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BT Blast: The Battle For Michigan

Welcome to Big Ten Blast!

Michigan's Denard Robinson and MSU's Andrew Maxwell will collide on Saturday

This will be a regular weekly column where we will provide some news and notes from around the conference.

This week brings a pair of huge Legends Division match-ups as Nebraska visits Northwestern and Michigan hosts Michigan State. Two of the conference’s hottest teams collide as Penn State visits Iowa in a crossover game. Also, Wisconsin hosts border rival Minnesota and Ohio State welcomes in Purdue.

Indiana wraps up nonconference play by visiting Navy. Illinois is idle this week.

Below, we look at each of these match-ups. Here goes this week’s Big Ten Blast:

Michigan (23) at Michigan State

Michigan (4-2, 2-0) will try and stop a four-year losing streak at the hands of instate rival Michigan State (4-3, 1-2) when they meet in Ann Arbor. The teams play each year for the Paul Bunyan Trophy.

The Spartans may be struggling now after losing at home to Iowa in double overtime (19-16). But UM coach Brady Hoke knows MSU has done a good job of defending the Wolverines and QB Denard Robinson the last two years.

“We are who we are,” Hoke said. “As far as trying to get him some carries, they have done a tremendous job. They are playing great defense. That isn’t surprising. They are physical at the line of scrimmage and their team defense is really good. We have to stay with what we know and what we believe will be most successful for us.

“It’s a great rivalry game instate. It’s a championship game in the conference and in our state.”

After going undefeated at home the last two years, MSU has dropped home games to Notre Dame, Ohio State and Iowa already this year. That puts the Spartans in a must-win situation as they head down to Michigan.

“The main thing we can’t do is divide the team and say it’s on one side or the other side,” said MSU coach Mark Dantonio. “The defense has had a chance to win some games. We had four interceptions that were tipped or dropped on Saturday (against Iowa). We have to find a way to close out the game.

“If we do that, we win the game. On the offensive side of the ball, obviously, we have to score more points.”

Dantonio talked about the challenge of trying to contain a threat like Robinson.

“When you face a quarterback like Denard Robinson or Braxton Miller, your focus has to be there,” he said. “They have some called runs that are conceptually that are well tied together that allow them to break out. Then, you also have to be able to stop their base throws.”

Click here for more MSU coverage from Spartan Tailgate.

After the win over Illinois, Michigan moved up two spots in the AP poll to No. 23 this week. Click here for more coverage of Michigan from Wolverine 247.

Penn State at Iowa

Iowa (4-2, 2-0) is sky high after its road win at Michigan State. But the Hawkeyes will face a tough challenge with Penn State (4-2, 2-0) visiting Iowa City. The Nittany Lions will come in off a bye week.

Iowa lost bullish RB Mark Weisman to an ankle injury late in the win at MSU. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz updated his status.

“He’s got a sprained ankle,” Ferentz said. “The MRIs were encouraging. We’ll see where we’re at. You’re asking a guy to play a position that is demanding on the lower body. We’ll have to see if he can do anything in practice. Even if he can play, I don’t know how effective he could be.”

If Weisman can’t go, Jordan Canzeri could fill in for him.

“He’s one of our last guys standing,” Ferentz said, almost joking about the revolving door he’s had at that running back spot. “Right now, if you can stand on both feet and learn the plays, you have a good chance of being in there.”

Amazingly, Iowa QB James Vandenberg has played six games but only has two touchdown passes.

“We will continue to try and get the passing game going,” Ferentz said. “Our passing game was pretty ineffective the first two games. It was pretty good for the next three games. On Saturday, we were in a tough defensive game (at MSU).”

Penn State comes off a bye week. The Lions had won their last four games going into the open week with the offense coming alive during that stretch.

“There has been improvement,” said PSU coach Bill O’Brien. “I’m not surprised. The reason why there is improvement is the players and coaching staff have worked extremely hard at it. We are only halfway through the season, so hopefully that improvement can continue.”

QB Matt McGloin has been the trigger man for Penn State, which is averaging a respectable 251.8 yards passing per game. McGloin has thrown for 1,499 yards and 12 touchdowns in six games.

“Matt is a guy who has worked extremely hard to learn the offense,” O’Brien said. “He has worked extremely hard to learn the offense. He has worked on his mechanics. He has shown improvement each week. He has shown good poise and leadership. Now is the time for him to continue to do that.

“He knows we are only halfway through. He knows he will have to play well for us to continue to improve.”

Click here for coverage of Iowa athletics from Voice of The Hawkeyes.

Click here for more coverage of Penn State from Lions 247.

