Big Ten Preview: Week 5 – Ohio State and Wisconsin Headline

There may be only four games on the Big Ten slate this week, but that’s no excuse to switch off and watch SEC games. All the games hold some degree of interest, but the Ohio State-Wisconsin game has conference and national implications. In fact, the only potential dud on the menu is Illinois-Miami, but the Illini can’t afford to fall asleep for this one, even if the fans do. Below are some key points to watch for in each game.

Sep 7, 2013; Champaign, IL, USA; Illinois Fighting Illini running back Donovonn Young (5) tries to avoid a tackle by Cincinnati Bearcats safety Andre Jones (29) and Cincinnati Bearcats linebacker Nick Temple (43) during the second quarter at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bradley Leeb-USA TODAY Sports

Miami @ Illinois

12:00 PM ET

The skinny: The Redhawks have been simply dreadful this season, while the Fighting Illinois look much improved, despite a hiccough against Washington.

 

What Miami needs to do:

  • Score some points: the Redhawks have managed 21 points in three games, all in the first half. They’ve also managed just 21 first downs and converted 3 of 40 (no typo) 3rd down conversions. A DIII team could do better playing someone at this level.

  • Protect the quarterback: Austin Boucher is a tough, gamer of a QB who can win games on sheer will alone. What he isn’t, is big. After allowing 10 sacks against BCS opponents over the last two games, the offensive line better get its act together or Boucher may get killed. Getting a running attack going will help.

  • Continued development on defense: the Redhawks got shredded in the first two games, then came to play against Cincinnati, losing just 14-0. They allowed just 171 yards, and the Bearcats had to earn their 198 yards on the ground. The defense won’t hold up if the offense continues to fall flat on its face, but keeping the score down can help boost confidence.

 

What Illinois needs to do:

  • Rush the passer: the Illinois have jst 4 sacks so far, with Jonathan Brown leading with 1.5, but they have to get after an impotent Miami offensive line that can neither run or pass block. Illinois’ defense isn’t great, so they need to stamp down heard from the first snap.

  • Get Nate Scheelhaase back on track: after playing outstanding football in his first two games, Scheelhaase struggled mightily against Washington, completing just 9 of 25 passes. He’s a four-year starter and should play better against good opponents, so we’ll write the last game off as an aberration. This should be a tuneup game, but he has to get into a rhythm early.

  • Run the football well: I’m not talking about handing the ball to a guy and hoping for the best, I mean sap the will out of an opponent by churning out 5-7 yards every carry. Unfortunately, the Illini haven’t done this since Mikel Leshoure was on campus. They have good backs, but they’re more flash than power, and they struggle to get it done between the tackles against quality foes. The time to work on it is now.

 

Prediction: Illinois 38, Miami 6

Sep 21, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Purdue Boilermakers quarterback Rob Henry (15) throws a pass as Wisconsin Badgers defensive end Tyler Dippel (51) defends during the first quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Northern Illinois @ Purdue

12:00 PM ET

The skinny: BCS hopeful versus BCS hopeless.

 

What Northern Illinois needs to do:

  • Shore up that defense: the Huskie defense was pretty tough last season, but they’ve given up a ton of yards this year, allowing nearly 500 yards per game. The Boilermakers aren’t an offensive powerhouse, but they showed against Notre Dame that they could move the ball.

  • Cut down on penalties: every team could heed this advice, but the Huskies have amassed a ridiculous 33 penalties in 3 games, costing them 290 yards. They’re going in the wrong direction too, allowing 8,11 and 14 most recently. If they can’t curb this somewhat destructive streak, it could cost them in big games.

  • Throw caution to the wind: you are NIU. You have designs on being the new Boise State. Winning shootouts against no one of consequence will turn heads, but in the wrong direction. It starts here – blow Purdue out and people will start talking again.

 

What Purdue needs to do:

  • Run the ball: You have Akeem Hunt, one of the Big Ten’s best in the backfield. After four games the team has totalled 282 yards at 2.6 per carry. Even take away sack yardage and it’s still not good enough. Rob Henry’s not the type of quarterback to carry the team on his back, so the line needs to make some holes for Hunt to keep defenses honest.

  • Consistency on defense: the D isn’t bad, they have some nice speed and have flashed some ability to confuse offenses, such as in the first half against Notre Dame. If they can keep it up over the course of a game, they may have enough on offense to eke out a few wins, but check out the previous point again.

  • Time to push the ball down the field: the Boilermakers have a fine bunch of speedy receivers, yet average just 9.24 per completion. Hunt and tight end Justin Sinz are their top receivers, and that has to change. Whether it’s quarterback play, scheme, or receivers not gaining separation, Purdue has to stretch out defenses. There are yards to be had through the air against NIU, it’s just a matter of finding them.

