing (248.0), Coker rates sixth in rushing (96.3), and McNutt (95.5) and Davis (70.2) are third and seventh, respectively, in receiving yards per game.  Indiana’s defense has struggled against both the pass and the run this season.  IU is ninth in pass defense (208.7), 11th in scoring (31.7), and 12th against the rush (227.4) and total yards allowed (436.1).  Senior Jeff Thomas has started all seven games and leads the team with 57 tackles, 33 solo stops and 8.5 tackles for loss, which ranks fourth in the conference. He also has one sack and three pass breakups on the year.  Freshman linebacker Mark Murphy led Indiana's defense last week with 10 tackles and a pass break-up, while Thomas added nine stops in the loss.


(6-1, 2-1 Big Ten)

Leaders Division Game
Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 • Noon ET • West Lafayette, Ind.• Ross-Ade Stadium (62,500)
ESPN2 • Announcers: Beth Mowins, Mike Bellotti
Series: Illinois leads, 42-38-6 • Last Meeting: Oct. 30, 2010: Illinois 44, Purdue 10

(3-3, 1-1 Big Ten)

No. 23 Illinois hits the road for the second time this season when it travels to Purdue this Saturday to battle for the Cannon rivalry trophy.  The Illini are looking for one more for the trophy case this season after previously retaining the Land of Lincoln Trophy against Northwestern, but missing a chance for the Illibuck last Saturday in a 17-7 loss at home to Ohio State.  The Boilermakers, who fell 23-18 to Penn State last week, attempt to regain ownership of the Cannon Trophy after losing possession of it for the first time in six games last season in a 44-10 setback to the Illini.  Purdue leads the traditional trophy series by a 30-26-2 mark.  Overall, the two teams will meet for the 87th time, with Illinois holding a 42-38-6 advantage, although trailing by a slim 20-19-4 margin in West Lafayette.  Illinois has dropped three straight road games to the Boilers, with the last Illini win in West Lafayette coming in 2001, 38-13. The most recent meeting at Ross-Ade Stadium was a 24-14 Purdue win in 2009.

Having obtained bowl eligibility for the second straight season for the first time since 1991 and 1992, Illinois’s offense now looks to power through the second half of the season.  Quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, who is fourth in the conference in passing (201.0) and seventh nationally in yards per pass attempt (9.1), hopes to find the same success he did last year against the Boilermakers when he had 313 total yards and threw a career-high four TDs. His 80 percent completion percentage (16-of-20) and 227.9 QB rating for the game both remain career highs.  A.J. Jenkins has made it easy on Scheelhasse this season, recording nearly 60 percent of the team’s receiving yards, leading the Big Ten and ranking fifth nationally in yards per game (127.9), and rating seventh-best in the nation with seven receiving TDs.  On the ground, Troy Pollard is averaging 9.2 yards per carry, second-most in the nation for anyone with at least 40 carries, while Donovon Young's 6.0 yards per carry is most in the nation for any freshman with more than 50 carries.  Overall, Illinois ranks third in the Big Ten in total offense (424.4), fourth in rushing (210.4), fifth in scoring (30.7), and sixth in passing (214.0).  Conversely, Purdue is seventh against the rush (149.3), defending the pass (200.0), total yards allowed (349.3), and scoring defense (21.0).  Last week against Penn State, the Boilers held strong in the red zone.  Linebacker Dwayne Beckford led all players with a season-high 11 total tackles, including one for a loss, and also broke up a potential touchdown pass in the end zone near the end of the first half, while safety Albert Evans intercepted his second career pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter and returned it a career-long 55 yards.  Josh Johnson finished with four tackles, a fumble forced and a career-high-tying two PBUs.  Joe Holland paces the squad for the year with 7.2 tackles per game, good for 13th in the conference.

