Friday, September 26, 2008

Big Ten Week Five Previews: Quick Start Key for Visiting Teams


We have a lot to preview this week, so let’s get right to the match-ups:

1. Illinois at Penn State: Why Illinois must get off to a quick start – because it’s a lot easier to stand toe-to-toe 11-on-11, then 11-on-11 plus 107,000 of arguably college football’s best fans.

If Illinois can take the crowd out of the game by establishing an early rhythm, they may be able to walk out of the moonlit Happy Valley with a win. By far the most intriguing game in the Big Ten: both offenses are putting up big numbers (Illinois: 468 yards/game, Penn State: 538 yards/game), Illinois is averaging 225 yards/game on the ground while Penn State is surrendering a mere 50 yards per game rushing, and each team has a dual-threat quarterback (Penn State’s Daryll Clark and Illinois’ Juice Williams) compiling statistics worthy of post-season award consideration. Can Williams and his all-around game lead the Illini to victory? It appears to be too high of a mountain to climb at night.
PREDICTION: Penn State 38, Illinois 20

2. Wisconsin at Michigan:
Why Wisconsin must get off to a quick start– because they can’t give a beatable Michigan team belief they can win and Wisconsin is not built to play from behind.

Dear Coach Bielema,
I am sure exactly what you need right now is for a know-it-all writer who never played college ball and never coached anything above high school girls’ soccer to tell you how to scheme against Michigan. But trust me, because, well…just because. Do not out-coach yourself. On offense, line up Ace-double Tight, and for the first three drives, do nothing but run right up the gut with P.J. Hill and company. You may go three-and-out every time, but that’s okay. Because what you will then do in the same set is work in play-actions, bootlegs, and nakeds. Let your receivers stretch the field on the outside, leaving room for your star tight ends (Travis Beckum and Garrett Graham) to work underneath all day long. Michigan’s linebackers are poor covering in space. Their defense prefers to play man coverage, which will then give you the chance, after dinking and dumping down the field, to hit your X or Z in man coverage (with an inconsistent free safety in Stevie Brown covering center field) over the top. Plus, you’ll see if Michigan’s defense is lighter, tougher, and in better shape or if they are just lighter compared to your giant front line. Trust me, I’m a doctor.
Yours truly,
John Sears, PhD
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 26, Michigan 16

3. Minnesota at Ohio State:
Why Minnesota must get off to a quick start – because this will put pressure on Ohio State freshman quarterback Terrelle Pryor who isn’t used to playing from behind.

Last week was a relatively safe environment to hand the offense over to Pryor (at home, against Troy) and he responded well with four touchdown passes. But Pryor, like any young, athletic quarterback, is susceptible to holding on the ball too long and taking costly sacks. Another week without Beanie Wells means Pryor should continue to get more carries. On the other side of the ball, Minnesota will need to play mistake-free football in their first true test of the season. Can sophomore quarterback Adam Weber escalate his magical season with a win and continue to bring chaos to the Big Ten? I say no. Minnesota will be too conservative, trying to limit the inevitable mistakes from the young Weber. That lack of derring-do gives Ohio State the victory.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 24, Minnesota 13

4. Michigan State at Indiana:
Why Michigan State must get off to a quick start - because in their only other road game (a 38-31 loss to Cal), they fell behind early and didn’t have the firepower to take back the lead.

The Hoosiers need to get the bad taste out of their mouths, coming off a blowout loss to Ball State where they surrendered four touchdowns on the ground alone. This does not bode well as Michigan State comes to town hoping to ride their Heisman-hopeful, running back Javon Ringer (175 yards/game and 11 touchdowns). But if Indiana can restore their respectable rushing defense (35th in the FBS), and get quarterback Kellen Lewis working early, Michigan State may have to prove they are not a one-dimensional team. Ringer continues his Heisman pace, disguising the Spartans’ pedestrian passing attack.
PREDICTION: Michigan State 28, Indiana 24

5. Purdue at Notre Dame:
Why Purdue must get off to a quick start - because they can continue to put doubt into a Notre Dame squad that was handled last week from start to finish (Michigan State led out of the gates until the final whistle). Where has NFL-destined quarterback Curtis Painter been? If Kory Sheets can shred Notre Dame’s porous defense as his Big Ten predecessors have in the previous two weeks, the passing lanes may be there for Painter to put up some good numbers. Purdue comes in balanced with Sheets running well and Painter playing well enough to put The Fighting Irish back at .500.
PREDICTION: Purdue 23, Notre Dame 14

6. Northwestern at Iowa:
Why Northwestern must get off to a quick start – because at home the Wildcats are outscoring opponents 79-25 compared to their 24-20 win on the road against Duke.

Surely the Hawkeyes cannot be satisfied coming back from Pittsburgh with a loss; and now they host a Northwestern team that hasn’t been this hot (4-0) in over four decades. But are the Wildcats hot on the road as well? At face value, this match-up may look like the undercard to this week’s conference openers, but take note – these teams are a combined 7-1 to start the season. Quarterback consistency is the key: Northwestern’s C.J. Bacher needs to recover from his dismal four-interception performance against Ohio and Iowa needs to have a starting quarterback emerge from the tandem of Ricky Stanzi and Jake Christensen. Northwestern comes in confident, and with more veterans on both sides of the ball.
PREDICTION: Northwestern 23, Iowa 17