With three chances left for their first victory in the Big Ten (and their first victory over a I-A opponent), Ron Turner is starting to get serious.
He wants to get that win badly and is turning to senior QB Dustin Ward over freshman Chris Pazan when the Illini travel to Iowa.
It may seem a bit late in the going to make a move, but Turner is doing anything he can to have a positive feeling in the offseason. If this sounds familiar, that's because the team followed the same scenario last year. Illinois lost five of its first six games in 2002 before finishing 5-7. Turner has hopes that the team can rebound from its 1-8 start and finish with a 4-8 mark.
Ward fully understands the offense and has legitimate arm strength. In limited opportunities this season, Ward has performed well. He is coming off a respectable 17-of-32 showing for 221 yards with one TD and one interception against Minnesota.
"We're trying to do what gives us the best chance to win," Turner said. "There's a chance Chris will get in, too. But with how young we are and the injuries we have, Dustin will give us some stability."
Ward's presence may help the Illini, but it seems unlikely that it will get them a win at Iowa City. The Hawkeyes are 5-0 at home this season and the Illini have significant injury problems on the offensive side. The latest injuries are wide receiver Lonnie Hurst, out for the season with a broken leg; wide receiver Kelvin Hayden, doubtful with a high ankle sprain; and tailback Pierre Thomas, questionable with a bruised leg.
Iowa's defense is extremely physical and athletic. LBs Chad Greenway and Abdul Hodge are aggressive and opportunistic. Ward is going to have to avoid interceptions and RBs Morris Virgil and Marcus Mason are going to have to avoid fumbling if the Illini are going to be able to hang in for more than 30 minutes.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Illini offense is like a season of "Survivor." Head coach Ron Turner is looking for the smartest, bravest and healthiest to finish the season. Starting QB Jon Beutjer is out with a back injury; RB E.B. Halsey has a knee injury; WR Lonnie Hurst (broken leg) is out and WR Kelvin Hayden (ankle sprain) is doubtful. Veteran Dustin Ward gets a start at quarterback and he is a decent passer. However, he doesn't have much to work with against a very good Iowa defense.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense appears to be good for what ails their opponents. Minnesota was coming off a two-game losing streak, but the Gophers ran for 338 yards and came away with a 36-10 victory. Iowa does not have a spectacular offense this season, but RB Fred Russell has been one of the most consistent players in the Big Ten the past two seasons and could approach 200 yards in this game. If DE Derrick Strong doesn't have a great game, it really doesn't look like any defensive player will step up.
QUOTE TO NOTE: It's going to be a tough situation. We're just going to have to do what we can with the guys we've got." - QB Dustin Ward on getting the start against Iowa. The Illini are just 1-8 as they head into Iowa City.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Illinois at Iowa, Nov. 1 - The Illini would not appear to have a very good chance in this game, but the Hawkeyes have a very limited offense ... so perhaps Illinois can keep the score down. Iowa is a run-first team with the No. 11 rated pass offense in the Big Ten. If the Illini can figure out a way to slow down Iowa RB Fred Russell - he's averaging 114.5 yards per game - they will take their chances with QB Nathan Chandler putting the ball in the air.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Dustin Ward - Ward gets his first start of the season, and the senior has a strong arm and is capable of going on a good streak if he gets hot. Ward threw for 221 yards against Minnesota, but he will have to be even better against Iowa's aggressive and effective defense.
WR Mark Kornfeld - Kornfeld has developed a reputation as a receiver who will catch anything he can get his hands on. Kornfeld has caught 35 passes for 422 yards and two touchdowns, and he will take on an even more important role the rest of the way because of injuries to Kelvin Hayden and Lonnie Hurst.
INJURY IMPACT: WR Lonnie Hurst is out for the season with a broken leg. Running back E.B. Halsey (knee) is doubtful for Saturday's game against Iowa. Defensive back Alan Ball (shoulder), running back Pierre Thomas (leg) and wide receiver Kelvin Hayden (ankle) are banged up and will be evaluated as the week goes on Starting quarterback John Beutjer (back), offensive lineman Brian Koch (neck) and defensive lineman Mike O'Brien (knee) are expected to miss the remainder of the season.