Nebraska at Northwestern

Northwestern (6-1, 2-1) will welcome in Nebraska (4-2, 1-1) in a key Legends Division match-up. Last year, the Wildcats stunned the Huskers by handing them a 28-25 defeat in Lincoln.

Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald was asked about Kain Colter, who reps at quarterback, running back and wide receiver for the Wildcats.

“He’s a bright young man,” Fitzgerald said. “He is a pre-med major here at Northwestern. His talents on the field speak for themselves. He’s the full package as a young man. He’s a terrific young man to work with every day.”

The Wildcats have also benefitted from the emergence of speedy running back Venric Mark. Mark has solidified the running back position, which has been a revolving door since Tyrell Sutton left in 2008. This year, Mark has 792 yards and eight touchdowns.

“We weren’t quite sure what position we were going to start him out at,” Fitzgerald said. “As you can see, we were wrong to start him out at wide receiver. He has been so dynamic for us this year. Hindsight is 20/20, but we wish we had started him out in the backfield.”

Nebraska was idle last week after suffering a 63-38 loss at Ohio State on Oct. 6.

“We’re coming off the bye week,” said Nebraska coach Bo Pelini. “I think our players are eager to get back out there. It seems like a month since we’ve played. We have a heck of a challenge in front of us. We have a lot of respect for Northwestern.”

Pelini said his Huskers defense, which struggled in that OSU loss, will have its hands full with Northwestern’s attack.

“It is a well thought out offense,” Pelini said. “They use their personnel very well. They are a well coached team. A lot of that is utilizing your personnel the right way. Kain Colter is a good football player. I think they like him as a quarterback and as a receiver. He has a lot of talent and does a lot of good things.”

Pelini was asked if he will play up the revenge angle after last year’s home loss to the Wildcats.

“No, we never play up the revenge angle,” he said. “It’s about execution and about what we need to do to be a better football team. Everybody has their different motivations. But at the end of the day, it comes down to what you do between the white lines and who is going to execute to get the victory.”

Click here for more coverage from Huskers Illustrated.

Minnesota at Wisconsin

Minnesota (4-2, 0-2) will try and snap a two-game losing streak as it visits surging Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1). The Gophers dropped a 21-13 decision at home to Northwestern last Saturday.

“We’re looking forward to a tremendous challenge and a huge rivalry game for us here at Minnesota,” said UM coach Jerry Kill. “We are doing some things better. But we have to cut down on all the mistakes we’re making.”

Kill said QB MarQueis Gray suffered another injury setback in the Northwestern game.

“He is in a walking boot,” Kill said. “We’ll see if we can get him jogging a little bit. I think he is back to where he was in the off week, which was not full speed. We take two steps forward and then a couple steps backward. We’ll see what the next two or three days brings.”

Kill suffered a seizure and was hospitalized after the Northwestern game. But he was back at work on Monday.

“I’m back to work,” he said. “I am feeling fantastic.”

Wisconsin grabbed a commanding lead in the race for the Leaders Division spot in the Big Ten title game with its 38-14 win at Purdue. With Ohio State and Penn State ineligible to advance to the championship game, Wisconsin is the only eligible team in the division with a conference win so far this season.

“For us to go on the road and get a win for the first time was exciting for us,” said Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema. “Now we are excited about this rivalry game and a chance to get the Paul Bunyan Axe.

“If you get better every week, that’s what you feel good about as a player and as a coach. We made some changes and there were some things we have had to battle through.”

After a rough start to the season, RB Montee Ball made up for lost time by trampling Purdue for 247 yards rushing and three touchdowns. For the year, Ball is up to 816 yards and 11 touchdowns.

“We are excited for him to get on track,” Bielema said.

Click here for coverage of Wisconsin from Badger 247.

Purdue at Ohio State (7)

Ohio State (7-0, 3-0) will try and remain unbeaten as it hosts Purdue (3-3, 0-2). The Buckeyes come home after a 52-49 win at Indiana, while the Boilers are struggling after being blown out at home by Michigan and Wisconsin the last two weeks.

OSU QB Braxton Miller and RB Carlos Hyde have each hit the 100-yard mark in each of OSU’s last two games against Nebraska and Indiana.

“The area that is most improved is our offensive line,” said OSU coach Urban Meyer. “By the end of the spring, they were much improved. At the beginning of the spring, they were not good at all. If you want to get an offense going, you need to get your line going. They’re not playing perfect but they are doing better than they have since our staff got here.

Carlos Hyde is breaking through tackles. We’re getting him to the second level of the defense, which is the goal of the offensive line.”

Meyer has vowed to be more involved in OSU’s defensive game planning after the Buckeyes have surrendered 87 points the last two weeks in wins over Nebraska and Indiana.

