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Minnesota (+4) @ Michigan
** One HUGE concern for Minny head coach Glen Mason is his team’s poor performance on special teams. Many times this aspect is overlooked, however it is a big part of who wins and who loses. The Gophs have played just two conference games vs. Northwestern and Penn State winning both. However they have had a whopping 2 field goals and 3 extra points blocked in those two games. If it comes down to a close game, this could be something to watch that could cost Minnesota a game or two down the line.
** The Gophers have REALLY been focused on this game after what happened a year ago when the played the Wolverines. The game was in the Metrodome and Minny led 28-7 at the start of the fourth quarter. Michigan then proceeded to outscore the Gophers 31-7 in the final quarter and pull out a 38-35 road win. It was their 15th consecutive win over Minnesota. The Gophers ripped Michigan’s defense for 424 yards rushing while holding the Wolves to just 94. You can bet the Minnesota players will be reminded of this in every interview they do this week. They will be ready for this game on Saturday.
** Michigan’s Steve Breaston, who is a key WR and a great return man, sat out last week’s game vs. Indiana due to a finger injury. He is practicing this week and will be back in the lineup on Saturday.
** This game will be strength vs. strength. Minnesota’s rushing attack is as good as any in the country with two top-notch tailbacks in Marion Barber and Laurence Maroney. Barber is 11th nationally in rushing YPG at 120 and Maroney is 9th at 134. Their overall rushing attack is 3rd in the country at 323 YPG. The Wolverines rush defense is #1 in the nation allowing just 47 YPG so far this year. As we stated earlier, Minnesota ripped the Wolverine defense for 424 yards on the ground last year and the Michigan defenders remember that vividly and some have called it an “embarrassment”. Something has to give this weekend.
Wisconsin (+3.5) @ Ohio State
** The Wisconsin defense continues to shine. They are first nationally in scoring defense (allowing 5.2 PPG) and first in overall defense (allowing 193 total YPG). They have allowed just two runs all season of 20+ yards. They have also allowed their opponents to get into the red zone (inside the 10) only 5 times all year. Last week they held Illinois to just 206 total yards. The Illini came in averaging nearly 450 YPG on offense.
** You think RB Anthony Davis is important to the Badgers offensive attack? After sitting out for 3 ½ games, Davis returned to rush for 213 yards on 27 carries (nearly 8 ypc). He also had 37 yards receiving. Thus Davis accounted for 250 of Wisconsin’s 357 total yards which is 70%. Being from Madison and having a very close eye on the Wisconsin program, Davis simply makes a WORLD of difference. He is just that much better than anyone else on the field. He turns what would be 5 yard losses with any other back for the Badgers into 10 and 20 yards gains. Head coach Barry Alvarez has said that it looks like Davis is moving at a different speed than anyone else on the field. He is right.
** UW’s top cover corner, Scott Starks, injured his shoulder late in the Illinois game and had to be helped off the field. He is practicing and will be fine for this Saturday’s game at OSU.
** The Buckeyes six point OT loss @ Northwestern last week was just the second time they lost in their last 16 games decided by a TD or less.
** The last time the Buckeyes lost two consecutive regular season games was in November of 1999. That is a span of 63 games without losing two straight. They will try to extend that streak this Saturday when they host a very good Wisconsin team.
** Was OSU peeking ahead last Saturday when they lost @ Northwestern? They have been waiting for this game against Wisconsin for a long time now. The Badgers snapped OSU’s 19 game winning streak last year in Madison with a 17-10 win. The Buckeye players immediately circled this year’s contest vs. Wisconsin as a “payback” game. Thus, although they would never say it, you can bet the Ohio State players weren’t as focused on Northwestern as they should have been and it cost them.
Indiana (+11) @ Northwestern
** We’ll see if NU can avoid the dreaded “letdown” this week vs. Indiana. After beating Ohio State for the first time since 1971 and for the first time in Evanston since 1958, we think it will be tough for the Wildcats to get completely refocused on this game.
** You can most likely expect a bunch of scoring when these two “defenseless” teams meet. Indiana is currently giving up 30 PPG while Northwestern yields 33 PPG. NU is giving up 413 YPG while Indiana allows 429. The last four times these two Big Ten teams have met resulted in totals of 85, 77, 78 & 68. Don’t expect anything to change this year.
