The Illini have a week off to ponder what has gone wrong this season — just about everything — but one play might serve as a great example.
In their 17-14 loss at Indiana, Christian Morton caught a punt at the Illinois 48, made a couple of moves and then took the ball to the house. At the time, Illinois had a 14-7 lead.
On the way in, Morton was prancing and preening and, then once he had crossed the goal line, he put on a display worthy of Michael Jackson at the height of his fame. Naturally, he was flagged for excessive display.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the end zone. His teammates were flagged for holding on a block 10 yards BEHIND where he caught the punt, wiping out the TD.
Because of the two penalties, Illinois ended up starting the drive at its own 20 — instead of putting a two-touchdown lead on the board.
Morton apologized to his teammates after the game, but it was a sad gesture signifying very little. As a result, Illinois is left to ponder a season in which its only victory came against I-AA Illinois State.
Coach Ron Turner received an earlier vote of confidence from athletic director Ron Guenther, but that might not have the strength it once did. Illinois has one game left against Northwestern — and then Turner will learn his fate.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Illini has suffered tons of injuries on offense. RBs E.B. Halsey, Pierre Thomas and Morris Virgil have all missed significant time. Starting QB Jon Beutjer went out with a back problem midway through the Big Ten season. Even with all the injuries, the Illini have under-performed. The offensive line has regularly been beaten badly and has been a root cause of the team's problems.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Illinois defense never stops its opponents on the opening drive — even Indiana marched down the field and scored — and the offense simply doesn't have the strength to overcome this handicap. Big Ten opponents regularly have built huge leads.
QUOTE TO NOTE: ''I got caught up in the moment, and it really hurt the team. 'I was just so happy to finally get the ball in my hands again. I was excited.'' — Illinois PR Christian Morton after he returned a fourth-quarter punt for a score. The TD was nullified by a holding penalty and Morton was also called for excessive celebration.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Idle. Next game: vs. Northwestern, Nov. 22 — Ending Northwestern's bowl hopes would be a decent note to end a nightmarish season. This game could be Ron Turner's swan song.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Marcus Mason — The Illini are down to their fourth-string running back. Mason ran for 102 yards against Indiana and showed the strength to make yards after contact.
WR Kelvin Hayden — He did not play against Indiana because of an ankle injury, but he likely will be back against Northwestern in the season finale. Hayden has caught 50 passes for 575 yards and three touchdowns and has shown very dependable hands. He will be back next season and should be one of key performers on offense.
INJURY IMPACT: Running back E.B. Halsey (knee), wide receiver Kelvin Hayden (ankle) and defensive lineman Jeff Ruffin (leg) are probable against Northwestern. Starting quarterback John Beutjer (back), wide receiver Lonnie Hurst (ankle), running back Pierre Thomas (leg), offensive lineman Brian Koch (neck), defensive back Darnell Ray (suspension) and defensive lineman Mike O'Brien (knee) will miss the season finale.
With games at Penn State and against Purdue to close the season, the Hoosiers will be significant underdogs. However, winning in the final seconds against Illinois has given Indiana a significant lift.
Even though the Illini are clearly the worst team in the Big Ten, the Hoosiers still had to go out on the field in the final quarter and take the game away from them. After falling behind by seven points in the second half, PK Bryan Robertson narrowed the gap to 14-10 with 8:56 left on a 40-yard field goal.
That three-pointer put the Hoosiers in a position to win the game on the final drive. QB Matt LoVecchio did just that with an eight-yard scramble for a touchdown, and he also had a key run for a first down earlier in the drive.
Consequently, the Hoosiers are feeling good about themselves as they prepare for their trip to Penn State, which is nearly a three-TD favorite even though it is still looking for its first Big Ten victory. Head coach Joe Paterno is in the midst of a six-game losing streak and that program is under fire.
