By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER
The penultimate week of the season brings the chill, the snow, the flu and the redemption in the Big Ten. A closer look at this week’s action proves that teams are playing for a little more than an extra notch in the win column.
Ohio State at Illinois: Mr. Juice Williams, welcome back to the Ohio State defense you single-handedly scorched in a clutch performance (four touchdowns, 60 minute drive to seal the game in the end) to stifle the Buckeyes’ undefeated run. Mr. Laurinaitis and Mr. Jenkins are waiting. If a 6-4 Illinois team coming off a convincing victory over Western Michigan were playing host, this game would have even more, well, juice to it. As it stands, the Illini will be very motivated to redeem themselves after last week’s loss and the Buckeyes will certainly be ready to avenge last year’s loss.
Last week, Buckeyes’ quarterback Terrelle Pryor (9-14, 197 yards, three touchdowns) and running back Beanie Wells (28-140, two touchdowns) helped light up Northwestern’s vaunted defense (16 points/game scoring defense before Ohio State’s 45 last week) and showed the conference the potential of their dual-threat offense. Illinois is mostly a one-sided team--the offense is tops in passing (278 yards/game) and total offense (448 yards/game) and second in scoring (31 points/game). Their defense has stacked up a conference-leading 32 sacks so far. If Illinois has more sacks than giveaways they have a chance, but Ohio State looks to be strong [as usual] down the stretch, outscoring opponents 90-17 in their last two wins. The Buckeyes best chance at winning is if Wells and Pryor combine for at least 200 yards on the ground in tough Midwest fall conditions (rain/snow/wind, high in the 30s). Buckeyes roll.
PREDICTION: Ohio State 30, Illinois 17
Northwestern at Michigan: Northwestern is in desperate need of redemption themselves, coming off a bad loss to Ohio State last week 45-10. They showed that teams having their number in the recent past are able to continue their dominance over the injury-plagued Wildcats. Not good news for those favoring purple – Northwestern has also taken their historically recent shots from Michigan. The Wildcats still seek their eighth win of the season, a tally unattainable since 2000 (Michigan had outscored them in 5 straight wins 161-66 since) which was when they last beat Michigan, in a wild 54-51 shootout. Michigan’s redemption is not directed towards Northwestern and is rather evident at this point in the season. They played like “the Michigan of old” against Minnesota last week and will continue to prove the team is on the rise.
Sloppy conditions are predicted for the Wolverines’ last home game of the season. Due to injuries for both teams at their starting quarterback and running back positions, this contest will likely come down to who gets the lucky bounce of the ball
(off the turf). Whoever holds onto the ball will have the best shot at winning. I am hesitant to give the edge to Michigan on that factor alone, but I believe the seniors on defense will carry themselves to victory in front of their home crowd.
PREDICTION: Michigan 25, Northwestern 20
Minnesota at Wisconsin: The Gophers are in need of redemption after their stunning loss of the Little Brown Jug last week against Michigan. On offense, they couldn’t move the ball (188 total yards) sans an injured Eric Decker and surrendered 435 yards to the anemic Wolverines…with their backup quarterback. In order to prove their success this season was not a gift from the scheduling gods, Minnesota must stop a two-game skid against the much-improved Badgers. If that does not motivate Minnesota, perhaps a recap of the last 35 seconds of their shocking 2005 defeat at the hands of the Badgers will do (38-34 on a punt block for touchdown). Wisconsin needs redemption from the beginning their season when they were ranked as high as ninth…now they’re clawing for bowl eligibility.
Wisconsin has steadily improved after their Michigan/October implosion, winning two of their last three. Last week, the offense ran and ran and ran for over 400 yards versus Indiana, so expect similar things this week. Minnesota is eighth against the rush (142 yards/game), but still tops in takeaways (27) and turnover margin (+15). Thus, if the Gophers can force Wisconsin in to passing situations, where they are second in interceptions (14), Minnesota may give themselves some short field situations to put up some points. But my feeling is that they will not, as they have managed on average just 17 points/game against Big Ten foes.
PREDICTION: Wisconsin 27, Minnesota 20
Purdue at Iowa: Iowa seeks redemption after last year’s 31-6 thrashing at the hands of three Curtis Painter touchdown passes in West Lafayette. Purdue seeks redemption on behalf of Coach Joe Tiller’s quite forgettable closing season. Iowa’s defense stifles Purdue and Shonn Greene (1,374 yards and 13 touchdowns) and runs wild on Purdue’s abysmal rush defense (175 yards/game), leading the Hawkeyes’ quest towards a major post-season bowl bid.
PREDICTION: Iowa 27, Purdue 10
Indiana at Penn State: Redemption? Practice? We’re talking about redemption? No need here.
PREDICTION: Penn State 41, Indiana 14
Photo Credit: Illinois Sports Information
Friday, November 14, 2008
By JOHN SEARS - BIG TEN INSIDER