- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Four up, four down heading into Week 11.
Penn State's red zone offense: The red zone was an absolute dead zone for Penn State earlier this season, but Evan Royster and the Nittany Lions have turned things around. Penn State scored touchdowns on all four of its red zone chances against Northwestern, none bigger than Brett Brackett's leaping grab in the back of the end zone with three seconds left in the first half. Penn State is 12-for-13 in red zone scoring chances the past three weeks with 11 of those conversions being touchdowns.
Michigan's wide receivers: Denard Robinson and Tate Forcier are getting a lot of help from this group right now. Roy Roundtree recorded a team-record 246 receiving yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions against Illinois, while Junior Hemingway made several of the game's biggest plays and finished with six receptions for 104 yards and two scores. Darryl Stonum also added a touchdown catch in Michigan's historic offensive performance.
Wisconsin's linebackers and defensive backs: The Big Ten knows about star defensive end J.J. Watt, but the Badgers' back seven really distinguished itself in a come-from-behind road win against Purdue. Cornerback Antonio Fenelus earned Big Ten co-Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording a pick-six, a 48-yard fumble return and nine tackles against the Boilers. Wisconsin also got big performances from linebackers Mike Taylor and Culmer St. Jean and safety Aaron Henry, among others.
Michigan State RB Edwin Baker: Quiet since the Michigan win, "Rock" ran all over Minnesota for 179 yards and four touchdowns on 27 carries. Baker didn't have a run that went for longer than 30 yards but broke off several impressive intermediate gains against the Gophers. On a day when quarterback Kirk Cousins struggled, Baker and the offensive line picked up the slack.
Illinois' defense: The Illini forced five turnovers but did little else to stop Michigan's offense at the Big House. A unit that came in ranked 12th nationally in points allowed and 15th in yards allowed got gashed for 67 points, 676 total yards and 33 first downs. Coordinator Vic Koenning demands more from his defense, and I think he'll get it this week against Minnesota.
Northwestern's ability to close out halves: A good portion of the scoring drives Northwestern has allowed this season, both in wins and losses, have occurred right before halftime or late in the fourth quarter. It reveals a team and a coaching staff that doesn't keep the pedal down enough. Northwestern might not have lost a 21-0 lead against Penn State if it didn't allow the Lions to march 91 yards in 47 seconds right before halftime. That's inexcusable.
Minnesota's kicking game: There are problems on both offense and defense, but Minnesota's kicking game hasn't done it any favors this year. After having a punt blocked and recovered for a touchdown against Ohio State, Minnesota averaged just 32 yards per punt at Michigan State and missed its lone field goal attempt. The Gophers are 10th in the Big Ten in field goals and 11th in punting. "We have no consistency punting the ball," interim coach Jeff Horton said. "We don't have any consistency. Obviously, I don't feel comfortable kicking field goals." Ouch.
Iowa's red zone offense: The Hawkeyes made four trips to the red zone against Indiana but had to settle for three short field goals and a short missed field goal try by Michael Meyer. Fans are blaming Ken O'Keefe's play calling and the absence of running back Adam Robinson, but it comes down to execution, too. Quarterback Ricky Stanzi didn't make great throws and Iowa took back-to-back pre-snap penalties on one series to go from third-and-goal from the 7 to third-and-goal from the 17.