Doc's Big Ten News and Notes
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It was an absolutely beautiful day in Madison, Wisconsin. Not only was the air crisp, but it was filled all day with balls from - you guessed it - Purdue's talented passing attack. With a dominating air assault, QB Kyle Orton and the Boilers handed Wisconsin a 26-23 defeat. Orton completed 38 of 55 passes for 411 yards. Top WRs John Standeford and Taylor Stubblefield combined for 30 receptions and 314 yards. All year Purdue has been using a very balanced combination of running and passing. But not on this day, as the Boilers certainly exploited the weakness in Wisconsin's defense: the Badgers' young secondary. For Wisconsin, their high-powered running game just didn't emerge as they gained only 97 yards on 34 attempts. For the second straight week backup QB Matt Schabert had to replace injured Jim Sorgi. Early reports have Sorgi as highly questionable for this week because of a knee injury. This week the Boilers travel to Michigan. This game will certainly shed some light on who might win the Big Ten title. There's no question this Purdue club is good and it has one of the top defenses in the Big Ten. However, being on the road and playing these Wolverines will no doubt test them. Wisconsin will also be on the road as they travel to Northwestern. The Wildcats had last week off and that should give them plenty of time to prepare. As you look at Northwestern's schedule, they have given up a tremendous amount of yards on the ground this year. This fits right in to the strength of the Badgers as they typically pour it on against this type of team. However, you may want to check the status of Sorgi in this particular game. I think the talent level drops off a bit with Schabert behind center. As of this writing, there has been no line posted for this game due to the status of Sorgi. If the line should come in at 13 or less, I would have to take a serious look at laying the points.
The surprise team in the Big Ten this year has to be Michigan State. The Spartans continue to roll as they held on to beat Minnesota on the road, 44-38. The Spartans are off to a 4-0 Big Ten start for only the third time in school history. The previous two times the Spartans went on to win back-to-back conference titles back in 1965 and 1966. Michigan State opened the game with a flourish as they had a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. In the second quarter the Gophers settled down and got back on track as they scored the next 10 points. However, the back breaker for Minnesota was when Michigan State came right back and scored 10 more points in the final 43 seconds of the first half. That 10-point swing was capped by a 100-yard kickoff return by DeAndra Cobb. The QBs for both teams had big days. Jeff Smoker completed 30 of 46 for 252 yards and Asad Abdul-Khaliq was 27 of 40 for 377 yards and four touchdowns. Michigan State will certainly enjoy this week off which will help them prepare for a Nov. 1 game against in-state rival Michigan. As for the Gophers, they will be on the road this week at Illinois. After getting beat the last two weeks against both Michigan schools at home, one has to wonder if they can rebound. If you need a team to rebound on, Illinois may be the one. Once again, another line that hasn't been posted. This is due to the questionable status of Illinois' starting QB. I think this is the most difficult game to predict in the Big Ten at this time.
Michigan has shown troubles getting up after big, emotional games. Back in September, they were supposed to blow out Indiana. But an emotional loss to Oregon the week before helped the Indiana game be much closer than most folks thought it would be. Two weeks ago Michigan had an emotional comeback win over Minnesota. This time they did what they were supposed to do: got a big win over Illinois, 56-14. The big gun for the Wolverines was RB Chris Perry, who ran for 3 touchdowns and 140 yards. Perry is the seventh RB in Michigan history to run for more than 3,000 yards in his career. Illinois, which has lost its Big Ten games by an average of 32 points, has dropped six-straight and has the worst record since coach Ron Turner's first year in 1997. It was simply a long day for Illinois as they were behind 14-0 at the half with a meager 13 first downs. Michigan will be home this week against Purdue. With one loss in the conference already, this is a must win if the Wolverines have any real hopes of claiming the Big Ten title. As I look at the line here, the oddsmakers have installed a perfect number at 5 ½. Purdue is playing very well and has revenge in mind as it was beaten 23-21 last year. I think this will be one of the top games in the Big Ten this year. It should be real tight.
As I look at the Iowa/Ohio State game, one could attribute the lack of offense for both clubs to the stingy defenses on the other side of the field. That's the way it looked Saturday as Ohio State beat Iowa, 19-10, at home. As I stated at the start of the season, and will continue to state until they give me a reason to believe otherwise, these are the most overrated clubs in the Big Ten. The Buckeyes rushed for 56 yards on 42 attempts and Iowa didn't do much better with 66 yards on 40 attempts. In fact, Iowa had more total yards than the Buckeyes. However, it was turnovers that sealed their fate. The Hawkeyes had a good chance to tie the game but, with 3:03 left in the game, center Eric Rothwell snapped the ball over QB Nathan Chandler and it went through the end zone for a safety. That miscue gave Ohio State a nine-point lead and the win. Iowa will be at home this week against a rested Penn State team. The Nittany Lions are the most mysterious team in the Big Ten. With last week's rest, one has to wonder if Joe Paterno will put together a great game plan. The oddsmakers have made Iowa a 10 1/2 -point favorite. At this point I would have to take a good look at the Nittany Lions with a week worth of rest. Ohio State is a 20 ½-point favorite on the road at Indiana. The Hoosiers are another team that has had a week off. This is one game - even with Indiana being one of the worst teams in the Big Ten - where a week off could make a difference. Ohio State has trouble scoring and, at this point, I would have to take a good look at the underdog at home.