Big Ten weekend preview

Minnesota at Michigan isn't the only Big Ten game with huge implications this weekend. Wisconsin is at Ohio State and feeling very good about itself. Get the report on those two teams, along with the rest of the Big Ten news from the beat writers in each of those cities.

ILLINOIS

In a decision that surprised absolutely no one, head coach Ron Turner decided to stay with Jon Beutjer as the Illini's starting quarterback.

Turner may look at his team's situation and realize that by playing backups Chris Pazan and Brad Bower the Illini would have a better chance of being a good team in 2005 or 2006. However, Turner is still worried about rescuing the 2004 season — and his job in the process.

Along that vein, this Saturday's game at Michigan State may be the most important of the year.

After facing Purdue and Wisconsin, the Illini should have a legitimate chance to compete for 60 minutes and win. If the Illini fall to the Spartans, it's hard to find a Big Ten game they will be able to win. After meeting the Spartans, they host Michigan and travel to Minnesota in the next two weeks.

Beutjer, given a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA, looked very shaky against Wisconsin and was replaced by Pazan. Turner seriously considered starting Pazan, but he figured that Beutjer would be better against Michigan State's defense then he was against Wisconsin's nasty unit.

Look for E.B. Halsey and Pierre Thomas to pierce the Spartan run defense. Michigan State is giving up 162.4 rushing yards per game, a figure that ranks ninth in the Big Ten. Halsey is quick, fast and surprisingly tough between the tackles. He should find it much easier to run against the Spartans than he did against Wisconsin. Halsey was held to 27 yards on eight carries.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Illini can move the ball up and down the field with a well-rounded offense. The offensive line has been fairly consistent, while RB E.B. Halsey, QB Jon Beutjer and WR Kendrick Jones give this unit quite a bit of balance. Michigan State has had a difficult time stopping the run, and that means Halsey should have the opportunity for a great day.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Head coach Ron Turner still contends that the Illini have the talent to play consistent defense. A look at the numbers reveals they did make some progress against Wisconsin, considering the Illini held the Badgers to 99 yards through the air. But they did give up 258 rushing yards and suffered a 24-7 defeat. Illinois allows 27.4 ppg — ninth in the Big Ten — and is particularly soft against the run. Until the Illini can improve on the 176.8 yards per game they give up on the ground, teams won't fear Ron Turner's defense.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He got a little bit out of sync against Wisconsin, but Jon is a very good quarterback who has done a lot of good things for this football team. We feel Jon gives us the best chance to go out and win." — Coach Ron Turner, on why he decided to stay with Jon Beutjer as his starting quarterback.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Illinois at Michigan State, Oct. 9 — This is a crucial game for the Illini and the job prospects of coach Ron Turner. A loss here would drop the Illini to 2-4, with Michigan and Minnesota coming up.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Jon Beutjer — He struggled against Wisconsin and could have been benched against the Spartans. However, Turner decided to stay with him because he has completed 62-of-104 passes for 675 yards with five TDs and no interceptions.

RB-RS Pierre Thomas — He is 12th in the NCAA and second in the Big Ten in all-purpose yards with 157.6 per game. Thomas has used his speed very well this season as he averages 28.8 yards per kickoff return.

ROSTER REPORT: Wide receiver Lonnie Hurst (knee) and defensive back Kyle Kleckner (stinger) are questionable for Saturday's game against Michigan State. Wide receiver Ade Adeyemo (broken leg) is sidelined indefinitely. Offensive lineman Bryan Koch (knee) is expected to miss the remainder of the season. ... The injuries to Hurst and Adeyemo means that Franklin Payne will start opposite Kendrick Jones at the WR spot. WRs DeJuan Warren and Spencer Jensen will also see quite a bit of action.



INDIANA

The Hoosiers showed some life in the non-conference portion of the schedule this season, but the Big Ten is proving to be as difficult as ever.

Indiana hopes to taste victory for the first time in the Big Ten against Northwestern. While the Hoosiers normally would have a good chance to beat the Wildcats, Northwestern is coming off an upset win over Ohio State and is feeling quite good about itself. As a result, the Hoosiers may find themselves going up against an extremely fired-up and confident team.

Indiana may have a few wrinkles for Northwestern, though.

Head coach Gerry DiNardo broke out a no-huddle offense in the 35-14 loss to Michigan. While the Hoosiers did not have much success with it, DiNardo has no plans to scrap that plan of attack.

