- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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What's up? What's down?
Michigan's defense: As amazing as it sounds, Michigan would have lost to Purdue if not for the play of its defense. It wasn't simply that the Wolverines bottled up a banged-up Purdue offense, but they limited damage after Denard Robinson and the offense committed five turnovers for the second straight game. Linebacker Obi Ezeh, defensive end Craig Roh and others stepped up as Michigan won a sloppy game.
Ohio State's second-half production: The Buckeyes have been exceptional in the second half all season, outscoring their opponents 159-46 in the final two quarters. Their latest explosion came against Penn State, as they rebounded from a lackluster first half to outscore the Nittany Lions 35-0 in the third and fourth quarters. Ohio State's offensive line imposed its will, and an opportunistic defense recorded two pick-sixes.
Northwestern's offensive line: I've criticized this group for much of the season, but it stepped up in a come-from-behind win against Iowa. Northwestern held Iowa's talented defensive line in check on two fourth-quarter scoring drives, allowing quarterback Dan Persa enough time to make some big throws. Although Iowa recorded four sacks in the game, Northwestern's offensive front held the edge when it mattered.
Wisconsin's offensive efficiency: Pretty obvious here, but you don't score 83 points without being near perfect in the critical categories. Wisconsin went 7-for-10 on third down and 10-for-10 in the red zone. It scored on its first drive for the seventh time this season and scored on its first drive after halftime for the eighth time in 10 games. The Badgers avoided a turnover for the fifth time this season.
Minnesota's red-zone offense: Finishing drives has been a major issue all season for Minnesota, which has produced just 19 touchdowns on 32 trips to the red zone. But things changed last Saturday at Illinois, as the Gophers scored touchdowns on all four of their red zone opportunities and rallied for their first Big Ten victory of 2010.
Illinois' defensive line: After some dominant performances in October, the Illini are slipping a bit up front. Illinois recorded only one sack against Minnesota and couldn't stop Gophers running back DeLeon Eskridge (3 rush TDs) near the goal line. "We’re not playing with the same intensity we’ve played the first eight ballgames," coach Ron Zook said.
Iowa's fourth-quarter poise: The Hawkeyes haven't been the same team in crunch time this season, and it shows in their 7-3 record. Fourth-quarter struggles have surfaced in all three losses, most recently at Northwestern, as quarterback Ricky Stanzi and his receivers struggled and the defense looked gassed in allowing two scoring drives. Iowa has outscored its opponents by only four points (66-62) in the fourth quarter. The Hawkeyes own a 242-88 edge in scoring in the first three quarters.
Indiana's resolve: Football is a game of response, and Indiana didn't respond to losing starting quarterback Ben Chappell to a hip injury in the second quarter. The Hoosiers melted down on both sides of the ball and couldn't record a single stop in 10 chances against the Wisconsin offense. "As a football team, we did not handle him leaving the game," Indiana coach Bill Lynch said of Chappell. "As a result, we had no offensive production."
Penn State's defensive line: The Nittany Lions' signature unit on defense has been too inconsistent this season. After a strong second half the week before against Northwestern, Penn State produced only one sack and two tackles for loss against Ohio State, which dominated the line of scrimmage and sprung running back Dan Herron for 190 rushing yards. The Lions are tied for ninth in the Big Ten in sacks with just 14 this season.
1722dAdam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett