Big Ten Football Preview: Week 9

Oct. 23, 2008

(4-3, 2-2 Big Ten)

Madison, Wis. • Camp Randall Stadium (80,321)
11 a.m. CDT - ESPN2 - XM Radio 196

Inside the Series:
Illinois leads 36-33-7 | Last Time Out: Oct. 6, 2007 - Illinois, 31-26

(3-4, 0-4 Big Ten)

Illinois enters the week looking to improve on the 36-33-7 series advantage it has with Wisconsin, while the Badgers are still looking for their first conference win of the season.  Perhaps the tide will turn against the Illini, somewhat like it did last season.  Illinois defeated the fifth-ranked Badgers in Champaign, 31-26, to snap UW’s nation-leading 14-game winning streak.  Now the Badgers are looking to snap another streak against Illinois – their first 0-4 conference start since 1996.  The Illini have lost two straight at Camp Randall Stadium.

Illinois (484.6) and Wisconsin (386.0) rank first and fifth in the Big Ten in total offense, respectively, but the Illini have found most of their success through the air.  Illinois leads the league in pass offense (279.7) and is guided by Juice Williams, who is first in passing yards (278.3) and total offense (346.1).  Wisconsin on the other hand, has struggled under center this year and earlier in the week head coach Bret Bielema announced a change at QB.  Getting the start is Dustin Sherer, who was 17-of-34 for 161 yards and two interceptions in the loss against Iowa last week.  Bielema sat previous starter Allan Evridge, who is averaging 158.2 yards per game and has thrown five interceptions to match his touchdown total.  Despite the comparable offensive numbers to Illinois, the Badgers have been outscored 86-23 in the past two games and 131-65 over the past four.  Illinois’ scoring average of 36.1 is second in the league and 20th nationally, while UW is allowing 24.9 points per game.  The Illini’s Daniel Dufrene is averaging 72.7 rushing yards a game, which is seventh in the league, while Williams ranks ninth with 67.8 per contest.  Last week against Indiana, Jason Ford rushed for 172 yards and three touchdowns.  Wisconsin is fourth in the Big Ten with 194.1 rushing yards per game – 10 less than Illinois’ average – and is led by P.J. Hill’s 86.3 yards per outing.  Illini receiver Arrelious Benn ranks second in the conference in both receptions (6.29) and receiving yards (99.0) each time out.

Defensively, Wisconsin (328.7) and Illinois (354.3) rank fourth and sixth in the league in yards allowed, respectively.  The Illini have struggled against the run this year, giving up 150.9 yards on the ground, which ranks ninth in the conference.  The Badgers are allowing 139.7 yards, but they have also been scored on 14 times in the running game, which is the second-highest total in the Big Ten.  UW has been successful defending the pass, rating third in the league (189.0).  Illinois middle linebacker Brit Miller is averaging 1.8 tackles for loss and 9.7 stops per game, which rank fourth and 18th in the nation, respectively.  UW junior Jaevery McFadden is ninth in the league with 7.9 tackles per game.

(6-1, 2-1 Big Ten)

West Lafayette, Ind. • Ross-Ade Stadium (62,500)
Noon EDT - ESPN Classic - XM Radio 198

Inside the Series:
Minnesota leads 31-30-3 | Last Time Out: Sept. 22, 2007 - Purdue, 45-31

(2-5, 0-3 Big Ten)

Minnesota travels to Purdue in search of the all-important seventh win on the year, which should lock the Golden Gophers into a postseason bowl, while the Boilermakers are still looking for their first conference victory.  Purdue has lost four straight and 17 consecutive games to top 25 teams, which No. 24 Minnesota now is for the first time since 2005.

The much-improved Gopher offense enters the weekend third in scoring (29.9) and fourth in passing (232.0) in the league.  Quarterback Adam Weber has been close to superb this season, completing 68 percent of his passes for 230.3 yards per game and has totaled nine touchdowns to only two interceptions on the year. Eric Decker has been the main beneficiary of Weber’s aerials, as he ranks third and fifth in the country, respectively, with 8.43 catches and 111.7 receiving yards per game.  Minnesota (129.1) does not run the ball very often, but neither does Purdue (116.2).  Both teams rank 10th and 11th in conference rushing. When the Boilers do run, they are paced by Kory Sheet and his 104.7 yards per contest.  Curtis Painter is Purdue’s top and now primary quarterback, averaging 246.6 yards per game, with six scoring passes and nine INTs on the year.  Last week backup quarterback Joey Elliott suffered a season-ending injury.  Desmond Tardy (76.4) and Greg Orton (71.9) rank third and fourth in conference receiving yards. 