"We thought it was a good strategy going into the game. We also knew we were going to have some growing pains," DiNardo said. "It looked like that was the first time we had done that in three years — which it was."

If the Hoosiers are going to be effective on the offensive end, RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis has to assert himself and have a strong game. He ranks fifth in the Big Ten in rushing with 81.2 yards per game, but his 3.5 yards per carry average needs significant improvement.

Northwestern's run defense ranks eighth in the Big Ten, but the Wildcats are improving. They held the Buckeyes to 97 yards on 37 carries and their confidence has never been higher. Northwestern is a double-digit favorite for the first time since midway through the 2001 season and the Wildcats are eager to show that last week's memorable win over the Buckeyes was not a fluke.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense is becoming somewhat one-dimensional because the passing game has failed to meet expectations. QB Matt LoVecchio has completed 52-of-97 passes for 720 yards with six touchdowns and four interceptions. While those numbers are not horrible — he ranks sixth among Big Ten quarterbacks — he has failed to hit open receivers and make plays when they are available to him. As a result, the heat is on RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis to carry the load on his shoulders.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Hoosiers could not stop Michigan's passing game in the 35-14 defeat, but the run defense came up with a solid effort. The Hoosiers held the Wolverines to 93 rushing yards and also came up with two Michigan fumbles. Overall, the Hoosiers are giving up 456.2 yards per game — the worst mark in the Big Ten.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Whatever it takes to move the football down the field. Whether it be the option, run, pass, whatever. If we had to run the option every play to win the game, I'd be willing to do it." — Indiana QB Matt LoVecchio to the Indianapolis Star.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Indiana at Northwestern, Oct. 9 — The Hoosiers went to Oregon earlier this season, forced seven turnovers and beat the Ducks ... so a trip to Evanston should not be intimidating. But Northwestern played its best game of the year last week in beating Ohio State and will be riding a new wave of confidence.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: WR Courtney Roby — He is the centerpiece of the passing game. Roby has caught 26 passes for 442 yards and four TDs so far this season and has a great pair of hands. If Matt LoVecchio can get him the ball in stride, he has a chance to make big plays.

DB Tracy Porter — He had the toughest assignment of the year when he was asked to cover Michigan All-America WR Braylon Edwards. Porter got burned for two TD passes, but he also went to school and should be better the rest of the year. The freshman already has a team-leading three interceptions, including one he returned for a 96-yard touchdown.

ROSTER REPORT: Defensive back Will Meyers (knee), linebacker Cleo Harbison (ankle) and offensive lineman Chris Mangiero (ankle) are questionable for Saturday's game against Northwestern. Offensive lineman Isaac Sowells (arm) is expected to miss the remainder of the season.



IOWA

A 38-16 win over Michigan State might have put Iowa back on track, but Kirk Ferentz has plenty of headaches to deal with.

The Hawkeyes have been obliterated by injuries at the running back spot. Starting RB Jermelle Lewis tore up his knee in the win over the Spartans and is lost for the season. Lewis had broken loose for a 47-yard TD run early in the first quarter and appeared to be on his way to a dominant game.

What makes the injury hurt even more is that backups Albert Young and Marcus Schnoor were already sidelined before Lewis got hurt. As a result, Marques Simmons gets the opportunity to become the Hawkeyes' next starting running back. The 5-8, 202-pound junior gained 47 yards on 13 carries in relief of Lewis and also got into the end zone twice on short runs in the fourth quarter.

"It felt great to be in the end zone," said Simmons. "It's unfortunate that Jermelle got hurt; I hope he gets to come back. All I can do is go out there and give it my best."

The Hawkeyes have a week to regroup before hosting Ohio State on Oct. 16. Simmons will have a chance to get the majority of the reps in practices, but the Hawkeyes' ultimate offensive success may depend on QB Drew Tate.

The passing game was very sharp against the Spartans, as Tate completed 25-of-36 passes for 340 yards with a touchdown. Tate is now the fourth-rated quarterback in the Big Ten.

