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Big Ten Football Notes
by ASA - 11/10/2004
Northwestern (+13.5) @ Michigan
** Michigan true freshman tailback, Michael Hart, was injured in the first overtime vs. Michigan State two weeks ago. Hart, who leads the Big Ten in rushing at 129 YPG, left the MSU game with a deep thigh bruise and did not return. The Wolverines bye week (last Saturday) came at a perfect time as Hart will be 100% by this Saturday.
** NW got their first road win of the season last weekend @ Penn State, 14-7. Their two conference road tilts coming into last weekâ€™s game were less than impressive. The Wildcats were whipped 43-17 @ Minnesota and beaten 24-12 @ Wisconsin. Their 24-12 loss was not as close as the final score indicated as the Badgers led 24-0 with 10 minutes still to go in the third quarter before calling off the dogs. The Cats are averaging nearly 26 PPG at home in conference play and just 14 PPG on the road in the Big Ten. NW has also been struggling to put points on the board the last three weeks tallying 12, 13 & 14 points their last three games.
** The Wolverines have just 16 Big Ten losses since Lloyd Carr took over the Michigan program in 1995 (nearly 10 full seasons). Oddly enough, 3 of those losses (nearly 20%) have come at the hands of Northwestern.
** The Wildcatâ€™s RB Noah Herron, who is second in the Big Ten in rushing at 115 YPG, was sidelined for nearly 10 minutes of the first quarter in last weekâ€™s 14-7 win over Penn State. Herron had a â€œhelmet to helmetâ€쳌 collision with a Lion defender. After that hit, Herron had concussion like symptoms and was held out for tests. After testing out OK, Herron went back into the game and finished the game with 175 yards rushing. He did report having a severe headache after the game, however he has been cleared for practice this week and will play this Saturday. Herron is a Michigan native who was recruited by the Wolverines as a fullback. Since he wanted to be the feature back, he decided on Northwestern.
Wisconsin (-8) @ Michigan State
** MSU starting QB Drew Stanton, who sat out last weekâ€™s game with a separated shoulder, will most likely not play this weekend vs. Wisconsin. MSU head coach stated that it was â€œhighly unlikelyâ€쳌 that Stanton would be ready to go by this weekend. However, Smith said that now he thinks Stanton has a decent chance of returning for MSUâ€™s final game of the season @ Penn State. Last week it looked like he would be out for the rest of the year, however now it looks like that will not be the case. Look for senior Damon Dowdell to start again this Saturday vs. the Badgers. Dowdell had decent numbers last week vs. Ohio State going 29 of 46 for 292 yards but also had three interceptions.
** Wisconsin starting DE Erasmus James should be much closer to 100% by this weekend. After expecting to be at full strength with two weeks off heading into the Minnesota game, James was having trouble in practice late last week. He wasnâ€™t getting the push off his bad ankle that he needed. It was also still very sore. Thus, he played only a few downs vs. Minnesota, however he did have a big impact batting down a pass and getting double and even triple teamed on the few other plays he was in on. Wisconsin jumped all over Minnesota leading 21-0 at the end of the first quarter allowing James to sit the rest of the game. If it had been close, he could have continued playing.
** The Spartans are coming off two huge emotionally draining losses. Two weeks ago, the Spartans led arch rival Michigan by 17 points midway through the 4th quarter. The Wolverines went onto score 17 points in the span of 3 minutes and 28 seconds to tie the game and send it into overtime. Michigan ended up winning the game in triple OT. Last week the Spartans came out flat vs. OSU and were behind quickly 17-0. They rallied back to take a 19-17 lead with just over three minutes left in the game. The Buckeyes went onto score two TDâ€™s in the final 1:40 to get the 32-19 win. Those two games will be very tough to rebound from. MSU must now win all of their remaining games (vs. Wisconsin, @ Penn State and @ Hawaii) to be bowl eligible.
Ohio State (+4) @ Purdue
** As of this writing only a few places have a line on this game. That is due to the uncertain status of Purdue QB Kyle Orton. He did not play in last weekâ€™s 23-21 loss @ Iowa. His replacement, Brandon Kirsch, had a solid game going 25 of 43 for 280 yards and three TDâ€™s. The only problem is, he also had 2 interceptions and 2 fumbles. Orton will be the starter this Saturday if he is ready to go. He injured his right hip vs. Michigan a few weeks back and then injured his left hip @ Northwestern the following week. His right hip is now fully healed. His left hip, which prevent him from fully stepping into throws, will be evaluated as the week goes on. It is, however, already much better than it was last last week.
** There is such a fine line between winning and losing. Purdue was a perfect 5-0 a month ago and getting ready for their back to back home games vs. Wisconsin and Michigan. The Boilers have now lost 4 straight games and need one more win to simply qualify for a bowl game. Many feel this Purdue team is in a free fall and playing poor football. That really isnâ€™t the case as their four losses have come by a TOTAL of 10 points. Two late fumbles vs. Wisconsin and Michigan started the skid. They could have easily won both of those games. Turnovers in general have been the problem during the skid as PU has 12 giveaways and just 2 takeaways during the last four games. Now at 5-4 and back at home, donâ€™t be surprised if the Boilers play very well on Saturday.
