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Big Ten thumbs up-thumbs down for Week 4

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'm going to limit this to 10 thumbs (five up, five down) a week.

Here are your kudos and critiques.

Thumbs up, Iowa's defensive front seven -- Further proving that defense and special teams wins on the road, Iowa received tremendous production from its four down linemen and three linebackers. From Broderick Binns' sack and safety to Adrian Clayborn's punt block and touchdown return to Pat Angerer's interception and forced fumble, this group carried Iowa to a huge road win.

Thumbs down, Michigan State's defensive front seven -- I've given the Spartans secondary a lot of heat, and justifiably so, but aside from linebacker Greg Jones, the front seven has been very disappointing. When you play Wisconsin, you have to cover tight end Garrett Graham in the red zone, and Michigan State failed to do so. Wisconsin also piled up 193 rush yards against the Spartans, who failed to record a sack.

Thumbs up, Jim Heacock and Norm Parker -- The two veteran defensive coordinators continue to get it done for Ohio State and Iowa. Both defenses have improved each week, and Ohio State posted back-to-back shutouts for the first time since 1996. Despite the inconsistency over the years with both offenses, Heacock and Parker almost always produce solid defensive units.

Thumbs down, Northwestern's coaching staff -- When returning starters regress and veteran players struggle fundamentally, the blame has to fall somewhere. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald sounded justifiably shocked at his defense's poor tackling against Minnesota. It is stunning to see a unit that returned eight starters struggle so much, but it has been the case for three weeks. Clearly, something isn't carrying over from the practice field to Saturdays, and the coaches need to get it fixed real fast.

Thumbs up, Minnesota's offensive line -- The Gophers manhandled Northwestern up front and finally sparked their rushing attack behind Duane Bennett (3 TDs). Hopes are high for this group under line guru Tim Davis, and if the linemen build off of Saturday's performance, Minnesota will be in good shape on offense.

Thumbs down, Penn State's offensive line -- After battling inconsistency against inferior opponents, the Nittany Lions showed their obvious problems up front against Iowa. Joe Paterno shuffled a few players around, but the line had no answer for Binns, Clayborn, Karl Klug and Christian Ballard. You'd have to think the group will jell over time, but it needs to happen fast.

Thumbs up, Scott Tolzien and Tate Forcier -- Tolzien has been a big surprise for Wisconsin through the first four games, tossing four touchdown passes in the win against Michigan State. As for Forcier, Michigan would be 2-2 and in major trouble right now if not for his late-game heroics. His touchdown pass to Martavious Odoms despite a bum throwing shoulder showed tremendous toughness.

Thumbs down, Juice Williams and Daryll Clark -- Two of the league's most experienced quarterbacks didn't perform like it in losses. Williams continued his strange career arc with a subpar performance against Ohio State, leaving major questions about an Illinois team that has scored one touchdown in two games against FBS teams. Clark started strong but faded fast against Iowa, throwing three interceptions.

Thumbs up, Indiana's resiliency -- I gained a lot of respect for Indiana after watching the way Indiana battled Michigan throughout Saturday's game. The Hoosiers fell short in the end, but they didn't look like a team everyone picked to finish last in the Big Ten before the season. Running back Darius Willis looks like a star.

Thumbs down, Purdue's lack of discipline -- The little things tend to stand out in close losses, and Purdue was flagged for 13 penalties in Saturday's 24-21 defeat to Notre Dame. Head coach Danny Hope can defend his timeout strategy in the final minute, but you can't say much about all those flags on the field.