If Simmons can give the Hawkeyes a respectable running game and Tate continues to develop, Iowa may be in a position to steal a win against an Ohio State team that is struggling on offense.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Hawkeyes turned up their production level in their 38-16 win over the Spartans. QB Drew Tate threw for 340 yards, the most by an Iowa quarterback since Jon Beutjer (now with Illinois) threw for 380 against Indiana in 2000. Look for Tate to play with much more confidence the rest of the way.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This is the strength of this team. LBs Abdul Hodge and Chad Greenway are athletic players with a nasty streak. They combined for 20 tackles against Michigan State and set the tone on an every-week basis. Head coach Kirk Ferentz has built a strong defense that knows how to impose its will on opposing offenses.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm blessed to have this opportunity. I feel bad for those guys that are hurt, but I have to step in." — RB Marques Simmons on his step up to the No. 1 RB position following injuries to Jermelle Lewis, Albert Young and Marcus Schnoor.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Bye week — The Hawkeyes resume Oct. 16 against Ohio State, which lost last week to Northwestern and plays host to Wisconsin this week. The Buckeyes' struggling offense doesn't figure to get well before heading to Iowa City.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: DB Miguel Merrick — He asserted himself in a big way against Michigan State with 14 tackles, including one for loss. Merrick is a 6-0, 200-pound sophomore who is a solid hitter.

WR Ed Hinkel — He may be one of the most underrated players in the Big Ten. While he is not overly physical or very fast, Hinkel runs great routs, plays with toughness and competes hard on every snap. He had seven catches for 98 yards and a touchdown against Michigan State and is QB Drew Tate's first receiving option.

ROSTER REPORT: Defensive back Sean Considine (foot), tight end Mike Follett (undisclosed) and offensive lineman Todd Plagman (ankle) are day-to-day. Running backs Jermelle Lewis (knee), Albert Young (knee) and Marcus Schnoor (knee) and offensive lineman David Walker (arm) are expected to miss the remainder of the season.



MICHIGAN STATE

Wins have been hard to come by for the Spartans this season, and they will soon enter the most difficult part of their schedule.

After playing host to stumbling Illinois this week, Michigan State (2-3) faces Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio State and Wisconsin in consecutive games.

John L. Smith's team is still trying to find its personality. The Spartans opened the Big Ten season with a nice come-from-behind win over Indiana, but then got spanked by a desperate Iowa team coming off two straight losses.

On the surface, Michigan State should be able to handle Illinois at Spartan Stadium. The Illini have not won a Big Ten game since the 2002 finale against Northwestern, but they played respectably in losses to Purdue and Wisconsin. The Spartans are not as good as either one of those teams, so Ron Turner's team has to feel it has a good chance to win.

The Illini will probably try to take advantage of the Michigan State pass defense. The Spartans were exploited by Iowa QB Drew Tate last week. Tate threw for 340 yards and regularly found his receivers running free and easy in the Michigan State secondary.

What made that performance particularly troubling is that Iowa's passing game is ordinary and lacks big-play performers. Illinois QB Jon Beutjer has completed 62-of-104 passes for 674 yards with five touchdowns and has not been intercepted. He may find throwing against the Spartan secondary much to his liking.

The Michigan State offense has a chance of coming around. The Spartans are second in the Big Ten in rushing at 182.6 yards a game, a dramatic improvement after finishing last in the league last season. The passing game has also been close, but the receivers have been plagued by drops, and the Michigan State coaching staff believes four of those drops would have resulted in touchdowns.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Head coach John L. Smith has seen the Spartan rushing attack take a big jump up the ladder since Drew Stanton became the starting quarterback. Stanton has great escapability and knows how to make big plays with his feet. While Smith would like to see him settle down in the pocket a bit more, this might not be the week to change the game plan. The Illinois run defense is awful and the Spartans should be able to exploit it.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The defense could have a major problem stopping the Illini passing game. While Jon Beutjer was removed in the loss to Wisconsin last week, Ron Turner has re-established him as the No. 1 quarterback for this game. Beutjer has thrown five TD passes this season and has not been intercepted. The Spartan pass defense must step up after giving up 340 passing yards to Iowa last week.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We have to take a look at ourselves from a coaching standpoint on both sides of the ball. What are we asking our players to do? Is it more than we should be asking? Is it too much? Can they do it?" — John L. Smith to the Detroit Free-Press on re-evaluating his 2-3 team as it goes into what should be a very winnable game against the Illini.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Illinois at Michigan State, Oct. 9 — This should be a high-spirited game as both teams have very rough schedules after this game, and it could be the last good chance either has for a win in a long time. If the Spartans are going to defend their home field, they must establish the run and slow down the Illinois passing attack.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: QB Drew Stanton — He is a very elusive runner who hurt Indiana and Iowa with his ability to scramble. Stanton is also throwing the ball fairly well — he completed 29-of-54 passes for 245 yards against Iowa — but he and the other Spartan quarterbacks have been troubled by receivers who cannot hold on to the ball.