Head coach Gerry DiNardo knows his team has little chance of overcoming Purdue in the season finale, so if the Indiana defense can keep QB Zack Mills in check this Saturday ... a second conference victory might not be out of the question.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Matt LoVecchio put decent numbers on the board against Illinois — 17-of-24 for 161 yards — but his game-winning TD vs. Illinois has lifted the team's confidence significantly. WR Courtney Roby had his most productive game of the season, catching eight passes for 81 yards.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: There were only 24 seconds left when LoVecchio scored the game-winning TD, but that didn't mean the game was safely tucked away. Illinois could have tied it with a late field goal, but the Indiana defense never let the Illini get close enough to attempt that kick. As a result, the defense should be feeling good about itself against a Penn State team that lacks firepower.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We got great blocking from the line. That's what happens for teams that are successful at the end of games." — QB Matt LoVecchio on why his team was able to mount a game-winning drive against Illinois.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Indiana at Penn State, Nov. 22 — A two-game winning streak for the Hoosiers? If they can win at Happy Valley, that's just what head coach Gerry DiNardo will have. The defense will fight for 60 minutes and QB Matt LoVecchio and RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis have the arrow going in the right direction. Even though the oddsmakers are heavily favoring the Lions, an upset is a possibility.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: DB Herana-Daze Jones — He is one of the leaders on the Indiana defense, showing it late in the game against Illinois. When he had an interception nullified by a penalty, he calmly read QB Dustin Ward and intercepted the following pass as well.
WR Courtney Roby — He was expected to be a vital part of the offense all season and he finally did that against Illinois with eight catches for 81 yards. Penn State DBs Alan Zemaitis and Yaacov Yisrael are tough, so he may find it difficult to get into gear.
INJURY IMPACT: Running back Brian Lewis (concussion), wide receiver Glenn Johnson (suspension) and center Chris Jahnke (ankle) are questionable for Saturday's game against Penn State. Offensive lineman Brandon Hatcher (leg) and defensive back Will Lumpkin (knee) are expected to miss the remainder of the season.
Can the Wolverines play for the national championship?
It's unlikely but not impossible.
The Wolverines were ranked eighth in the latest BCS standings. Assuming No. 1 Oklahoma goes unblemished the rest of the way, that means Michigan has to jump six other teams to get a date with the Sooners in the Sugar Bowl.
Basically, what has to happen is that the Wolverines have to win out (duh), beating Northwestern and — this is the key one — Ohio State to end the regular season.
That would kill the Buckeyes, ranked third in the BCS, and could give Michigan the juice to jump Texas, TCU and Tennessee. Each of those schools currently have slim edges over the Wolverines, whose average computer score would improve significantly by beating Ohio State, whom the computers love.
That leaves No. 2 USC and No. 4 LSU to worry about.
The Trojans appear to be in good shape, with a road game this week at lightweight Arizona and home games with UCLA and Oregon State. USC should have little trouble taking care of business, but those final two games have some challenges.
LSU, meanwhile, could have four more games. In addition to regular-season games with Alabama, Ole Miss and Arkansas, they could also play in the SEC championship game. That's a pretty tough slate the rest of the way.
Hey, Michigan can dream, can't it?
The Wolverines are playing as well as they have all season. Assuming they don't stumble against Northwestern, Lloyd Carr should have his team prepared for its best effort of the season against the Buckeyes.
A spot in the national championship game? Unlikely, but stranger things have happened.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: If the Wolverines are so inclined, they could put a fearful beating on Northwestern. Chris Perry is a legitimate Heisman Trophy candidate after his 51-carry effort against Michigan State. QB John Navarre is a big-play performer, having thrown for 2,494 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Wildcat defense is playing well, but is not a match for a Michigan team at the top of its game.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: After some early-season lapses, the Wolverines have turned it around and are playing aggressive and nasty defense. Northwestern's offense lacks big-play ability. If RB Jason Wright is not healthy, the Wildcats really don't have much of a chance to compete in this game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "As soon as we start looking at that, we get our brains blown out in the game." — DE Larry Stevens on the dangers of looking at polls and rankings.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Northwestern, Nov. 15 — A focused, determined Michigan team should have no problem beating Northwestern. But a team looking ahead to Ohio State could have a problem with the feisty Wildcats. Michigan did not play the Wildcats during the last two seasons, and Northwestern registered a memorable 54-51 win in their last meeting in 2000.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR Braylon Edwards — He is one of the finest receivers in the conference. With 59 catches for 789 yards and 11 touchdowns, he comes through with big plays on a regular basis.
RB Chris Perry — Perry had some much-needed time off following his bruising 51-carry effort against Michigan State. He has run for a Big Ten-leading 1,313 yards and scored 13 touchdowns, proving to be one of the top running backs in the country.
INJURY IMPACT: Defensive back Marlin Jackson (knee) is probable for Saturday's game against Northwestern. Defensive back Jacob Stewart (leg) is expected to miss Saturday's game.
