Big Ten Report
September 22, 2005
By Mike Merlet
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**Purdue @ Minnesota**
The Golden Gophers extended their non conference winning streak to an impressive 19 straight games with a win over Florida Atlantic. The Gophers have not lost a non conference game in three seasons, including their last three bowl wins in 2002, 2003 and 2004. Last weekend the Gophers pounded Florida Atlantic 46-7 while gaining nearly 350 yards on the ground. Their passing game also came alive as starting quarterback Bryan Cupito completed 10 of his 17 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns.
The Gophers are currently 3.5 point favorites as they welcome the Purdue Boilermakers to the Metrodome for their Big Ten opener. PU has definitely had the best of this series as of late winning seven straight games. The last Gopher win over the Boilers was back in 1995.
Minny is just 1-8 both SU and ATS in the last nine meetings with Purdue. The Gophs were underdogs in all but one of those nine games. That just happened to be in 1995 when Minnesota won 39-38 as a 1.5 point chalk.
This year’s match up is one of strength vs. strength. It’s early in the season, but in this game we have the best rushing offense in the nation (Minnesota at 335 YPG) against the best rushing defense in the nation (Purdue allows just 16 YPG). The Purdue defense has allowed just six first downs rushing in their first two games. For Minnesota, this game may fall squarely on the shoulders of Gopher QB Bryan Cupito.
If Purdue can slow down the running game, Cupito will have to make plays against a pass defense that has really struggled this year allowing 324 YPG. Akron’s Luke Getsy and Arizona’s Richard Kovalcheck both threw for over 280 yards against this Purdue defense in games one and two.
As shaky as Cupito has been, we feel he is definitely better than either of Purdue’s first two QB’s they faced. The Boiler offense has been very balanced this season averaging 225 YPG rushing and just over 200 YPG passing. That could be a problem for a Minnesota defense that is very similar to Purdue’s.
They are good against the run (giving up 95 YPG) but can’t stop the pass (245 YPG). New QB Brandon Kirsch has been very efficient hitting 58% of his throws for just under 200 YPG. One disadvantage that Purdue may have is the travel situation. They had to play in Arizona (31-24 win) last Saturday and now are on the road again this weekend. That’s quite a bit of travel in a seven or eight day span. This should be a very good Big Ten football game that could come down to which QB performs better.
**Michigan State @ Illinois**
Illinois came out of the gates this past weekend ready to play against a very good California team. Illinois held the ball for nearly 21 minutes in the first half where they led 17-7. The Illini were actually ahead in this game 17-14 in the 4th quarter. When all was said and done, Cal outscored Illinois 28-3 in the second half and won the game 35-20.
California had no problem moving the ball, especially on the ground. Illinois gave up nearly 300 yards rushing, which is not a good sign for a team that has to play Michigan State this upcoming weekend. With Michigan State being one of the best offenses not only in the Big Ten but in the nation, the Fighting Illini could have their hands full.
Michigan State is favored by 10.5 points in this game.
The Illini have adapted well to Ron Zook’s new offense as they are averaging 31 PPG and 422 total yards per game this season. QB Tim Brasic was a big question mark going into the season, however he has performed very well thus far. He has hit on nearly 67% of his passes thus far and is averaging 220 YPG through the air.
We expect Illinois to move the ball on a poor MSU pass defense that is allowing 341 yards per game and was torched for 487 passing yards last week vs. the Irish. MSU is in a definite flat spot here after upsetting Notre Dame last week. Not only that, the Spartans host arch rival Michigan next week.
Michigan State has been known for faltering in these spots. It has been well documented that MSU is fantastic against Top 10 teams going 9-1 SU their last 10, including last week’s win over Notre Dame. However, they have developed a disturbing trend of falling flat on their faces the following week.
In fact, after topping a top 10 team, the Spartans have lost the following week seven consecutive times. The most recent example of this trend was late last year when this Spartan team beat #4 Wisconsin 49-14 one week and then turned around and lost to a bad Penn State team 37-13 the following Saturday.
We do feel that QB Drew Stanton (hitting on 72% of his passes this season) is the best in the Big Ten ahead of both Iowa’s Drew Tate and Michigan’s Chad Henne. He makes their offense so much better with his combination of running and passing skills. That being said, this is a very dangerous spot for the Spartans and they are just 26-37 ATS as a double digit favorite since 1980.
**Iowa @ Ohio State**
The Iowa Hawkeyes took care of business as expected last Saturday beating Northern Iowa by a score of 45-21. Quarterback Drew Tate showed no ill effects after suffering a concussion in the Hawkeye’s loss the previous week @ Iowa State. Tate completed 15 of his 18 passes for 247 yards and two touchdowns.
The Iowa offense ran up a total of 496 yards. Iowa’s rushing game, which was horrible in 2004, racked up 231 yards against UNI. Iowa is now averaging 215 YPG on the ground after amassing just 72 YPG on the ground last season. Actually, Iowa’s leading rusher this year after three games is Albert Young with 298 yards. That is more yardage on the ground than any RB produced the entire season in 2004.
However things will get a lot more difficult this week as they will travel to Ohio St to face a very good defense. The Buckeyes are currently favored by a TD. This could be good news for the Hawkeyes as they have been a solid 9-4-1 ATS as a Big Ten road dog (since 2000).