The Hawkeyes are not giving up on the Big Ten. They still think they have a chance to grab a piece of the league title, even though they have already lost conference games to Michigan State and Michigan.
The Hawkeyes should be able to register an easy win this week against an injury-plagued and error-prone Illinois team. However, the Hawkeyes close out the regular season with games against Purdue, Minnesota and Wisconsin - a tough trio to sweep.
But let's assume it happens. Iowa players think that might be enough to help them get a share of the Big Ten title.
Even though Michigan State is still undefeated and Michigan, Ohio State and Purdue all have just one conference loss, getting a piece of the conference championship is still a possibility. Wisconsin's upset loss at Northwestern indicates that nothing is safe in the Big Ten, and this is a league with a lot of good teams.
"That's an illustration of how tough it is in our conference right now," coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Not that it's not tough every year, but there are a lot of teams than can do damage right now."
This week, the Hawkeyes should be able to run all game long on the porous Illini - ranked 10th in the Big Ten by allowing 199.8 rushing yards per game - but Ferentz would like to see some improvement from his passing game. Iowa is ranked 11th in passing offense and Nathan Chandler has not lit it up this season.
Injuries have kept the Hawkeyes from putting their best receivers on the field throughout much of the season. If Maurice Brown can get healthy for the closing stretch of games, the Hawkeyes may have a chance at finding a way to get to the top of the Big Ten.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Nathan Chandler is not a prolific passer - he's averaging 143.5 yards per game - but he has done some very good things for the Hawkeyes. Chandler has not made mistakes this season, throwing only six interceptions to go with 13 touchdowns. If WR Maurice Brown can come back ankle injury and make a contribution, look for the passing yardage totals to go up. The running game remains consistent with Fred Russell getting the job done on a weekly basis.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Hawkeyes took head coach Kirk Ferentz's suggestion to heart when Jermire Roberts returned a blocked punt for a touchdown early in the third quarter against Penn State. Ferentz wanted a defensive score (special teams is close enough), and that allowed the Hawkeyes to have a little daylight against the Nittany Lions.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We were just out there running around looking for the football. The fact that the defensive linemen are so good enables us, the linebackers, to do our thing." - LB Chad Greenway on the success of the Hawkeye' defense through the first two-thirds of the season.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Illinois at Iowa, Nov. 1 - This should be an easy one for the Hawkeyes, who could win in a runaway if they get a little bit more from the passing game than they have been getting. The Illini have made mistakes all season and are one of the worst tackling teams in a major conference.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Fred Russell - He should be able to tear up the Illinois defense. Russell ran for 148 yards against Penn State and a 200-yard game is not out of the realm of possibility. Russell has only three rushing TDs this season, but he should be able to add to that total in this game.
WR-RS Ramon Ochoa - He is one of the most versatile players on the team. Ochoa has done a decent job of stepping up following Maurice Brown's ankle injury. He has also gotten the job done as a kick returner and a punt returner. Through eight games, Ochoa ranks eighth in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards with 111.4 per game.
INJURY IMPACT: Wide receivers Mo Brown (ankle) and Ed Hinkel (leg), defensive lineman Jared Clauss (ankle), linebacker Grant Steen (ankle) and tight end Eric Jensen (ankle) are questionable for Saturday's game against Illinois. Running back Albert Young (leg) is sidelined indefinitely. Offensive lineman Brian Ferentz (knee) and defensive lineman Jonathan Babineaux (ankle) are expected to miss the remainder of the season.
The Wolverines appear to be playing their best football of the season as they head down the home stretch.
But after taking apart the Boilermakers at Michigan Stadium, they might have to play an even better game this Saturday to beat resurgent Michigan State.
While the Spartans always have a chip on their shoulder when they play their archrivals, they also have a tremendous team that has exceeded all expectations. Head coach John L. Smith has put together an explosive offense led by QB Jeff Smoker and a surprisingly good and aggressive defense.
The Spartans also remember the 49-3 beating handed them by the Wolverines last year. As a result, the Wolverines will see a very inspired opponent.
But the thinking is that a Michigan team on top of its game will beat a Michigan State team on top of its game. On the flip side is that the home team has won 10 of the past 11 games in this series, and this one is in East Lansing.