The Spartans have some work to do. After a brilliant 7-1 start made them one of the top college football stories in 2003, they have lost their past two games, to Michigan and Ohio State.
No embarrassment in either one of those defeats, but disappointing nonetheless. Michigan and Ohio State are two of the more talented teams in the country, but the Spartans shot themselves in the foot in both games with costly penalties.
That has been a problem all season.
Michigan State leads the conference in penalties by a significant margin. The Spartans have 99 penalties, 29 more than the next closest offender — Ohio State. The Spartans average 85.3 yards a game compared to the Buckeyes' 60.3.
In the loss to Ohio State, the Spartans were flagged 12 times for 89 yards. Ohio State had just two penalties.
Head coach John L. Smith wants his team to play smarter, but he does not want to take away the aggressiveness that led to seven wins in their first eight games. He defended his players to the media and pointed to a personal foul that was called on OG Paul Harker for a hit he had on Ohio State SS Will Allen.
"How do you tell Paul Harker not to come out and hit that guy and get up and try to go get another one," Smith told the Detroit Free Press.
"Yes, you wish that hadn't happened at that time because it was crucial and it really hurt us. But doggone, he's trying to do everything he can do. And had the officials seen the entire play, it probably wouldn't have been called. All he gets is the end of it where he's coming over a guy stumbling and hits the guy."
Still, cutting down on the foolish penalties would help the Spartans in their final two games against Wisconsin and Penn State. The Badgers have lost three in a row while Penn State has yet to win a Big Ten game this season. Wins for the Spartans could send them to a New Year's Day bowl game.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Look for a big game from QB Jeff Smoker at Wisconsin. The Badgers have been very generous through the air and Smoker has been one of the most opportunistic quarterbacks in the Big Ten. After back-to-back games against Michigan and Ohio State, Smoker should find it much easier to get the job done against a vulnerable Wisconsin secondary.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Spartans still play a very physical brand of defensive football. They were beaten at their own game by the Wolverines and Buckeyes, but they should be ready to start hammering the Badgers. RB Anthony Davis might not be able to play because of continued ankle problems and QB Jim Sorgi has been among the most injury-prone quarterbacks in the Big Ten. However, if Sorgi gets time he could torch the Spartan secondary because he has an accurate arm and a crew of fine receivers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Because we've been pretty darn good and pretty darn aggressive. Maybe we need to become a little smarter." — Michigan State head coach John L. Smith on the Spartans' status as the most penalized team in the Big Ten.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan State at Wisconsin, Nov. 15 — The Spartans have an opportunity to get back on the winning track against Wisconsin. The Spartans will need to get their passing game in gear and take advantage of the Badgers' soft secondary, which is allowing 255.7 passing yards per contest in conference games, the worst mark in the league.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Jeff Smoker — He has had a brilliant comeback this season after being suspended during last season. Smoker is the top-ranked quarterback in the Big Ten and has completed 236-of-368 passes for 2,675 yards with 15 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
KR DeAndra Cobb — He returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown against the Buckeyes, his third kick return for a score this season.
INJURY IMPACT: Sophomore left tackle Stefon Wheeler suffered a neck injury in the third quarter of last week's game and was taken to the Ohio State Medical Center, where he stayed Saturday night as a precaution. A CAT scan showed Wheeler had no broken bones in his neck. He will not play against the Badgers.
With two games remaining and a .500 record quite likely, the Wildcats could find themselves in a bowl game at the end of the season.
Northwestern has played hard-hitting defense and opportunistic offense in forging a 5-5 record. The Cats have a good chance of taking Illinois to the woodshed in their season finale on Nov. 22.
However, finding a way to beat Michigan in their home finale this week may be out of reach.
The Wolverines are far more talented and are also playing their best football of the season. With much at stake for Michigan — like the Big Ten title and even a remote chance at the national title game — it's not likely the Wildcats will be overlooked.
Even if the Wildcats can slow down the Michigan offense, Northwestern will struggle to move the ball. As rewarding as the Wildcats' 17-7 victory over Penn State was last week, they were held scoreless until the final seven minutes of the game.
In order to have a reasonable shot, the Wildcats have to find a way to control the ball. Starting RB Jason Wright has been battling a sprained ankle for the last two games and he might not be 100 percent. Backup RB Noah Herron is coming off a 180-yard effort against the Nittany Lions, but he is not as quick or elusive as Wright.
