Tom Dienhart, BTN.com Senior Writer, November 6, 2012
Like the November rain, the questions never stop coming. Each week I pose a key one for each Big Ten squad. There are some vexing queries this week. Chief among them: How will the Wisconsin offense look without injured quarterback Joel Stave? See what other questions I have as we head toward Week 11 of the Big Ten season.
Will the offense find any consistency with Minnesota coming to Champaign? The Fighting Illini rank last in the Big Ten in scoring (18.4 ppg); last in total offense (301.0 ypg); last in rushing offense (126.0 ypg); 11th in passing offense (175.0 ypg). Get the picture?
Can the defense keep clicking with Wisconsin coming to Bloomington for a big game? The often maligned defense has played two of its better games in victories each of the last two weeks. In a 31-17 win at Illinois, the Hoosiers allowed 372 yards. In last week's 23-21 home victory over Iowa, Indiana yielded 345 yards. Not bad for a defense that has allowed 400 or more yards in four other games this season. Baby steps, people.
What has happened to the defense? That had been the Hawkeyes' most steady side of the ball until the last three weeks. Penn State had 504 yards; Northwestern 433; Indiana 473. Maybe Iowa's struggling defense can regain its teeth with a floundering Purdue team coming to Iowa City.
Can the defense keep playing well? Much will be made of the quarterback situation after Devin Gardner took over for an injured Denard Robinson last week in a win at Minnesota and excelled. But it's more vital for the Wolverine defense to keep playing well vs. visiting Northwestern, which was off last week. Michigan is No. 2 in the Big Ten in total defense (288.7 ypg) and needs to keep playing well with the Wolverine offense having issues with consistency.
Is it good for the Spartans to be off? Michigan State is coming off a tough 28-24 home loss to Nebraska in which it blew a 10-point fourth-quarter lead. That left the Spartans 5-5, still one win shy of bowl eligibility. Sometimes it's better to get right back onto the field coming off such a rough defeat. Now, MSU must sit, wait, think, wonder and stew.
Can Philip Nelson continue to develop? The true freshman quarterback has been a revelation the last three games since assuming command. Nelson has completed 54.7 percent of his passes for 537 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has run 37 times for 141 yards. Nelson will need to make some plays for the Golden Gophers to win at Illinois, which would give Minnesota a sixth triumph and bowl eligibility for the first time since 2009.
Can the Cornhuskers limit turnovers with Penn State coming to Lincoln? Nebraska has a Big Ten-high 23 turnovers lost; the Nittany Lions are second in the conference with 17 turnovers gained. This isn't a good equation for a Husker team that often is its own worst enemy.
Will the offense pick up where it left off in a home win vs. Iowa? In that 28-17 triumph, the Wildcats tallied 433 yards. The three games before that, the Northwestern attack floundered, notching 262 yards at Penn State; 275 at Minnesota; 301 vs. Nebraska. The Wildcats need to find their rhythm playing a very good Michigan team that has the No. 2 defense in the Big Ten.
Do the Buckeyes want to be off? Ohio State has played 10 weeks in a row-and is 10-0. The latest conquest was one of its most impressive, as OSU rolled Illinois, 52-22. It seems too bad that the Buckeyes have an off week with the team on a roll. That said, a little rest can't hurt as a trip to Wisconsin and a home game against Michigan is all that separates Ohio State from perfection.
Can the mojo continue? The Nittany Lions thumped Purdue in West Lafayette last week, 34-9, coming off a home loss to Ohio State that ended a five-game winning skein. This Penn State team seems to be on a mission to finish the season strong. It already has six wins with three games to go as it travels to Nebraska. How many victories can the Nittany Lions get? The season already is a success. Each win from here on out is gravy.
Will the Boilermakers win again? Purdue hasn't tasted victory since a 51-41 home win over Marshall on Sept. 29. Since then, the Boilers have lost five in a row and their bowl hopes hang in the balance. Purdue must win its last three games to reach a bowl for a second season in succession. And it all begins at Iowa, which also is struggling with three losses in a row.
Will the offense be OK at Indiana without injured quarterback Joel Stave? He may be back for a bowl game but will miss the rest of the regular season with a broken collar bone. The Badger attack wasn't thriving at the start of the season with Danny O'Brien at the controls. For the season, he has hit 60.5 percent of his passes for 523 yards with three touchdowns and looked shaky in the second half of a home overtime loss to Michigan State the last time out. The other option is Curt Philips, who didn't play in 2010 and 2011 while dealing with knee issues and has played in just two games this season.
|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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