Any way you look at it, this should be a great one.
RB Chris Perry may hold the key for the Wolverines. He ran well against Purdue and has for most of the season. He leads the Big Ten with 1,094 yards and has pounded the ball into the end zone 12 times.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Wolverines have a versatile and balanced offense with Big Ten leading rusher Chris Perry and senior QB John Navarre throwing to explosive WRs Braylon Edwards, Jason Avant and Steve Breaston. Edwards caught two TD passes against Purdue and has the athleticism to make big plays in the air - over opposing defensive backs.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wolverines sacked Purdue QB Kyle Orton seven times last week and intimidated a quarterback who had been impervious to pressure prior to that game. Can Michigan do the same to Michigan State gunslinger Jeff Smoker? LB Lawrence Reid has great range and leads the Wolverines with 59 tackles.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a Big Ten game. When you get into this stage, you have an opportunity to shoot for some of the goals you have set. So that's always special." - Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr on the Michigan-Michigan State game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Michigan State, Nov. 1 - Both teams are playing extremely well and this has a chance to be one of the most memorable games in the recent history of the series. A loss here knocks out the Wolverines from Big Ten title contention.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR-PR Steve Breaston - Breaston is to the Wolverines what Dante Hall is to the Kansas City Chiefs. He has explosive speed and makes a big play as a punt returner nearly every week. He leads the Big Ten with an average of 16.0 yards per return and has brought back two for touchdowns.
RB Chris Perry - The running game is often the key in the Michigan-Michigan State series. Perry leads the Big Ten in rushing with 1,094 yards and he'll need to be on his game against a physical and punishing Spartan defense.
INJURY IMPACT: Safety Marlin Jackson missed the Purdue game because of a leg injury but is expected back this week. Linebacker Pierre Woods suffered an ankle injury against the Boilermakers but appears to be fine. Defensive tackle Grant Bowman also suffered an ankle injury. Defensive lineman Jeremy Van Alstyne (knee) appears to be close to 100 percent.
While his counterpart in Ann Arbor is trying to low-key this red-hot rivalry game, John L. Smith is making no such attempt.
"The dislike for one another is pretty good," Smith said.
"You've gotta love it. It's a pretty exciting deal. This is fun. It's like your brother. Did you ever fight with your brother or your sister? And you bloodied each other up."
Smith can't wait for his first game against the Wolverines. He has a team that has played sensationally this season and brings a lot more weapons to the table than anyone around the Big Ten expected. He expects his team to be at its best for the Wolverines.
He should not have a problem getting his team worked up. The Spartans have won seven of their first eight games, sit alone atop the Big Ten at 4-0 and are coming off a bye week.
That gave them plenty of down time to reflect on last year's 49-3 loss to the Wolverines ... and get even more fired up for revenge.
The Spartans have a powerful offense and an opportunistic defense. QB Jeff Smoker has had a sensational season and is the second-ranked passer in the league behind Minnesota's Abdul-Asad Khaliq. Smoker has played like a man who has hopes of playing in the NFL, and this game may go a long way to showing his readiness. Smoker has a great deep arm, throws a very catchable ball and understands when to hang in the pocket and when to take off. If his decision-making is up to par in this game, the Spartans will have a chance to pull off the mini-upset.
He's not all the offense, though. Jaren Hayes has showed improvement throughout the season, rushing for 563 yards and averaging 4.7 yards per carry. Hayes is not a powerful back who will run over linebackers, but he has the ability to change direction quickly and dart into the open.
On defense, the Spartans are the kind of team that will punish opposing ball carriers ... and that's just what they will have to do against Chris Perry. While he is the No. 1 ball carrier in the Big Ten, the feeling around the league is that he might go into a shell if he gets smacked in the mouth a couple of times early in the game.
