There is a full Saturday of action, as all 12 teams will play. The last time that happened? The third week of the season, September 14. And there are some interesting games, with Michigan’s trip to Michigan State the clear headline tilt. Here are looks at all six games as the season hits the homestretch.
Why you should watch: It’s 20 victories in a row and counting for Ohio State. The Buckeyes continue to look like the elite team in the Big Ten, as they chase a spot in the BCS title game. Lopsided wins may not help Ohio State’s cause in the BCS standings. But, “ugly” wins may hurt OSU’s cause. So, the Buckeyes-No. 4 in the BCS standings–may not just want to beat the Boilermakers; they may want to blowout the Boilermakers like they did to Penn State last week, 63-14. This could be another long Saturday for a rebuilding Purdue team. But, who knows what will happen? If you recall, the Boilermakers had the Buckeyes on the ropes last season before allowing Ohio State to wiggle off the hook by scoring a touchdown and two-point conversion in the waning moments to force overtime, where the Buckeyes won. It has been the closest call during the 20-game win skein.
Player on the spot: Ohio State quarterback Braxton Miller. The guy has been on fire the last two weeks. He hit 18-of-24 passes for 252 yards and three touchdowns last week vs. Penn State to go along with 68 yards rushing and two scores. The week before vs. Iowa, Miller connected on 22-of-27 attempts for 222 yards and two scores and ran for 102 yards. Can a Purdue defense that is No. 8 in the Big Ten (399.6 ypg) slow down Miller? If Miller gets going, this Buckeye offense that leads the conference (517.2 ypg) is almost impossible to stop.
Key matchup: Purdue QB Danny Etling vs. Ohio State front seven. It the true freshman Boilermaker signal-caller can’t hit some passes to loosen the Buckeye defense, Purdue’s struggling offense will be grounded—again. This attack is last in the Big Ten (278.6 ypg) by almost 70 yards to the No. 11 offense.
Key number: 100, yards rushing for Ohio State’s Carlos Hyde in one half in each of the last three games.
Listen to Coach Urban Meyer:
Listen to Coach Darrell Hazell:
Why you should watch: Each team is licking its wounds. The Nittany Lions were throttled at Ohio State, 63-14. The Fighting Illini were ripped at home by Michigan State, 42-3. No doubt, a victory would do wonders for the psyche and morale of the winner. Illinois is especially victory starved, losers of three in a row. And the Illini also are in the midst of a 17-game Big Ten losing skid in that dates back over two years.
Player in the spot: Nathan Scheelhaase. The Illini will have no shot at victory unless the senior quarterback has a big game. He has gone three games in a row without a touchdown pass. And Illinois has lost all three games. Coincidence? The good news: Scheelhaase is facing a defense that has eight touchdown passes in the last three games
Key matchup: Penn State running game vs. Illinois front seven. Defense has been an issue for both of these teams. But Illinois’ unit has really floundered, ranking 11th in the Big Ten (457.7 ypg). The Nittany Lions can be effective on offense if their rushing attack gains traction; that’s been tough, as PSU is just 10th in the Big Ten in rushing (151.9 ypg). But Bill Belton has really developed this season into a solid back and could have success. Illinois’ front has been soft all season, a big reason why the Illini are 11th in the Big Ten in rush defense (219.3 ypg). If the Nittany Lions can run, that will make Christian Hackenberg that much more effective.
Key number: 10 and 8, tackles per game and tackles for loss on the season for Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown. He’s the only FBS players averaging 10 tackles per game with eight TFLs.
Listen to Coach Tim Beckman:
Listen to Coach Bill O’Brien:
Why you should watch: Two hot teams lock horns after not meeting since 2010, when Wisconsin used a daring fake punt to help propel it to victory. The Badgers were off last week. Will the down time slow their mojo? This team is hot. The defensive front seven is excelling, while the offense remains an explosive group that is coming off a 56-point outing at Illinois the last time out. The Hawkeyes revival tour continued last week with a 17-10 overtime win over Northwestern that put the kibosh on a two-game losing skein and fueled optimism. Each team needs a win to keep pace in their divisions.
Player on the spot: Iowa QB Jake Rudock. Yes, he hit that big touchdown pass to C.J. Fiedorowicz to win the Northwestern game in overtime. But Rudock was spotty, especially in the second half. He hit 19-of-27 passes for 169 yards with that TD and a pick for what’s the No. 8 passing attack in the league (208.8 ypg). He needs to be more consistent with his throws and show calm under duress vs. a Badger defense that’s No. 3 in the Big Ten vs. the pass (197.4 ypg).
Key matchup: Iowa front seven vs. Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon. The Hawkeyes defense was gashed last week by Northwestern, allowing 225 yards rushing. Prior to that, Iowa’s front seven had been outstanding. Now comes the ultimate test from a Wisconsin offense that’s No.1 in the Big Ten in rushing (296.9 ypg). Gordon is the Big Ten’s top rusher with 1,012 yards, averaging a cool 9.5 yards per tote. Iowa is No. 5 in the Big Ten vs. the run (128.6 ypg) and has yielded a league-low two rushing touchdowns. Wisconsin has 24 rushing scores. This is gonna be interesting—and fun.