DBs Jaren Hayes and Tyrell Dortch — Both players are former running backs who are trying to make the conversion to defense. It is not going smoothly and Illinois QB Jon Beutjer will try to exploit their inexperience in the secondary.

ROSTER REPORT: Wide receiver Agim Shabaj, who missed the Iowa game with the flu, is expected to play against Illinois. ... Offensive tackle Stefon Wheeler, who has been out the last three games, is improving and ran Sunday on his injured ankle, but he remains questionable. ... Linebacker Michael Bazemore suffered a shoulder injury and did not play against Iowa, but Smith said he expects him to be available against the Illini.



NORTHWESTERN

After beating Ohio State for the first time since 1971, the Wildcats don't seem to be the least bit satisfied.

They are proud of their accomplishment and pleased that they handed the Buckeyes a 33-27 overtime win, but all that game did was momentarily feed their hunger.

Randy Walker's team has focused all of its attention on Indiana this week and has already put the Ohio State win in the rear view mirror. There is a sudden hunger in the Northwestern locker room to get back on the field and play physical football.

Listen to how Wildcat LB John Pickens described the Ohio State effort.

"I don't know if I would use the word 'dominate' because it was Ohio State," Pickens told the Chicago Sun-Times. "But I do know after that first play, they knew they were in for a physical game."

Pickens was probably the defensive architect of the Ohio State win. He had nine tackles, 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble. He was named the Big Ten's defensive player of the week.

Walker believes the defense can continue to improve as the season progresses because the linebackers are starting to show their aggressiveness.

"We pressure people with our linebacking corps," Walker said. "We're trying to be an attacking defense, and we need to be."

The Wildcats should be able to build off of their outstanding game against Ohio State this week against Indiana. The Wildcats appear to be significantly stronger on both sides of the line of scrimmage and should be able to record another home win.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The offense was effective and intelligent against Ohio State and much of the credit has to go to QB Brett Basanez. He threw for 278 yards and pierced the Ohio State pass defense with two TD passes. More than the stats, he managed the game well and found a way to attack the soft spots in the Buckeye defense. He should be able to do more of the same against Indiana. RB Noah Herron ran for 119 yards and scored two TDs, including the game-winning TD in overtime. The Indiana run defense held Michigan to 93 rushing yards, but don't be shocked if Herron pounds out 150 yards.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: After a terrible start this year, the Wildcats are coming off a sensational game against Ohio State. While Northwestern gave up 27 points, they held Ohio State to 97 rushing yards and played a tough, physical game. Expect the Wildcats to build off of that performance and punish Indiana this week.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think probably outside of our football community, people may have a lot of questions coming into this game, thinking that maybe the Ohio State upset could have been a fluke or something like that. But our approach to every game is the same. We feel like we should come out and play our best game." — Safety Dominique Price, in the Chicago Sun-Times.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Indiana at Northwestern, Oct. 9 — The Wildcats are coming off their best game of the year after beating Ohio State 33-27 in overtime. They should be able to whip up on Indiana as long as they take the Hoosiers seriously and concentrate on the task at hand instead of reflecting in the glory of the Buckeye victory. Look for continued development by the Northwestern defense.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Noah Herron — Head coach Randy Walker is doing a smart thing. Herron is a fine runner who is coming off a 119-yard effort against Ohio State, but Walker also likes backup Terrell Jordan. That means Herron has to put out 100 percent every game if he wants to remain as the main man in the backfield.

PK Brian Huffman — After missing five of six field goals in the season-opening loss at TCU, Huffman has done a good job of putting that game behind him, having made his last five attempts.

ROSTER REPORT: Linebacker Adam Kadela (knee) and defensive back Marquice Cole (ankle) are sidelined indefinitely. Kick returner Darrell Jenkins (wrist) and defensive lineman Loren Howard (ankle) are expected to miss the remainder of the season.



OHIO STATE

Ohio State is playing a Wisconsin team this week that might remind the Buckeyes of themselves, circa the national championship season of 2002.