** While OSU may look like they have â€œturned the cornerâ€쳌 winning three straight games, weâ€™re still not so sure. New starting QB Troy Smith may look like he has jumpstarted the offense, they are still bad. In fact, in the Buckeyes last 8 games, they have been outgained in 7 of them by an average of 113 YPG. The one team they did have more yardage than in that span was Indiana. Their last two wins vs. Penn State and Michigan State, the Buckeyes scored a combined 54 points. However, of those 54 points only four TDâ€™s came from the offense. Two punt returns and an interception return for TDâ€™s have accounted for 21 of the points. Thus, OSU has not all of the sudden become good on offense although they have been winning as of late.
** With former OSU player Maurice Clarett stating this week that he received special benefits, cushy lawn care jobs, cash on the side, decent grades in classes he didnâ€™t even attend, etcâ€¦ this week while at Ohio State, weâ€™ll have to see if this affects the current team for this weekend. You can bet that nearly all of the talk on campus will be about the Clarett comments rather than the upcoming game vs. Purdue. This could turn into a distraction this week for the Buckeye players.
Penn State (-3.5) @ Indiana
** Very few lines on this game as of this writing due to the â€œup in the airâ€쳌 status of Indiana QB Matt LoVecchio. In last Saturdayâ€™s loss, LoVecchio had been playing very well (15 of 17 for 207 yards) before suffering what appears to be a concussion. As of this writing, the diagnosis isnâ€™t 100% positive, however from everything weâ€™ve heard, it is most likely a concussion. His status will be evaluated later in the week.
** Indiana has not played in a bowl game since 1993 and they wonâ€™t again this year. Going into last weekâ€™s game @ Illinois, the Hoosiers needed to win their last three games to get to 6 wins and become bowl eligible. Despite jumping out to an early 19-0 lead, IU blew the game and watch their post season hopes fly out the window. It will be interesting to see how they respond this weekend in their final home game vs. a bad Penn State team.
** Is it time for Joe Paterno to step down? He has been a legend and a fantastic coach, however based on his recent struggles one would think he would let the program head in a different direction. In fact, in Paternoâ€™s first 34 years at Penn State he had ONE losing season. With this yearâ€™s record guaranteed to be below .500, Paterno has now guided his Nittany Lions to four losing seasons in the last five years. The uncertainty of the PSU future is also really hurting their recruiting efforts as many of the top notch kids arenâ€™t even considering PSU because of this â€œup in the airâ€쳌 status.
** PSU has never lost to Indiana going 9-0 straight up. However, if their was ever a year that IU could pull the â€œupsetâ€쳌, this would be the year. Since meeting for the first time in 1993, these two teams have put some big numbers on the scoreboard when playing each other. In fact, they have averaged 64 combined PPG in their meetings. Unless PSU drastically improves on their 7 PPG in Big Ten play, we donâ€™t think the scoreboard operator will have to replace any light bulbs this weekend.
Iowa (+3) @ Minnesota
** Itâ€™s quite obvious that Minnesota is a completely different team at home as compared to on the road. The Gophers are 5-0 SU at home averaging 41 PPG and 530 total yards per game. On the road, they are 1-4 SU (0-4 in the Big Ten) and average only 22 PPG and 335 total yards per game in conference play. After losing two straight road games earlier this year @ Michigan and @ MSU, the Gophers responded back at home with a 45-0 over lowly Illinois. Now weâ€™ll see how they respond in their final game of the year after two embarrassing losses @ Indiana and @ Wisconsin.
** The same could be said for the Hawkeyes. While they have won their last two road games @ Penn State and @ Illinois, they are much more efficient at home. On the road they average just 13 PPG (30 PPG at home) and only 210 yards of total offense (395 at home). Their rushing attack has been non-existent on the road as they average 39 YPG compared to Minnesotaâ€™s 315 at home. Also, first year starting QB Drew Tate will be starting his first game ever in a domed stadium which can be much different than playing outdoors. One thing he will have going for him is the fact that Iowa will probably have as many fans at the Metrodome as Minnesota will.
** While Iowa is playing out the season in an attempt to go to a very good bowl game or even win the Big Ten championship, Minnesota will try and improve their bowl prospects. Right now it looks like the Gophs will be headed to the Motor City Bowl in Detroit vs. the MAC champ. However, a win on Saturday could bump them up to a better bowl depending on how teams like Michigan State and Northwestern do to close out the season. Even with a win, Minny, who would then be 7-4, could still end up in the Motor City bowl as they are not an attractive team when it comes to bowls as their fans do not travel well. Itâ€™s all about the money and Minnesotaâ€™s fans do not follow them to bowl games. Itâ€™s as simple as that.