QB Brett Basanez has struggled much of the season. If he does not have a dependable running game, he could collapse under the Wolverine pressure.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Coach Randy Walker likes to play a wide-open, spread offense, but he does not have the personnel to do it. QB Brett Basanez can manage the game, but he does not have the arm strength or accuracy to make key throws downfield. If RB Jason Wright is not at full strength, the Wolverine defense could have an easy time of it.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Northwestern has given up just 14 points in their last two home wins — against Wisconsin and Penn State. Linebacker Pat Durr is the emotional leader of this team, and he has rallied his teammates to solid efforts in both of those games. However, stopping the Badgers and Nittany Lions is one thing, doing it to Michigan is quite another.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If that's Jason at full strength, he's in the end zone." — Northwestern head coach Randy Walker on a 39-yard reception by Jason Wright in the first quarter against Penn State. Wright was tackled and subsequently fumbled on the play.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan at Northwestern, Nov. 15 — The Wolverines have hit their stride with four consecutive wins. They have also had a bye week to heal their bumps and bruises. For the Wildcats to have a chance, they have to put together a very effective ground game that keeps the ball away from the powerful Michigan offense.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: DT Tim McGarigle — He is the Wildcats' leading tackler with 9.1 per game. McGarigle ranks fifth in the conference in tackles per game and is very good at shedding blockers and finding the ball carrier.
DE Loren Howard — He won co-Big Ten defensive player of the week honors with six tackles, including two sacks, and a forced fumble against Penn State. Howard gives head coach Randy Walker an impact player on the defensive line.
INJURY IMPACT: Running back Jason Wright (ankle) is probable for Saturday's game against Michigan. Wide receiver Roger Jordan (torso), defensive back Louis Ayeni (shoulder) and placekicker Slade Larscheid (hip) are questionable. Wide receiver Mark Philmore (knee) and offensive lineman Bill Newton (personal) are sidelined indefinitely.
The Buckeyes benefited in a big way as a result of losses last weekend by Miami, Virginia Tech and Florida State. Ohio State sits third in the BCS ratings, breathing down the neck of No. 2 USC.
The Buckeyes probably need the Trojans to lose to make the ground, but not necessarily so, as they trail USC by 1.46 points. They can make up one full point if they can move up one spot in the human polls. That would happen if LSU — No. 3 by the media and coaches — loses.
The rest of the difference could possibly be made up by the vagaries of the computer rankings and strength of schedule, although it's way too convoluted to figure out right now.
Anyway, as for the on-field stuff, head coach Jim Tressel has seen his team rebound nicely from its October loss to Wisconsin, finding its offense along the way. QB Craig Krenzel threw three TD passes in the 33-23 win over Michigan State and showed no ill effects from the hits he took in the 21-20 win over Penn State the previous week.
Tressel hopes that performance is an indication of things to come in the next two games, both of which are large — Purdue at home this week and then at Michigan.
Purdue has an excellent defensive team and its front four could have an advantage over an underachieving Ohio State offensive line. If DE Shaun Phillips can put pressure on Krenzel — Phillips has 12.5 sacks this season — he could disrupt the Buckeyes' re-found rhythm in their passing game.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Buckeyes have been getting steadily better after their offense was putrid through the first seven games of the season. RB Lydell Ross is coming off a 125-yard effort against Michigan State and QB Craig Krenzel threw three TD passes. Head coach Jim Tressel has been looking for balance all season, and is finally getting it.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Buckeyes rank first in the Big Ten in scoring defense and are nearly impossible to run against. They give up just 45.0 yards per game on the ground. If they take care of Purdue RB Jerod Void, that will put the game in the hands of QB Kyle Orton, who failed miserably against Michigan earlier this season.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "These two games we have coming up are our biggest ones of the season. They're going to make or break our season. We have to focus on these two games and not focus so much on the BCS." — Ohio State RB Lydell Ross to the Cleveland Plain Dealer
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Purdue at Ohio State, Nov. 15 — The Boilermakers have all the elements. They can run and pass and are very good defensively, as well. Head coach Joe Tiller has wanted this game for more than a year after the Boilermakers had the Buckeyes on the ropes in West Lafayette last season, before Ohio State struck back late to pull out a 10-6 win.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Craig Krenzel — He responded to a head injury suffered against Penn State with a fine three-TD performance against Michigan State. The Buckeyes will need another solid game from Krenzel to beat a well-rounded and motivated Purdue team.