Purdue’s offense held its own against a stingy Penn State defense last week, racking up 162 yards on the ground and 182 passing yards for 344 markers in all, which was the second-highest total the Nittany Lions allowed all year.  The Boilermakers found success with the running game, led by Ralph Bolden and Akeem Shavers.  Bolden averaged 7.5 yards per carry en route to 97 yards on the day, while Shavers scored his fifth TD of the year and finished with 54 yards on 13 carries.  QB Caleb TerBush is seventh in the Big Ten with 158.2 passing yards per game and, like Illinois, has a standout receiver he finds each game. Antavian Edison has hauled in a pass in each of the last 14 games.  Fellow wideout Justin Siller tied his career and season-high with five receptions for a career-best 67 yards last week.  But will TerBush have the time to find his offensive targets?  The Boilers have allowed 15 sacks on the season, but Illinois continues to lead the Big Ten and rank in the top-10 nationally in both sacks and tackles for loss. The Illini rank fifth in the country in sacks (3.7) and eighth in TFLs (8.3) per contest.  All-America and Bednarik Award candidate Whitney Mercilus continues to lead the nation in sacks (10.0) and sacks per game (1.86). The junior also is tied for the national lead with five forced fumbles. Michael Buchanan has 5.0 sacks on the year, ranking second in the conference, while teammate Jonathan Brown sits fourth at 3.5 sacks.  Look for momentum to swing in the ground game though.  Purdue ranks 24th in the country in rushing (206.5), while Illinois is 18th in defending the run (98.4).


(5-1, 1-1 Big Ten)

Legends Division Game
Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 • 2:30 p.m. CT • Minneapolis, Minn. • TCF Bank Stadium (50,805)
ABC (regional), ESPN2 (outer market) • Announcers: Carter Blackburn, Brock Huard
Series: Minnesota leads, 29-20-2 • Last Meeting: Sept. 22, 1990: Nebraska 56, Minnesota 0

(1-5, 0-2 Big Ten)

While most Big Ten teams are being introduced to the conference’s newest team this year, Saturday’s contest between Minnesota and No. 13 Nebraska is a reunion of sorts.  The Huskers have played the Golden Gophers more times than any other Big Ten opponent. This will mark the 52nd all-time meeting between the two schools, but the first since 1990. Nebraska has won 14 straight in the series, but Minnesota holds a 28-21-2 overall edge.  The Huskers (5-1) begin the second half of their schedule following a bye week, which came after a dramatic 34-27 Homecoming victory over Ohio State.  Minnesota is also coming off a bye week. The Gophers stand at 1-5 on the season, including an 0-2 mark in Big Ten action. Two of the Gophers' losses this season have come at the hands of ranked opponents, and two of their setbacks have been by a touchdown or less.

Nebraska enters the weekend ranked second in the conference in rushing (246.8) and scoring (37.0), fourth in total yards (419.0), and 10th in passing (172.2).  Two weeks ago in the win over Ohio State, the Huskers finished with 232 rushing yards on 51 carries, marking the fifth time in six games this season that their offense has rushed for 200 or more yards.  But that number was in jeopardy against the Buckeyes as the Huskers had just 37 rushing yards at halftime, before reeling off 195 yards in the final 30 minutes. Nebraska is 15-0 over the past two years when having 200 or more yards on the ground.  Against OSU, junior Rex Burkhead (119) and sophomore QB Taylor Martinez (102) each eclipsed 100 yards rushing, while Martinez added 191 yards and two scores on 16-of-22 passing.  Burkhead, who is third in the conference with 105.8 yards rushing each time out, also had career highs in receptions (5) and yards (59) against OSU.  Defensively, Minnesota is allowing 414.2 yards, including 166.5 on the ground, and 35.0 points per game. The Gophers, who posted three sacks at Purdue in their last outing, are led by senior defensive back Kim Royston, who has accumulated 51 tackles in the first half of the season. Senior linebacker Gary Tinsley has added 39 tackles, including four tackles for loss, and sophomore defensive back Brock Vereen checks in with 39 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, a team-high four pass breakups and an interception.

On offense, Minnesota is ninth in the Big Ten in rushing (144.7), 11th in passing (155.7), and 12th in scoring (18.0) and total yards (300.3). Junior quarterback MarQueis Gray is a dual-threat talent for the Gophers and leads the offense in both rushing (74.2) and passing (125.0). Senior running back Duane Bennett is the top ground threat after Gray, averaging more than 41 yards rushing per contest. He is just 24 yards away from cracking Minnesota’s all-time career top 20 for rushing yardage as he has rushed for 1,737 yards in his career. Senior wide receiver DaJon McKnight is one of the Big Ten's best and has 25 receptions for 316 yards and a touchdown midway through the season. McKnight has 93 career receptions entering this week's game.  The Huskers are eighth in defending the pass (204.8) and in total defense (372.7), ninth in scoring defense (27.2) and 10th against the rush (167.8).  Two weeks ago against Ohio State, Nebraska allowed 243 rushing yards, but just 65 after halftime.  The Huskers also forced two OSU turnovers in the game, converting the miscues into 14 points.  Senior linebacker Lavonte David recorded 13 tackles, pushing his career tackle total to 210.  David ranks tied for second in the conference with 9.7 stops per game, followed by defensive back Daimion Stafford at 7.3.  Cameron Meredith is seventh in the league with 3.0 sacks on the season.