The Spartans are now in the toughest part of their schedule. After facing the Wolverines, they must travel to Ohio State to face the defending national champion.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: QB Jeff Smoker has gone four full games without an interception and throws one of the best deep balls in the nation. He's been one of the feel-good stories in the country this season, but will now have to prove his mettle in back-to-back weeks against Michigan and Ohio State.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Spartans may not be the most athletic team in the Big Ten, but they might be the most physical. They are also opportunistic. LB Mike Labinjo has three interceptions this season and S Eric Smith has two. Look for Labinjo and Smith to step up against the Wolverines.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We remind them of that, and I'm sure we don't need to remind them - they remind each other." - Michigan State head coach John L. Smith on the 49-3 loss to Michigan last year.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Michigan State, Nov. 1 - The Spartans are the only undefeated team in the Big Ten through half of the conference season, but the final four games will be more challenging, starting right now. It's a great rivalry no matter the stakes ... and this time the stakes are high.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Jeff Smoker - The Spartans have gone 18 quarters without a turnover, and that's due in large part to the strength and ability of Smoker. Smoker is a lot more than just an error-free QB, though. He doesn't mind taking his chances down the field ... and a big strike early in the game would certainly set the kind of tone the Spartans want.
DE Greg Taplin - He has six sacks, which ties DT Matthias Askew for the team lead. Taplin has speed and quickness at 6-4 and 257 pounds, and his battle with Michigan RT Tony Pape will go a long way toward determining the winner of this game.
PK Dave Rayner - He has enjoyed a sensational season, connecting on 18-of-22 FG attempts. Rayner hit a 52-yarder in the Oct. 18 44-38 win over Minnesota and has confidence to hit clutch kicks.
INJURY IMPACT: Defensive lineman Brandon McKinney (foot) is expected to miss Saturday's game against Michigan. Punter Jason Daily (ankle), wide receiver Kyle Brown (shoulder) and defensive lineman Greg Taplin (knee) are questionable. Running back Jaren Hayes (foot) is probable.
The Wildcats are coming off their best game since their breathtaking 54-51 win over Michigan late in the 2000 season.
The Wildcats finished that season with an 8-3 record and earned a berth in the Alamo Bowl, where they were trounced by Nebraska. In their 16-7 win over Wisconsin last week, the Wildcats demonstrated a very aggressive defense and enough offensive creativity to give them the edge.
Can the Wildcats make it back to a bowl game this year?
With a 4-4 record they would need three wins in their final four games to assure themselves of a bowl eligibility, and they could possibly qualify for the postseason if they split those games (depending on how many other Big Ten teams qualify for the postseason with winning records).
Northwestern has a chance to beat Penn State and Illinois, but they appear to be in too tough against Purdue and Michigan.
Still, the Cats have beaten favored teams before and Randy Walker's team is playing with enthusiasm and heart. To beat Purdue this week, the Wildcats will have to find their offensive rhythm and continue to play solid defense.
QB Brett Basanez threw a 53-yard TD pass to RB Jason Wright in the first quarter against the Badgers, but he has been inconsistent this year. Wright is the key to their offense and he will line up at Purdue with ankle and back problems. Wright may not practice until late in the week, but he will maintain a key role in the game plan.
Wright has scored 15 touchdowns this season and is tied with Minnesota's Marion Barber for the scoring lead in the Big Ten. His resourcefulness is a key to his success, but if his ankle or back gets worse, the Wildcats could get overwhelmed.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense is showing some improvement, but injuries are starting to take hold and that's not a good thing against a physical team like Purdue. Northwestern will be without sophomore wide receiver Mark Philmore for at least a month. Philmore, who also returned punts in the past two games, suffered what is believed to be a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the Wildcats' 16-7 upset of Wisconsin on Saturday. Philmore is not expected to need surgery.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wildcats are making tremendous strides on this side of the ball and put forth a sensational effort against the stellar Wisconsin running game. Wisconsin was held to 135 rushing yards and that has to give Randy Walker's team confidence. MLB Pat Durr has tried to rally this team all season and the defense played consistently for 60 minutes for the first time all season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Mark was really making some strides. It's unfortunate. He was hitting that part of his game where you could really see he was getting it. He was learning how to play at the Big Ten level." - Northwestern head coach Randy Walker on WR-RS Mark Philmore's MCL injury. Philmore might not be back until the season finale at Illinois on Nov. 22.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Northwestern at Purdue, Nov. 1 - This game appeared to be an impossible spot just a few weeks ago, but the Wildcats have won two games in a row and have shown dramatic improvement - especially on defense. They are likely to catch Purdue's best effort, however, because the Boilermakers were embarrassed at Michigan last week.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Jason Wright - He is clearly the Wildcats' best player and is most important to their chances of going to a bowl game. Wright is the Big Ten's second-leading rusher and has scored 15 touchdowns this season. He is battling ankle and back problems and won't be able to practice at full speed.