Both the Gophers (382.3) and the Boilermakers (407.4) rank toward the bottom of the Big Ten in total defense, however Minnesota is tops in the nation in turnover margin (+1.71). The Gophers gave up 550 total yards to Illinois last week, but they also forced three turnovers that led to 14 points.  In its loss to Northwestern last Saturday, Purdue turned the ball over five times.  Both teams allow the opponent to air it out, which could lead to a lot of points on the scoreboard this weekend.  Purdue is eighth in the Big Ten in pass defense (222.3) and has given up a league-high 10 passing touchdowns, while Minnesota ranks last with 260.1 yards allowed through the air each contest. Gopher defender Traye Simmons is third in the nation in passes defended per game (1.83), while defensive end Willie VanDeSteeg is 14th in the country in both TFLs (11.0) and sacks (6.5).  Tramaine Brock is the team’s top tackler with 42 stops, which is far shy from the 70 tackles of Purdue’s leading hitter Anthony Heygood, who is also one of five Boilers to have picked off a pass this season.  Ryan Baker and Mike Neal have tallied 7.0 and 6.0 sacks, respectively.

(6-1, 2-1 Big Ten)

Bloomington, Ind. • Memorial Stadium (49,225)
Noon EDT - Big Ten Network - XM Radio 197

Inside the Series:
Northwestern leads 42-33-1 | Last Time Out: Nov. 10, 2007 - Northwestern, 31-28

(2-5, 0-4 Big Ten)

Northwestern is another Big Ten team looking for that coveted seventh win this year, but standing in its way is an Indiana squad looking for a Homecoming victory to stop a five-game skid.  The Hoosiers have won three of their last four Homecoming games and own an 18-16 advantage overall when playing NU in Bloomington.  The Wildcats lead the all-time series 42-33-1, and have won the last four contests, each of which were decided by six points or less, including two that went to overtime.
The Hoosiers have been outscored 100-22 in the last two weeks and come in averaging just 22.0 points per game, which is 10th in the league.  Northwestern is allowing an average of 17.9 points per outing – fourth-best in the Big Ten.  Offensively, the Wildcats average 27.6 points and rank third in the Big Ten with 389.3 yards of total offense per game, including 230.1 through the air.  C.J. Bacher is second in the Big Ten with 247.9 yards of total offense, but has tossed 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.  NU is the only team in the country to have four receivers with more than 100 receptions and 1,000 yards in their career.  Northwestern is led this year by Ross Lane, who is fifth and eighth in the conference, respectively, in catches (4.6) and yards (51.3) per outing.  Tyrell Sutton is averaging 99.9 rushing yards each game, which ranks fifth in the league.  The Wildcats’ offensive line is fourth in the country with just 0.7 sacks allowed per game.  Indiana’s Kellen Lewis is still questionable for Saturday’s game after missing the Illinois game with a high-ankle sprain.  Ben Chappell threw for 172 yards on 12-of-29 passing in the loss.  Stats would suggest that the Hoosiers will lean on their running game that has produced 183.0 yards per game, which is fifth in the league, but nearly a third of that total comes from Lewis.

Northwestern’s defense is coming of an impressive five-takeaway performance that tied a season high.  The Wildcats rank in the nation’s top 50 in scoring defense (28th, 17.9), rushing defense (39th, 120.6), pass efficiency defense (35th, 113.1) and total defense (49th, 337.4).  Not to mention the Wildcat defenders continue to lead the Big Ten and rank 11th in the country with 3.0 sacks per game.  Additionally, NU has nine fumble recoveries and seven interceptions, while Indiana only has one pick on the year and boasts a minus-5 turnover margin.  IU is allowing 225.7 yards in the air, including a conference-high 8.3 yards per pass.  The Hoosiers have also given up a league-high 15 rushing touchdowns and allow 161.3 yards on the ground each time out.  They rank 10th in the Big Ten in total defense (387.0) and last in total touchdowns allowed (24).  Nick Polk is Indiana’s leading tackler with 6.2 stops per game, which only ranks 21st in the conference.  NU safety Brad Phillips is sixth overall at 8.4 tackles per contest and has two INTs on the season, while defensive end Corey Wootton has 4.5 sacks, 8.0 TFLs and six QB hurries through seven games.

(6-2, 3-1 Big Ten)

Ann Arbor, Mich. • Michigan Stadium (106,201)
3:30 p.m. EDT- ABC (regional); ESPN2 (outer-market) - XM Radio 196

Inside the Series:
Michigan leads 67-28-5 |
Last Time Out: Nov. 3, 2007 - Michigan, 28-24

(2-5, 1-2 Big Ten)

History tells us that Michigan holds quite the advantage over Michigan State in the battle for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.  The Wolverines are 34-19-2 against the Spartans in the trophy game and 33-16-3 when they host the annual meeting.  The home team has actually taken 12 of the last 16 meetings overall and MSU has not won in Ann Arbor since 1990.  History, however, also tells us that over the last four decades in this series, the team with the most productive ground attack has won 35 of the last 38 games.  That impressive stat could give Michigan State the advantage.

