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Big Ten Football Notes

   by ASA - 11/03/2004

by: Mike Merlet, ASA

Minnesota (+6.5) @ Wisconsin

** The Badgers took last week’s bye to get healthy. Starting DE’s Erasmus James and Jonathon Welsh, both of whom sat out vs. Northwestern a few weeks ago, are both expected back to full strength this weekend. Also RB Anthony Davis was only at about 75% for the game vs. Northwestern due to a leg injury. He should be 100% by Saturday. Starting LB Reggie Cribbs, who has missed the last two games due to an ankle injury, may also return.

** The Wisconsin players are constantly reminding each other of how it felt to lose @ Minnesota last year. This is a battle for Paul Bunyan’s Axe and the winner from the previous year keeps it on their sidelines during the game. Last year, the Gophers kicked the winning field goal as time expired and then rushed Wisconsin’s sideline to take back the Axe. Many of the Badger players have talked about the “sickâ€쳌 feeling they had after that game. With this Saturday being UW’s last home game, Senior Day, the Axe situation, you can bet they will be more than focused.

** Minnesota has been really tough at home this year, however their Big Ten road record is now 0-3. Last week’s loss @ Indiana (30-21) was inexplicable. One of the best rush offenses in the country, Minnesota, had just 169 yards on the ground vs. the Hoosiers who have been terrible at stopping the run (Indiana had 238 on the ground). That was a week after the Gophs put up 318 yards rushing on Illinois who’s rush defense is very similar to Indiana’s. Minnesota had just SIX yards of total offense in the fourth quarter. This is definitely a tough team to figure out.

** What does a defense have to do to beat Minnesota? The answer seems rather obvious, however it has become even more glaring as of late. Take away the Gophs running game and let first year starter QB Bryan Cupito beat you. Cupito played fairly well early in the season which made it tough on defenses. As of late, Cupito has played poorly which has made it very tough for Minnesota’s offense to click. Their last 4 games, Cupito has completed only 37% of his passes. He has not completed more than 50% in a game since beating Northwestern over a month ago. Thus opposing defenses have really loaded up to stop the run and most have been fairly successful. Illinois was the only team to give up more than 200 yards rushing to Minnesota over the last four games and the Gophers have been outrushed in 3 of those 4 games.

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Ohio State (+2) @ Michigan State

** The key to MSU’s turnaround, in our opinion, has been the play of QB Drew Stanton. He has been excellent both throwing and running the ball. Stanton took over the QB position for good during the second half of MSU’s game vs. Notre Dame in September. He was projected as a starter coming into the season but was bothered by a knee injury he suffered in last year’s bowl game. After starting 1-2, the Spartans have gone 3-2 since under the direction of Stanton. He is third in total offense in the Big Ten at 239 YPG and fifth in RUSHING. Unfortunately for MSU, Stanton will not play this weekend vs. Ohio State and could be out for the year after separating his shoulder in last week’s triple OT loss @ Michigan. He will be out for at least the next 2 to 3 weeks.

** The key to this Saturday’s game vs. OSU will be the mental state of the Spartans. If at full strength both physically and mentally, we have no doubt that MSU would have easily beaten a struggling Buckeye team. However, now with Stanton out and the way they lost last Saturday, it makes things much tougher for them. Leading 27-10 halfway through the fourth quarter, the Wolverines went on to score 17 points in just 3 minutes and 28 seconds to tie the game and take the wind out of MSU’s sails. Michigan State went onto lose in triple OT. The players were devastated after the game. Can they bounce back? That will be the key. If they are still down and talking about what could have been, OSU will probably beat them. We’ll get a gauge on MSU’s emotional state later in the week.

** The Buckeyes look like they may have jumpstarted their struggling offense the last few games scoring 31 on Indiana and 21 on Penn State. Not so fast. Last week vs. PSU, the Bucks had just 178 yards of TOTAL offense (PSU had 234). They scored only one offensive TD. The other two were on a punt return and an interception return. New starting QB only threw 8 passes in the game. Thus, last week’s score vs. Penn State was definitely deceiving.

** The Buckeyes leading rusher, Lydell Ross, who sat out the last two games will be able to play this Saturday after serving a two game suspension. His suspension gave OSU a chance to look at freshman Tony Pittman. Pittman performed very well rushing for 144 yards vs. Indiana. He then carried the ball just 7 times vs. the Nittany Lions for 22 yards. We expect Ross, Pittman and Maurice Hall to split carries this Saturday.

Indiana (+2.5) @ Illinois

** The Hoosiers have really struggled vs. most Big Ten teams as of late, however they have had enormous problems in Champaign. Indiana has lost nine straight times @ Illinois and they haven’t won in Champaign since 1979. The Hoosiers also seem to struggle mightily coming of a straight up win. In fact, the game following IU’s last 17 wins, they are only 4-13 both straight up and vs. the number. Earlier this year Indiana beat a good Oregon team on the road (30-24) and then turned around and were blasted by a bad Kentucky team (51-32) the following week. Indiana beat Minnesota last weekend 30-21 setting up a historically poor situation for them this Saturday.