(6-1, 3-0 Big Ten)

Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 • 6 p.m. CT • Evanston, Ill. • Ryan Field (47,130)
BTN • Announcers: Tom Hart, Derek Rackley, Lisa Byington
Series: Penn State leads, 11-3 • Last Meeting: Nov. 6, 2010: Penn State 35, Northwestern 21

(2-4, 0-3 Big Ten)

Playing the last of three consecutive night games, Northwestern hosts a Penn State squad that is unbeaten in Big Ten action for its annual Homecoming contest. The Nittany Lions bring a five-game winning streak into the contest, with the last three in conference play.  No. 22 Penn State enters the weekend on the heels of a 23-18 win over Purdue last week, while the Wildcats dropped a 41-31 decision at Iowa.  Saturday’s contest marks the 15th meeting between the two teams, with Penn State holding an 11-3 advantage over NU.  The Wildcats’ last win in the series came in by a count of 14-7 back in 2004.  In last year’s contest at Beaver Stadium, the Nittany Lions scored 35 unanswered points to surge back from a 21-0 first-half deficit to win 35-21 and give head coach Joe Paterno win No. 400 for his career.
Some would say in the past few weeks Penn State’s offense has simply been Red(d), White and Blue.  That is because sophomore tailback Silas Redd has delivered three consecutive 100-yard games on the ground, including last week’s 131 markers on 28 carries.  Redd has 402 rushing yards on 85 attempts in Penn State’s last three games. For the season, he has 705 yards on 147 carries and five touchdowns, averaging 100.7 yards each time out.  Penn State ranks eighth in the conference with 164.9 rushing yards per game and ninth in total yards at 373.1.  Quarterback Matt McGloin rates eighth in the league at 129.0 passing yards every Saturday.  On defense, Northwestern is 10th in scoring (30.0), 11th in rushing (172.2) and total yards allowed (429.3), and 12th against the pass (257.2).  It will be interesting to see how each team reacts on third down.  Penn State’s offense is just eighth in the league with a 39.4 third-down conversion rate, but Northwestern is 12th by allowing their opposition a 51.2 success rate.  Despite that mark, NU's defense limited Iowa to just one third-down conversion on seven attempts for the game.  The Wildcats have 11 forced turnovers on the season and boast a plus-5 turnover margin.  David Nwabuisi (8.0), Bryce McNaul (7.5) and Brian Peters (7.5) all rank among the conference’s top-10 defenders in tackles per game. Peters, a Jim Thorpe Award candidate, is tied with Ibrahim Campbell for the team lead in interceptions with two.

Northwestern employed a two-quarterback system during the game at Iowa, alternating between Dan Persa and Kain Colter, who racked up 147 all-purpose yards with 76 on the ground and 71 through the air. He is the first Wildcat to record at least 70 yards in those categories in the same game since Tyrell Sutton had 77 rushing yards and 72 receiving yards in 2008. The tandem of Persa and Colter has been a productive one since Persa's return from injury three games ago. The two have combined to account for 299.3 of the Wildcats' 420.7 yards of total offense per game in that stretch, during which Northwestern has averaged 30.0 points per game. In the three games back, Persa has completed 74.5 percent of his passes (73-of-92) for 700 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.  Wideout Jeremy Ebert has caught 39 balls, including a career-high 13 versus Iowa, for 431 yards and six touchdowns, all team bests. Senior tight end
Drake Dunsmore (19-178-2 TDs) has also been productive in the passing game. And watch those third downs while NU has the ball too.  Last week at Iowa, the Wildcats converted 16-of-22 third downs, which improved their season success rate from 41 to 48.8 percent.  Penn State, however, ranks fifth in the Big Ten with an opponent conversion rate of 33.3 percent on third downs.  The Nittany Lions have played some tough defense in the last few contests.  PSU picked off Purdue a season-high three times last week to bring their turnover total to 17 on the season. Penn State is sixth in the nation in total defense (264.1), sixth in scoring (11.6), seventh in pass defense (161.1), and third in pass efficiency defense (89.62). The Nittany Lions also are 22nd nationally in rushing defense at 103.0 yards per game, having limited five opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground.  Devon Still is second in the Big Ten with 10.0 TFLs this year, including 2.0 sacks.  Sean Stanley is tied for eighth at 3.0 sacks, while Gerald Hodges is 10th with 6.5 tackles for loss and 25th in the league with 6.3 stops per game.