Squeezing this even more, the last six times the Hawkeyes have been an underdog of seven points or more, they have covered all six games including three SU wins. Thus, this is historically a good spot for Iowa. Last year Iowa absolutely embarrassed the Bucks winning by a score of 33-7. In that game, Iowa had 24 first downs to Ohio State’s 12. The Hawks also rolled up 448 yards of total offense to just 177 for OSU. It was a whoopin’ from the word go.
The Ohio State players definitely remember that game which could give them extra incentive (as if there wasn’t enough already). One side note on the revenge angle. If OSU has revenge from the previous year, they are 13-4 SU the following year vs. the team that beat them. Thus, if the Bucks lose to a team one year, they normally beat them SU the next season.
The Buckeye defense has been great this year. Last week in a 27-6 win over San Diego State, they held the Aztecs to THREE first downs and 13 yards rushing for the entire game. Head coach Jim Tressel also decide to start and “sort of” stick with Troy Smith as the starting QB. Smith was 14 of 26 for 149 yards through the air but also led the team with 87 rushing yards. We think Smith definitely gives OSU the best shot to win each week. Justin Zwick is a pretty good QB, but he just doesn’t bring the extra running dimension to the position. The winner of this game will have a leg up on the run for the Big Ten title while the loser will have some catching up to do.
**Michigan @ Wisconsin**
Michigan regrouped after their tough loss against Notre Dame and pounded Eastern Michigan by a score of 55-0. Michigan was ready to go right out of the gate scoring 38 first half points including 21 of them in the first 12 minutes. QB Chad Henne also rebounded well from a poor outing against Notre Dame completing 13 of his 19 passes for 147 yards and 3 scores. Running back Max Martin also ran the ball very well in place of the injured Michael Hart. Martin led the way for the Michigan rushing attack running the ball 26 times for 117 yards.
Michael Hart, all Big Ten in 2004, is still questionable for this weekend’s game @ Wisconsin due to a pulled hamstring. Michigan will also be without their starting free safety, Ryan Mundy, as he is now out for the season due to a nerve injury. The Michigan defense was ridiculed for their poor performance at the end of last season and the first game of this year. Including last year’s final four games and their opener this year vs. Northern Illinois, the Wolverine defense had allowed more than 400 total yards in five consecutive games. After beating UNI, Michigan then allowed just 244 total yards to the Irish. In fact, much of that came on Notre Dame’s first drive. The Irish had a 76-yard TD drive to open the game. After that, they totaled just 168 total yards the rest of the way.
Last week, Michigan did not allow a point and just 134 yards of offense vs. EMU. They have allowed just one field goal their last six quarters and that’s it. The Wolverines will be 3 point favorites as they travel to Wisconsin. The Wolverines are 3-7 ATS against the Badgers, but they are 8-2 SU against Wisconsin since 1989 including six consecutive SU wins.
The bad news for Michigan is that they have not experienced much success in their road openers. Michigan is a weary 1-6 SU and 0-7 ATS in their last 7 road openers. The Wolves are also a very poor road favorite with a spread record of just 8-20-1 the last 29 times they’ve been put in that situation. Wisconsin is now 3-0 SU and ATS this season. They are coming off a 14-5 win @ North Carolina. Wisky controlled the ball for 36 minutes in that game and had 200 yards on the ground. This is really the game that will determine how good the Badgers really are. If they can beat a talented Michigan game, then Wisconsin is for real. They lost a key player in last week’s UNC game however as DE Jamaal Cooper tore his ACL and is out for the year. Cooper was, by far, Wisconsin’s best defensive end. That will hurt. The Badgers have excelled in this role as a home underdog going 13-6 ATS their last 19 in that situation. This is a really tough call in our opinion.
**Penn State @ Northwestern**
Northwestern just simply found themselves facing a much better team last week. Arizona State was hitting on all cylinders and was able to not only pass but run all over a struggling defense. Northwestern lost to Arizona State Sun Devils 52-21. After getting run over by Northern Illinois a week earlier (256 yards on the ground), Northwestern turned around and gave up another 290 yards rushing to an Arizona State team that is not known for their running prowess. The Cats also gave up another 483 passing yards. That is a total of 773 total yards of offense which is unheard of. The good news for Northwestern is that ASU has one of the best offenses in the nation. NU is now giving up an average of 517 YPG after three contests.
They will get a little bit of a break this week when they play host to a Penn State team that has improved but still is not an offensive juggernaut. Northwestern is a seven point home dog to Penn State. The Cats have had some decent success as a home dog. Dating back to 2003, Northwestern actually outright wins in 5 of the last 6 games they’ve been tabbed a home underdog. The Wildcats offense has been putting points on the board however they have struggled historically vs. PSU. In fact, the NU offense has been held to an average of just 17 PPG their last 10 meetings with the Nittany Lions.
Penn State put up 40 points for the second time in two weeks which may come as a little bit of a surprise. The Nittany Lions had no problems in their 40-3 victory over Central Michigan. The Penn State defense was once again dominated as they allowed only 172 total yards of offense. The offense was also clicking on all cylinders as Michael Robinson once again showed his efficiency completing 14 of his 23 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns.
PSU tallied a total of 511 total yards of offense with 338 of those yards coming through the air. The defense has also been very strong but will face by far their toughest test this week against a Northwestern offense that can put a lot of points on the board. On a sidenote, the last time PSU was a road favorite of a TD or more was back in 2002.
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