The Badgers have a sensational running back in Anthony Davis — who is finally healthy. They have a bone-jarring defense that has allowed 26 points in five games. They pressure their opponents by putting them in the vice and squeezing. Opponents come out of their games praising them — and happy that they won't have to face them any more this season.

Ohio State, on the other hand, is playing imitation Buckeye football. The defense is playing fairly well, but it is not the intimidating unit of past editions. The offense is completely inconsistent and the running game average.

In their 33-27 overtime loss to Northwestern, the Buckeyes were outfought and outthought by the Wildcats. Northwestern was desperate to end 33 years of frustration against Ohio State and they did it by taking it to the Buckeyes with a physical game plan on both sides of the line.

That was not lost on head coach Jim Tressel, who was very unhappy with the effort he saw from his team.

"We've got to have a willingness to look in the mirror," Tressel said. "We have to have character and a competitive spirit to get better."

If the Buckeyes got beaten physically by Northwestern, what will happen against the bigger and beefier Badgers?

While the Buckeyes will have the advantage of playing at home, they need to step up their offensive consistency and put up a better effort against the run. Davis is coming off a 213-yard effort and is both fast and explosive. He is significantly better than Northwestern's Noah Herron, who had 119 yards against the Buckeye defense last week.

On the offensive side, QB Justin Zwick has talent and potential, but the Buckeyes can't really show much more patience. He needs to grow up and play with consistency or this could be a lost season in Columbus.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: This is not going to be a great offensive team under any circumstances. However, Ohio State should rank better than eighth in total offense in the conference. Jim Tressel needs QB Justin Zwick to become more productive and be a better leader. Zwick completed 18-of-38 passes for 211 yards with one TD and an interception against Northwestern last week. Ordinary is no longer good enough since the Buckeye running game with Lydell Ross is just average.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Northwestern seemed to have a mental edge on Ohio State last week. The Wildcats were a bit quicker and seemed to have the right plays called no matter what defense the Buckeyes played. According to Tressel, the Buckeyes need to pick up their intensity.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We are who we are. We've got to be better whether we're young or old or medium age. We have a pretty good team. We have to do our jobs better across the board." — Coach Jim Tressel on the fact that the Buckeyes can't use the excuse of youth if they hope to compete in the Big Ten this year.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Wisconsin at Ohio State, Oct. 9 — The job at hand is relatively simple. Get back to Ohio State football — which means winning the physical battle in the trenches and imposing their will on the visiting Badgers. Wisconsin has a rough, tough physical team of their own, so the execution of this plan will be a tough assignment. The Buckeyes lost at Wisconsin last year, so they should be fully motivated to play their best game.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: LB A.J. Hawk — The LB unit is the key to the Buckeye defense and Hawk is the best of the Ohio State linebackers. However, this unit struggled last week at Northwestern and needs to play better against the Badgers.

WR Santonio Holmes — He is clearly the most explosive offensive player on the team. He came up with a 21-yard TD reception that tied the game against Northwestern and also returned a punt 67 yards for a score earlier in the game. Since the Buckeyes are limited offensively, Ohio State needs this kind of production from Holmes nearly every week.

ROSTER REPORT: Defensive back Dustin Fox (arm) is sidelined indefinitely. Wide receiver Devin Jordan (leg) is expected to miss the season.



PENN STATE

Coach Joe Paterno was impressed with the overall effort and attitude his team showed in a 16-7 loss at Minnesota last week. Penn State will need all of that — and perhaps more — as explosive Purdue comes to Happy Valley.

Penn State has played very solid pass defense this year — they are giving up 161.2 yards per game, which is second in the Big Ten — but that unit will get severely tested by the Boilermakers and Heisman candidate QB Kyle Orton.

The Nittany Lions need to rediscover their offense. QB Zack Mills demonstrated a ton of courage as he got back into the lineup against Minnesota a week after separating his non-throwing shoulder. He completed 24-of-46 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown against Minnesota and kept his poise despite getting sacked twice and getting hit repeatedly by the Gopher pass rush.

By the end of the game, Mills had a hard time moving around because of the abuse he had taken.

"You know, people give Zack a hard time, maybe because of his win-loss record since here's been here," center E.Z. Smith said. "But the way he leads this team ... if people knew his toughness, you'd have to rank him among the best Penn State quarterbacks of all time."

