Big Ten Football Regular Season Wraps Up Saturday
Nov. 16, 2007
NORTHWESTERN (6-5, 3-4) at No. 20/21/20 ILLINOIS (8-3, 5-2)
LAST TIME OUT
This past Saturday was perhaps the greatest game in the history of the Fighting Illini football program. The upset over Ohio State marked the team's first win over a top-ranked team since 1956. What is remarkable about the job Ron Zook has done this season has been that he has taken a team that was 2-30 in the Big Ten over the past four seasons and is now looking for its sixth conference win in 2007 alone.
Illinois is not only riding the momentum of the upset into Saturday's contest against Northwestern, but also its potent offense which dismantled the nation's top defense a week ago. Quarterback Juice Williams recorded 140 yards passing and four touchdowns and notched another 70 on the ground to earn the conference's Offensive Player of the Week award. This week, the Illini will look to avoid a lapse as they did when they defeated ranked Penn State and Wisconsin and then fell to unranked Iowa back in mid-October.
Northwestern is coming off an exciting victory of its own as the Widlcats earned yet another comeback victory last week, this time at home against Indiana. Quarterback C.J. Bacher's performance left him untouched on top of the conference's total offense and passing charts at 304.2 yards per game. Northwestern is ninth overall in the conference in scoring offense (26.2), just one spot behind the Illini (27.6). Defensively, however, NU is 10th (30.1), while Illinois only allows 19.3 points per contest, which is fourth-best.
For Illinois, the focus will be on stopping the passing game. The Illini are seventh in the conference (234.6) in that category and are led by Kevin Mitchell and Vontae Davis. Will Davis forces pressure on the pocket from the line and is ranked sixth in the Big Ten with 8.5 sacks and 10th with 11.5 tackles for loss this season. Just behind him on the field is linebacker J Leman, who ranks third overall with 10.4 tackles per game.
As for Northwestern, its focus will be on stopping the Big Ten's top rusher in Rashard Mendenhall (127.5) and the Illini rushing attack that ranks sixth in the country (261.2). NU is ninth in the league (153.1) against the run and will need another big game from linebacker Adam Kadela and his fifth-best mark of 9.8 stops per game.
The Wildcats trail in the overall series with the Illini, but have won the past four and only one of those contests was decided by less than 11 points.
No. 7/7/7 OHIO STATE (10-1, 6-1) at No. 23/23/22 MICHIGAN (8-3, 6-1)
LAST TIME OUT
For the first time since 1959, both Michigan and Ohio State will be entering what is arguably college football's greatest rivalry coming off a loss. Saturday marks the 25th occasion the two teams have battled for the Big Ten Championship and an invitation to the Rose Bowl awaits the winner as well. Last week Michigan lost at Wisconsin, while Ohio State was upset at home against Illinois.
The Fighting Illini roughed up one of the nation's top defenses last week as quarterback Juice Williams led a squad that ran for 260 yards against a team that was allowing just 65 on the ground. Now that average is 82.7. However, the Buckeyes still lead the nation in scoring defense (11.4) and are second in pass defense (154.7) and total defense (237.5).
Those figures could put a damper on a Michigan ballclub that is not only looking to prevent Ohio State with its fourth-straight win in the series, but is also looking to be healthy come Saturday. Quarterback Chad Henne, who has been fighting through a number of injuries this season, has played in eight of the 11 games this season and was even the conference's top offensive player two weeks ago against Michigan State. However, Henne was pulled last week at Wisconsin due a reoccurring shoulder injury. His teammate, running back Mike Hart, has also been plagued by a bum ankle this season and has missed three of the last four games. While head coach Lloyd Carr deems the pair questionable Saturday, the Ohio State game is always the biggest in the career of a Wolverine, especially as a senior. Look for both to play.
Michigan will most likely need its best offensive output of the season Saturday as the Wolverines are sixth in the conference in rushing (179.8), seventh in passing (219.4) and eighth overall in total offense (399.2). Their defense, however, is third overall (335.1) and second against the pass (191.5), which does not bode well for OSU signal caller Todd Boeckman. While his pass efficiency rating of 154.2 leads the Big Ten and is 12th nationally, Boeckman was inconsistent last time out and threw three interceptions of 13-of-23 passing and was sacked twice. Michigan's Jamar Adams has three picks on the season and Shawn Crable leads the league with 24.0 tackles for loss, including 7.5 sacks which rank eighth. Teammate Brandon Graham is sixth overall with 8.5 sacks on the season. Look for Chris Wells, Ohio State's tailback who ranks third in the conference at 112.8 yards per game, to try to exploit the Wolverine frontline. James Laurinaitis, the Buckeyes top defender and finalist for the Nagurski, Lombardi, Butkus and Lott awards, is sixth in the conference with 8.8 stops per game.
