Big Ten Preview: Wk 10

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Illinois and Michigan are fighting for bowl eligibility.

Illinois and Michigan are fighting for bowl eligibility.

Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) at Penn State (5-3, 2-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT

Fans around University Park are ready to celebrate Joe Paterno’s 400th victory, but before anyone can pop champagne the Nittany Lions must take care of a Wildcats team that is 4–0 on the road this season. Another note to add: Three of those four wins came by three or fewer points. Northwestern continues to rely heavily on Dan Persa, the Big Ten leader in completion percentage (74.4). The only extensive action Persa saw last season came against Penn State. Persa wasn’t bad (14-of-23 for 115 yards and 42 rushing yards); the Wildcats, as a team, did not fare as well in the 34–13 loss. Penn State has allowed fewer than 200 passing yards per game this season, but the club has faced few passing systems as good as this one. On the opposite sideline, the Nittany Lions hope to continue the momentum they got going on the ground last week. Evan Royster ran for hard-fought yards against Michigan to pick up just his second 100-yard game of the year. Quarterback Matt McGloin also performed well in his debut last week, and assuming he is back in the lineup, the sophomore should be able to exploit a Wildcat secondary allowing 244.8 yards per game.

Iowa (6-2, 3-1) at Indiana (4-4, 0-4), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

It’s been three years since the Hoosiers last beat the Hawkeyes. That was a much different Indiana team, however, with an offensive weapon (Kellen Lewis) that this year’s club simply does not have on its roster. And what worked for Indiana at the start of this season (passing the football) has not gotten the job done in recent weeks. This week, Ben Chappell and his receivers will really have their work cut out against Iowa’s street-smart secondary. The Hawkeyes’ veteran unit ranks fifth in the Big Ten in passing yards allowed per contest but has given up the second-fewest passing scores (eight). And Iowa’s offense is operating as well as it has in years. Ricky Stanzi has the Big Ten’s best touchdown-to-interception ratio (19 to 2), and the running game is still clicking despite its lack of depth. All of this is bad news for an Indiana club allowing 384.1 yards and almost 30 points per contest. Very bad news.

Minnesota (1-8, 0-5) at Michigan State (8-1, 4-1), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

This contest is the perfect medicine for Michigan State a week after it failed to show in Iowa City. The Gophers present little challenge, and their awful run defense (11th in the Big Ten) should help the Spartans rediscover a ground game that went missing near the middle of October. Michigan State has averaged 76.3 rushing yards over the last three games; without a balanced offense, this club has no shot at a BCS berth. For Minnesota, this game is one more act of torture before this long and grueling season comes to an end. The team has now lost eight straight, and the remaining three contests do not look promising. As of late, the road has not been kind to Gopher fans (18-point loss to Wisconsin, 11-point loss to Purdue), so keeping this game competitive is step number one. To do so, Minnesota must somehow mask a secondary that has allowed a Big Ten-worst 17 touchdowns so far. Another thing that could hurt Minnesota in this contest is punting; the Gophers average a pathetic 34.6 yards per punt, while Michigan State leads the conference in punt returns.

Illinois (5-3, 3-2) at Michigan (5-3, 1-3), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

This is another dangerous game for a Rich Rodriguez club already reeling from three straight losses. The Illini are fresh off back-to-back 40-point efforts and possess one of the Big Ten’s best run defenses. In its visit to Beaver Stadium a few weeks ago, Illinois held a 16-minute advantage in time of possession and limited Penn State to 65 yards on the ground. That’s Big Ten football. Now they must duplicate that feat against a club that cannot escape the fact that it is one-dimensional. Outside of Kevin Korger’s 60-yard touchdown reception last week, no Michigan player besides Denard Robinson had more than 36 yards of offense. But even with Robinson accounting for nearly 400 yards of total offense last week, the Wolverines were unable to keep pace. Illinois has a few offensive woes of its own to sort out. Mikel Leshoure has failed to reach the 90-yard mark in four of the last five games, and last week gained just 1.5 yards per carry against a so-so Boilermaker unit. Leshoure must match his totals from last year’s game against Michigan (21 carries for 150 yards) for the Illini to pick up a third straight win in this series.

Wisconsin (7-1, 3-1) at Purdue (4-4, 2-2), Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

Bret Bielema preaches about his team carrying a 1–0 philosophy into each and every week; now that mentality will be put to the test. The Badgers are ranked higher than any other Big Ten school at present, and face tremendous pressure in the month of November. They’ll be expected to win every game, and if Bielema’s teams have struggled with anything during his tenure it’s been handling the role of favorite. Purdue is not as bad as it appears on paper and is still alive in the bowl hunt (the Boilermakers need to win two of four). Wisconsin must come out of the gate as it did against Ohio State and Iowa and pound the football until Purdue relents. If Wisconsin holds back, it will become vulnerable to the upset. The Boilermakers must find a way to penetrate Wisconsin’s over-achieving, fourth-ranked defense. Both facets of the offense have failed to put a consistent product on the field as of late (52 rushing yards last week, 88 passing yards the week prior), and nothing short of a perfect performance will be needed against the No. 7 ranked Badgers.

Northwestern (6-2, 2-2) at Penn State (5-3, 2-2), Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT

Fans around University Park are ready to celebrate Joe Paterno’s 400th victory, but before anyone can pop champagne the Nittany Lions must take care of a Wildcats team that is 4–0 on the road this season. Another note to add: Three of those four wins came by three or fewer points. Northwestern continues to rely heavily on Dan Persa, the Big Ten leader in completion percentage (74.4). The only extensive action Persa saw last season came against Penn State. Persa wasn’t bad (14-of-23 for 115 yards and 42 rushing yards); the Wildcats, as a team, did not fare as well in the 34–13 loss. Penn State has allowed fewer than 200 passing yards per game this season, but the club has faced few passing systems as good as this one. On the opposite sideline, the Nittany Lions hope to continue the momentum they got going on the ground last week. Evan Royster ran for hard-fought yards against Michigan to pick up just his second 100-yard game of the year. Quarterback Matt McGloin also performed well in his debut last week, and assuming he is back in the lineup, the sophomore should be able to exploit a Wildcat secondary allowing 244.8 yards per game.

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Athlon previews Week 10 in the Big Ten. Northwestern, Wisconsin and Illinois face road tests this week.