Quick hits on the early Big Ten games
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
All the fantastic finishes must have been used up last week. A surprise at the Metrodome.
The big questions for the Buckeyes surrounded Terrelle Pryor and an offense that didn't have a clear identity through the first nine games. Pryor had an emphatic response today at Ryan Field, and the Buckeyes matched their season high with 45 points. Although he was facing inferior athletes, Pryor showed why he's so special, keeping plays alive and hitting shots down the field. He threw three touchdowns and no interceptions, and running back Chris Wells had a big day, keyed by a 55-yard scoring run in the second quarter. It's amazing to think this game was tied at 7-7 after a quarter.
Northwestern should be glad it doesn't have to face Ohio State for the next two years. Ever since upsetting the Buckeyes in 2004, the Wildcats look utterly overmatched in this series. The defense was uncharacteristically bad on third-and-long situations, allowing Pryor to keep drives alive. If Northwestern had done a better job getting off the field, this could have been closer. Northwestern went too conservative on offense with Mike Kafka and will need to open things up the next two weeks, whether or not C.J. Bacher returns at starting quarterback.
A bowl game is out of the picture for the Wolverines, but they took a nice step today on the road. People forget that Michigan's defense carried this team through its first four games before falling off significantly. Today, the Wolverines regained their edge on the defensive side and shut down a Minnesota offense that looked lost after star wide receiver Eric Decker reinjured his ankle. Quarterback Nick Sheridan avoided a major mistake, the run game got going and kicker K.C. Lopata had a big day (five field goals). Michigan has never lost a game at the Metrodome, which won't be Minnesota's home the next time the teams meet in Minneapolis.
Despite all the good Tim Brewster has done this season, Minnesota is still an emotionally fragile team. The Gophers couldn't avoid a hangover from last week's last-minute loss to Northwestern and put up only 116 total yards today. Brewster is right. This won't be a rivalry until Minnesota proves it can win more often. If Decker is out for any length of time, things could turn ugly.
This was a Michigan State win in every sense of the world. The Spartans rarely get style points, but they continue to get the job done, especially on the defensive side. Purdue quarterback Justin Siller couldn't get much going, averaging just 2.8 yards per completion and throwing an interception that Johnny Adams returned for a touchdown. The anxiety level about Brian Hoyer likely will increase after two interceptions, but Michigan State is 9-2 and likely headed to a New Year's Day bowl game.
For the second time in coach Joe Tiller's 12-year tenure, Purdue won't be heading to a bowl game. Tiller's offense spun its wheels, as it has for much of the season. Siller couldn't beat the Spartans with his feet or find holes in the secondary.
The Big Ten's least consistent team continued its troubling win-one, lose-one pattern, falling to Western Michigan in Detroit. The circumstances around this game created some uneasiness, and Illinois once again didn't play to its potential. Quarterback Juice Williams had a dreadful day, and the offense did nothing in the first half. An Illinois team that opened the season in the top 20 nationally will need to do some work to reach a minor bowl game.
The Wisconsin rushing attack that many of us thought would show up much earlier this fall finally did some major damage. Wide receiver David Gilreath got in the mix, rushing for 168 yards and two touchdowns on eight carries. Junior P.J. Hill had a big day and Wisconsin overpowered a Hoosiers defense that continues to underachieve.
Indiana kept things close for a half, but once again, big plays proved to be the problem. Gilreath's 90-yard touchdown run opened things up and Wisconsin exploded for 31 second-half points. The Hoosiers had five different players attempt a pass. That looks like a team with very little identity on offense. The loss eliminates Indiana from bowl contention.
BIG TEN SCOREBOARD
Final Iowa 24 Pittsburgh 20 Final Eastern Michigan 14 11 Michigan State 73 Final Western Illinois 7 Northwestern 24 Final Southern Illinois 13 Purdue 35 Final Bowling Green 17 19 Wisconsin 68 Final Maryland 34 Syracuse 20 Final Utah 26 Michigan 10 Final Rutgers 31 Navy 24 Final Massachusetts 7 Penn State 48 Final San Jose State 7 Minnesota 24 Final Texas State 35 Illinois 42 Final Indiana 31 18 Missouri 27 Final Miami (FL) 31 24 Nebraska 41