Mills, however, is not concerned where he stands on Penn State's all-time QB list. He's more concerned with wins and losses. In order to come up with a "W" this weekend, the Nittany Lions may have to play a near-perfect game.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The running game was invisible against Minnesota and that has to change this week. Austin Scott and Tony Hunt can form a solid duo and they have to give the Purdue defense something to think about. Zack Mills found a decent receiver in Mark Rubin last week, who caught six passes for 60 yards. Look for that combination to play a key role this week.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The Penn State defense stepped up and faced the music against Minnesota. They did not stop the Golden Gopher running game, but they did contain it. Slowing down Purdue QB Kyle Orton may be even more difficult this week. The matchup of Boilermaker WR Taylor Stubblefield vs. CB Alan Zemaitis will be a good one.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "This was the best defense we have played against in a long time." — Minnesota head coach Glen Mason on the Penn State defense. The Nittany Lions held the high-scoring Gopher offense to 16 points and now get to see Purdue's explosive passing game.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Purdue at Penn State, Oct. 9 — The Nittany Lions get to face the Big Ten's best passing offense a week after seeing the conference's best running game. While the defense acquitted itself well against Minnesota, the offense needs to step up. If Penn State can't pressure the Purdue defense, the Boilermakers could run away and hide.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Tony Hunt — Not only do the Nittany Lions need to find a productive offense, they need a running game that can take time off the clock. That means Hunt and Austin Scott must produce. Even though Hunt gained just 35 yards vs. Minnesota, he has gained 410 yards on 69 carries and scored four TDs.

CB Alan Zemaitis — The Gopher offense scored just 16 points and one of the main reasons was that Zemaitis did a very nice job on WR Jared Ellerson. This week he'll have to face an even better receiver in Taylor Stubblefield, who already has 10 TD receptions. This is a battle worth watching all day long.

ROSTER REPORT: Wide receiver-backup quarterback Michael Robinson (concussion) and linebacker BranDon Snow (foot) are sidelined indefinitely. Running back Mike Gasparato (knee) is expected to miss the remainder of the season. Defensive back Chris Harrell (neck) is expected to miss the season.



PURDUE

The Purdue offense has been off-the-charts sensational this season, and quarterback Kyle Orton is a prime Heisman Trophy contender. But there's more to Purdue than just big offensive production.

The defense and special teams have been doing their parts, too.

In last week's win over Notre Dame, Purdue gave up 536 yards to the Irish but did not allow Notre Dame to get into the end zone until midway through the third quarter. By that time, Purdue had built a 27-3 lead.

Much of the defensive credit has to go to coordinator Brock Spack. Last year, Purdue had a veteran defense led by DE Shaun Phillips, LB Gilbert Gardner, LB Landon Johnson, DT Craig Terrill and LB Niko Koutouvides. All of those studs left in the offseason and Spack was left to rebuild.

Few thought Purdue would be able to do that. But Spack has built a capable unit and he has gotten quite a contribution from DTs Brandon Villarreal and Brent Grover. Both were expected to be solid against the run, but they have picked up their game so much that they are left in on passing downs as well.

Special teams also gave the Boilermakers a big lift against Notre Dame. Jerome Brooks, a 5-11, 179-pound sophomore speedster, returned a kickoff 100 yards in the first quarter.

Joe Tiller clearly has a lot of weapons at his disposal as the team travels this week to Happy Valley for a meeting with Penn State. While the Nittany Lions would appear to be in way over their heads, Tiller has to be concerned about a Penn State defense that allowed only 16 points to Minnesota last week.

NOTES, QUOTES

SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Purdue offense is among the best in the nation, averaging 47.2 points and 549.2 yards per game. Kyle Orton is ripping through every defense he faces. He has thrown 17 TD passes and has yet to be intercepted. Taylor Stubblefield is a sensational receiver who has caught 28 passes for 505 yards and 10 touchdowns.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Purdue's defense gives up yardage but not points. The Boilermakers are allowing 13.2 ppg — second in the Big Ten — and have a very good front four. DTs Brandon Villarreal and Brent Grover have stepped up and have made the Boilermakers very strong in the middle.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was all natural. The momentum made me kind of spin. I was just lucky enough to get it in." — Purdue return specialist Jerome Brooks on the 100-yard kick return he had against Notre Dame. Irish special teamer Ambrose Wooden appeared to have a good shot at Brooks, but he used a spin move to get by the would-be tackler.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Purdue at Penn State, Oct. 9 — This game could be a difficult one. While the Boilermakers are clearly more talented than Penn State, they are coming off an emotional win at Notre Dame and have Wisconsin coming up the following week. Head coach Joe Tiller will try to make sure his players don't overlook a Penn State team that gave Minnesota a solid battle last week.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: DE Ray Edwards — The defensive line has been a very pleasant surprise for Purdue this season. Edwards helped limit Notre Dame's offense last week with 2 1/2 sacks.

