Michigan Looks To Take Out Anger On Punchless Gophers

By John Carey, October 29th, 2015

The Big Ten is home to three of the remaining undefeated teams in the country and they all find themselves in the top 10 as well. Ohio State held their spot at No. 1, while Michigan State moved up a spot to No. 6 and Iowa climbed two spots to No. 10. Michigan rounded out the top 25 teams from the B1G. The Wolverines held their No. 15 ranking after last week’s bye.

On a more somber note, Minnesota head coach Jerry Kill abruptly announced his departure from the program on Wednesday. Kill has struggled with seizures as a result of epilepsy, which has apparently worsened enough to force him off of the sideline. Defensive coordinator Tracy Claeys takes over the reigns as interim head coach for the Gophers, who are facing a very daunting stretch that includes contests with Michigan, Ohio State and Iowa in the next three weekends.

The B1G is now home to five of the 10 best scoring defenses, including Michigan and Wisconsin as first and second respectively with Ohio State (ninth), Iowa (10th), and Northwestern (20th) finishing off that list.

Four B1G teams have their bye weeks on Saturday – No. 1 Ohio State, No. 6 Michigan State, Northwestern, and Indiana. That leaves five conference games and just two ranked teams in action.

The following is a preview of each matchup with where you can watch each game (all times Eastern):

Illinois (4-3) at Penn State (6-2) – noon on ESPN2
Penn State defensive end Carl Nassib is the only player in the B1G averaging at least two tackles for loss per game this season. He also continues to lead the country in sacks and forced fumbles with 12.5 and five respectively. Illinois will need to neutralize Nassib to pull of the upset – easier said than done.

Illinois doesn’t particularly stand out in any facet statistically but the Illini can still put points on the board. They average 26.3 points per game while the Penn State defense only allows 19.2. The Illini likely will lean heavily on their passing offense as usual but the Penn State secondary is up for the test. Each unit ranks third in the conference.

Nebraska (3-5) at Purdue (1-6) – noon on ESPNU
The Huskers and Boilermakers find themselves at the bottom of the B1G West division coming into Saturday. While Purdue has had a tough time keeping up with its opponents, outside of a surprising second-half showing at Michigan State, Nebraska has lost its five games this season by an average of just 2.6 points.

Nebraska’s dual-threat quarterback, Tommy Armstrong, will look to have a big day against one of the B1G’s worst statistical defenses. Nebraska scores over 31 points per game and Purdue gives up north of 32. Armstrong could put up big numbers Saturday, as he sits at second in the conference in total yards per game and Purdue’s secondary allows 427.6 yards per game.

Rutgers (3-4) at Wisconsin (6-2) – noon on BTN
After allowing just 13 points at Illinois last Saturday, Wisconsin now has the second-best scoring defense in the country, only allowing an average of 11.1 points per game. The Badgers quietly have become one of the better teams in the B1G, with their only losses coming at the hands of No. 7 Alabama on opening weekend and undefeated No. 10 Iowa.

Rutgers’ offense will need to get back on track to leave Madison with a victory. After nearly upsetting No. 6 Michigan State three weekends ago and edging Indiana in a 55-52 shootout, the Scarlet Knights had a huge letdown against No. 1 Ohio State this past Saturday. The Buckeye defense was pitching a shutout until just 13 second left in the game. Rutgers’ star wide receiver Leonte Carroo’s success will be vital to a win on Saturday. Carroo has nine receiving touchdowns on the season, good for best in the B1G and eighth in the country.

Maryland (2-5) at No. 10 Iowa (7-0) – 3:30 p.m. on ABC/ESPN2
Iowa is one of the quietest undefeated teams from a major conference this deep into the season in a long time, and it doesn’t look like that will end anytime soon. Objectively, its toughest remaining game is likely at Indiana next week. The Hawkeyes are firmly in the driver’s seat of the B1G West, with a two-game lead in the loss column on second place Wisconsin and a head to head tiebreaker over the Badgers after their 10-6 victory in Madison on Oct. 3.

This matchup does not look good for Maryland. The Terrapins’ strength is their running game, good for third-best in the B1G with 186.7 yards per game. Iowa only allows 74.1 yard per game on the other side, that’s third-best in the country. Iowa running back Jordan Canzeri is the workhorse for the B1G’s second-best rushing attack and the Hawkeyes will lean on him to run all the way to Indianapolis for the B1G championship in December.

No. 15 Michigan (5-2) at Minnesota (4-3) – 7 p.m. on ESPN
With the Wolverines coming off of a bye they are looking to take their anger out on someone. Unfortunately for Minnesota, the last time Michigan was on the field its punter fumbled on the final play of the game only for it to be returned all the way for the game-winning touchdown by Michigan State. Clearly, the Wolverines will be very motivated to put that loss behind them.

This is a tough task for Minnesota interim head coach Claeys to take on. Kill has been one of the most respected coaches in the B1G and beloved by his players, so the Gophers will be motivated to win for him the rest of this season.

On paper, Minnesota’s offense is overwhelmingly overmatched in this game. Michigan gives up the least point per game in the country and Minnesota is the worst team in the B1G in terms of scoring offense. Don’t discount the Gophers’ internal drive to win for Coach Kill, though. Emotion is as big a factor as any in college football at times.