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Big Ten Football Notes
by ASA - 11/17/2004
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Michigan (-4.5) @ Ohio State
First a few quick numbers tidbits involving this game. The Wolverines are favored at Ohio State for the seventh time since 1980. Prior to this season, the Wolverines were also favored @ Columbus in 1982, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992 & 1994. Michiganâ€™s straight up record in those games is 3-2-1, however their spread record is just 1-5. Ohio State is 61-10 straight up at home (40-28-2 ATS) overall since 1994. The Wolverines, on the other hand, are 36-18 SU away from home (24-29-1 ATS) since 1994.
We think one of the big keys to this weekendâ€™s game will be the play of Michigan QB Chad Henne. That might be stating the obvious, however this is a completely new situation for the 19-year old true freshman. He has been in a few big road games winning @ Purdue and losing @ Notre Dame. However, neither of those comes close this. If he can guide his team to a win, the Wolves will win the Big Ten and go to the Rose Bowl. Thatâ€™s a lot of pressure on a true freshman playing in his first OSU-Michigan game. Not only that, his team is favored on the road. This will be the FIRST time since freshman became eligible to play on varsity (1972) that Michigan has started a true freshman at QB @ Ohio State. It has happened when the Wolverines played host, however never @ OSU. Henne has thrown 81 passes now without an interception (since the Purdue game) and weâ€™ll be surprised to see that continue on Saturday. If he doesnâ€™t get rattled and stays efficient, the Wolverines will most likely be headed to Pasadena, if not, donâ€™t be surprised if we see an upset.
Since taking over the starting QB role four games ago, OSU signal caller Troy Smith has directed his team to a 3-1 record with wins over Indiana, Penn State & Michigan State with his only loss @ Purdue. While his numbers havenâ€™t been phenomenal, they are an improvement over previous starter Justin Zwick. Smith has thrown for 6 TDâ€™s and 3 interceptions while Zwick had 5 TDâ€™s and 6 intâ€™s. Smithâ€™s QB rating is also about 20 points higher than Zwickâ€™s. However, what really makes Smith tough to defend is the fact that he is a "running back at the QB position". In his four games played, he is already OSUâ€™s fourth leading rusher on the season. That aspect just brings another component into the defensive game plan and makes it that much tougher on them.
Wisconsin (+3) @ Iowa
A close look at the results of these two teams when the game is played in Iowa City definitely makes for a one-sided argument. In fact, in the last 30 years, Wisconsin has won just two games in Iowa City. However, a closer look reveals that despite only winning two games those wins were in 1998 and 2000 giving the Badgers wins in two of their last three trips to Iowa. The Hawks have been very tough at home winning 17 in a row straight up and covered 20 of their last 24 @ Kinnick Stadium.
Can Wisconsin get back up emotionally after last weekâ€™s pasting @ Michigan State which cost them a shot at an undefeated season? That is the million dollar question. It will be tough. There is still a lot riding on this game and if Michigan loses at Ohio State, the Badgers will again be playing for a shot at the Rose Bowl. The Wisconsin â€“ Iowa game is being played at 3:30 PM Central time on Saturday while the Michigan â€“ OSU game is at 11:00 AM. Thus, Wisconsin will know the outcome of the first game before taking the field vs. Iowa. Will they be playing for a chance to win the Big Ten or simply playing for second place. Iowa also has a lot riding as a Michigan loss gives them a chance to split the Big Ten Championship with a win. Iowa, however, has no chance to go to the Rose Bowl as Michigan would win the tie breaker. Wisconsin wins the tie breaker vs. Michigan so they would go to the Rose Bowl if they win and Michigan loses. Got all that?
Weâ€™re still absolutely baffled at how a team (Minnesota) can rush for a whopping 337 yards and hold their opponent (Iowa) to just 6 yards on the ground and lose the game. That is nearly unheard of. It really doesnâ€™t matter that Iowa threw for over 300 yards, if a team dominates the ground game like that, you can almost always bank a win. The deciding factor was the turnovers. Minnesota had 4 and Iowa had 0. However, those turnovers directly resulted in just 6 of Iowaâ€™s 23 points. In a 2-point game, that was the deciding factor.
Illinois (+13) @ Northwestern
NU head coach Randy Walker took an approach that many coaches shy away from this week. He actually laid out the bowl situation for his team. He gave them the bowl possibilities if they finish out the season 2-0. Some of his assistants didnâ€™t think it was a good idea. They should just focus on Illinois and let everything fall into place when the season is done. Walker basically said the players are all talking about it and figuring it out, letâ€™s lay it out for them. He did. The Music City bowl is a possibility. The Sun Bowl is an outside shot. The Motor City bowl could also be a destination. The Cats could also win their last two games and not be invited to a bowl game if their are 8 bowl eligible teams in the Big Ten for seven guaranteed spots. Northwestern is currently 5-5 with two games remaining vs. Illinois and @ Hawaii. They must win both games to be bowl eligible. Either way, they must go 2-0 or they donâ€™t have to worry about all of the possible scenarios.
Could this be Ron Turnerâ€™s final game as head coach at Illinois? The rumors of him being fired after the season are running rampant. However, apparently in his weekly meeting with Illinois A.D. Ron Guenther that topic was not even discussed. They simply talked about getting ready to beat Northwestern. One thing we have noticed is that his players must like Turner. They have not quit despite a poor season. They are still playing hard and with a bye week last Saturday, you can bet they will be fresh and will lay it on the line vs. their in-state rivals on Saturday. Not sure if that will be enough vs. a pretty good NU team that won by 17 points in Champaign last season.
The Northwestern players claim they will not have a problem getting up for Illinois despite the fact that they are 1-6 in the Big Ten and that the Cats whipped them easily on the road last year (by 17 points). The NU players are referring back to the last time these teams played in Evanston for their motivation. Wildcat QB Brett Basanez puts it quite bluntly, "A couple of years ago they took their helmet and put it on the Wildcats statue," he said referring to the Illiniâ€™s 31-24 win in 2002. "We want to go out and pound them," Basanez went onto say. Well we know the NU QB is fired up!
Indiana (+20) @ Purdue
Can Indiana get back up off the turf after the way they lost last weekâ€™s game vs. Penn State? You would think so since the game didnâ€™t cost them a shot at a bowl or anything like that, plus the fact they are playing for the "Old Oaken Bucket" against in-state rival Purdue. However, it was a very tough way for IU to lost 22-18 to Penn State. The Hoosiers (trailing 22-16) got down to the Penn State 1-yard line with under 2 minutes left in the game. Not only that, it was first and goal at the 1-yard line. IU attempted four consecutive running plays, three for no gain and one for a 1-yard loss, failing to punch it in. PSU then ran three plays and had their punter take a safety with a few seconds left to make the final 22-18.
Brandon Kirsch got the start at QB for Purdue last week just as we expected. Kyle Orton took just 20% of the snaps with the first team offense during the week of practice. We also knew that Orton, despite not being 100%, could play if called upon. Kirsch played well as we knew he would completing 22 of 34 passes for 211 yards. He also is a better runner than Orton, thus he brought an extra dimension to the offense. Purdue led 17-3 at half and was in full control, however they failed to do much on offense for much of the second half. Thus, head coach Joe Tiller opted to bring Orton in off the bench for a "spark" with the game tied at 17 in the fourth quarter. Orton did just that leading the Boilers on an 80-yard, 8 play drive that took just over a minute and 30 seconds to complete. The TD gave Purdue the 24-17 lead with just over 2 minutes left in the game and they went on to win by that margin. Thus, you can bet Orton will be back on the field this week. He has now been cleared to practice full go this week.
PU starting CB and team captain senior Antwuan Edwards did not play in the OSU game due to a knee injury he sustained a week before vs. Iowa. Unfortunately his career with the Boilers is now over as he will have season ending surgery this week.
Michigan State (-3) @ Penn State
The MSU offense was unstoppable last Saturday vs. Wisconsin. The Badgers defense came into the game having given up just 8 TDâ€™s all season long. The Spartans scored 6 TDâ€™s on Saturday alone. MSU ran threw the Badger "D" for 430 yards which is the second highest total Wisky has given up since Alvarez took over. The Spartans 49 points were more than Wisconsinâ€™s first six opponents scored COMBINED. The Spartan offense had TWO 99-yard drives for TDâ€™s. Michigan Stateâ€™s defense also got into the action holding Wisconsin short of the goal line twice on fourth and inches. It was a game where MSU got the momentum and everything went their way, while Wisconsin was completely deflated after key play after key play went against them. This game was 21-14 with under 30 seconds to go in the half. Wisconsin was attempting to tie the game going into the break with a first and goal from the one yard line. They failed to score which have MSU huge momentum going into half. MSU then recovered an onside kick to start the second half and scored a TD a few plays later. That was the beginning of the end of Wisconsinâ€™s unbeaten season.
While PSU will be playing their final game of the season, MSU now has some hope. Going into last weekâ€™s game vs. Wisconsin, the Spartans only chance to go to a bowl game was to win their final three games vs. Wisconsin, @ Penn State and @ Hawaii. Not many thought they could clear the first and toughest hurdle vs. the Badgers. Now a 2-0 end to the year will send them somewhere for the holidays. The Spartans though have not won @ PSU since the Lions joined the Big Ten. MSUâ€™s last win in Happy Valley was back in 1965 which at the time was a non-conference game.
MSU QB Drew Stanton, who separated his shoulder vs. Michigan a few weeks back, will start this Saturday @ Penn State. Stanton, who was not expected to play last Saturday, was forced into duty in the second half when his backup Damon Dowdell injured his shoulder and couldnâ€™t return. Because MSU was running the ball so effectively, the Spartan coaches were able to protect Stanton by simply having him hand the ball off. He threw just 5 passes. With Stanton at QB, the Spartans have averaged 458 YPG which is tops in the Big Ten. Reports are that he will be around 90% "healthy" this weekend.