Big Ten Football Preview: Week 11

Nov. 6, 2008

(5-4, 3-3 Big Ten)

Illinois vs. Western Michigan
Detroit, Mich. • Ford Field (65,000)
Noon EST - ESPN Regional - XM Radio 231

Inside the Series:
Illinois leads 2-0 | Last Time Out: Sept. 18, 2004 - Illinois, 30-27

(7-2, 5-1 MAC West)

Earlier this season when Illinois played at a neutral site inside a dome, it lost in a 52-42 shootout to Missouri.  Now the Illini head to Ford Field in Detroit to battle Western Michigan in a game that will be the third in the all-time series.  Illinois captured a 60-14 win over the Broncos in 1947 and was a 30-27 victor in 2004.  Both games were played in Champaign and Illinois boasts an all-time record of 6-1 against MAC teams.

Saturday’s game features two of the country's top passing offenses with WMU averaging 320.2 yards per game, which ranks sixth in the nation, and the Illini posting the 16th-best mark of 272.3 yards per contest.  Illinois’ average passing performance is first in the conference, while its total offense (448.1) and scoring marks (33.0) rank second. The Illini have posted over 500 yards five times already this season and accomplished the feat in three straight games (Michigan, Minnesota, Indiana) for the first time since 2002.  Likewise, Western Michigan has registered 500 yards of total offense four times this season and twice in as many games with 502 total yards last week against Eastern Michigan.  Illinois QB Juice Williams leads the Big Ten and is eighth nationally in total offense (327.8), which amounts to 56.6 yards on the ground and 271.2 markers in the air.  Bronco quarterback Tim Hiller, who has thrown for over 7,211 career yards, ranks just behind Williams in ninth at 319.56 yards of total offense each game.  In addition, his 68.55 completion percentage also rates ninth in the country.  Wideout Jamarko Simmons has 72 receptions and 830 receiving yards and is third in the nation with 8.11 catches per outing. Illini receiver Arrelious Benn is third in the Big Ten with 5.9 catches per game.

As a defense, the Illini are leading the Big Ten in both tackles for loss and sacks with 8.1 and 3.3 per game. Those numbers rank eighth and fifth in the NCAA, respectively.  The Orange and Blue are sixth in the league with 349.6 yards allowed each contest and rank third in defending the pass (198.8).  WMU is giving up 381.2 yards of total offense, including 242.1 through the air.  The Illini are coming off a season-high six-sack performance against Iowa and have recorded 30 sacks and 73 TFLs on the season.  Middle linebacker Brit Miller leads the Big Ten in tackles for the ninth time in 10 weeks with 10.3 per game, which also ranks eighth in the NCAA.  He is also averaging 1.6 tackles for loss per game, a mark that is ninth-best in the nation.  Pacing the Broncos is Louis Delmas, who boasts a team-high 75 tackles, including 34 solos, and four interceptions.

(7-2, 4-1 Big Ten)

No. 11 Ohio State at No. 24 Northwestern
Evanston, Ill. • Ryan Field (47,130)
11 a.m. CST - ESPN2 - XM Radio 198

Inside the Series:
Ohio State leads 58-14-1 | Last Time Out: Sept. 22, 2007 - Ohio State, 58-7

(7-2, 3-2 Big Ten)

The 11th-ranked Ohio State Buckeyes are back on the field after a bye week and travel to No. 24 Northwestern, which has been hampered with numerous injuries as of late.  OSU is 56-14-1 all-time against the Wildcats, including 25-6-1 in Evanston, and has won the last three meetings.  Although NU has lost a few of its standouts to injuries over the past three weeks, the Wildcats are still motivated after a 24-17 road victory at Minnesota.  Safety Brendan Smith returned an interception 48 yards for the winning score with 12 seconds left.

NU's Smith and quarterback Mike Kafka were named the Big Ten's Defensive and Offensive Players of the Week, respectively, for their performances against the Gophers. Kafka, who started in place of the injured C.J. Bacher, set a Big Ten record for quarterbacks with his 217 rushing yards.  Two weeks ago, Northwestern lost standout tailback Tyrell Sutton to a season-ending dislocated wrist injury and learned this week backup rusher Omar Conteh will miss this weekend’s game with a knee injury.  After sitting out last Saturday with a right hamstring injury, Bacher is expected to be back in the lineup against the Buckeyes.  Northwestern is sixth in the league with 377.1 yards of total offense per game, which is 60 yards more than 10th-place Ohio State.  Freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor has made his way into the Big Ten’s top 10 in total offense with 144 yards per game.  He along with running back Chris Wells will look to guide the Buckeyes to their 14th straight conference road win.