WR Ray Williams — He was nearly a forgotten man, but Williams came up with five receptions for 69 yards against Notre Dame. Williams had only three receptions coming into that game and his speed makes him a major factor against Penn State.

ROSTER REPORT: Defensive lineman Anthony Spencer (ankle) and fullback Jon Goldsberry (mono) are questionable for Saturday's game against Penn State.



WISCONSIN

With their main offensive threat back and healthy, there is a burgeoning confidence in the Wisconsin locker room.

The presence of RB Anthony Davis in the lineup last weekend made everyone feel better. With the Badgers playing a bone-crunching style of defense, Davis gave the offense an edge it had been missing through the early part of the season. He ran for 213 yards and three touchdowns in his return against Illinois.

Davis's presence should make life much easier for QB John Stocco, who has been struggling for much of the season.

The Badgers face their biggest test of the season when they travel to Ohio State this Saturday. The Buckeyes should be ready to play extremely well because they got embarrassed at Northwestern last week and coach Jim Tressel criticized their effort. As a result, the Badgers are expecting to face a talented and angry team.

"They'll have a burr under their saddle," Badger head coach Barry Alvarez said. "We'll walk into a hornet's nest."

But Wisconsin is not overly worried about what the Buckeyes will do. They can only control their own performance and it seems clear that the presence of Davis gives the offense the opportunity to make a statement on an every-week basis.

"The one thing that we've been able to do a great job of all year is really stay focused from week to week and do what we have to do to win," offensive coordinator Brian White said.

"To be the best team in the stadium on Saturday and that's what our focus is. That's all we can do this week against Ohio State."

That may be enough to emerge with a victory in Columbus.

NOTES, QUOTES
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: Can John Stocco throw the ball effectively? This may be the week he really has to prove himself. The return of Anthony Davis gives the Badgers a credible running attack, one the Buckeyes will have to sell out to stop. As a result, Stocco may be able to find open receivers. If he can deliver the ball to them with just a tad of consistency, the Badgers will be in great shape.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: This group is big, strong, mean and nasty. They lead the Big Ten in fewest yards and points allowed. Defensive coordinator Bret Bielema has put together a unit that combines great athleticism with excellent skills. DE Erasmus James and DT Anttaj Hawthorne anchor the defensive line and set the tone.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think we're more complete. All three phases are great. When we're all on the same (page), I think we'll be pretty tough to beat." — Offensive guard Dan Buenning, comparing this year's 5-0 Wisconsin team to the 2002 team that also was undefeated through the first five games.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

THIS WEEK'S GAME: Wisconsin at Ohio State, Oct. 9 — Wisconsin is feeling very good about itself and its chances of pulling off a big win on the road. The Badgers are strong in the trenches and they got their home run hitter Anthony Davis back in stride. Ohio State will probably play hard and well after losing at Northwestern, and this one could turn into a real physical, low-scoring slugfest.

PLAYERS TO WATCH: RB Anthony Davis — He had a sensational effort in his first game back since injuring his eye (abrasion) in the opener. Davis ran for 213 yards and three touchdowns vs. Illinois and displayed quickness, power and speed.

S Jim Leonhard — He sees the field extremely well and also does a great job of preparing. He'll need to watch speedy WR Santonio Holmes very closely. Defensive coordinator Bret Bielema knows Holmes is too explosive not to double, and Leonhard is the man who will have to make sure that the Buckeye speedster does not get free in the secondary.

ROSTER REPORT: Offensive lineman Mike Lorenz (foot) is expected to miss Saturday's game against Ohio State. Linebacker LaMarr Watkins (undisclosed) is questionable. Defensive back Scott Starks (arm) is probable. Running back Dwayne Smith (heart) will miss the season.





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