“Ultimately, it’s my job to prepare a team and we are having some struggles on defense,” Meyer said. “In no way am I going to go in there and change what we’re trying to do. What I am going to do is demand four to six seconds of effort and also stress some things I do understand like leveraging the ball, which are hurting us right now.

“I’m going in there to support our staff and our players. We’re going to work on the fundamentals that have broke down a little bit. We are playing a lot of younger players. I want to support them the best that I can.”

Indiana took OSU to the 60th minute before the Buckeyes recovered an onside kick.

“It was painful to watch and you felt like you couldn’t stop it,” Meyer said. “When we recovered the final onside kick, instead of the joy of victory it was more relief that it was over.”

Purdue coach Danny Hope summed up the loss to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t play very well this past Saturday,” he said. We tackled poorly. We didn’t block well enough to establish our run game. We had some dropped balls. As a result, we did not play well enough offensively. We lost and we are very disappointed.”

The Boilers were gashed for 304 yards rushing by Michigan and a whopping 467 yards rushing by Wisconsin.

“Against Michigan and Wisconsin, we gave up a lot of rushing yards but it may have been for different reasons,” Hope said. “Denard was able to manufacture some runs and have a big day. We did not align and assign as well against Wisconsin. We made their good offense look even better.”

Ohio State moved up from eighth to seventh in the AP poll after its win over Indiana. Click here for more Ohio State coverage from Bucknuts.com.

Click here for more Purdue coverage.

Indiana at Navy

Indiana (2-4, 0-3) will try and snap a four-game losing streak as it visits Navy (3-3). IU is 0-11 in Big Ten games under second-year coach Kevin Wilson. But the Hoosiers closest conference losses in that stretch have come the last two weeks with their four-point loss at Michigan State and the three-point defeat to OSU.

“We are still trying to make some strides, but we’re still coming up short in some games,” Wilson said. “A couple weeks in a row, we’ve played hard but we’ve come up short. Now we have a tough challenge going to Navy. It’s not just their option, it’s how they put everything together.

“We need to find a way to go on the road and get a W this week. We are getting our guys to buy in. We’re hoping that guys aren’t satisfied to just play well and not get the win. The fact is, we didn’t play well. We dropped eight passes and had a punt blocked for a touchdown. That’s why we lose.”

Wilson said he went out to Air Force during the off-season to study how to stop the option offense.

“I knew Coach (Troy) Calhoun and I wanted to see the coaching points of the base vanilla defense that they play,” Wilson said. “They have a complete encyclopedia on the option. We wanted to get the alignments and the coaching points. We wanted to introduce the base concepts of option football.

“Navy starts with the option. But they do so much more than that.”

Click here for coverage of IU athletics from Inside Indiana.

Big Ten Standings

Leaders Division

Ohio State (7-0, 3-0)
Penn State (4-2, 2-0)
Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1)
Purdue (3-3, 0-2)
Indiana (2-4, 0-3)
Illinois (2-5, 0-3)

Legends Division

Iowa (4-2, 2-0)
Michigan (4-2, 2-0)
Northwestern (6-1, 2-1)
Nebraska (4-2, 1-1)
Michigan State (4-3, 1-2)
Minnesota (4-2, 0-2)

October 13 Games

Wisconsin 38, Purdue 14
Iowa 19, Michigan State 16 (2 OT)
Northwestern 21, Minnesota 13
Michigan (25) 45, Illinois 0
Ohio State (8) 52, Indiana 49
Idle: Penn State, Nebraska

Oct. 20 Games (All Times Eastern)

Minnesota at Wisconsin, noon (ESPNU)
Purdue at Ohio State, noon (ABC regional, ESPN2 outer market)
Indiana at Navy, 3:30 p.m. (CBS Sports Network)
Michigan State at Michigan, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Nebraska at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m. (ABC regional, ESPN2 outer market)
Penn State at Iowa, 8 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Idle: Illinois

Oct. 27 Games

Iowa at Northwestern, noon (ESPN2)
Indiana at Illinois, noon (Big Ten Network)
Michigan State at Wisconsin, 3:30 p.m. (ABC regional; ESPN2 outer market)
Purdue at Minnesota, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Ohio State at Penn State, 5:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Michigan at Nebraska, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)

Picks Update

On Thursday, I made my picks for Week 7.

I ended up 15-6 straight-up and 11-10 against-the-spread. For the year, I am now 133-42 SU and 81-83-1 ATS.

In Big Ten games, I was 4-1 straight-up (lost on Iowa) and 3-2 ATS. Through seven weeks, I am 51-11 straight-up and 27-27 ATS.

Stay tuned this week for Picks for Week 8 on Thursday.

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