Defensively, Ohio State ranks eighth nationally in scoring defense (13.3), eighth in total defense (267.1), ninth in pass defense (163.0) and 14th in rushing defense (104.1).  By comparison, the Wildcats rank fifth in the conference in total defense (341.8) and are fourth-best against the run (109.3).  In the red zone, however, Northwestern is among the league’s top defensive units, holding opponents to just a 73.3 percent scoring success rate, while Ohio State’s defense ranks 10th at 88.2 percent.  Individually, Buckeye All-American linebacker James Laurinaitis is second in the Big Ten with 10.0 tackles per game.  Junior safety Brad Phillips leads the Wildcats and is seventh in the league with 8.2 stops each time out.  Corey Wootton has 6.5 sacks and 12 tackles for loss on the year.

(2-7, 1-4 Big Ten)

Michigan at Minnesota
Minneapolis, Minn. • H.H.H. Metrodome (64,172)
11 a.m. CST - ESPN - XM Radio 197

Inside the Series:
Michigan leads 69-24-3 | Last Time Out: Oct. 27, 2007 - Michigan, 34-10

(7-2, 3-2 Big Ten)

Last week was certainly a tough week for both Michigan and Minnesota.  The Golden Gophers dropped their Homecoming game to Northwestern on an interception that was returned for a touchdown with just 12 seconds to play.  The Wolverines were shocked in the final 26 seconds by a Purdue lateral that found its way into the end zone.  This week, however, both teams enter focused on a win and of course on the Little Brown Jug.

Saturday’s contest boasts an interesting matchup between quarterbacks Adam Weber of Minnesota and Michigan’s Steven Threet.  Weber was thrown into the mix in Tim Brewster’s first-year offense last season and the freshman responded by throwing 19 interceptions and completing less than 58 percent of his passes.  This season Threet, a freshman in a new offensive system under first-year head coach Rich Rodriguez, has completed just 51 percent of his attempts and has tossed six interceptions and nine TDs.  Now in his sophomore campaign, Weber is one of the conference’s top passers with 239 yards per outing with 11 touchdowns and only four picks on the year.  Weber tied a career-high with 31 completions last week, throwing for a season-best 327 yards.  Eric Decker ranks third and eighth in the country with 8.11 catches and 99.4 receiving yards per game, respectively.  Michigan’s Martavious Odoms, who ranks fourth in the league with 4.5 receptions per contest, boasts a team-high 36 receptions and 355 yards.  In major offensive categories, Minnesota holds the advantage over the Wolverines in scoring (+5.6), passing (+90.9) and total offense (+72.4) averages per game.

Defensively, both teams rank near the bottom of the Big Ten in total defense.  Minnesota is eighth with 362.8 yards allowed each game, while Michigan ranks 10th at 393.6.  Perhaps the most intriguing statistical comparison entering the weekend is turnover margin.  Consider this:  Minnesota has earned a conference-best 26 takeaways this year, while Michigan has given up a league-high 25 turnovers.  The result?  The Gophers boast a plus-15 margin, which rates second in the country, while the Wolverines are last in the conference at minus-9.  Minnesota linebacker Lee Campbell (56) and safeties Kyle Theret (52) and Tramaine Brock (50) lead the team in total tackles.  Willie VanDeSteeg has 15.0 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks, which rank seventh and 15th in the country, respectively.  He has helped guide a Gopher defense that is 20th nationally in scoring defense (17.9). Michigan is paced by sophomore linebacker Obi Ezeh’s 79 tackles, which are sixth-best in the Big Ten. Brandon Graham has 14.5 tackles for loss and 8.0 sacks to lead the defensive line. 

