Big Ten Football Preview: Week 12

Nov. 17, 2011


(8-2, 4-2 Big Ten)

Leaders Division Game
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011 • 11 a.m. CT • Champaign, Ill. • Memorial Stadium (62,670)
ESPN2 • Announcers: Beth Mowins, Mike Bellotti
Series: Illinois leads 36-34-7 • Last Meeting: Oct. 25, 2008: Wisconsin 27, Illinois 17

(6-4, 2-4 Big Ten)

On the heels of a 42-13 win over Minnesota, Wisconsin travels to Illinois to meet the Fighting Illini for the 78th occasion and the first time since 2008 when the Badgers won 27-17 in Madison. Illinois leads the all-time series 36-34-7 and holds a 20-14-3 series edge in Champaign.  The last meeting at Memorial Stadium was a 31-26 Illini win in 2007 over the fifth-ranked Badgers. Prior to the 2007 Illinois win, Wisconsin had won four straight in the series.  Currently, the Badgers have claimed five of the last six contests against Illinois, a team that fell 31-14 to Michigan last week.

Wisconsin owns the nation's fourth-best scoring offense at 46.5 points per game and has topped its last two opponents - Purdue and Minnesota - by a score of 104-30.  When the Badgers win, they win big.  Each of UW's eight wins has been by at least 29 points, for an average margin of victory of 41.1 points per game.  Junior running back Montee Ball leads the nation with a Big Ten single-season record 27 TDs and has scored at least two touchdowns in every game this season while pacing the conference with 124.2 rushing yards each time out.  Illinois must also stop QB Russell Wilson, who has 25 touchdowns on the year and pilots a Badger offense that ranks seventh in the nation with 499.0 total yards per game.  Illinois is allowing 288.3 yards every Saturday, which ranks fourth in the conference, and is second in the league with giving up only 114.9 yards on the ground.  However, the Orange and Blue allowed Michigan to rush for 223 yards last week and will be without the services of starting linebacker Trulon Henry, who is out for the season following an injury sustained in an incident away from the field.  Fellow linebacker Jonathan Brown leads the team with 78 tackles and is second on the squad and third in the Big Ten with 14.5 TFLs.  His last four games have been quite impressive, as he has totaled 48 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks, two PBUs, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and one hurry.  Junior DE Whitney Mercilus leads the nation in sacks (12.5), sacks per game (1.25) and forced fumbles (7). Senior linebacker Ian Thomas is second on the Illini with 64 tackles, 8.5 TFLs, 2.5 sacks and three QB hurries.

Illinois opened the season by scoring an average of 34.7 points in each of its first six wins, but the Illini offense has stalled over the past four losses, tallying only 10.5 points per game during that skid.  Illinois is sixth in the conference with 383.7 total yards each time out and have totaled exactly half of the 62 offensive touchdowns Wisconsin has posted on the season. Sophomore QB Nathan Scheelhaase leads the Big Ten in total offense during conference games. Scheelhaase's 251.8 yards per game average puts him just in front of Wisconsin's Russell Wilson (244.5) and Michigan's Denard Robinson (240.5). He has thrown 25 TDs against just seven INTs over the last 17 games, and has found his primary target to be A.J. Jenkins.  The wideout leads the Big Ten and ranks among the nation's elite in both receiving yards (113.3) and receptions (7.6) per game (7.6), and needs 146 yards to break the school's single-season record.  He has five 100-yard receiving games on the year.  Tailback Jason Ford leads the team in rushing with 518 yards and has a team-high seven rushing touchdowns, while Scheelhaase has 515 yards and six scores.  UW is fifth in the country in scoring defense, allowing just an average of 15.8 points per game.  The Badgers are also second in the country in pass defense, allowing just 146.3 yards through the air each time out, but rank sixth in the league with 134.1 yards allowed on the ground each week.  In the last seven games, Wisconsin has 10 INTs and three fumble recoveries.  Mike Taylor (10.8) and Chris Borland (10.2) are 1-2 respectively in the Big Ten in tackles per game.


(8-2, 4-2 Big Ten)

Legends Division Game
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011 • Noon ET • Ann Arbor, Mich. • Michigan Stadium (109,901)
ESPN • Announcers: Dave Pasch, Urban Meyer, Chris Spielman, Quint Kessenich
Series: Michigan leads 3-2-1 • Last Meeting: Dec. 28, 2005: Nebraska 32, Michigan 28 (Alamo Bowl)

(8-2, 4-2 Big Ten)

In a matchup of two of the four winningest programs in college football history, Nebraska heads to Ann Arbor this weekend to face a Michigan team that is 8-2 overall and 4-2 in Big Ten play.  The Huskers are also 8-2 on the season and 4-2 in league play, following a 17-14 victory at Penn State last week.  The win kept Nebraska one game behind Legends Division leader Michigan State with two games to play in the regular season.  The Wolverines, who beat Illinois 31-14 last Saturday, also need a victory this weekend to keep their hopes of playing in the inaugural Big Ten Championship alive.  Michigan (892 all-time wins) and Nebraska (845) meet for the first time since 1962, when NU won in Ann Arbor 25-13 in Bob Devaney's first season as head coach. The two most recent meetings have come in bowl games, with Michigan winning the 1986 Fiesta Bowl and NU capturing a 32-28 victory in the 2005 Alamo Bowl.

Nebraska's offense ranks second in the Big Ten in scoring (32.9) and rushing (232.7), fourth in total yards (404.1), and 10th in passing (171.4).  The Huskers continue to boast an impressive rushing tandem in tailback Rex Burkhead (107.2) and quarterback Taylor Martinez (76.8), who rank third and seventh, respectively, in the conference.  Last week at Penn State, Burkhead scampered for 121 yards and a score while Martinez netted 56 yards on the ground and 143 yards in the air.  Martinez has struggled in Big Ten play though, completing just 57.7 percent of his passes and throwing seven interceptions.  That should excite a Michigan defense that has forced 23 turnovers this year, including multiple turnovers in eight of 10 games.  The Wolverines' 23 turnovers rank tied for first in the Big Ten and tied for 14th nationally.  Michigan is also allowing 16.1 points per game, which is seventh-best in the country, and allows just 130.9 rushing yards and 191.3 passing yards each time out. The Wolverines gave up just 37 rushing yards last week at Illinois, the fewest against a Big Ten opponent since holding Indiana to 26 yards in 2006.  Kenny Demens is 13th in the conference with 7.3 stops per game, while Craig Roh owns 4.0 sacks on the year.

Michigan has totaled more than 500 yards in three conference games and over 30 points in four of six Big Ten outings.  That production has helped the Wolverines improve their league averages to third in scoring (32.5) and total yards (421.5).  Like Nebraska, Michigan features a dynamic dual-threat quarterback. The Wolverines' Denard Robinson ranks 36th nationally with an average of 96.0 rushing yards per game, a total that ranks third among quarterbacks. Robinson is also completing 53.5 percent of his passes, while averaging 170.9 passing yards per game.  Behind Robinson, the Wolverines rank 11th nationally in rushing at 235.9 yards per outing. Michigan ranks 84th in the nation with an average of 200.4 passing yards per contest, but the Wolverines are averaging a nation's-best 15.9 yards per catch.  Robinson did injure his right wrist in last week's win over Illinois, so it remains to be seen if he will be at full strength come kickoff.  Devin Gardner stepped in for Robinson under center last week, and Fitzgerald Toussaint continued his impressive stint on the ground.  The sophomore posted 192 yards rushing after going for 170 yards two weeks ago.  Nebraska is allowing 22.2 points and 352.0 yards per game, including 161.3 on the ground and 190.7 in the air.  The Huskers have denied their opponents points on six of 29 attempts in the red zone, a percentage of 79.3, which is good for fourth in the Big Ten.  Lavonte David is fourth in the league with 9.7 tackles per game.


(1-9, 0-6 Big Ten)

Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011 • Noon ET • East Lansing, Mich. • Spartan Stadium (75,005)
BTN • Announcers: Eric Collins, Chris Martin, Dionne Miller
Series: Michigan State leads, 40-15-2 • Last Meeting: Sept. 27, 2008: Michigan State 42, Indiana 29

8-2, 5-1 Big Ten)

Saturday marks the renewed Indiana-Michigan State battle for the Old Brass Spittoon, a rivalry trophy since 1950 that came from one of Michigan's earliest trading posts and is widely believed to be nearly 190 years old.  The Spartans have earned possession of the trophy on 40 of the 53 occasions it has been contested.  MSU and Indiana meet for the 58th time overall on Saturday, and the first time since 2008, with the Spartans owning a 40-15-2 advantage overall, including a 21-6-1 record in games played in Spartan Stadium.  A win in East Lansing would be by far one of the biggest series victories for the Hoosiers as Indiana is just 1-9 overall and winless in six conference games.  Coming off a bye week, Indiana will look to halt an MSU ballclub that sits atop the Legends Division at 5-1, one game ahead of both Nebraska (4-2) and Michigan (4-2).  The Spartans, who were a 37-21 victor over Iowa last week, have won 13 straight games in Spartan Stadium - their longest home streak since winning 19 straight from 1950-53.  

Over the past three games, the Hoosiers' offense has been productive under the guidance of true freshman Tre Roberson at quarterback.  Roberson is 41-of-71 passing and has thrown for 540 yards with three touchdowns, while accounting for 275 yards and a score in his three starts.  During that stretch, IU has averaged 27.5 points, 231.7 rushing yards and 411.7 total yards per game.  The emergence of Stephen Houston and the Hoosiers' run game has been welcomed as well.  Houston's 633 rushing yards are the most for a Hoosier rusher since 2005.  Indiana has also been thrilled with what sophomore Kofi Hughes has brought to the offense.  Two weeks ago at Ohio State, Hughes recorded career highs with eight receptions, 147 receiving yards and 156 all-purpose yards.  He leads the team with 445 receiving yards, 28 catches and 15.9 yards per reception, and shares the team lead with three touchdowns.  IU's young offense will be tested against one of the nation's top defenses, however, as Michigan State is third in the country in total defense (259.5), fourth in passing (157.5), eighth in scoring (16.5), and 12th against the run (101.9).  MSU limited Iowa to 87 yards rushing last week, marking the fifth time this season the Spartans have held their opponent to under-100 yards rushing. In addition, MSU is tied for first in the Big Ten and tied for ninth in the FBS with 14 interceptions and 18th in the nation with 2.8 sacks per game. Through six Big Ten games, the Spartans have recorded 44 tackles for loss, including a league-best 24 sacks. Junior safety Isaiah Lewis and senior safety Trenton Robinson both lead the Big Ten and rank tied for 15th in the nation with four interceptions.  Max Bullough leads the team with 7.1 stops per game, while William Gholston is 10th in the league with 10.0 tackles for loss this season.

Last week's win against Iowa earned Michigan State quarterback Kirk Cousins another milestone as he eclipsed 8,000 yards passing for his career.  The senior slinger threw for 260 yards in the win and became just the second Spartan in school history to reach the 8,000-yard plateau.  Cousins is currently third in the conference with 224.9 passing yards per game, leading an offense that is third in league passing (242.6) and seventh in total yards (375.4). Over his last two games, sophomore running back Le'Veon Bell is averaging 104.0 rushing and 163.0 all-purpose yards per contest and is coming off a career-high 20 carries for 112 yards at Iowa.  B.J. Cunningham is fourth in the conference in both receptions (5.5) and receiving yards (87.3) per game.  Tight end Brian Linthicum got into the mix last week against the Hawkeyes, recording career highs in receptions (5) and receiving yards (71).  Indiana's defense is ninth in the Big Ten against the pass (206.8), and 12th in scoring (36.0), rushing (245.8) and total yards (452.6).  Two weeks ago at Ohio State, redshirt freshman linebacker Chase Hoobler set career marks with nine tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss against the Buckeyes.  IU is led on the year by another linebacker, Jeff Thomas, who rates 10th in the conference with 7.7 hits each time out.


(2-8, 1-5 Big Ten)

Legends Division Game
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011 • 11 a.m. CT • Evanston, Ill. • Ryan Field (47,130)
BTN • Announcers: Matt Devlin, Glen Mason, Jon Jansen
Series: Minnesota leads 50-31-5 • Last Meeting: Oct. 2, 2010: Northwestern 29, Minnesota 28

(5-5, 2-4 Big Ten)

Northwestern remains home at Ryan Field following a 28-6 win over Rice last week, and now hosts a Minnesota ballclub that suffered a 42-13 setback against Wisconsin last week.  Three of the last four matchups between the Wildcats and Gophers have gone down to the wire and have been decided by one score. Northwestern has won three of the last four by a total of nine points. The Gophers' victory in that stretch was a 35-24 decision in 2009 on the road.  Saturday marks the 87th contest between the two teams with the Gophers holding a 50-31-5 advantage in the all-time series.  On the season, Minnesota is 2-8 overall and 1-5 in conference play, while Northwestern is one win shy of bowl eligibility at 5-5 on the season and 2-4 in Big Ten games.

Minnesota's offense enters the week ranked 11th in the conference in rushing (140.3) and passing (159.5), and 12th in scoring (18.1) and total yards (299.8), but has seen promising performances out of both quarterback MarQueis Gray, running back Duane Bennett, and wideout Da'Jon McKnight in recent weeks.  Gray recorded career-high marks for completions (19), attempts (32), yards (295) and touchdowns (3) two weeks ago at Michigan State a week after completing 65 percent of his passes in the win over Iowa.  Currently, Gray is eighth in the Big Ten in rushing (71.0) and ninth in passing (142.9). Bennett is the Gophers' top tailback, with 468 yards and three touchdowns, and needs just 45 yards to reach 2,000 yards for his career.  McKnight turned in career-high marks two weeks ago at Michigan State with nine receptions for 173 yards and three scores.  He is currently seventh in the league with 66.2 receiving yards each time out.  For a defense that is allowing 28.3 points per game, Northwestern has been mighty impressive in the last two weeks.  Following an effort in which it surrendered just three points in the first half to Nebraska, the Wildcats did not allow any points for the first 45 minutes of the game last week against Rice, and held the owls to a season-low six points. Overall, NU is giving up 411.8 yards per game, including 179.0 on the ground.  Safety Ibraheim Campbell has taken over the team lead for tackles this season with 74, 40 of which are of the solo variety. Linebacker David Nwabuisi is right behind with 73 stops and a team-high 7.5 TFL's this year.

The Wildcats boast a balanced offensive attack as they rank 36th in the nation in both rushing (184.5) and passing offense (261.0). NU also ranks second in Big Ten play in total offense per game (458.7) and second in passing efficiency (162.8).  Northwestern is averaging 30.9 points per game thanks in large part to the production of its quarterback tandem of Dan Persa and Kain Colter.  Persa is fourth-best in the league with 212.8 passing yards per game, while Colter is one of only two players since 1996 to compile at least 500 yards passing, 500 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in a season.  Speaking of receiving, wideout Jeremy Ebert has set career bests for single-game receiving yards the last two games, going for 147 on six catches at Nebraska before topping that with 208 yards on seven grabs against Rice.  Nationally, Ebert is 19th in total receiving yards (924), 22nd in receiving yards per game (92.4) and tied for sixth in TD grabs (10).  Minnesota's defense is 10th in the conference against the pass (230.6), and 11th in scoring (34.5), rushing (200.3) and total yards allowed (430.9).  Kim Royston is fifth in the league with 9.3 hits per game, while linebacker Gary Tinsley is 16th at 7.2 stops each time out.  Tinsley has 183 tackles to his credit for his Gopher career and hits the field Saturday on the heels of one of the top performances of his career.  Last week against Wisconsin, Tinsley recorded 12 stops, including three tackles for loss and a sack. He now leads the team in tackles for loss (8.0) and sacks (3.0).


(6-4, 3-3 Big Ten)

Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011 • Noon ET • West Lafayette, Ind. • Ross-Ade Stadium (62,500)
BTN • Announcers: Tom Hart, Derek Rackley, Lisa Byington
Series: Purdue leads 45-33-3 • Last Meeting: Nov. 15, 2008: Iowa 22, Purdue 17

(5-5, 3-3 Big Ten)

Fresh off a thrilling 26-23 overtime victory over Ohio State, Purdue welcomes Iowa to Ross-Ade Stadium on Saturday.  The Hawkeyes have won four of the last five and 16 of the last 22 meetings, but the Boilermakers own a commanding 45-3-3 advantage in the all-time series, including a 27-13-1 edge in West Lafayette. The teams have not met since Iowa scored a 22-17 win at Iowa City in 2008 and the Hawkeyes have not played at Purdue since suffering a 31-6 loss in 2007.  Following that loss, Iowa had lost just one game by more than 10 points, and that came last week in a 37-21 defeat to Michigan State.  The Hawkeyes have not won in West Lafayette since a 34-17 decision in 2005.   

Iowa looks to get back to a steady ground attack on Saturday, a week after being held to just 87 yards rushing against Michigan State.  The Hawkeyes are fifth in the conference in total yards (387.2), rating fourth in passing (238.1) and 10th in rushing (149.1), but have had success running the ball against the Boilers.  In fact, in the two team's last meeting, Iowa posted 248 rushing yards, including 211 by Shonn Greene, and now boast a powerful tailback in Marcus Coker, who is 12th nationally with 115.8 rushing yards per game.  Those numbers may not affect this Boilermaker defense though, as Purdue held its own last week against a run-first Ohio State ballclub. The defense held OSU to just 295 yards of total offense, including its third-lowest rushing total of the season (163). It also posted a season-high five sacks and equaled the season high with 10.0 tackles for loss.  Linebacker Dwayne Beckford recorded 10 tackles to lead the Purdue defense, including 1.5 tackles for loss. Logan Link added nine tackles and Joe Holland had seven in the win. Kawann Short posted a career-high three sacks and added three other stops, earning Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts. So will the Boilers be able to stop the Hawkeyes' passing game?  Purdue is just eighth in the league with 201.4 passing yards allowed each time out, while James Vandenberg is second with 235.1 yards in the air each Saturday. Wideout Marvin McNutt, Jr., is 11th nationally in receiving yards per game (108.9) and 23rd in receptions per game (6.5).  In last week's loss, McNutt led Iowa's offense, grabbing eight receptions for 130 yards, while Vandenberg completed 22-of-47 passing for 262 yards, with two scores and one interception.

Purdue enters the weekend ranked seventh in the conference in scoring (25.9), rushing (170.3) and passing (196.4), and ninth in total yards (366.7).  Last week the Boilermakers were paced by a pair of quarterbacks in Robert Marve and Caleb TerBush.  Marve completed 10-of-13 passes for 94 yards and Caleb TerBush completed 15-of-24 attempts for 140 yards.  Justin Siler led Purdue receivers with six receptions for 45 yards, while nine Boilermakers had at least one reception.  Ralph Bolden paced the squad with 80 rushing yards on 18 carries.  Purdue enters the week ranked 29th in the nation in red zone offense, scoring at an 87 percent clip, however the Hawkeyes are 15th nationally in red zone defense, allowing points just 73 percent of the time. Linebacker James Morris is third in the conference and 23rd nationally with 9.8 tackles per game, while Christian Kirksey follows close behind with 9.0 stops each time out.  Kirksey led the Hawkeye defense last week against MSU with nine tackles, including a tackle for loss. DB Shaun Prater added eight tackles, while defensive end Broderick Binns had two tackles for loss among his six stops and added a pass break-up.  As a team, Iowa is allowing 23.8 points and 398.4 yards each time out.


(8-2, 5-1 Big Ten)

Leaders Division Game
Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011 • 3:30 p.m. ET • Columbus, Ohio • Ohio Stadium (102,329)
ABC (regional), ESPN (outer market) • Announcers: Brad Nessler, Todd Blackledge, Holly Rowe
Series: Penn State leads 14-12 • Last Meeting: Nov. 7, 2009: Ohio State 24, Penn State 7

(6-4, 3-3 Big Ten)

After a heartbreaking 17-14 home loss to Nebraska last week, Penn State departs State College for the final two weeks, making the first stop at Ohio State. The Nittany Lions are atop the Big Ten Leaders Division with a 5-1 mark and can clinch no worse than a tie for the division title with a win. The Buckeyes lost a heartbreaker as well last week, falling 26-23 in overtime at Purdue.  In the overall series, Ohio State leads Penn State by a slim 13-12 margin, with the Buckeyes claiming six of the last eight games in the series.  OSU has won eight of the 14 games played in Columbus and the Nittany Lions have not won in Ohio Stadium since a 13-6 result in 2008.

Penn State enters the weekend ranked eighth in the conference in passing (195.7), ninth in rushing (162.8), 10th in total yards (358.5), and 11th in scoring (21.0).  In last week's loss against Nebraska, the Nittany Lions actually outgained the Huskers by a 375-331 count, and surpassed both their rushing and passing averages.  Quarterback Matthew McGloin completed 16-of-34 passes for 193 yards, while Stephfon Green rushed for 71 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Derek Moye, who is eighth in the league with 4.2 receptions per game, hauled in a team-high four catches for a game-high 78 yards.  Moye also ranks sixth in the conference with 74.0 receiving yards each time out.  Green impressed in the backfield Saturday for a ground game that has been centered around Silas Redd, who is fourth in the Big Ten at 105.9 yards per game.  Redd rushed 15 times for 53 yards against the Huskers.  The Ohio State defense has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in nearly 30 games and gives up an average of 18.9 points and 317.2 yards per game, which is fifth in the conference. The Buckeyes' leading tackler is Andrew Sweat with 68 hits, but they will be without the senior linebacker Saturday as he is still reeling from a concussion suffered against Purdue. Defensive lineman John Simon ranks third in the Big Ten with six sacks and tops Ohio State with 13.5 tackles for loss, while cornerback Bradley Roby has a team-high three interceptions and eight passes defensed.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Buckeyes are posting 25.3 points and 317.3 yards each time out, led by true freshman Braxton Miller.  In nine games, Miller has thrown for 679 yards, completing 50 percent of his passes, with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. He also ranks second on the team in rushing, totaling 490 yards with five touchdowns.  Since returning midseason, the ground game has belonged to senior Dan Herron.  In the last four games, Herron has rushed for 477 yards and two scores. Sophomore Carlos Hyde tops the Buckeyes in rushing yards (525) and touchdowns (6), while junior Jordan Hall has added 376 yards.  Redshirt junior tight end Jake Stoneburner leads Ohio State in receptions (12) and receiving touchdowns (6) while freshman wide receiver Devin Smith tops the team in receiving yards (251).  Defensively, Penn State is third nationally in scoring (12.9), eighth in total yards allowed (287.2), fourth in pass efficiency defense (96.0) and fifth in defending the pass (167.7).  The Nittany Lions also are tied for 28th nationally in rushing defense at 119.5 yards per game, having limited six opponents to less than 100 yards on the ground. Penn State is also tied for 16th with 7.3 tackles for loss per game.  Devon Still anchors the PSU defense, ranking second in the Big Ten with 16.5 TFLs and is tied for 10th with four sacks.  His 53 hits are sixth on the team and he has a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and a pass break-up as well.  Gerald Hodges is seventh in the league with 4.5 sacks on the campaign and eighth with 8.6 stops each time out.