WR Santonio Holmes — He is becoming more and more of a part of the game plan. Holmes caught a 37-yard TD pass against Michigan State and he has the speed to make big plays on a regular basis.
INJURY IMPACT: Tight end Louis Irizarry (suspension) is questionable.
In addition to weaknesses on offense and inconsistencies on defense, the Nittany Lions have another problem that might not have anything to do with overall talent.
Penn State regularly runs out of gas in the second half, and that speaks to their overall conditioning. The Nittany Lions have been outscored 72-24 in the second half of their six consecutive losses. In the fourth quarter of those games, they have been outscored 42-10.
That situation was never more apparent than it was in last week's 17-7 loss at Northwestern. Penn State held a 7-0 lead eight minutes into the fourth quarter. But after Jason Wright tied the score on a six-yard run, the Nittany Lions collapsed down the stretch.
If Penn State had been able to take advantage of earlier opportunities and field position, then maybe the late collapse would not have had such an impact. However, Penn State has yet to put a solid passing game together with a good running game and that's why Joe Paterno's team has struggled so badly.
The Nittany Lions are still looking for their first Big Ten win of the year and are nearly three-TD favorites to get it when Indiana comes to town. The Hoosiers beat a weak Illinois team last week to come up with their first conference win of the year.
In the last two weeks, QB Zack Mills has looked much better than he had earlier in the year. He has thrown for more than 200 yards in both games, and if he can do that against Indiana, the Nittany Lions' first conference victory of the year is quite likely.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: While the passing game is starting to pick up, the running game is falling off the charts. The Nittany Lions gained just 93 yards on the ground against Northwestern. Sean McHugh gained 79 against Northwestern and figures this week to get more than the 10 chances he saw vs. Northwestern last Saturday.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Penn State run defense fell apart against the Northwestern running game. Even with starting RB Jason Wright hindered by a bad ankle, the Nittany Lions were overrun by backup Noah Herron, who ran for 180 yards, even though he lacks quickness and breakaway speed. Hmmm ... wonder if Indiana RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis could have a big day?
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I have to find a way to do a better job, I guess. We've had teams with bad luck before, and we were able to overcome it. I don't think it's [lack of] confidence. We play and practice like we're going to win. I just have to do a better job." — Penn State head coach Joe Paterno to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette on the Nittany Lions' game-day execution.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Indiana at Penn State, Nov. 15 — Penn State has lost six in a row and if it can't beat Indiana, will likely go winless in the Big Ten. A game at Michigan State ends the season.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Zack Mills — After a horrible start, Mills has had consecutive 200-yard games. Mills can elude pressure, but is not the most accurate passer when he is forced to throw on the run. So far this season, Mills has a 3-5 TD-interception ratio.
RS Calvin Lowry — The Nittany Lions have been victimized by their special teams coverage units all season. To turn things around, they need Lowry to give them a big return or two against Indiana. Lowry is the seventh-leading punt returner in the Big Ten with an average of 9.4 yards per return.
INJURY IMPACT: Linebacker Gino Capone (knee) is questionable for Saturday's game against Indiana.
The Boilermakers need help to win the Big Ten title, which will all be moot if they don't find a way to win at Ohio State this Saturday.
If Purdue wins out — and Ohio State can rebound the following week and win at Michigan — it will be the Boilers heading to the Rose Bowl.
Those are pretty large stakes, for sure, but there's more.
There's a little revenge in mind for Joe Tiller's team.
In last year's game at Purdue, the Boilermakers held a 6-3 lead late in the game, but Ohio State stole the game when Craig Krenzel threw a fourth-down TD pass to Michael Jenkins in the final two minutes.
The Boilers have had to live with that defeat for a year. To beat the Buckeyes, however, they will need more than inspiration.
They will have to execute sharply, much as they did last week against Iowa.
The Boilermakers converted 11-of-18 third-down opportunities and came through when the pressure was on. It may not be as easy to match that performance at Ohio State. Iowa's defense is good, but Ohio State's is stronger, and the Buckeyes have not lost in Columbus since their home finale of the 2001 season against Illinois.
The key to beating the Buckeyes on the road will be keeping mistakes to a minimum. Ohio State plays a very physical brand of defense and Purdue struggled against that type of unit in late October at Michigan. It will be difficult to beat the Buckeyes, but look for a better effort this week than Purdue had in Ann Arbor.
