Big Ten Weekend Preview

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Denard Robinson and Michigan take on UMass.

Denard Robinson and Michigan take on UMass.

Massachusetts at Michigan

Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

What will Denard Robinson do next? Michigan’s sophomore quarterback is now a household name on a national level, and a legitimate contender for the Heisman. But can he really produce another game with 400-plus yards of total offense? Yes, actually. William & Mary quarterback Mike Callahan passed for two scores and rushed for another in his team’s opening week loss to Massachusetts, and we suspect Robinson is a wee-bitbetter than Callahan. The Minutemen’s best weapon is also their quarterback — Kyle Havens — who has completed 64.5 percent of his attempts this season for 516 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. This could be problematic, as Michigan has allowed more passing yards (586) than any other team in the Big Ten. Then again, Massachusetts doesn’t quite measure up to the Wolverines’ first two opponents.

 

Ohio at Ohio State

Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

Usually the Buckeyes’ annual in-state battle is a laugher (certainly was true of last year’s game against Toledo). The closest a state school has come to beating the Buckeyes in recent years was in 2008, when the Bobcats built a 14–6 third quarter lead before No. 3 Ohio State saved face with 20 unanswered points. The following week, Terrelle Pryor saw the first significant action of his career in a loss to USC and has never looked back. This should be a big week for Pryor, and for Ohio State’s 1-2 punch of Dan Herron and Brandon Saine (both have gained 110 yards on 21 carries thus far). The Bobcats gave up 220 yards rushing to Wofford in the opener; three backs had 50 or more yards in the contest. Ohio State will use this game to find a replacement for starting safety C.J. Barnett, who was lost for the season due to the knee injury he suffered in last week’s win over Miami.

 

Kent State at Penn State

Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

It’s time for Evan Royster to come alive. The Nittany Lions are averaging 129.5 rushing yards per contest so far — by far the lowest total of any Big Ten team — and Royster does not rank among the top 10 in conference rushing. That will all change after Saturday. Royster, who has averaged more than six yards per carry throughout his career, struggled mightily against Alabama. Expect the Penn State coaching staff to nurse him back to health against the Golden Flashes. On defense, Penn State must hold up better on fourth down; opponents have converted three of five fourth downs against the Nittany Lions already this season.

 

Northern Illinois at Illinois

Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

This contest will be won on the ground, as both clubs like to win games the old-fashioned way. Illini running back Mikel Leshoure has gained more than 100 yards in each of his first two games and should add a third on Saturday. Iowa State gained 138 yards and scored three touchdowns on the ground in their 27–10 win over Northern Illinois a week ago. Leshoure is one of the most underrated backs in the Big Ten and could have his best performance of the year in this contest. The Illinois defense must contain junior quarterback Chandler Harnish, who gained 178 yards rushing and threw a first quarter touchdown in last week’s win. Northern Illinois’ players will also be affected by the health of their coach, Jerry Kill, who was hospitalized on Sunday.

 

Ball State at Purdue

Saturday, 11 a.m. CT

The big question Boilermaker fans are asking this week is: How will the offense hold up without wide receiver Keith Smith, who was lost for the season? Quarterback Robert Marve owns one of the best completion percentages in the conference (71.1 percent), but he won’t have the same level of confidence without Smith in the lineup. To assist Marve, chances are the Purdue coaching staff will dish up a bigger helping of Dan Dierking, who has averaged 6.9 yards per carry so far. Ball State lost by four points to Liberty last week, so coach Danny Hope could probably have the team’s water boy run dives and counters and still expect big gains.

 

USC at Minnesota

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT

Home-field advantage? Not in this contest. The Gophers have clearly established themselves as the worst team in the Big Ten thanks to the South Dakota loss. The offense has relied on its rushing attack — specifically Duane Bennett — so far, but won’t have that luxury against USC. While Minnesota’s defense has surrendered the most rushing scores of any Big Ten team, it also ranks 10th in pass defense. And that unit simply does not have enough speed to keep up with all of the Trojans’ weapons on offense. To make matters worse, USC is feeling the heat from a rocky 2–0 start (close wins over Hawaii and Virginia) and has motivation to make an example out of the Gophers. Expect ugly.

 

Arizona State at Wisconsin

Saturday, 2:30 p.m. CT

When will the realBadgers step forward? The club that struggled to put away San Jose State last week was not worthy of top 25 attention, and unless Bret Bielema is holding something back, it’s time for his team to take form. The Badgers rank 10th in the conference in red zone offense (seven touchdowns in 13 trips) while the defense is tied for last in the same category. Arizona State, meanwhile, ranks seventh in the country in passing offense (352.5 yards per game) and has enough talent on defense to make it interesting. The last time Wisconsin faced a Pac-10 school was in 2007 when it beat Washington State, 42–21.

 

Indiana at Western Kentucky

Saturday, 4 p.m. CT

After a week of rest, Indiana gets back after it this week against the Hilltoppers. Quarterback Ben Chappell looked good for the Hoosiers his last time out (16-of-23 for 182 yards and two touchdowns) and will shoulder much of the burden in this contest. In its two losses, Western Kentucky has allowed a total of more than 500 yards passing … well, we should add that that they’ve allowed 495 yards rushing, as well. Another 51-point performance for Bill Lynch’s club? Nah, but the Hoosiers will be happy just to claim a second victory to start the year. The last time these schools met (2008), Indiana gained 297 yards on the ground in a 31–13 victory.

 

Northwestern at Rice

Saturday, 6 p.m. CT

Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa made easy work of Vanderbilt and Illinois State, but the Owls defense will provide a much stiffer test. The unit limited Texas’ passing offense to 172 yards (14-of-23) and held North Texas’ Nathan Tune to a 54.1 completion percentage. Rice running back Tyler Smith could see 15 or more carries, so it will be important for Pat Fitzgerald’s defense to do a better job against the run than it has in its first two contests (142.0 yards allowed). Up front, Northwestern must continue to get after the quarterback; the unit ranks third in the Big Ten in sacks and second in sack yards through two contests.

 

Notre Dame at Michigan State

Saturday, 7 p.m. CT

Last year’s late interception deep in Notre Dame territory is fresh on the minds of Spartans players heading into this contest. While Michigan State’s running game has exceeded expectations, the passing game has failed to live up to the preseason hype. The Irish have allowed 220 or more passing yards in each of their first two contests, so if Kirk Cousins and company do not perform in East Lansing this week, it might be time to take a look under the hood. Notre Dame’s passing game, on the other hand, has been superb (the unit ranks 20th in the country with 293 yards per game). Considering the Spartans have allowed 247 yards per game through the air, quarterback Dayne Crist could be in for a career day.

 

Iowa at Arizona

Saturday, 9:30 p.m. CT

Beginning with this contest, Iowa must face four ranked teams over its next five games. So much for their easy schedule. The Hawkeyes have allowed just 14 points through two contests, and quarterback Ricky Stanzi has managed the offense well. Still, there is something about this club that seems ripe for a letdown. The winner of this game will be the squad able to force its will on the other (i.e. that team which has better success on the ground). Iowa’s Adam Robinson has gotten off to a good start (265 yards, 7.0 yards per carry), but he isn’t quite as dangerous as Arizona’s Nic Grigsby (8.4 yards per carry, five touchdowns). Watching those two trade series will be a treat.

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