LB Tim McGarigle - The Wildcats are starting to play much better defense and McGarigle is a huge reason why. He leads the team with 64 tackles and is able to fight through the trash and find the ball carrier.
INJURY IMPACT: Wide receiver Mark Philmore will be out for at least three games with a sprained MCL ligament. Running back Jason Wright (ankle) and placekicker Slade Larscheid (hip) are questionable for Saturday's game against Purdue. Wide receiver Ashton Aikens (knee) is expected to miss the remainder of the season. Offensive lineman Bill Newton (personal) is sidelined indefinitely.
The Buckeyes have a No. 1 running back for the first time since the end of last season.
When the Buckeyes were on their march to the national title last season, Maurice Clarett was the dominant player on a proud offensive team. With the embattled Clarett a distant memory on this year's team, the Buckeyes have been looking for a No. 1 back since the start of the season.
They now have one in Lydell Ross.
While some will try to downplay the effort because it came against woeful Indiana, Ross ran 23 times for 167 yards and three touchdowns. He is ready to fill the role of the team's primary back for the rest of the season.
"I like getting the ball like that," Ross told the Cleveland Plain Dealer. "I get my emotions going when they get me the ball."
Ross should continue to get the ball quite a bit this week at Penn State, a team that has a young defensive line and has been pushed around. If Ross is successful, it should make life much easier for QB Craig Krenzel and the offensive line.
The Buckeye offense had been among the worst in the conference before exploding for 35 points at Indiana. Now, a second productive game is needed ... or it will be a bad omen with games against Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan still on the schedule.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Buckeyes found their offense against Indiana and want to build a little consistency against Penn State. If Lydell Ross can pick up where he left off last week against Indiana, that will make things easier for QB Craig Krenzel. The key to the Buckeye offense is the offensive line. That unit has struggled through much of the season, but it paved the way for a 603-yard effort against Indiana.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This should be a walk in the park. The Penn State offense lacks talent and focus, while the Ohio State defense has been sensational. The Ohio State front four is big, strong and mean, while the Penn State offensive line has struggled for the better part of eight games. DE Will Smith has 8.5 sacks this season and should be able to get the best of the Penn State's tackles.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's easier to throw the ball when you can run it well and it's easier to run it when you can throw it . We really hadn't been doing either very well." - Ohio State QB Craig Krenzel after the 603-yard effort against Indiana.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Ohio State at Penn State, Nov. 1 - The Buckeyes want to keep their offense going for a second week in a row. If they can put two good games together, they'll be in a much better frame of mind before their games with Michigan State, Purdue and Michigan.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: LB A.J. Hawk - He continues to get the job done, with 70 tackles and four sacks this season. Hawk has the speed to go sideline to sideline and has great instincts.
PK Mike Nugent - The Buckeyes have gotten great production from their special teams in the past two seasons. Nugent has made 9-of-11 FG attempts this year, including a long of 53 yards.
INJURY IMPACT: Wide receiver Drew Carter (knee) is doubtful for Saturday's game against Penn State.
The QB rotation for Penn State was not a rousing success against Iowa.
Things don't figure to get much better this week when the Lions host Ohio State.
Zack Mills got back behind center for the first time in a month during the loss at Iowa. He showed no ill effects from the knee sprain that had kept him sidelined since the Nittany Lions lost their Big Ten opener against Minnesota. He completed 14-of-24 passes for 138 yards and did not throw an interceptions. He also got away from the Iowa pass rush and was sacked only once. However, he took a pretty serious beating because he ran the ball nine times - primarily on the option play - and took some heavy hits.
Michael Robinson, who had played in Mills' absence, saw limited action against Iowa and did not play after the first quarter. Head coach Joe Paterno said both quarterbacks should see action against Ohio State, but he wasn't sure what the rotation would be.
