Around the Big Ten: Week 11

Story posted November 7, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Matt Michelone

Penn State (5-3, 2-2) at Minnesota (7-2, 3-2 Big Ten), 12:00 ET

The Nittany Lions have struggled away from the friendly confines of Beaver Stadium. Their only win away from home came on opening day, in a 23-17 victory, over Syracuse at MetLife Stadium. The Lions have been beat by a combined score of 107-38 in their first two road games, in conference play.

This is the first time the Nittany Lions and Golden Gophers will compete for the Governor’s Victory Bell since 2010, a game Penn State won 33-21 at TCF Bank Stadium. Both teams feature the conference’s offensive players of the week in Bill Belton for Penn State, as well as starting quarterback Philip Nelson for Minnesota.

Penn State is coming off a 24-17 overtime thriller last week. Belton rushed for 201 yards on 36 carries and one touchdown. The team may need to rely more on the passing game as Minnesota’s run defense, which is ranked 39th in the country, is giving up 141.5 yards per game.

The unit is led by senior defensive linemen Ra’Shede Hageman, who has 9.0 tackles for a loss, and junior linebacker Damien Wilson, who leads the team in total tackles with 50. If the Lions do choose to go the passing game more, they will need to gameplan for Theiren Cockran who has posted 5.5 sacks, in order to help keep Christian Hackenberg upright.

The Nittany Lions will have a two-part challenge on defense. Nelson is coming off a week where he was 16-for-23, 298 yards, and 4 touchdowns, in 42-39 Gopher win over Indiana. Minnesota also has a big run threat in David Cobb who is approaching a 1,000 yard season and averages 5.4 yards per carry. The Lions have struggled most notably against Carlos Hyde of Ohio State and Storm Johnson from UCF, both ran for more than 100 yards against them. They cannot afford another rough day on the ground.

BYU (6-2) at No. 24 Wisconsin (6-2, 4-1 Big Ten), 3:30 ET

Wisconsin is taking a break from Big Ten play, welcoming BYU to Camp Randall Stadium. Last week the Badgers were led by senior running back James White, who had 132 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns, in a 28-9 win over Iowa. The Cougars are back in action after a 37-20 victory against Boise State, a game that running back Jamaal Williams racked up 114 yards on 21 rushes.

The Badgers saw a large improvement on defense after giving up nearly 400 yards passing against Illinois. Wisconsin is averaging 15 points allowed per game which places the unit at number five in the country. BYU has doubled that average at 32.4 points per game. The Cougars offense is led by Taysom Hill who has already amassed

2,019 yards and 12 touchdowns. Wisconsin’s defense, led by Linebacker Connor O’Neil, must come up with turnovers and limit the Cougars offense’s chances to score.

On offense, the Badgers possess a 1-2 punch in sophomore running back Melvin Gordon, who is averaging 134.2 ypg on the ground, and White who has put up 100.5 yards per game. The offense averages 38.4 points per game, ranking them 21st in the country. If the team has trouble on the ground, starting quarterback Joel Stave has Jared Abbrederis to lead the way through the air. So far Abbrederis is averaging 17 yards per catch, and has scored six times.

Illinois (3-5, 0-4 Big Ten) at Indiana (3-5, 1-3 Big Ten), 3:30 ET

This Leaders Division matchup features two teams vying to give the Big Ten as many as eight bowl eligible teams (only Penn State and Purdue are ineligible entering the week). Regardless of who wins, both teams have difficult games down the stretch. Illinois still faces Ohio State and Indiana will head to Madison, to meet Wisconsin and then head to Columbus, to face the Buckeyes. For both teams, Saturday’s game is a must win if they want to keep their bowl hopes alive.

Indiana is coming off its third straight loss, falling 42-39 last week against Minnesota. The Hoosier defense gives up on average 37.8 points per game, which ranks them at 116th in the country in scoring defense, and has given up no less than 42 points since a historic victory over Penn State. They will focus on the defensive side of the ball and how to slow down Nate Scheelhaase, who went 33-for-52 and racked up 321 yards through the air, in a 24-17 overtime heartbreaker against Penn State.

The situation is similar for the Fighting Illini. Illinois has allowed 32.5 points per game, and Indiana’s offense scores 42. This could play in favor of quarterback Nate Sudfeld for the Hoosiers, who passes for 333.5 yards per game. Cody Latimer and Kofi Hughes are his two most reliable targets, who have more than 1,000-yards receiving between the two of them. Jonathan Brown had a strong game against the Nittany Lions, and will need to lead the way for the Illini to have a chance.

Nebraska (6-2, 3-1 Big Ten) at Michigan (6-2, 2-2 Big Ten), 3:30 ET

The Cornhuskers are coming off a 27-24 win in Lincoln, against Northwestern, and are looking to keep their hopes of overtaking Michigan State for a spot in the Big Ten Championship Game. A road trip to the big house awaits Nebraska against Michigan. The Wolverines were victorious their last time out, with a shootout 63-47, two weeks ago against Indiana.

Nebraska will likely be without starting quarterback Taylor Martinez, who is battling the injury bug. Tommy Armstrong Jr. who went 15-for-29 with a touchdown and three interceptions will likely get the start, but do not rule out the possibility that Ron Kellogg III, who threw the game winning hail mary to Jordan Westerkamp, may also see some playing time.

Michigan will look to counter on offense. The Wolverines offense, led by quarterback Devin Gardner, averages nearly as many points scored as the Hoosiers have given up (37.9-37.8). Jeremy Gallon leads the team in receiving with 898 yards receiving.

Michigan will also need Fitzgerald Toussaint in the run game and Devin Funchess through the air, to be reliable Saturday as well, because there is a significant drop in production after both players at their respective positions (exception, Gardner is the team’s number two rusher).

Iowa (5-4, 2-3 Big Ten) at Purdue (1-7, 0-4 Big Ten), 12:00 ET

Iowa can qualify for their 11th bowl game in 13 years with a victory over Purdue on Saturday. Last week, the Hawkeyes fell 28-9 against Wisconsin at home. The Boilermakers lost their sixth straight game, falling in a 56-0 route against Ohio State, making them bowl ineligible.

The centerpiece to the Hawkeye offense is running back Mark Weisman. The junior running back is closing in on a 1,000 yard season and averages 4.7 yards per carry. Iowa also has a reliable quarterback in sophomore Jake Rudock, who has thrown for 1,700 yards and 12 touchdowns. His leading receiver however, Kevonte Martin-Manley, has racked up under 300 yards. The Boilermakers will need to force the Hawkeyes to beat them through the air.

As strong as Darrell Hazel’s defense has been, the offense has been the exact opposite. Quarterback Rob Henry has thrown six interceptions this year. The Hawkeyes have forced 10 of them, three from James Morris. Purdue should look to pound the ball with Akeem Hunt against a defense that has allowed 138.6 yards per game.

Bye: No. 4 Ohio State (9-0, 5-0 Big Ten), Northwestern (4-5, 0-5 Big Ten), No. 17 Michigan State (8-1, 5-0)

Matt Michelone is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism. To contact him, email mam6151@psu.edu.