Best of Week 10: It's your turn again, Robert
There is a dearth of marquee matchups, but it is Little Brown Jug week. That may not mean much to you, but it does to Minnesota and Michigan. It’s an iconic college football trophy that the schools first played for in 1903. But it has been a lopsided rivalry, with the Golden Gophers winning just twice (1986 and 2005) in the last 30 seasons.
Nebraska is in the driver’s seat in the Legends Division, but it must be wary as it treks to East Lansing to play a Michigan State squad that is coming off an emotional 16-13 overtime win at Wisconsin and is seeking a sixth victory to become bowl eligible.
Indiana’s 31-17 win at Illinois has the Hoosiers in the Big Ten championship game discussion. And IU could improve its stock with a win over visiting Iowa, which is coming off consecutive losses to Penn State and Northwestern. If the Hawkeyes—still fighting for their bowl lives–can’t slow down the Hoosier offensive machine, they could be in for another long Saturday.
Ohio State plays host to Illinois in a battle between the best and worst the Big Ten has to offer. The Buckeyes want to be 10-0 as they move into a bye next week before finishing at Wisconsin and vs. Michigan. The Fighting Illini are trying to end a five-game losing skein.
Purdue and Penn State each are coming off a loss. The Boilermakers are more desperate, as they are on a four-game losing slump that has their bowl hopes in peril. The latest setback was a 44-28 loss at Minnesota. The Nittany Lions saw a five-game losing streak end last week at home with a 35-23 loss vs. Ohio State.
Wisconsin and Northwestern, which are bowl-eligible–are off.
Here’s a look at the Best of Week 10.
BEST GAME: Nebraska at Michigan State. With their 23-9 win over Michigan, the Cornhuskers have emerged as the top team not on probation in the Big Ten. The Spartans shocked many with an overtime win at Wisconsin. They also are seeking revenge after getting muted at Nebraska last season, 24-3. MSU had only 187 yards of offense in the defeat as Kirk Cousins hit just 11-of-27 passes for 86 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Rex Burkhead has been dealing with a knee issue, but he surely recalls running for 130 yards and two scores vs. Michigan State last season.
BEST MATCHUP: Nebraska quarterback Taylor Martinez vs. Michigan State linebackers. Martinez paces the Big Ten in passing efficiency, throwing a Big Ten-high 16 touchdown passes while notching 1,781 yards passing. Martinez also ranks 12th in the Big Ten in rushing, averaging 57.6 yards per game. He hit 7-of-13 passes for 80 yards with a touchdown and interception and ran 12 times for 23 yards last year vs. MSU. Spartan linebackers Max Bullough, Denicos Allen and Taiwan Jones need to contain Martinez in the run game while getting after him as pass rushers when they aren’t dropping into coverage.
PLAYER ON THE SPOT: Purdue quarterback Robert Marve. Danny Hope is jettisoning Caleb TerBush and inserting Marve. A bold move? No. But something has to be done, as the 3-5 Boilermakers’ bowl hopes have reached “Defcon 1.” Purdue is riding an ugly four-game losing skid and needs to start winning right now. The Boilers have lost three of those four games by 71 points and blew a lead and lost in overtime at Ohio State. Marve—he of three knee injuries–has made one start this year and injects a playmaking element into an offense that needs a boost. But with potential reward comes the risk of a mistake, which Marve is prone to make.
KEEP AN EYE ON: Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson. How healthy is that right elbow that got dinged last Saturday night in a 23-9 loss at Nebraska? Robinson left the game in the second quarter and never returned. And the Wolverines’ offense sunk into a deepening abyss that has seen Michigan fail to score a touchdown in the last two games. Robinson must show he can pass the ball at Minnesota, as the offense is getting too predictable.
BEST COORDINATOR MATCHUP: Cornhusker offensive coordinator Tim Beck vs. Michigan State defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi. Two of the best in the business. The Cornhuskers have the No. 1 offense in the Big Ten (489.1 ypg); the Spartans have the No. 1 defense (267.4 ypg). Something has to give, as Nebraska wants to keep the gas on in its quest to win the Legends and Michigan State wants to get bowl eligible and knock off another top team to salvage what has been an up-and-down and disappointing season.
BEST COACHING MATCHUP: How about Nebraska’s Bo Pelini vs. Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio? Each is tough-as-nails coach whose specialty is defense. And you may have forgotten that Pelini was a candidate for the Spartan job that Dantonio ended up getting prior to the 2007 season.
BEST QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: Assuming Denard Robinson plays for Michigan, it will be fun to watch the senior face off vs. Minnesota true freshman Philip Nelson. Robinson hurt his right elbow in the second quarter and never returned in a 23-9 loss at Nebraska. He’s looking to find the form that saw him run for 235 and 128 yards vs. Purdue and Illinois, respectively. The last two weeks, Robinson has run for 96 and 46 yards vs. Michigan State and Nebraska, respectively. Nelson looked like a pro in his second start last week, completing 15-of-22 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns in a 44-28 demolition of Purdue.
|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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