Big Ten thumbs up-thumbs down for Week 3
September, 21, 2009
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Kudos and criticism from Week 3 in the Big Ten.
Thumbs up, Iowa's defense -- The Hawkeyes throttled an undermanned Arizona team, holding the Wildcats to eight first downs, 253 total yards and just one offensive touchdown when the game was out of reach. Safety Tyler Sash and defensive end Adrian Clayborn led the way. Despite all the chaos on offense, Iowa's defense has been the team's constant heading into Big Ten play.
Thumbs down, Northwestern's defense -- Sherrick McManis' absence really hurt the Wildcats at Syracuse, but this unit has seen a decline in fundamentals and overall explosiveness. Northwestern controlled the line of scrimmage in most of its games last year, but the defense looked a step slow throughout a heartbreaking loss to the Orange.
Thumbs up, Eric Decker -- The rest of the country finally got a glimpse of why No. 7 is such a special player. Decker accounted for all three Minnesota touchdowns against Cal (2 receiving, 1 pass) and became the school's all-time receptions leader with his second scoring grab. He might have made the toughest catch of the college football season on his first touchdown, leaping for the ball and taking a vicious hit from Cal's Sean Cattouse.
Thumbs down, Minnesota's offensive line -- Despite the arrival of guru Tim Davis, the Gophers' front five has underperformed this season. You can't live by the motto "Pound the Rock" and average a Big Ten-worst 85.7 rush yards a game. Minnesota now ranks 109th nationally in rush offense after finishing 104th nationally last season.
Thumbs up, Indiana's secondary -- The unit took advantage of Akron backup quarterback Matt Rodgers, picking off four passes in Saturday's road win. Safety Austin Thomas collected two picks for the second time in his career, and cornerback Ray Fisher made his mark on special teams, returning the game's opening kickoff 91 yards to the end zone.
Thumbs down, Michigan State's secondary -- What had been billed as the team's deepest unit struggled for the second straight game. Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen passed for 300 yards and two touchdowns against the Spartans, and he would have had more if not for an injury to star wideout Michael Floyd. This secondary is Mark Dantonio's baby, and he needs to get it on track Saturday against Wisconsin's Scott Tolzien, who has exceeded expectations.
Thumbs up, Terrelle Pryor -- Pryor deserves some credit for playing the way he's supposed to playing and utilizing all of his natural gifts as a quarterback. The sophomore threw for a career-high 262 yards but more important, he rushed for 110 yards in a romp against Toledo. It marked the first time Pryor recorded 200 pass yards and 100 rush yards in the same game. I would anticipate we'll see many more from No. 2
Thumbs down, Purdue's defensive line -- The Boilers led the Big Ten in pass defense a year ago, but was it simply a facade that masked their inability to stop the run? They certainly struggled Saturday against Northern Illinois, which piled up 280 rush yards in a 28-21 victory. Huskies running backs Me'co Brown and Chad Spann had little trouble finding room in the Boilers defense.
Thumbs up, Carlos Brown -- Brandon Minor hasn't been healthy all year, but Brown continues to answer the bell for Michigan. The senior rushed for a career-high 187 yards and two touchdowns, including a 90-yard burst, in the Wolverines' victory against Eastern Michigan. Minor will be a factor when his ankle heals, but Brown deserves to be a big part of the Michigan run game.
Thumbs up, Evan Royster -- Despite battling the flu last week, Royster looked at his peak against Temple, rushing for 134 yards and a touchdown. Penn State needed some semblance of a run game to emerge before Iowa came to town, and Royster provided it against the Owls.
Thumbs up, Chris Borland -- I feel terrible for not picking Borland as my Big Ten Special Teams Player of the Week, so this has to suffice. The Wisconsin freshman linebacker blocked a punt and forced a fumble on another punt against Wofford. Wisconsin recovered Borland's blocked punt in the end zone for a touchdown. No wonder the Badgers' coaches were so high on this guy in training camp.
Thumbs down, Purdue's punt block unit -- Northern Illinois made an extremely gutsy call on the fake punt deep in its own territory, but Purdue simply can't let that happen. The Boilers needed to make sure they get the ball back with enough time to do some damage. Instead, Purdue ran out of time.
Thumbs up, Mike Kafka -- Kafka set a Northwestern record by opening the Syracuse game with 16 consecutive completions. He also set a team record for single-game completion percentage (83.3 percent) and caught his first career touchdown pass. Though his fourth-quarter interception proved costly, Kafka proved he's more than just a runner.