Statistically speaking, MSU’s Javon Ringer is out-gaining the entire Michigan ballclub by an average of 147.4 to 140.9 rushing yards per game.  Ringer’s 1,179 yards, 14 TDs, 263 carries, and 1,498 all-purpose yards all lead the nation.  Things are good for the Spartans when Ringer rushes for 100 yards or more; they are a perfect 5-0.  When he doesn’t, MSU is 1-2.  Brian Hoyer is expected to start, despite being knocked out of last week’s game against Ohio State.  Hoyer is sixth in the league in passing with 167.6 yards per outing.  Michigan ranks last in the conference in scoring (18.6), total offense (291.4) and turnover margin of minus-8, but often times rankings don’t mean squat in a rivalry game.  Freshman QB Steven Threet is averaging 113.1 passing yards each time out, with 47.8 of those going to classmate Martavious Odoms, who ranks seventh in the conference with 4.33 receptions per outing.  Tailback Sam McGuffie leads the team with 65.7 yards per game, but Brandon Minor shined last week with 117 yards and two TDs.  Zoltan Mesko leads the Big Ten and is ninth nationally in punting with a career-best 44.76 average.

If historically the edge in the series goes to the team that rushes for more yards, than maybe Michigan does have a chance to hold off the Spartans.  U-M is fifth in the league with 120.9 rushing yards allowed per game, while Michigan State gives up 145.0 yards on the ground each time out.  In total defense, MSU (358.1) and Michigan (363.9) are seventh and eighth in the conference.  The Spartans are allowing 20.2 points per game, while the Wolverines give up 27.9.  Otis Wiley continues to pace MSU and the conference with four interceptions, while Michigan’s Brandon Graham has 10.5 TFLs, five sacks and two forced fumbles on the year.  Teammate Obi Ezeh is fourth in the league with 9.3 tackles per game, followed closely by MSU’s Greg Jones in eighth with 8.1 stops per outing.

(8-0, 4-0 Big Ten)

Columbus, Ohio • Ohio Stadium (102,329)
8 p.m. EDT - ABC - XM Radio 197

Inside the Series:
Ohio State leads 12-11 | Last Time Out: Oct. 27, 2007 - Ohio State, 37-17

(7-1, 4-0 Big Ten)

Saturday’s marquee conference matchup could ultimately help decide the Big Ten title, and could even help propel a league squad into position to compete in a third consecutive BCS Championship game.  One week after snapping a nine-game losing streak to Michigan, Penn State will look to end another skid as the Nittany Lions have not won at Ohio State since 1978.  PSU has dropped its last 10 games against ranked opponents when playing on the road and by comparison, Ohio State has won 12 of its last 13 conference home games against opponents in the top 25.  In this series, which the Buckeyes lead 12-11, the home team has won 12 of the 15 meetings since 1993.

Much has been made this week about Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor choosing the Buckeyes over the Nittany Lions and Wolverines.  But that decision appears to have paid off for both these teams as Saturday’s contest features a good QB battle, thanks largely in part to the impressive season senior Daryll Clark has had for Penn State.  Clark is fifth in conference passing with 191.4 yards per game, but rates second in passing efficiency (152.7) and in touchdowns thrown (11).  He has also recorded the least amount of interceptions among Big Ten passers this year with two.  Clark has helped guide a Penn State offense that ranks first in the conference in scoring (45.4) and rushing (234.6), second in total offense (482.1), and third in passing (247.5).  Sophomore tailback Evan Royster is third in the league in rushing (111.6) and boasts a conference-best average of 7.7 yards per carry.  Senior wideouts Deon Butler (60.8) and Jordan Norwood (57.9) rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in Big Ten receiving yards.  Breaking down the statistics will lend you to believe that Ohio State is struggling on the offensive side of the ball.  The Buckeyes rank sixth in scoring (26.9) and rushing (182.1), 10th in total offense (322.2) and last in the league in passing (140.1).  But OSU also made an early switch at quarterback from Todd Boeckman to Pryor and also had to suffer through three games without star tailback Chris Wells, who has run for 508 yards in the four games since his return.  Pryor was 7-of-11 for 116 yards and a TD and had 72 yards rushing on 12 carries against Michigan State last week.

Defensively, these two teams are among the best in the league.  Penn State, which leads the conference in total defense (263.2), has allowed only 17 fewer total yards than the Buckeyes (265.4) have this year.  The Nittany Lions are second in scoring defense (11.8), followed by OSU (13.4) in third.  Against the pass, Penn State ranks first (159.4) and the Buckeyes are second (168.2), while both teams rank 1-2 in pass defense efficiency with ratings of 93.4 and 97.6, respectively.  On top of that, both the Nittany Lions and the Buckeyes are better against the rush.  Ohio State is first in the conference with 97.1 rushing yards allowed per outing, followed by Penn State at 103.9.  OSU linebacker James Laurinaitis ranks second in the league with 9.8 tackles per game, while Penn State’s Navorro Bowman is fifth at 8.9.  Teammate Aaron Maybin paces the conference with 10.0 sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss on the year.