 

Prediction: Northern Illinois 33, Purdue 24

September 14, 2013; Ames, IA, USA; Iowa Hawkeyes quarterback Jake Rudock (15) hands the ball off against the Iowa State Cyclones at Jack Trice Stadium. Iowa beat Iowa State 27-21. Mandatory Credit: Reese Strickland-USA Today Sports

Iowa @ Minnesota

3:30 PM ET

The skinny: The Battle for Floyd. Home team is 7-1 over the last 8 games.

 

What Iowa needs to do:

  • Be Iowa: the Hawkeyes are looking better every week, and put 50+ points on the board for the first time since 2008 last week. They’ve gotten it done in their usual fashion, with power running, precise passing, and solid defense. In other words, nothing like last season.

  • Control the clock: Minnesota’s defense is quick, but they can be scored on. The bigger problem is the Gopher offense can move the ball in a hurry with a fine bunch of runners and whomever they seem to slot in at quarterback. If Iowa can get Mark Weisman and Co untracked on the ground, together with the aforementioned precise passing, they can keep the Gophers off the field.

  • Keep forcing turnovers: The Hawkeyes have done a good job on takeaways, forcing 10 (6 Ints, 4 Fumbles) and returning 3 for scores. Minnesota have been decent at playing keepaway, with just 3 turnovers (2 Ints), but they have yet to play a team like Iowa.

Mitch

What Minnesota needs to do:

  • Pass the ball better: granted, the Gophers haven’t needed to pass the ball much, as the running game has been so effective. That should change against Iowa, with the Hawkeyes presenting a sturdier run defense than they have faced to date. Mitch Leidner, who’s been more of a runner, will get the start at quarterback. He’ll need some receivers to step up too.

  • Cut out the big play: for the first three games, Minnesota did a good job of limiting big plays in the passing game. Then they bumped into David Fales of San Jose State, who torched them for 439 yards. In no alternate universe do I expect Jake Rudock to pass for that kind of yardage, but he has the look of a decent passer and has some playmakers to catch the ball. Throw in special teams and defense too, as the Hawkeyes have FIVE returns for TDs already.

  • Play the odds: as mentioned already, the home team has won 7 of the last 8 in this series. With Minnesota at home, and the rest of their schedule as tough as nails, the Gophers may need this win to make a bowl, even after starting 4-0. With both teams looking good right now, this could be a fun game. Often, the games that mean nothing to anyone but the two teams involved are the most entertaining.

 

Prediction: Minnesota 27, Iowa 23

Sep 21, 2013; Madison, WI, USA; Wisconsin Badgers wide receiver Jared Abbrederis (4) reaches out to stiff arm Purdue Boilermakers cornerback Ricardo Allen (21) during the first quarter at Camp Randall Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Wisconsin @ Ohio State

8:00 PM ET

The Skinny: The reigning B1G champs against last season’s only unbeaten team – with conference placement on the line! What’s not to like?

 

What Wisconsin needs to do:

  • Start fast, finish strong: the Badgers have to take it to OSU from the start. The defense needs to come down hard on ball-carriers, force them East-West a little more. Ohio State are pretty young, but are used to steamrolling opponents. They haven’t played anyone like Wisconsin yet, though. They’ve won the last 3 Big Ten titles, so playing in Columbus won’t faze them, but they can’t let the Buckeyes get a head start.

  • Give Ohio State a heavy dose of Melvin: The Badgers are loaded in the backfield, but there’s little doubt who the key playmaker is. Melvin Gordon is big and fast, and needs to be put in a position where his ability in the open field is even more of a factor. He won’t need to carry the load, but he needs to get ball a lot.

  • Abbrederis needs help: Jared’s done a good job this season, catching 23 passes for 365 yards and 3 scores, but someone needs to step forward to keep Ohio State from doubling him all day, or take advantage of the extra freedom. Tight end, running back, another receiver – it doesn’t matter who, but someone needs to make some plays in the passing game and bail out quarterback Joel Stave.

 

What Ohio State needs to do:

  • Take the pressure off Braxton Miller: the (former?) Heisman candidate will likely start, but odds are he’ll be rusty after a couple of weeks layup. Urban Meyer will be comfortable putting in Kenny Guiton if Miller struggles, and rightly so, but if Miller can’t move the ball and the Badgers build a lead, the Buckeyes could have problems.

  • Hang onto the ball: sure, the Buckeyes looked great running over everybody over the last four games, but they turned the ball over 7 times. That’s all well and good when you’re beating Florida A&M 76-0, but when you are playing a real, live opponent like Wisconsin, it can hurt a lot more.

  • The young defense has to hold up: the defense has been rock solid for the most part, but they have shown some holes against Cal and even little Buffalo. The Badgers have the players to put points on the board, and have enough tricks up their sleeves to confuse the young guys on defense.

 

Prediction: Wisconsin 23, Ohio State 21

Topics: Football, Illinois Fighting Illini, Iowa Hawkeyes, Minnesota Golden Gophers, Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Ohio State Buckeyes, Purdue Boilermakers, San Jose State Spartans, Wisconsin Badgers

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