Saturday, September 22, 2012
Previewing the Big Ten afternoon games
By Adam Rittenberg
It's time for a quick look at the four Big Ten games kicking off at 3:30 p.m. ET ...
Temple (1-1) at Penn State (1-2): This should be by far the most interesting and competitive game of the afternoon four-pack. Temple has held second-half leads in each of the teams' past two meetings, and the Owls aim for their first-ever win at Beaver Stadium and their first against Penn State since 1941. Penn State looked impressive on both sides of the ball in last week's thrashing of Navy, and the Matt McGloin-Allen Robinson connection is heating up. Robinson leads the Big Ten in receptions (24) and is tied for the league lead in touchdown catches (4). Penn State is still looking for its first rushing touchdown and is dealing with some injuries at the position (Derek Day, Bill Belton).
Idaho State (1-1) at No. 25 Nebraska (2-1): The only intrigue at Memorial Stadium, besides how much Nebraska wins this game, is the return of Superman -- Huskers senior running back Rex Burkhead. After missing the past two games with a sprained knee, Burkhead gets back on the field for a tuneup before Big Ten play. It's unknown how many carries Burkhead will receive, although it doesn't make sense to overdo it in a game like this, especially with talented backs Ameer Abdullah and Imani Cross waiting in the wings. Idaho State has dropped 33 consecutive road games and 45 of its past 51. Nebraska's second- and third-stringers figure to get plenty of work against the Bengals.
South Dakota (1-1) at Northwestern (3-0): After beating three teams from three major conferences, Northwestern takes a step down in class and hosts the FCS Coyotes, who knocked off Minnesota two years ago in Minneapolis. Pat Fitzgerald isn't taking any opponent lightly and this week brought up a 2007 loss to FCS New Hampshire -- "We didn’t lose. We got pounded by them," he said -- but the coach is keeping the focus on his team and getting better. Northwestern has played well up front on both sides of the ball but needs to do a better job of finishing drives and consistently throwing the ball. South Dakota ranks last in the Missouri Valley Conference in rush defense, creating big-game opportunities for Kain Colter, Venric Mark and Mike Trumpy. After two solid performances, Northwestern faces a different test with the Coyotes' option attack.
Eastern Michigan (0-3) at No. 21 Michigan State (2-1): The Spartans offense is reeling after failing to score a touchdown on their home field for the first time since the 1991 opener. Fortunately, Andrew Maxwell, Le'Veon Bell & Co. should get well against Eastern Michigan, which hasn't stopped anyone through the first three games, surrendering more than 500 yards and more than 40 points per game. Purdue's bevy of ball-carriers ran wild on the Eagles and Bell, who had surprisingly few opportunities in the second half of last week's loss against Notre Dame, is geared up for a big afternoon. It will be interesting to see if any of the "tough decisions" Spartans coach Mark Dantonio referenced after the Notre Dame loss translate into personnel shuffling against Eastern Michigan, particularly at the wide receiver position. Eastern Michigan running backs coach Mike Hart, the former Michigan star, returns to Spartan Stadium for the first time since uttering his infamous "little brother" quote in 2007.