Dienhart: Week 10 Big Ten questions
Will the Illini keep it close at Ohio State? The Illini are arguably the worst team in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes arguably are the best. Illinois will be challenged like it hasn’t been all season vs. an Ohio State team that has an explosive offense that ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten in scoring (38.6 ppg) and will be difficult to keep pace with. Illinois? It is last in the league in scoring (18.0 ppg).
Can the offense keep rolling? It’s the Hoosiers’ best shot to stay in the Leaders Division race. Indiana is No. 3 in the Big Ten in scoring (34.3 ppg) and it’s facing an Iowa team that’s coming off consecutive losses in which it has allowed 66 points. These look like teams headed in the opposite direction.
What’s the Hawkeyes’ mind-set? Iowa is reeling, coming off back-to-back losses. The offense has been a mess most of the season and doesn’t appear to be getting any better, ranking 11th overall (325.9 ypg) and 10th in scoring (20.4 ppg). Making matters worse is the fact a once-stout defense now is springing leaks. Penn State had 504 yards; Northwestern had 433.
Will Denard Robinson be Denard Robinson?He left last week’s Nebraska game in the second quarter with a right elbow injury and never returned. Robinson is slated to play at Minnesota this week, but will he be effective as a passer? He needs to be for an attack that has become pedestrian and predictable in recent weeks. How bad has it been? Michigan hasn’t scored a touchdown in either of its last two games.
Can the Spartans keep the mojo going? It has been a strange—and often disappointing—season for Michigan State. The Spartans will carry a good vibe into a home game vs. hot Nebraska, coming off an improbable overtime win at Wisconsin. Michigan State still needs one more win to be bowl-eligible and clings to faint Legends Division title hopes. The defense continues to play very well, ranking first in the Big Ten (267.4 ypg). The offense? Not so much, though the unit delivered in crunch time in Madison, scoring the tying touchdown with 1:08 left and the winning touchdown in overtime for a 16-13 triumph.
Can the Philip Nelson magic continue? Jerry Kill’s decision to take the redshirt off the true freshman quarterback is turning out to be a stroke of genius. In just his second start last week, Nelson ripped Purdue by hitting 15-of-22 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns. Even better, Minnesota exploded for 44 points. In the previous four games, the Gophers scored a combined 56 points. Could the Gophers win the Little Brown Jug for the first time since 2005 and get bowl-eligible in the process?
Can the Husker defense continue to dominate? The unit has looked great the last two weeks, allowing just 301 yards to Northwestern and only 188 to Michigan. No wonder Nebraska won both games and now finds itself in control of the Legends Division. That defensive dominance could continue with a game at Michigan State vs. a Spartan offense that ranks 10th in the Big Ten (360.3 ypg).
Will the offense lose its momentum? The attack had been in a three-game slump before the Iowa game, notching 262, 275 and 301 yards. But against the Hawkeyes, Northwestern exploded for 433 yards. And the rushing game was on fire, running for 349 yards. This week, the Wildcats are on a bye week.
Will the Buckeyes suffer a letdown with Illinois visiting? They could. We saw Ohio State nearly lose at home to Purdue two weeks ago, needing a late touchdown and two-point conversion to force overtime, where the Buckeyes eventually prevailed. No doubt, Urban Meyer will remind his team of how it nearly got stung by a struggling Boilermaker team. Because of that, Ohio State figures to come out focused—at least you would think—before heading into a bye.
How will the Nittany Lions respond to a loss? It has been a while—September 8 at Virginia, to be exact—since the team tasted defeat. Penn State ripped off five wins after that one-point loss in Charlottesville before succumbing 35-23 at home to Ohio State last week. A trip to struggling Purdue—losers of four in a row—could be just what Penn State needs to get back on track.
Can the defense tighten? While news that Robert Marve will start at quarterback is a top Boilermaker headline, the fact the defense continues to struggle renders moot any hope for offensive improvement. Purdue is 10th in the Big Ten in scoring defense (29.8 ppg). Until that changes, the Boilers have scant chance to win no matter who is playing quarterback.
Will a Badger quarterback emerge during the bye week? The redshirt freshman will miss the rest of the season with a broken collar bone suffered vs. Michigan State. The Wisconsin attack struggled when Danny O’Brien—who began the season as the starter—took over vs. Michigan State. During the off week, the staff will audition O’Brien and Curt Philips for the quarterback job. If the Badgers can’t pass—and the line doesn’t button up its protection—the vaunted ground game will struggle, as will Wisconsin.
|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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