"I didn't have any idea what I was going to do," Paterno said about the Iowa game. "And if you ask me what I'm going to do against Ohio State, I haven't got the slightest idea what I'm going to do."
Not exactly a comforting thought for Nittany Lion fans, but that's reality in 2003.
The Nittany Lions were held to 176 yards by Iowa - and now the powerful Buckeye defense is coming to Happy Valley. This does not appear to be the week that the Penn State offense comes to life.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: This team has no offensive personality and no consistency. Earlier in the season, it appeared that freshman RB Austin Scott had the speed to give this team a workable running game, but he was slowed by mononucleosis and is still trying to regain his strength. The QB play of Zack Mills and Michael Robinson has given the team only an occasional spark.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense is not bad and is capable of making some big plays. Yaacov Yisrael had two interceptions against Iowa - including one that he returned 83 yards for a touchdown. CB Alan Zemaitis has broken up 13 passes and also has three interceptions..
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's frustrating. But at the same time, Joe Paterno is a great coach, and I guess he thought that Zack (Mills) could make some things happen, so he went with Zack. I just have to accept that." - QB Michael Robinson on getting taken out of the Iowa game in favor of Zack Mills. Paterno says both quarterbacks will be rotated, in some fashion, against Ohio State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Ohio State at Penn State, Nov. 1 - Penn State is still looking for its first Big Ten win of the season and a victory over Ohio State would be sweet. Until last week, Ohio State's offense had been soft as warm butter, but that unit came to life against Indiana. If Ohio State can run the ball against the Lions, this could be a very long day.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Zack Mills - While he has struggled for more than a year to get the offense going, Mills will get another shot against Ohio State. He is somewhat elusive when he goes back into the pocket, and he will need all of his running skills because the Buckeyes' front seven really brings the pressure.
CB Yaacov Yisrael - He is a playmaker in the secondary who will also stick his nose in the pile and make a big hit. Yisrael has 69 tackles and also has three interceptions. Two of the interceptions came last week against Iowa and one of them was returned 83 yards for a touchdown.
INJURY IMPACT: WR Tony Johnson (suspension, DUI) is likely to play this week against Ohio State.
The 31-3 loss to Michigan was a bitter one for the Boilermakers and it exposed a few problems on the front seven.
Not only did that group have trouble stopping Michigan running back Chris Perry - 28 carries for 95 yards - but it also could not put any significant pressure on quarterback John Navarre.
That problem is not likely to go away any time soon. It's doubtful that it will be exposed at home against Northwestern, but Purdue faces Iowa and Ohio State in its following two games. Both teams prefer to pound with the run.
Purdue can't hang its head for long. The Big Ten race is still wide-open (especially if Michigan beats Michigan State this week) and a big bowl could still be in the Boilers' future.
QB Kyle Orton had enjoyed a wonderful season before getting sacked seven times by the Wolverines and throwing two key interceptions. Orton needs to shake off that game and get back on track.
This week's game against Northwestern should be a victory, but the Wildcats are coming off their most significant win in three years when they defeated Wisconsin 16-7. If the Boilers look past Northwestern or are still in a funk over the Michigan defeat, the Wildcats have a chance to pull off the upset.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Boilermakers have a diverse and talented offense. Jerod Void and Brandon Jones are a solid running back duo. Last week notwithstanding, QB Kyle Orton has been stable and consistent, and WRs John Standeford and Taylor Stubblefield can catch anything they get their hands on. Here's one problem: Purdue ranks 11th in the Big Ten at scoring touchdowns in the red zone - just 18-of-37 conversions. On the other side, no team in the Big Ten plays better red zone defense than Northwestern - 16-of-28 TDs allowed.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense had a hard time keeping up with the athletic Michigan receivers. Northwestern's wideouts are not even close to that unit. If the Boilermakers don't get embarrassed by nifty Northwestern RB Jason Wright, they should be able to take care of business.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think people realize how tough it is for a spread offense team. That field gets mighty short down there. You've got teams dropping eight people on you. To try to fit into holes (in the defense), it gets tough." - Purdue QB Kyle Orton on how tough it is for a spread offense to operate in the red zone.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Northwestern at Purdue, Nov. 1 - Purdue needs to take Northwestern seriously or they could find itself on the wrong end of an upset. The Boilermakers are significantly better than the Wildcats, but Northwestern head coach Randy Walker is doing a nice job of keeping his team motivated. The Wildcats are coming off an upset of Wisconsin.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Kyle Orton - He followed up his best game of the year against Wisconsin with a sorry effort against Michigan. The Purdue offensive line did a poor job against Michigan, but Orton looked rattled and made poor decisions. He needs to bounce back and play to the form he had against Wisconsin - 38-of-55 for 411 yards. He injured his back in the Michigan game, but he is expected to play.