(4-5, 1-5 Big Ten)

Wisconsin at Indiana
Bloomington, Ind. • Memorial Stadium (49,225)
Noon EST - Big Ten Network - XM Radio 195

Inside the Series:
Wisconsin leads 34-18-2 |
Last Time Out: Oct. 27, 2007 - Wisconsin, 33-3

(3-6, 1-4 Big Ten)

Much like the Michigan/Minnesota contest this weekend, Indiana and Wisconsin both enter Saturday’s battle looking to avenge disappointing losses.  After testing 22nd-ranked Michigan State, Wisconsin fell victim to a 44-yard field goal with 7 seconds left to lose by one.  Indiana could not hold off a feisty Central Michigan squad that saw its backup quarterback toss a school-record 485 yards and score five touchdowns.  UW has won the last three games against the Hoosiers and are 34-18-2 all-time and 14-9-1 in Bloomington.

Indiana and Wisconsin have each seen their fair share of quarterback battles this year.  The Hoosiers have continuously swapped Kellen Lewis and Ben Chappell under center this season, even between downs.  The Badgers have now seemed to settle on QB Dustin Sherer, who has started the last three games after replacing Allan Evridge.  Those changes might explain the struggling passing games and scoring offenses with these two teams.  Wisconsin (24.2) and Indiana (23.2) are eighth and 10th in scoring, respectively, while the Hoosiers (209.4) are seventh and the Badgers (185.1) are ninth in passing.  Thanks in part to stout rushing attacks, in which Wisconsin (200.3) and Indiana (180.6) rank in the league’s top four, both teams rate among the Big Ten’s four-best offenses with over 385 yards per game.  P.J. Hill (79.9) and John Clay (65.7) spearhead the ground attack for the Badgers, while Indiana is paced by Lewis (59.1), Marcus Thigpen (52.8) and Bryan Payton (37.7) when they are healthy.  The Hoosiers lost all three to injury in last week’s loss.

IU’s defense struggled last week in the secondary as shown above, but the Hoosiers have had a tough time defending both the rush (146.4) and the pass (247.7), ranking eighth and 10th in the league, respectively.  In addition, Indiana is giving up a conference-high 8.0 yards per catch and is last in total defense (394.1).  By comparison, the Badger defense is fourth overall in the Big Ten giving up 324.7 yards per game (203.4 passing and 121.2 rushing).  Indiana (minus-1) and Wisconsin (zero) are close in turnover margin and boast interesting sacks numbers that could play a role in the pass rush.  Indiana ranks third in the Big Ten with 24 sacks, while Wisconsin is last with 14.  But when looking at sacks against, Wisconsin is fourth with only 16 allowed and Indiana is 10th with 22.  Individually, UW junior linebacker Jaeve McFadden leads the team with 67 tackles followed by senior linebacker DeAndre Levy, who has 52 stops to go along with three sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss, one INT and one fumble recovery.  Indiana is led by junior linebacker Matt Mayberry with 57 stops and junior DE Jammie Kirlew with 8.5 sacks and a league-high 16.5 TFLs on the year.

(3-6, 1-4 Big Ten)

Purdue at No. 18 Michigan State
East Lansing, Mich. • Spartan Stadium (75,005)
Noon EST - Big Ten Network - XM Radio 196

Inside the Series:
Michigan State leads 29-28-3 | Last Time Out: Nov. 10, 2007 - Michigan State, 48-31

(8-2, 5-1 Big Ten)

While Purdue is looking to keep its bowl hopes alive, Michigan State enters the weekend with the Big Ten Championship still in its grasp.  The Boilermakers have struggled against top 25 teams lately, so traveling to East Lansing to battle the 18th-ranked Spartans is no small task.  Purdue has dropped its last 18 games against ranked competition.

The Boilermakers have no reason to believe that their offense that has struggled this season cannot keep up with the potent Spartans.  The racked up a balanced 522 yards of offense in last week’s win over Michigan and controlled the ball for nearly 38 minutes. The 48 points scored by Boilers were the most by a Purdue squad in 54 all-time games against the Wolverines.  A nice surprise for the Boilermakers was the performance of former running back--turned third-string QB--turned starting signal caller Justin Siller.  Taking over for an injured Curtis Painter, Siller completed 21-of-34 passes (61.8 percent) for 266 yards and three touchdowns while rushing for 77 yards on 15 carries with another score.  That effort earned him co-Offensive Player of the Week honors in the league this week, but will it lead to another start on Saturday?  Kory Sheets is only 76 yards shy of becoming Purdue’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2002.  Speaking of rushers, MSU’s Javon Ringer has been turning in quite the performances this season.  Ringer’s 142.7 yards per game rank second in the country, which could mean trouble for a Purdue rush defense that is last in the conference at 175.8 yards allowed each time out. 

