October 22, 2009

Weekend breakdown of the Big Ten

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Indiana at Northwestern, noon
Minnesota at Ohio State, noon
Illinois at Purdue, noon
Penn State at Michigan, 3:30 p.m.
Iowa at Michigan State, 7:05 p.m.
If Penn State wants to find out how Michigan's quarterback situation might shake out, the game tape of the Wolverines' rout of Delaware State last week won't be much help.

Previous games might not shed much light, either. After suffering a concussion at Iowa and several other injuries, true freshman Tate Forcier is healthier than he has been in recent weeks, Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez said. Meanwhile, fellow freshman Denard Robinson's recent performances have earned him more playing time.

"For us, it's a rotation by feel," Rodriguez said. "Some think we're pulling one guy. In reality, we're just rotating one guy in there like we do in practice."

Forcier played only the opening possession in the 63-6 win over FCS member Delaware State, ceding most of the remainder of the first half to Robinson. Robinson also stepped in for Forcier at the end of the 30-28 loss to Iowa after the starter sustained a concussion.

All that experience has helped Robinson narrow the gap on Forcier, who was an early enrollee and participated in spring practice. Over the past two games, Robinson is 6-of-8 for 115 yards with two touchdowns and an interception after going 4-of-11 for 57 yards with two picks in the first five games.

"With Tate being here a little earlier and going through spring practice, he's got a little more of the entire playbook open to him," Rodriguez said. "Denard has done a great job each and every week getting comfortable in what we're doing and how teams are defending us and putting his eyes in the right place. Each week, we're getting more comfortable to opening things up in the passing game for Denard."

The gap between the two has closed to the point where Penn State coach Joe Paterno isn't comfortable assuming one quarterback is the passing threat and the other is the running threat. That assessment is what Rodriguez wants to hear. Though Forcier and Robinson have different strengths, he'd like both to be able to run the entire playbook.

"That one guy is the passer and another guy is the runner isn't exactly accurate because the runner can pass and the passer can run," Paterno said.

Of course, Michigan's success will start up front. Penn State is coming off a shutout of Minnesota, holding the Gophers to 37 rushing yards. Michigan's offensive line handled Iowa enough to score three rushing touchdowns, the first scored against Hawkeyes' defense in eight games.

"A lot of it goes back to our guys being sound fundamentally and then being aggressive at the point of attack and work hard to hold their blocks," Rodriguez said. "What Penn State's and Iowa's front both do, they're both very active and don't hold their blocks for long; we have to strain to hold our blocks."

KEY MATCHUP: Minnesota WR Eric Decker vs. Ohio State's secondary. The Buckeyes' run defense remains stout (Purdue rushed for only 80 yards in its shocker over Ohio State); it's the pass defense that was shaky. Keith Smith caught 12 passes for 125 yards and Aaron Valentin caught 10 passes for 97 yards and two touchdowns last week. Penn State shut out Minnesota last week, and Decker had one catch for 42 yards. Decker has only four receptions and no touchdowns the past two weeks. If the Gophers can get him the ball, Decker could pose problems for Ohio State's secondary.

PLAYERS ON THE SPOT: Indiana. Indiana recovered from a 47-7 drubbing at Virginia with a 27-14 win at home over Illinois. At 4-3, the Hoosiers need two more wins for bowl eligibility and likely have to win on the road and/or score an upset or two for at trip to the postseason. Indiana visits 4-3 Northwestern this week in the kind of game Indiana needs to get to a bowl. The loss to Virginia was one of those games, too.

NUMBERS GAME: Iowa's average computer ranking was third in the first BCS standings of the season, putting the Hawkeyes behind only Florida and Alabama. All six computers have the Hawkeyes in the top five. Iowa is ranked seventh in the Harris Interactive poll and eighth in the coaches' poll.


"From the film-grade standpoint, he probably had less minus plays than he did in the past couple weeks. Now, that's the good news. Here's the bad news. The minuses that we had were those triple minuses." - Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, on QB Terrelle Pryor, who threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles in the loss to Purdue

"I don't really know what people want from him. He's going to get better. He really can't do much worse." - Ohio State WR DeVier Posey, who actually was trying to praise Pryor

"We don't really care how we win. I mean, a win is a win. The style points and all that - we're not exactly the flashiest ballclub. Everybody knows that, so we didn't think we'd be winning any style points anyways." - Iowa QB Ricky Stanzi

"We have to go there with a confident attitude. It's not to make anybody mad or anything like that. We feel we are the better team, and we want to show we're one of the better teams in the country. We have to beat Michigan to do that." - Penn State RB Evan Royster

Etc.: Ohio State coach Jim Tressel says he has no plan to go to backup QB Joe Bauserman against Minnesota. ... Michigan athletic director Bill Martin will retire Sept. 4, 2010. Martin hired football coach Rich Rodriguez and basketball coaches John Beilein and Tommy Amaker. ... Michigan State QB Keith Nichol is recovering from a dislocated left elbow and could return against Iowa wearing a brace. ... Wisconsin freshman LB Mike Taylor, the team's leading tackler, is out for the rest of the season with a knee injury. Badgers TE Garrett Graham suffered a concussion last week against Iowa. Wisconsin is off this week. ... Michigan expects C David Molk to return against Penn State. Molk missed four games with a broken foot. RBs Brandon Minor (ankle) and Carlos Brown (concussion) also are expected to return. ... Purdue has allowed fewer than 300 yards of offense in each of its past two games, a loss to Minnesota and a victory over Ohio State. The Boilermakers allowed 412.0 yards per game through the first five games. ... Indiana DE Jammie Kirlew has at least one tackle for loss in every game this season. He has 12.5 total tackles for loss this season. ... Illinois has not named a starting quarterback for this week's game. Juice Williams and Eddie McGee have been the starters. Redshirt freshman Jacob Charest received more reps in practice this week. ... Northwestern S Brendan Smith (broken thumb) will miss his second consecutive game. S Brad Phillips (shoulder), DE Corey Wootton (knee and ankle) and CB Sherrick McManis (leg) continue to be plagued by injuries. ... Michigan State is 4-3 in night games at Spartan Stadium, but 2-0 against ranked teams. Michigan State beat No. 19 USC 27-13 in 1987 and No. 10 Notre Dame 45-23 in 1998. ... The Big Ten has nine teams with winning records, the most of any conference.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.


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