Posted on: October 18, 2011 2:00 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
WISCONSIN WILL WIN IF: The offensive line keeps doing its job. At this point, it's just not plausible that Russell Wilson will make unforced errors at quarterback, or that the Montee Ball/James White tandem won't be able to take advantage of a point of attack being dominated by blockers. Thus, if Wisconsin's blockers are able to keep up their performance from this season (and really, the last two seasons as well), the Badger offense is probably going to score at least 31 points (and possibly much more). Assuming the defense doesn't completely gag, that should be enough to seal a victory in East Lansing.
MICHIGAN STATE WILL WIN IF: Its defense can exert its will once again. Ever since the Spartans allowed 31 points to Notre Dame in that embarrassing Week 3 loss, their defense has bowed up substantially. They almost managed a shutout at Ohio State, frequently eliciting boos from the Buckeye faithful as the defensive front forced Braxton Miller from the game. The defense held Denard Robinson and Michigan to 14 points the next week, even icing the game with a pick-six in the fourth quarter. And now, it's got to solve a Badger offense that has basically done everything correctly thus far this year. So what defensive performance will we see from MSU? The one it got against Notre Dame, or against OSU?
X-FACTOR: Will Gholston's status. The MSU defense is going to need all the help it can get slowing down Wisconsin's offense, so whether stud DE Will Gholston will play is going to be hugely important. Gholston was flagged for punching Michigan OL Taylor Lewan during last week's game, and though he wasn't ejected for the foul, the Big Ten may still choose to suspend Gholston for a game, as it did with Illinois LB Jonathan Brown after Brown gave Northwestern OL Patrick Ward a "low blow" via a well-placed knee. For what it's worth, MSU is not choosing to suspend Gholston, as he remains atop the depth chart for this week's game, but until the Big Ten agrees that no suspension is needed, Gholston's status remains in doubt.
Posted on: October 3, 2011 2:20 pm
Edited on: October 3, 2011 2:25 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
Last Saturday, we lamented the fact that Illinois linebacker Jonathan Brown wasn't ejected for a blatant knee to the, shall we say, sensitive region of Northwestern lineman Patrick Ward late in the first half of what would eventually be a thrilling 38-35 victory for the Illini. Brown was at least given a personal foul penalty for that, the most personal of all fouls, and Northwestern would take the lead on the very next snap.
Still, Illinois coach Ron Zook and the Big Ten agreed that merely a flag for unsportsmanlike conduct wasn't quite sufficient, and for that Brown will not be participating in this week's game against Indiana. Here's the announcement from the Big Ten that went out Monday morning:
If anything, one game is too light of a suspension; watch the foul again, and you can see that this was a deliberate, unprovoked attack by Brown that took place outside of any in-game competition. The play was over, and Brown had no reason to so much as interact with Ward, much less make any contact with him, much much less knee him straight in the sacred area.
Posted on: October 1, 2011 4:56 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
WHY ILLINOIS WON: A.J. Jenkins was an unstoppable demon force on Saturday, catching 12 throws for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Plain and simple, Northwestern's secondary had no answer for Jenkins, and it might well be the case that some other defenses in the Big Ten won't be able to stop Jenkins either. Miscues almost cost the Illini the game on multiple occasions, though, and if it weren't for that heroic drive starting with 1:19 left in the game (a drive that was started by a 28-yard pass to Jenkins) Northwestern would have taken this game home.
WHEN ILLINOIS WON: This game wasn't settled until Illinois fell on a loose ball at the end of the game as Northwestern tried -- unsuccessfully -- to lateral its way into the end zone. Northwestern came close, as Kain Colter took one of the laterals into Illinois territory on a sprint, but Illinois' defenders prevented Northwestern from getting much further and that was that.
WHAT ILLINOIS WON: Illinois is now 5-0, having won each of its last three games by a three-point margin. This was a major test for the Illini, and they barely -- just barely -- pulled through for the victory. It's clear that A.J. Jenkins is a force to be reckoned with at wideout, and Illinois has now won games both primarily on the ground and through the air. That versatility bodes well for the future. For now, though, Illinois is 5-0 for the first time since its magical 1951 season, and the Illini can shore up bowl eligibility next week when they travel to Indiana.
WHAT NORTHWESTERN LOST: For the Wildcats, it was great to see Dan Persa back at quarterback and working his magic. Persa threw for four touchdowns on just 14 attempts, and more than that he just plain looked good. Unfortunately, Persa had to leave the game in the fourth quarter after he was tripped up on a scramble and came up hobbling. Kain Colter entered the game for Persa and drove the Wildcats to one touchdown, but he's clearly inferior to Persa. Good news for NU, though: Persa will likely be fine, and he was removed for what Pat Fitzgerald called "precautionary reasons." Still, though, this was a 50-50 game for Northwestern, and the loss means that Northwestern's darkhorse division title aspirations are likely at an end.
THAT WAS CRAZY: Nobody was ejected from today's game. That's too bad, because Illinois DB Jonathan Brown certainly deserved to be after he kneed Northwestern lineman Patrick Ward square in the, ahem, "man parts" after a play was over. As it was, Brown earned an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for the act, and Northwestern would score a go-ahead touchdown on the very next snap. There's illegal play, there's dirty play, and then there's hits (or knees) below the belt. 15 yards doesn't seem sufficient for that.