Michigan State’s rush defense only ranks 10th in the league at 152.5 yards per game, however, and overall, the Spartans rate seventh in total defense at 354.7 yards each time out.   Purdue is ninth in the Big Ten, having allowed opponents 384.8 yards per contest, and also ranks ninth in scoring defense (23.3).  Despite giving up 42 points in a win over Michigan last week, Boiler defenders turned in impressive performances, led by Ryan Kerrigan.  His career-high three sacks marked the seventh straight game the Boilermakers have reached the quarterback.  Kerrigan also netted a career high with 10 total tackles as well.  Linebacker Anthony Heygood, who is third in the conference with 9.8 stops per game, is just 12 tackles shy of becoming the first Boilermaker defender to rack up over 100 tackles in a single season since Niko Koutouvides in 2002.  MSU linebacker Greg Jones is fifth in the Big Ten with 8.8 tackles each outing, while junior Trevor Anderson is third with 8.0 sacks on the season.

(9-0, 5-0 Big Ten)

No. 3 Penn State at Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa • Kinnick Stadium (70,585)
2:30 p.m. CDT- ABC (regional); ESPN (outer-market) - XM Radio 196

Inside the Series:
Penn State leads 11-9 | Last Time Out: Oct. 6, 2007 - Penn State, 27-7

(5-4, 2-3 Big Ten)

Penn State is back in action this week after moving up in the polls to No. 3 despite not even playing last Saturday.  It seems the season is quickly winding down and the teams atop the national rankings are under the microscope now more than ever.  Can Penn State maintain its momentum and stay undefeated for yet another week?  The Nittany Lions will have to travel to one of the toughest places in the conference to do so.  PSU is only 11-9 all-time over the Iowa Hawkeyes, a team that has won six of the last eight in the series including the last two in Iowa City.

Saturday’s contest will feature two of the Big Ten’s top offensive and defensive attacks.  Penn State and Iowa rank among the top three in both scoring and rushing.  The Nittany Lions are first in the conference in scoring (41.8), rushing (226.3) and total offense (459.8), while the Hawkeyes rank third on the scoreboard (29.8) and ground (189.0).  Much of Iowa’s rushing success has had to do with tailback Shonn Greene – the lone player in the nation to rush for over 100 yards or more in nine contests this season.  Penn State is led on the ground by a pretty good back as well.  Evan Royster is third in the league with 107.8 rushing yards per game, but boasts a league-high average of 7.2 yards per carry.  Quarterbacks Daryll Clark of Penn State and Ricky Stanzi of Iowa rank sixth and seventh, respectively, in conference passing.  Clark, however, averages 183.6 yards per game – 40 yards more than Stanzi, and has thrown only two picks on the season – four less than his Hawkeye counterpart.  PSU seniors Deon Butler (55.2) and Jordan Norwood (51.1) are seventh and eighth in Big Ten receiving yards, while Iowa’s Andy Brodell, who has four TDs to his credit, ranks 10th at 50.4.

As good as both teams are on the offensive side of the ball, Iowa and Penn State and equally dominant defensively.  Saturday features two of the nation's top scoring and rushing defenses.  The Nittany Lions rank fourth in scoring defense (11.1) and 11th against the rush (99.1), while the Hawkeyes are seventh (13.2) and 12th (100.7), respectively.  Overall, PSU is first in the conference with 265.9 total yards allowed per contest, with Iowa ranked third at 301.6.  Both teams have each allowed a league-low 11 touchdowns this year.  In addition, when it comes to penalties, these two teams are among the country's most disciplined teams. The Nittany Lions rank second in fewest yards penalized (26.44), while the Hawkeyes rank seventh (34.78). Iowa was penalized only three times for 19 yards last week at Illinois.  It will be interesting to see how the Hawkeyes defend Penn State’s Royster on Saturday.  Iowa has only allowed one 100-yard rusher this season and that one player was not Michigan State’s Javon Ringer. LB Pat Angerer ranks second in Big Ten tackles (10.4) through five league games and has helped the Hawkeyes rank third in the nation with 16 interceptions.  PSU’s Aaron Maybin is third in the country in sacks (1.22) and rates tied for fourth in tackles for loss (1.72).