Western Michigan (3-7, 2-4 MAC) at IOWA (6-5, 4-4)
LAST TIME OUT
After starting the season 2-4, Iowa has won three straight and four of its last five games and looks to earn its needed seventh victory on Saturday. With 10 conference teams at six wins or better, Iowa has to close out the regular season with a non-conference win to ensure the Hawkeyes of a bowl. Iowa has won 12 straight non-conference home games with the last non-league home game defeat coming in 2002 to Iowa State (36-31).
Western Michigan is coming into Iowa City fresh off a bye, as the Broncos last played Nov. 6 against Central Michigan, a game in which they lost a heartbreaker. The Broncos defeated Iowa in the lone meeting between the two, a 27-21 victory in Iowa City in 2000. In order to accomplish the feat again, Western Michigan will look to the air with quarterback Dan LeFevour and wideout Jamarko Simmons. LeFevour is third in the MAC with 254.7 passing yards per game and first in total offense (316.5), while Simmons ranks seventh nationally in receptions (7.7, 88.7 ypg). The Broncos boast the third-best passing (263.3) and rushing (162.2) offenses in the MAC and are second in scoring offense (32.4).
Iowa is third in the conference in points allowed (17.9), fourth against the rush (122.0) and fifth defending the pass (216.6). The Hawkeyes boast the nation's 10th-best turnover margin at plus-11, while Western Michigan ranks 102nd out of 119 teams at minus-8. Despite Iowa being ranked 10th in conference passing and 11th in scoring offense, look for the consistent Jake Christensen to provide some offense Saturday. Christensen has thrown a league-low four interceptions this season and has managed only 179.5 yards per game through the air, which is ninth-best in the Big Ten. The Broncos rank 13th in the MAC against the pass (301.2) and 12th in scoring defense (37.2). While Iowa is last in the conference in scoring offense (18.5), look for the Hawkeyes to exploit the Broncos defense and have a big day offensively.
On the defensive side of the ball, Iowa linebacker Mike Humpal ranks 15th nationally in tackles (10.6), while defensive end Bryan Mattison ranks 19th (9.0) in total sacks. Mattison has also forced four fumbles on the season, which ranks second in the conference. Defensively for the Broncos, linebacker Boston McCornell leads the teams with 8.3 stops per game, while Greg Marshall has five sacks on the year.
No. 24/24/23 WISCONSIN (8-3, 4-3) at MINNESOTA (1-10, 0-7)
LAST TIME OUT
Wisconsin is back in the top 25 just in time for the battle of Paul Bunyan's Axe, having defeated Michigan convincingly last week. The Badgers put together a complete game in the 16-point win, totaling 477 yards of offense and holding Michigan to just 47 yards on the ground. The offensive surge primarily came from quarterback Tyler Donovan, who again had to carry the ballclub as running back P.J. Hill was held to just 14 yards on five carries. While Hill was still nursing a leg injury he suffered against Indiana three weeks ago, Donovan threw for 245 yards and a touchdown and scampered for another on a 49-yard keeper.
The Badgers enter with momentum, which will try to be sustained by the Golden Gophers who are looking to avoid their first winless conference season since 1988. Minnesota has lost the last three contests against Wisconsin and 10 of the last 12. As has been the case all season, the Gophers' hopes lay with a freshman in quarterback Adam Weber. The Minnesota QB led the team in passing (190) and rushing (70) last week against Iowa and has had no problem putting up yards this season. Weber is fourth in the conference with 231.2 passing yards per game and third overall with 279.4 yard of total offense each outing. Turnovers have been Weber's kryptonite this season, throwing for a conference-high 17 interceptions, including one last week.
Defense has been a struggle for the Gophers this season and the team now faces a Badger squad that is fifth in the conference with 411.3 yards per game. Minnesota ranks 107th out of 119 teams in the nation in scoring defense, allowing 36.3 points an outing. The Golden Gophers are 119th in total defense, giving up 525.6 yards per contest. The good news is that they allowed season lows in yards (296) and points (21) last Saturday.
Outside of the quarterback focus Saturday, look for Minnesota running back Amir Pinnix (62.4 ypg) and receiver Eric Decker (71.3) to be contributors offensively, while the Golden Gophers will look to Dominique Barber and his 8.3 tackles per game to help out on the other side of the ball. Wisconsin is led defensively by Jonathan Casillas (7.2 tpg) and sophomore Shane Carter, whose six interceptions are tied for first in the conference.
