Reader mail: Our expert takes on your questions

What about all these big hits on Ohio State’s Braxton Miller? Does Michigan’s offense need to shake it up?  Is Wisconsin really better than Penn State right now? The readers have great questions, and I have my answers in this week’s mailbag.

Read what I’ve got this time and add your question at the bottom of this post for next time.

In the past couple of weeks, Braxton Miller has taken some big hits. Do you think defenses are trying to take him out? – Jim

I don’t think there is any intentional targeting of Miller by opponents. But I am sure opposing defenses are told to hit Miller as early and often as they can. Foes want to do what they can to make Miller pay for carrying the ball.

Yes, Michigan’s defense has been playing great, but the offense is scaring me. It’s too predictable. – Scott S.

You have a point. Michigan seemingly has gotten a bit more conservative since that 13-6 loss at Notre Dame, when Denard Robinson tossed four interceptions and lost a fumble. In the last three games, “Shoelace” has completed 29-of-56 passes for 427 yards with three touchdowns and one pick and ran 55 times for 459 yards (8.3 ypc) and two scores. As a team, Michigan has 820 yards rushing since the ND loss and just 442 yards passing. Hey, why not play to the offense’s strength? And that’s featuring Robinson as a ball carrier.

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Can Urban Meyer build a championship program around this defensive scheme? – Jake

Look, I know the numbers don’t look pretty right now for the Ohio State defense. The unit is No. 9 overall in the Big Ten in total defense (393.4 ypg) and is 11th vs. the pass (271.8 ypg). But Meyer believes in his defensive system and in coordinators Luke Fickell and Everett Withers. It’s a matter of upgrading the personnel at linebacker. As better and better talent matriculates to Columbus, you’ll see the Buckeye defense improve.

How confident do you fell about Michigan State being bowl eligible this season? At this point, I feel like the season hangs on the Northwestern game. If we lose that game, we have absolutely no shot at going bowling since I can’t see us beating Wisconsin or Nebraska. What’s your take? – Nick

I think there is reason for concern for the Spartans to reach six victories. They play at Wisconsin this Saturday, play host to Nebraska and Northwestern before finishing at Minnesota. Michigan State needs to win two of those four games. Beating the Badgers and Cornhuskers may be tough. That means the Spartans’ bowl dreams could come down to winning those final two games of the season. I can’t believe I just typed that.

If you think Northwestern’s loss to Nebraska had anything to do with defensive breakdowns, you weren’t watching the game. Our second-half offensive ineptitude led to this loss, same as the defeat at Penn State and nearly the same as the win at Minnesota. Just pitiful and embarrassing for the Wildcats. – Ted Kunkel

I think you are spot on. I dug into some stats, and here is what I discovered. The last three weeks, the Northwestern offense has tallied 262, 275 and 301 yards, respectively. The Wildcats had 704 vs. Indiana before the three-game slide. The aerial attack has been the big issue, as Northwestern ranks No. 12 in the Big Ten with an average of only 172.8 yards passing per game. The offense needs to pick it up, especially if the defense continues to slumber.

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You really think Wisconsin is better than Penn State in your power rankings? I don’t. I think PSU would hang at least 40 points on the Badgers and stuff their running game. – Rudy

Well, we will get to find out which team is better when they meet in State College, Pa., in the season finale for both squads on Nov. 24. I’m not as sold on the Penn State offense as you are. Yes, the passing game led by quarterback Matt McGloin is very good, ranking No. 2 in the league (257.1 ypg). But the ground game still lacks oomph, ranking No. 9 in the conference (149.3 ypg). I think a team will need better balance to “hang 40 points” on a very underrated Wisconsin defense that is No. 3 in the Big Ten overall (315.6 ypg) and No. 4 in scoring defense (17.8 ppg).

I know it’s early, but does Michigan have a shot at the Big Ten title game? – Ron

Affirmative! This is a hot Wolverine team that I think is not only the favorite to win the Legends Division—but also the favorite to win the Big Ten. The defense is playing very well, and the offense is making some plays as the team is in the midst of a three-game winning skein. Playing that tough non-league schedule (Alabama, Notre Dame) pushed Michigan to look at its weaknesses and make adjustments.

What are the realistic chances that Michigan can go to the Rose Bowl this year? – Matt Wireman

If you read my previous answer, you’ll know that I think Michigan’s chances of playing in the Rose Bowl are very good. I expect the Wolverines to play Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game—and for Michigan to prevail and play in its first Rose Bowl since the 2006 season. By the way: The Wolverines haven’t won the Big Ten since 2004.

BTN.com senior writer Tom Dienhart is a veteran sports journalist who covers Big Ten football and men’s basketball for BTN.com and BTN TV. Find him on Twitter and Facebook, read all of his work at btn.com/tomdienhart, and subscribe to his posts via RSS. Also, send questions to his weekly mailbag using the form below and read all of his previous answers in his reader mailbag section.

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3 Comments

Your Opinion?
Show Comments (3 Comments)
Doug on 10/24/2012 @ 2:50pm EDT Said:

Now wait a minute, Michigan’s offense was averaging 38 pts a game in big ten play, the mighty Spartan defense shuts it down, now there must be something wrong with the Michigan offense? Geez you guys can give MSU credit every once in a while, their defense is # 5 in the nation.

J.C. on 10/24/2012 @ 3:33pm EDT Said:

Don’t share the same confidence in Luke Fickell and/or Everett Withers turning around the Ohio State defense in the future (since this has been going on for two seasons). But Zach Boren is currently playing linebacker, which illustrates a lot.

bob jones on 10/24/2012 @ 7:22pm EDT Said:

Have to agree with Northwestern’s offense letting the team down, I think they had something like 12 three and outs, and Nebraska’s defense has had their share of problems this year.

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