** Last week Indiana head coach Gerry DiNardo decided to spread out his carries from the tailback position rather than putting the load on one player. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had been carrying the bulk of the load this season with 128 more carries than second teamer Chris Taylor. Green-Ellis had been struggling as of late averaging under 2 yards per carry his last three games. The change worked last Saturday. The Hoosiers rushed for a season high 238 yards vs. Minnesota. Green-Ellis had 110 yards, Taylor rushed for 35 yards and Yamar Washington pitched in with 46. Expect DiNardo to keep the rotation going this weekend.

** One of Illinois’ “twoâ€쳌 starting RB’s, Pierre Thomas (who is their leading rusher), did not carry the ball once last Saturday vs. Iowa. Because of lingering shoulder and ankle injuries, Thomas was only used very sparingly on special teams. Head coach Ron Turner said he plans on having Thomas back to full strength this Saturday where he will split time at the tailback spot with E.B. Halsey.

** Last Saturday, freshman Brad Bower got his second consecutive start in an Illini uniform. He started out well vs. Iowa throwing a TD pass in the first quarter. He ended the game 10 of 17 for 81 yards. However, because the Illini were struggling on offense, Ron Turner decided to pull Bower in the fourth quarter. He inserted former starter and SIXTH year senior Jon Beutjer. Beutjer played very well going 12 for 25 for 129 yards in the 4th quarter. However, Bower will get the start again this Saturday. Don’t be surprised if Turner goes to Beutjer again if the offense is struggling. Word is that Turner has to win this game to have any chance of keeping his job.

Northwestern (+3.5) @ Penn State

** It looks like one of PSU’s top defensive players may not be available for this weekend’s game vs. Northwestern. Senior safety Andrew Guman was diagnosed with a chest injury in last week’s game @ Ohio State. Guman spent 5 hours in the emergency room at the Ohio State Medical Center after Saturday’s game. It was found that he had a collection of air in the space surrounding his lungs which can be the result of excessive trauma to the chest. Because flying could have made his situation worsen, he was forced to ride back to Happy Valley with his parents on Saturday night. He has not been cleared to practice as of Tuesday.

** PSU’s already struggling running game could take a hit this weekend. Backup tailback Austin Scott sustained a concussion last Saturday and his status is unknown for this weekend. Rodney Kinlaw, who also backs up starter Tony Hunt, went down with an ankle injury and didn’t return in the second half. If neither can play, the Lions will be very thin at tailback this weekend.

** The PSU defense continues to be outstanding. They have given up an average of just 15.8 PPG their last 5 games and LOST THEM ALL. That’s because their offense has averaged just 7 PPG during that five game span. The most points they’ve given up during the Big Ten season is 21 last week to OSU. Two of those TD’s given up were a punt return and an interception return. The Lions are currently second in total defense in the Big Ten, second in pass defense and third in scoring defense. You’d think a team with a defense this good would win some games. That tells you how bad their offense has been performing.

** Northwestern’s leading receiver, Mark Philmore, will be out for the remainder of the regular season. He could return if NU reaches a bowl game. He sprained his right knee last week vs. Purdue and is out for at least 4 to 6 weeks. Philmore ranks 14 nationally with 54 catches. NU’s second leading receiver has 29 catches. Obviously this is a big hit to the passing game of the Wildcats. Philmore is also a dangerous punt returner which is an added problem for Northwestern.

Purdue (NL) @ Iowa

** No line on this game as of Tuesday due to the unsure status of Purdue QB Kyle Orton. He sat for much of the second half last week vs. Northwestern and many thought he was being benched for a poor performance. Orton definitely suffered a fairly severe hip pointer the week before vs. Michigan and had little mobility. He had trouble turning his hips on passes which rendered him ineffective. If he can play this Saturday, he will start. While Brandon Kirsch is a good backup, Orton is still PU’s man.

** The Boilers offense which at one time looked like one of the best in the country has fallen off the map as of late. After putting up BIG numbers and going undefeated in their first four games of the season (averaging 47 PPG their first four), they are really struggling right now. Since their first four games, the Boiler have not topped the 20 point mark on offense and have a record of just 1-3. They are averaging just 17 PPG their last 4 which is a THIRTY POINT drop from where they were after game four. Don’t expect traveling to Iowa to be a remedy this weekend as the Hawkeyes have a very good defense especially at home.

** Iowa’s RB injuries are beginning to take on the life of their own. We’ve recapped their problems many times in this report. Well, they are worse this week than they’ve ever been. The Hawks are down to their FIFTH string tailback, Sam Brownlee who is a walk-on. Iowa’s top four tailbacks have all been lost for the season. Not only that, now the fullback position has taken some hits. Starter Champ Davis could be out for the season after injuring his knee @ Illinois. Another fullback, Aaron Mickens suffered a concussion last week and is also most likely out this Saturday. That leaves Iowa’s two deep in the offensive backfield looking like this, two walk-ons, a redshirt freshman and a true freshman. That could be tough.

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