PURDUE (7-4, 3-4) at INDIANA (6-5, 2-5)
LAST TIME OUT
All season long the rallying cry for Indiana has been to "Play 13" and typically earning six wins would earn that 13th game in the bowl season. However this year the Big Ten has seen a record 10 teams earn at least six wins, which means the Hoosiers most likely need to beat in-state rival Purdue for the Old Oaken Bucket Saturday. Indiana has only beat Purdue once in the last 10 years, but is expecting a sellout crowd at Memorial Stadium, dubbed "The Rock" by former head coach and the late Terry Hoeppner.
Purdue is looking for its sixth consecutive win over Indiana on Saturday in a game that pits two of the conference's top-four scoring teams and quarterbacks. Curtis Painter has guided the Boilermakers throughout the season with a 274.5 passing average that has not ranked below second in the conference. He has thrown 25 touchdowns, which is tied for the most of any Big Ten signal caller. The other Big Ten QB to throw for 25 scores this season is Indiana's Kellen Lewis, who ranks third in passing at 238.5 yards per game. Those two leaders have helped Purdue (33.7) and Indiana (32.0) to the second and fourth-best scoring averages in the Big Ten, respectively.
Both offenses use the spread formation and have not relied a ton on their running games. Purdue's Kory Sheets (71.5 ypg) is seventh in the conference, while Indiana has struggled to find the right combination between Marcus Thigpen (37.2) and Bryan Payton (33.8). Look for Indiana's James Hardy and Purdue's Dorien Bryant to be significant factors in the game. The speedy Bryant (6.7 rpg) is the Big Ten's reception leader, while the 6-7 Hardy (89.8 ypg) is third in receiving yards. Both Indiana (235.0) and Purdue (237.7) have struggled defending the pass this season, ranking eighth and ninth, respectively, in the conference.
Defensively, Indiana captain Tracey Porter will be busy on the corner defending Bryant throughout the day. Porter is tied for the Big Ten lead with six interceptions on the season and has helped IU to 17 picks on the season - the most since 1988. Porter is likely to be helped by the Hoosier line that is expected to give Painter pressure in the pocket. Greg Middleton is second in the nation with 13.5 sacks while Indiana is fifth in the country with 38.0 sacks, although it did not record a single one last week at Northwestern. Purdue is fourth in the conference this season having only allowed 19 sacks. The Boilermakers have a top defender as well in senior Terrell Vinson, who has recorded five interceptions on the season. Vinson also leads the team in tackles with 6.8 per game. In addition, Purdue enters the contest with a plus-4 turnover margin, while fumbles have plagued the Hoosier offense in the last month. Lewis has fumbled on 11 occasions in the last five games, including twice during potential game-winning drives against Penn State and Northwestern.
No. -/22/25 PENN STATE (8-3, 4-3) at MICHIGAN STATE (6-5, 2-5)
LAST TIME OUT
After a convincing shutout win over Temple last week, Penn State hits the road to East Lansing for a matchup against rival Michigan State. The Spartans are fresh off a dominating 48-31 win over Purdue, which made the Green and White one of 10 league squads bowl eligible.
With that impressive output, Michigan State now sits atop the conference in scoring offense (34.0), with the Nittany Lions in fifth (30.8). Defensively, Penn State is allowing 16.0 points per game - the conference's second-lowest total - while Michigan State is eighth at 26.5. Saturday's contest pits two quarterbacks who have quietly had some success this season in the Spartans' Bryan Hoyer and PSU's Anthony Morelli. Hoyer is sixth in the conference in passing (212.5) and has thrown only five interceptions on the season. Morelli ranks right behind Hoyer in seventh (210.9) with nine picks - the fourth-lowest total among Big Ten QBs.
Each of the two teams have placed an emphasis on the running game this season. MSU ranks second (205.4) in the league, while Penn State is fifth at 189.3. The Spartans' Javon Ringer is the conference's second-best tailback at 118.0 yards per game, but Penn State's Rodney Kinlaw has continued to impress the Happy Valley faithful with his 96.5 yards per game. Last week he tied his career-high with 168 yards to crack 1,000 yards for the season.
When the teams do throw the ball, look for Penn State junior Derrick Williams, who averages 42.7 yards per game, but caught a game-high seven balls for a career-best 104 yards last week. Hoyer's primary target is Devin Thomas, who ranks second in the league in receiving yards (98.8) and third in receptions (6.2).
Defensively, there is arguably no tandem better than Penn State's Dan Connor and Sean Lee. Connor is ninth nationally with 11.2 tackles per game, followed by Lee who is third in the conference and 21st in the country with 10.4 stops per outing. Maurice Evans is one of the nation's top sacks leader, ranking fourth with 12.5 sacks on the year. Michigan State boasts one its own pass rushers in Jonal Saint-Dic, who is 11th in the country with 10.0 sacks on the year. Saint-Dic set the Big Ten single-season record earlier this year with eight forced fumbles.