Around the Big Ten: Week Seven

Story posted October 11, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Kevin Alonzo

Things are starting to take shape around college football, as conference play is under way.  Eight Big Ten teams play this weekend and all eight will take on a fellow Big Ten foe. Northwestern and Ohio State treated the nation to a thriller last Saturday in a primetime matchup. This week, Michigan and Penn State will give it a go in front of a nationally televised audience. It should be another wild weekend around the Big Ten. 

Indiana (3-2, 1-0 Big Ten) vs. Michigan State (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) 12:00 PM ET

These two teams haven’t garnered many national headlines this season, but this is one intriguing matchup. Both teams are coming off of big conference wins. Indiana took down Penn State for the first time in school history last week, while Michigan State took care of business against Iowa.

Indiana’s fast-paced offense will be put to the test against Michigan State’s ferocious defense.  The Spartans have allowed a total of 67 points all year, while the Hoosiers have put up at least 40 in all but one of their games. Something’s gotta give.

Michigan State is going to have to contain Indiana’s aerial attack or they’re in for a long afternoon. The Spartans don’t have the firepower on offense to hang with the Hoosiers, but they do have one of the best defenses in college football.

The key to the game for Indiana is Nate Sudfeld. Is the Nate Sudfeld who picked apart Indiana State in week 1 going to show up or will he single-handedly throw the game away like he did against Missouri? You can’t throw three interceptions against this Michigan State defense and expect to win.

Offensively, the Spartans need to hand the rock off to Jeremy Langford and Nick Hill early and often. Connor Cook is nothing more than a game manager and it should remain that way. Michigan State needs to control the clock and keep Indiana’s offense off the field as much as possible. If they can do these things, the Spartans will be 5-1 come Saturday night.

Nebraska (4-1, 1-0 Big Ten) vs. Purdue (1-4, 0-1 Big Ten

This figures to be a lopsided battle, as the Cornhuskers travel to West Lafayette to take on the Boilermakers. Nebraska came up short in their only real test of the season against UCLA, but has taken care of business against the teams they’re supposed to beat.

Purdue fits that description perfectly, with their lone win coming against Indiana State. Northern Illinois put a 55 spot on the board against them last week. Things might get ugly once again on Saturday when the ‘Huskers come to town.

Taylor Martinez is having a good, but not great season.  He’s certainly not in the Heisman discussion like some predicted he would be. Nonetheless, Martinez should be able to easily lead Nebraska to victory on Saturday against a suspect Purdue defense. 

Martinez has turned the ball over only once all season and has completed 66 % of his passes.

Purdue has yet to face a quarterback with Martinez’s skill set, so I would expect Nebraska head coach Bo Pelini to confuse them with a lot of read-option looks throughout the game. Nebraska’s backups will see the field in the 2nd half. Purdue doesn’t stand a chance against this Cornhusker offense.

No. 19 Northwestern (4-1, 0-1 Big Ten) vs. Wisconsin (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten)

Penn State and Michigan will steal the headlines, but this may be best game in the conference on Saturday.  Northwestern is coming off a hard-fought battle against Ohio State and Wisconsin also held their own against the Buckeyes before their bye week. 

Pat Fitzgerald has put this Northwestern program on the map and there are rumors that NFL teams have interest in him. For now though, he has the Wildcats playing great football as they travel to Madison to take on the Badgers.

Trevor Siemian and Kain Colter have shared the quarterback duties this season for the Wildcats. It’s unorthodox, but it’s worked. The Wildcats will keep Wisconsin on its heels with their two-quarterback system. 

Junior running back Treyvon Green is averaging 6.7 yards per carry out of the backfield, while receivers Tony and Christian Jones are big-time playmakers on the outside.

Wisconsin has one of the more stout defenses in the nation, so it will be interesting to see whether or not they can contain all of these playmakers on that Northwestern offense. 

Wisconsin has some big-play ability of their own on offense, led by their three-headed rushing attack of Melvin Gordon, James White and Corey Clement. 

The three have combined for 15 rushing touchdowns and are each averaging over 6.5 yards per carry on the ground. Northwestern’s rush defense needs to wrap these guys up before they get to the second level or it’s in for a long game. These two teams are too evenly matched for this game not to go down to the wire.

No. 18 Michigan (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) vs. Penn State (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten)

Penn State won’t get a bowl game this year, but they do get Michigan. Beaver Stadium will be rocking, as the Wolverines travel to Happy Valley for the first time since 2010. 

Michigan comes in with an undefeated record, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. They hung on by the skin of their teeth against Akron and UCONN, so this Penn State team, despite all its struggles over the first month of the season, has a chance to pull of the upset.

The Nittany Lions aren’t exactly going into this game with much momentum. Indiana’s offense had their way with them last week, in what became a 20-point loss. 

Freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg is playing like a freshman and for some reason, people are surprised. His numbers don’t look that bad but if you’ve seen him play, it’s evident the kid’s got a lot of work to do. Michigan defensive coordinator Greg Mattison will throw the kitchen sink at the former five-star recruit to see how he reacts. 

For Penn State to have any chance on Saturday, Bill Belton, Zack Zwinak and Akeel Lynch will need to carry the offense. Bill O’Brien can’t put the game in Hackenberg’s hands unless he wants fans headed for the exits by halftime. 

Allen Robinson should be good to go and that is huge for Penn State’s offense. Robinson is the one receiver that Hackenberg has had consistent success throwing to so far this season and they’ll need a big performance from him to compete against Michigan.

Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner has been up and down all season. He has moments when he looks like a man amongst boys on the field, but at times he looks like he has the football IQ of Marcus Vick. His 8:8 touchdowns to interception ratio tells you everything you need to know about him. 

One thing Penn State has to be prepared for is Gardner’s ability to make things happen with his feet. He has almost as many rushing yards and rushing touchdowns as starting running back Fitzgerald Toussaint. Penn State’s defense needs to keep him in the pocket or he’ll march down field all night long, just like Braxton Miller did to them last year. 

Penn State cornerbacks Trevor Williams and Jordan Lucas have had their struggles of late, after starting off the season pretty well. They’ll have their hands full with Michigan wide receiver Jeremy Gallon on Saturday night. He has been making plays all year long for the Wolverines. The Nittany Lions need to limit those big plays to have a chance. 

Penn State will feed off their home crowd and keep the game close in the 4th quarter. The question is, do they have enough talent to pull off the upset? We’ll find out soon enough.

Bye: No. 4 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0 Big Ten), Iowa (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten), Illinois (3-2, 0-1 Big Ten), Minnesota (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten)

Kevin Alonzo is a junior majoring in broadcast journalism.  To contact him, email kaa5303@psu.edu.