Wednesday, November 23, 2011
Big Ten stock report: Week 13
By Brian Bennett
Turkey stock is boiling over.
Ryan Shazier: Stepping in for the injured Andrew Sweat, Ohio State's freshman linebacker made 15 tackles against Penn State in his starting debut. "I doubt if there's any linebackers that we have that get there a whole lot quicker," Buckeyes defensive coordinator Jim Heacock said. "He has instincts that are phenomenal. ... He's going to be an unbelievable linebacker at Ohio State. There's no question about that."
Pat Fitzgerald has the Northwestern defense playing much better in recent weeks.
Northwestern's defense: The Wildcats haven't exactly morphed into the Monsters of the Midway, but their defensive improvement is worth noting the past three games. They've held all three opponents to three points or fewer in one half of each game, and their passing defense has allowed just 182.7 yards per game in that span after getting torched for most of the season. "It starts with the guys' attitudes," head coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "They've really come to work, they've really come together every day and bonded tighter as we've moved forward. We went through some growing pains with some inexperienced players in October, but to the young men's credit, they stayed the course. We are playing our best defense of the year right now."
Curtis Drake and Bill Belton: The two Penn State speedsters led the Wildcat formation that surprised Ohio State and proved key to last week's 20-14 victory in Columbus. Drake has overcome serious leg injuries to become a factor, while the freshman Belton showed off his considerable skills for the first time on such a big stage. "I think he'll be a multi-dimensional guy for us," interim head coach Tom Bradley said of Belton. "He's a guy who will have a lot of tags to him. He's somebody who is just scratching the surface of some of things he may be able to do."
Mike Daniels: The Iowa defensive tackle had eight tackles, including four tackles for loss and two sacks last week at Purdue, giving the Hawkeyes a much-needed disruptive presence up front. "Mike's been nicked up a lot this year, unfortunately, and I think it affected his performance," Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz said. "Last week in practice was probably the first week in quite some time where he felt 100 percent from start to finish, and it showed up on the field."
Michigan's third-down defense: Nebraska converted just 3-of-13 third downs last week in Ann Arbor. Opponents are converting just 35.6 percent of their third downs against the Wolverines, who have been great in short-yardage situations most of the season. Credit the defensive line, which has been the team's strength. "There's a sign in our defensive room that says, 'One yard is all we need to stop somebody,'" defensive end Ryan Van Bergen said. "We feel very confident in our goal-line and short-yardage game."
Ohio State's starts: Are the Buckeyes aware what time their games start? For the third straight time last week, they fell behind 10-0 in the first half. They lost the past two of those games, to Purdue and Penn State, and a better start could have changed the outcome. "We have to make sure we're starting fast," defensive lineman John Simon said. "Once we get situated and make our adjustments, we're playing great defense. But we need to come out of the gate fast and make some plays early."
Nebraska's special teams: It was a tough few days for a unit that usually excels. The Huskers fumbled two kickoff returns, had a blocked punt and gave up a successful fake field goal at Michigan. Then Brett Maher was snubbed for finalist honors on both the Lou Groza and Ray Guy awards despite his outstanding season. Way to kick a kicking game when it's down.
Illinois ball security: The Illini committed four turnovers last week against Wisconsin, continuing a troubling trend. During their five-game losing streak, thy have given the ball away 15 times. Illinois is tied for 111th in the FBS with turnovers lost with 26 and is 97th in turnover margin, one year after being plus-eight in that department.
Purdue's third quarters: Maybe the Boilers should just stay on the field at halftime. They haven't scored a point in the third quarter since Oct. 15 versus Penn State, an improbable five-game streak. Danny Hope joked last week that his halftime speeches must be really bad, and that was before another scoreless third quarter against Iowa.