Thoughts on the early Big Ten games
September, 12, 2009
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
It has been a very shaky start to a defining day for the Big Ten, except in Ames and State College, where both Iowa and Penn State handled their business. Iowa really made a nice statement with its win against Iowa State, but the Big Ten hasn't changed its perception one bit. Michigan State took a huge hit with the loss to Central Michigan.
Before I head to The Shoe here's a quick look at what has happened around the league:
Penn State 28, Syracuse 7 -- It wasn't the blowout many had expected from the Nittany Lions, and Syracuse clearly isn't the doormat it has been under Greg Robinson. For the second straight week, Penn State seemed to lose some steam after a strong start from quarterback Daryll Clark and running back Evan Royster. Clark had a pretty nice day with three touchdown passes and an interception, but Penn State has to be a bit concerned about its offensive line after generating only 79 rush yards against the Orange. The defensive front continues to look pretty solid, though Greg Paulus completed 14 of 20 passes in the loss.
Northwestern 27, Eastern Michigan 24 -- The Wildcats are still too prone to letdowns, and they nearly had a disastrous one against an Eastern Michigan team coming off of a 13-point home loss to Army. Northwestern appeared to be in the clear up 21-0, but very shaky tackling on defense and the inability to make big plays on offense let Eastern Michigan claw back into this one. Ironically, special teams saved Northwestern after leading to a costly turnover earlier, as Stefan Demos drilled a 49-yard field goal for the victory. Pat Fitzgerald's defense needs to get a lot tougher in a hurry.
Central Michigan 29, Michigan State 27 -- Mark Dantonio's defense really let him down in the fourth quarter, as decorated Chippewas quarterback Dan LeFevour finally led his team to a victory against a BCS team (he sat out last year's win against Indiana). This is a major blow for Michigan State, which appeared to be the Big Ten's third best team until today. Most troubling for the Spartans is the fact that their secondary, the deepest unit on the team, really struggled against LeFevour (328 pass yards, 3 TDs). It was also surprising to see Michigan State's miscues on special teams, particularly the offside penalty that allowed Central Michigan a second chance at the game-winning field goal. On the plus side, Kirk Cousins might have established himsef as the team's No. 1 quarterback.
Iowa 35, Iowa State 3 -- Sure, Iowa State is the inferior team, but Iowa usually struggles in Ames and came off a shaky performance against Northern Iowa. The Hawkeyes made a major statement today, especially on defense. They picked off Austen Arnaud four times and sparked Ricky Stanzi, who rebounded from two early interceptions to throw for four touchdowns. Most important, Iowa might have discovered its running back in freshman Brandon Wegher (101 rush yards, TD). Iowa State didn't help itself with six turnovers, but Iowa is back on track heading into a crucial stretch against Arizona and Penn State.
Wisconsin 34, Fresno State 31 (2OT) -- This game will be lumped in with the other Big Ten close calls, but you've got to give Wisconsin a lot of credit for rallying. The Badgers' overall defense was shaky. Their third-down defense was horrendous. But they found a way to come back against a very good non-BCS team in Fresno State. Wisconsin has found its quarterback in Scott Tolzien, and John Clay resurfaced as the team's top running back with a 143-yard performance. Team MVP? The kicker, Phillip Welch, who hit a crucial 57-yard field goal as well as the game-winner in double overtime.
Indiana 23, Western Michigan 19 -- I've been saying it all summer. The Hoosiers need to win with defense, and they stepped up today to bottle up Western Michigan's ground attack (22 yards). Perhaps more important, Indiana discovered its run game in the pistol formation and got a huge lift from Demetrius McCray (134 rush yards, TD). Indiana was in control for most of the way and came up with some big plays near its own goal line at the end to hold off the Broncos. A big win for Bill Lynch, who needs them.