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Boilermakers have all the weapons. They run the ball well with Jerod Void, and Kyle Orton manages the game well. Doing a "good" job might not be enough against Ohio State. Head coach Joe Tiller may have to become "Cowboy Joe" once again and show the Buckeye defense the kind of wide-open attack than has been under wraps most of the season.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense is tough and nasty and will be looking to show it deserves to be considered in the same class as Ohio State's touted defense. DE Shaun Phillips is one of the best all-around players in the Big Ten and won defensive player of the week honors for the second straight week in the win over Iowa.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Coming out in the second half, I really wanted to get into a rhythm and throw some completions. I thought I did and I made some pretty good decisions, whether it was to stay inbounds or try to run the clock out or just being smart with the football." — Kyle Orton to the Indianapolis Star on how he managed the game in the second half of the win over Iowa.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Purdue at Ohio State, Nov. 15 — The Boilermakers still have a shot at winning the Big Ten title, and one of the steps involved is finding a way to beat the Buckeyes on the road. Purdue has played efficient offense and tough defense all season, but that might not be enough against Ohio State. Head coach Joe Tiller might need a few surprises in his game plan.
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Jerod Void — He is coming off a 120-yard effort against Iowa, which has a great run defense. For the season, he has 688 yards and 11 touchdowns.
QB Kyle Orton — He has completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 2,184 yards, and has thrown 12 touchdowns. While Orton is capable, he might have to make at least one or two big plays over the top of the Buckeye defense to swing the game in Purdue's favor.
INJURY IMPACT: FS Stuart Schweigert will play against Ohio State, but he will be slowed by a calf injury in practice this week.
Wisconsin has lost to Purdue, Northwestern and Minnesota in consecutive games, but the arrow is still pointing up for the Badgers.
While Wisconsin looked sick and tired in its 16-7 loss to Northwestern on Oct. 25, the Badgers showed tremendous heart and resiliency in losing 37-34 to the Gophers.
The Badgers looked like they were going to get blown out of the Metrodome, but QB Jim Sorgi caught fire and the Badgers nearly stole the game. Sorgi threw four TD passes and passed for 305 yards — both career highs. As a result, the Badgers have new momentum going into the Michigan State game.
While Sorgi still may not have RB Anthony Davis — he is questionable with a sore ankle — the passing game has never looked better. That gives Wisconsin at least a reasonable chance at winning both of their final regular-season games — against Michigan State and Iowa.
If the Badgers do, they could still end up at a desirable bowl game, although there is much to be determined.
"I don't really know exactly how that system works," Sorgi told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "I just know the more games you win, the better bowl you go to."
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Badgers have had the identity of a power running team since Barry Alvarez became head coach in 1990. However, RB Anthony Davis is still not 100 percent and the running game might not be at its best. The Badgers have a solid passing game with Jim Sorgi and should be able to move the ball against Michigan State.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Wisconsin defense will have to play one of its best games of the year to stop Michigan State. LB Alex Lewis has six sacks and he needs to put serious pressure on Jeff Smoker if the Badgers are going to slow down the Spartans.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're in a tough situation. We've got to get a couple more wins and get a better bowl bid. It's something we're prepared to do and it's something I think we will do." — Wisconsin QB Jim Sorgi
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK'S GAME: Michigan State at Wisconsin, Nov. 15 — The Badgers lost at Minnesota last week, but they rediscovered their heart in nearly coming back to beat the Gophers even though Anthony Davis did not play. He might not play in this game either, but the Badgers have a solid pair of running backs in Dwayne Smith and Booker Stanley. If Jim Sorgi can throw the ball the way he did against the Gophers, the Badgers have a great chance to win.
PLAYER TO WATCH: LB Alex Lewis — He runs well and makes plays sideline to sideline. He has 70 tackles this season, including six sacks. He needs to get after Jeff Smoker and put significant pressure on him, or the Spartan quarterback could have a field day.
DB Jim Leonhard — He is a special player who leads the Big Ten in interceptions and punt returns. Leonhard has five picks and has also scored twice on punt returns.
INJURY IMPACT: Running back Anthony Davis (ankle), defensive lineman Jonathan Welsh (leg) and linebacker LaMarr Watkins (leg) are questionable for Saturday's game against Michigan State.
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