Games should be decided on the field. No matter who we are and what team we root for, I think we can at least agree on that much. However, it seldom plays out that way entirely. Games are decided as much by availability as they are by talent and scheme in too many situations.
As the Big Ten Conference schedule gets going with some key matchups, it may seem like they have been decided long ago. There are medical redshirts who could have been on the field. There are missed practices and lost depth. It all counts, even if it’s hard to put it into direct context. Let’s look around the Big Ten at the injuries that could affect this week and beyond:
Corey Clement (sprained ankle), RB, Wisconsin
The Wisconsin medical and coaching staff made a value judgment on Saturday. Corey Clement was injured enough not to play, and by not playing they thought they could have him back for Michigan State. The Badgers had just enough to bat Georgia State, but the Spartans will be a tougher test. Clement will still be limited, so he’ll split time with Dare Ogunbowale. The question is how much, especially given the depth issues that the team developed in his absence. Everyone will be watching practice to see if Clement has his stability and burst back, or whether Ogunbowale will have to step up again.
Bradrick Shaw (sprained shoulder)/Taiwan Deal (sprained ankle), RBs, Wisconsin
Here’s why Clement’s return is so key — there’s simply no depth behind him now. With Clement out, both Shaw and Deal were exposed and didn’t hold up. For all the skills that players at this level have to have, the one that coaches know least about (and regularly undervalue) is durability. Football is a game of trauma, but some of those traumas are fatigue and a wear-down effect. Take one hit? Sure, but 10? It can lead to a sore shoulder or it can lead to taking a wrong step, rolling the ankle. That’s what happened here, and Wisconsin has to hope they can get some or all of these runners healthy before the Michigan State game.
Jourdan Lewis (back), CB, Michigan
The Wolverines don’t say much about their injuries, so the specifics on Jourdan Lewis’ back injuries are very nonspecific. The symptoms and the time missed match up with something muscular rather than something structural, like a herniated disk or some sort of nerve impingement. Sometimes, treating those are even harder since there’s not a clear root cause. Instead, the medical staff is left treating symptoms which can often go right back to 10 once the offending motion is made again. Lewis’ progress has been slow and steady, but we’ll assume the top-notch Michigan staff has him at a point where they’re confident he can now shift to on-field work. He won’t be ready for the Penn State matchup, but getting the All-American back for a large portion of the season has to be a plus.
C.J. Beathard (knee), QB, Iowa
I’m going to ask you to think back beyond Iowa’s stunning defeat at the hands of North Dakota State and think about the injuries that quarterback C.J. Beathard has dealt with. He’s still not 100 percent after a sprained knee, which could have made his lateral motion a bit slower and put him in position for some of the big hits he took Saturday. He had a sports hernia surgery, which he’s had time to recover from, but maybe took a bit of speed away for those rollouts, leaving him hanging in the pocket just a beat longer. (Remember, the “hip” injury that was slowing him at the end of last season was the sports hernia.) Add in the hits he took and Beathard’s bad day becomes an effect, not a cause. NFL scouts as well as Hawkeyes fans will be curious to see how durable Beathard is and how he reacts to the tough loss.