** For whatever reason, IU has played solid for the most part in the first half of each game, however they seem to fall apart after halftime. They have now been outscored 92-29 in the second half of their games this season. Last week vs. Michigan, the Hoosiers moved into the Michigan red zone three times and came away with just 7 points. Despite not taking advantage of their opportunities, they trailed just 14-7 at half. They went onto lost 35-14. The week before they led Michigan State 20-7 at half, only to lose 30-20. You get the point. Thus if you have IU and they are up at half, don’t turn off the TV. Anything can happen from that point on as they have proven.
Illinois (+7) @ Michigan State
** The Illini went through three QB’s last week @ Wisconsin not because of injury but because of ineffectiveness. Senior Jon Beutjer started the game and was 12 of 27 for only 85 yards. He was then pulled in favor of second stringer, true freshman Brad Bower. He also did nothing. Third teamer Chris Pazan was then called upon and looked the best of the bunch completing 7 of 10 passes and throwing a TD. Head coach Ron Turner contemplated starting Pazan this weekend @ MSU but after reviewing last week’s game tapes, he has decided to stick with Beutjer.
** The Spartans had a bunch of key players miss last week’s game at Iowa. Many of those players look like they may return to the field this Saturday. WR Agim Shabaj came down with the flu and didn’t play last Saturday. He will be back this week. Starting left tackle Stefon Wheeler has missed the last three games due to an ankle injury. He is improving and was able to run last Sunday. He could be back for MSU this Saturday, however the following week vs. Minnesota is probably more realistic.
** One thing that has really plagued the Spartans this season are dropped passes. Their WR’s are simply not getting the job done. Head coach John L. Smith counted 8 dropped passes by WR’s in last weekend’s 38-16 loss @ Iowa. Even worse, four of those dropped balls had the potential to be touchdowns. An average team like MSU simply can’t overcome those mistakes. Smith said that not only do they drop balls during games, they do the same in practice. One answer could be redshirt freshman wideout Terry Love who saw his first extended action last Saturday. He caught nine passes for over 100 yards. Also, Aaron Alexander, who was expected to be a big weapon catching the ball has been hindered by a hip injury. He has made just four catches in the first five games but is now healthier than he has been all season.
Purdue (-11.5) @ Penn State
** This is a very dangerous game for Purdue. This will be their third consecutive road game after traveling to Illinois and Notre Dame the previous two Saturdays. Not only that, they beat ND in South Bend for the first time since 1974. A huge win to say the least. The Boilers also host Big Ten contenders Wisconsin and Michigan the following two weeks. All this on top of laying 11 points at a desperate Penn State team could make it tough for the Boilers. Remember two weeks ago PU was able to sneak by Illinois by 8 points despite being favored by 3 TD’s. They are prone to a letdown and this is a spot where it could happen.
** As good as Purdue has looked, their 41-16 win over Notre Dame last weekend was actually a bit deceiving. A few big plays REALLY turned the tide of that game. PU had a 100 kickoff return and a 97 yard pass for a TD. ND also fumbled at the Boiler one yard line going in for a score. The golden domers actually had more first downs (28-22) and more total yardage (536-512). Not the stats you normally see in a 25 point blowout. The Purdue defense, after being ballyhooed as one of the best in the nation after easy wins over Syracuse and Ball State, have now given up 926 yards in their last two games.
** PSU could get a huge boost this Saturday with the return of WR/QB Michael Robinson. He was knocked out cold during the Wisconsin game and suffered a concussion. He did not play last week @ Minnesota. He has been upgraded to “possible” for this weekend’s game. If he can return, it would really help the Nittany Lion offense.
** Despite starting the Big Ten season 0-2 losing @ Big Ten contenders Wisconsin and Minnesota, there are some positives for PSU. Especially their defense. The Lion stop unit hasn’t given up more than 21 points this year and held a vaunted Gopher offense to just 16 points last Saturday. Minnesota hadn’t scored less than 34 points in any game this season coming into last week. After the game, Minnesota head coach Glen Mason said, “This was the best defense we’ve played against in a long time.” The Nittany Lion defense is allowing just 15 PPG this season.