(6-0, 2-0 Big Ten)

Saturday, Oct. 22, 2011 • 8 p.m. ET • East Lansing, Mich. • Spartan Stadium (75,005)
ESPN • Announcers: Brent Musberger, Kirk Herbstreit, Erin Andrews
Series: Michigan State leads 28-21 • Last Meeting: Oct. 2, 2010: Michigan State 34, Wisconsin 24

(5-1, 2-0 Big Ten)

For the second-straight season, both No. 6 Wisconsin and No. 16 Michigan State will square off against one another as nationally-ranked teams. Saturday’s game marks the 50th meeting between the Spartans and the Badgers, with MSU leading the all-time series 28-21, including a 15-7 record in games played in East Lansing.  Michigan State has won the past three games against the Badgers in Spartan Stadium and the home team has won the past six games in the series. The last road win between the two teams came in 2002, as Wisconsin recorded a 42-28 victory over MSU in Spartan Stadium. In the last eight games between the two teams, they have combined to score 65.3 points per game. The winning team has scored at least 34 points in seven of those contests. 

Just like last week, all eyes will be on the Wisconsin offense and the Michigan State defense.  The Badgers boast the nation’s best scoring average (50.2), while MSU ranks among the top four in the nation in both scoring defense (10.8) and total defense (186.2).  What makes things even more interesting is the face that the Badgers excel in the ground game, yet the Spartans are one of the nation’s best in defending the run.  UW is seventh in the country in rushing (257.5), while Michigan State rates third by allowing just 67.0 rushing yards per game.  And it’s not just the ground game that people will be watching.  Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson leads the nation in pass efficiency (210.9) but the Spartans pace all teams in pass efficiency defense at 84.4 and are giving up just 119.2 passing yards per game, which is tops in the nation.  Naturally, this would be a game that would be won in the trenches.  Well, the Badgers will have their hands full there too. Wilson has been sacked just five times in the Badgers’ six games, but MSU is averaging 3.5 sacks per game, eighth-best in the country.  Montee Ball has rushed for 293 yards and seven TDs in the Badgers’ two Big Ten games. He is averaging 6.7 yards per carry in conference play and his seven rushing TDs are three more than anyone else in the league. Senior Nick Toon needs just 12 yards to surpass his yardage total from last year, as he ranks fourth in the Big Ten in receiving yards per game (89.4). Sophomore Jared Abbrederis is second on the Badgers and eighth in the conference in receiving yardage (65.2). Over the last four games, he has 20 catches for 342 yards and two touchdowns.  MSU is allowing 119.2 yards in the air each time out and over the past three games, the Spartans have given up just 46.0 rushing yards per game.  Michigan State’s defense has also recorded 16 sacks and 23 tackles for loss in the last two outings over Ohio State and Michigan.  The strength is in the linebacking corps.  Max Bullough (41), Chris Norman (35) and Denicos Allen (32) rank 1-2-3 on the team in tackles. Allen leads the team in tackles for loss (9.5 for 44
yards) and sacks (4.5 for 31 yards), marks which both rank third in the Big Ten.

On offense, Michigan State is third in the league in passing (244.3), seventh in total yards (387.2), eighth in scoring (28.0) and 10th in rushing (142.8).  Kirk Cousins and B.J. Cunningham have proven to be one of the conference’s top tandems this season, with Cousins ranking third in passing (219.5) and Cunningham second in both receptions (7.0) and receiving yards (103.5) per game.  In last year’s 34-24 win over Wisconsin, Cunningham caught a 1-yard touchdown pass from Cousins on fourth-and-goal with 2:43 remaining in the game to seal the victory.  On the ground, MSU is led by Edwin Baker, who rates eighth in the conference at 69.8 rushing yards per outing.  Defensively, UW is third in the country in scoring defense (9.7), fourth in pass defense (144.8), and seventh in total yards allowed (268.0).  The Badgers are led by sophomore linebacker Chris Borland, who is tied for the Big Ten lead with 58 tackles. He also leads UW with 8.5 tackles for loss, tied for fourth in the conference.  Last week against Indiana, Borland had a career-high 15 tackles, adding 3.0 TFLs.  Junior Mike Taylor is fourth in the conference with 57 tackles, while sophomore DT Beau Allen paces the team up front with three sacks on the season.  Wisconsin is tied for third in the Big Ten with 14 QB sacks and Allen is just one of nine different players to have combined on those 14 sacks.