Key number: 42-42-2, the all-time record in this series.
Listen to Coach Gary Andersen:
Listen to Coach Kirk Ferentz:
Why you should watch: Lots of intrigue. The Golden Gophers are developing into a feel-good story, winning two in a row with Jerry Kill out tending to health issues. The upset of Nebraska last week made Minnesota bowl eligible and has the Gophers full of confidence. The Hoosiers were off last week after that insane 63-47 loss at Michigan. Indiana needs three more victories to become bowl eligible. And, honestly, this is a game IU probably needs to win to make it to the postseason for the first time since 2007.
Player on the spot: Minnesota RB David Cobb. With Donnell Kirkwood dealing with injury, Cobb has emerged as a rushing force. He has gained a combined 241 yards rushing the past two games—which coincidently were both victories. If he’s able to gash the Indiana defense, it will allow Minnesota to wear down IU, control the clock and keep the ball away from the Hoosiers’ go-go, quick-strike attack.
Key matchup: Minnesota offensive line vs. Indiana defensive line. The Golden Gophers are a physical bunch that likes to wallop foes in the nose with a strong ground game paced by a collection of big, tough backs. And it all starts up front with a strong front that paves the way for the No. 4 ground attack in the Big Ten (217.8 ypg). The Indiana front has had myriad holes punched in it thus far in 2013. How bad has it been? The Hoosiers are last in the conference vs. the run (221.0 ypg), and the last time out were scorched for 751 total yards by Michigan.
Key number: 41, fewest amount of points allowed by Indiana in any of its four losses this season. In its last two games, the Hoosiers have permitted an aggregate 105 points in defeats to Michigan State and Michigan.
Listen to Interim Coach Tracy Claeys:
Listen to Coach Kevin Wilson:
Why you should watch: Two struggling teams are looking for a lift. The good news: There will be a winner. The bad news: There will be a loser. The Cornhuskers are coming off a tough loss at Minnesota that has some questioning the direction of the program. The defense showed some of its usual vulnerabilities, as the d-line didn’t hold up well vs. a physical Minnesota front. And the offense also had issues passing. Northwestern is mired in a four-game losing streak that has derailed a once-promising season. The Wildcats won in Lincoln when they visited in 2011, so Northwestern won’t be intimidated.
Player of the spot: It’s both quarterbacks. Taylor Martinez and Kain Colter are in similar spots, as each has missed time dealing with injury—Martinez with turf toe and Colter an ankle. Each didn’t look to be 100 percent last week. Martinez has said as much, while Colter was sent to the sideline for a while at Iowa after getting dinged. Both of these signal-callers need to be effective with their feet to be a true weapon and make their attack go. But will Martinez even play? If not, Nebraska will turn to Tommy Armstrong, Jr., and/or Ron Kellogg.
Key matchup: Northwestern offensive line vs. Nebraska defensive line. One struggling unit will battle another struggling unit. At Iowa, the Wildcat front saw tackle Jack Konopka flounder and guard Ian Park was replaced by Matt Frazier. Northwestern has permitted a league-high 28 sacks and has had issues getting a consistent push in the ground game. Nebraska is No. 9 in the Big Ten in rushing defense (173.7 ypg).
Key number: 4, points that have decided the first two Big Ten games between Northwestern and Nebraska. The Huskers won 29-28 in Evanston last year; the Wildcats won 28-25 in Lincoln in 2011.
Listen to Coach Pat Fitzgerald:
Listen to Coach Bo Pelini:
Why you should watch: This is as intense of a rivalry as you’ll find. And the stakes are as high as they ever have been. The Spartans are rolling, winners of four in a row and in the driver’s seat in the uber-competitive Legends Division race. The Wolverines were off last week and are coming off a wild 63-47 win over Indiana that exposed some defensive concerns. What will be the mind-set of Brady Hoke’s squad? Questions surround Michigan on both sides of the ball. Lose this game, and the Wolverines will be two games down to the Spartans. Michigan last won in East Lansing in 2007.
Player on the spot: It has to be Michigan QB Devin Gardner. He has battled inconsistency all season. The junior’s decision making has been called into question. Gardner also has been hurt by an offensive line that has struggled for consistency on the interior. We know he can make plays with his feet, as the rushing game typically is at its best with Gardner carrying. But Gardner will need to make some big throws to beat this great MSU defense. He looked great the last time out, throwing for 503 yards with Jeremy Gallon notching a Big Ten single-game record 369 yards receiving. But that was vs. Indiana.
Key matchup: Michigan offensive line vs. Michigan State defensive line: The struggles of the Wolverine front are well-documented. It has gotten to the point where the three interior spots have been shuffled. The jury remains out. The group’s struggles have prevented Michigan from being an effective power running team, having to rely too often on Gardner runs to make the ground game go. The maligned Michigan front will face the ultimate challenge vs. a stout Spartan front that’s among the best in the nation for a defense that leads the nation (215.5 ypg).
Key number: 10, interceptions for Devin Gardner. No Big Ten quarterback has thrown more.
Listen to Coach Brady Hoke
Listen to Coach Mark Dantonio:
|About Tom Dienhart||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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