DE Shaun Phillips - While his teammates were getting overrun by Michigan, Phillips played hard and nearly turned the game in Purdue's direction when he forced a late second-quarter fumble and recovered it as well. Phillips has great skills and has registered nine sacks this season.
INJURY IMPACT: Starting quarterback Kyle Orton (back) is probable for Saturday's game against Northwestern. Backup quarterback Brandon Kirsch (shoulder) and linebacker Niko Koutouvides (knee) are questionable.
An off week after an embarrassing setback to Northwestern will lead the team in one of two directions.
Either the Badgers will refocus and set their sights on high-powered Minnesota or they will feel sorry for themselves and continue to stumble.
Head coach Barry Alvarez has done nothing but bring credibility and respectability to the Wisconsin program, so the guess is that he simply will not let the loss to Northwestern ruin the season.
"The thing you play for now ... you want to win some games to go to a better bowl," Alvarez said. "They're still playing for a lot."
One of the keys for the Badgers will be re-establishing the offensive line.
That unit got whipped by Purdue and Northwestern in back-to-back weeks and prevented the Badger running game from getting established. If that unit gets back to form, the running game can get going again. However, it would be a lot more potent if Anthony Davis could put his ankle sprain behind him. Backups Dwayne Smith and Booker Stanley are good players, but neither is as explosive as Davis.
The Badgers also believe that the offense will become a lot better when starting QB Jim Sorgi gets back from knee surgery. He should be able to return for the Minnesota game, but how long will he last?
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Badgers need to re-establish their running game. This is the main personality of the team and the Badgers won't be an upper-echelon Big Ten team unless they can pound the ball once again. The offensive line needs to show improvement and Anthony Davis needs a return to full health.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wisconsin defense has played well, but it has not been dominant. That doesn't bode well for Nov. 8 when the Badgers take on Minnesota and their powerful running game and underrated passing attack.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Starting with the center, we didn't get it done up front. We were letting guys off (blocks), and they made plays when they had the chance. I've got to stand up and look at myself in the mirror. Starting with me and the line, I've got to pick it up, and everyone else's got to come along." - Wisconsin center Donovan Raiola, to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, on the play of the offensive line.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Bye week. Next game: at Minnesota, Nov. 8.
PLAYER TO WATCH: RB Anthony Davis - He is the best back on the team when he is healthy and may very well be the top back in the Big Ten. However, his ankle sprain has ruined his season and kept him from being a dominant player. He could be back for the Minnesota game ... and if he is 100 percent the Badger offense could make a big move up the ladder.
QB Jim Sorgi - Sorgi should be able to play against Minnesota. He is an accurate passer who understands what opposing defenses are trying to do. However, he can't seem to stay healthy.
INJURY IMPACT: Starting quarterback Jim Sorgi (knee) should be back for the Nov. 8 Minnesota game and so should RB Anthony Davis. Whether either player will be at full strength is questionable.
Big Ten report
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Hoops Notebook: Media DayMinnesota Basketball opened their doors to the media today with the team speaking to press from the state. GI runs you through the important details of today’s media session.
Gopher IllustratedYesterday at 3:39 PM
GI GIF Rewind 2nd half: RutgersGopherIllustrated takes a look at Minnesota's homecoming win against Rutgers 34-32 through GIF's of the plays that mattered in the second half.
Gopher IllustratedYesterday at 6:00 AM
Cherelus has no doubts about his MN pledgeGophers commit Claudin Cherelus has zero doubts about his Minnesota commitment following his official visit, and he spoke about it with GopherIllustrated.
Gopher IllustratedMonday at 11:38 AM