Wrapping up the early Big Ten games
October, 3, 2009
By Adam Rittenberg | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
What an exciting day so far in the Big Ten. I think the league gained a small degree of national respect with several extremely exciting finishes.
I've already weighed in on Michigan State's overtime win over Michigan.
Here's a snapshot of the other three contests:
Wisconsin 31, Minnesota 28: The Badgers loosened their grip on Paul Bunyan's Axe down the stretch, but they once again found a way to hang on and make big plays in the clutch. I think Wisconsin saw today that running back John Clay should be the focal point of the offense. Clay was simply dominant, rushing for 184 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries. Zach Brown can be effective, too, but Clay has to be in the game throughout the fourth quarter. Still, Wisconsin survived and improved to 5-0. With Michigan likely dropping out of the Top 25, the Badgers could enter the rankings this week. Minnesota dropped to 0-7 in trophy games under head coach Tim Brewster. The Gophers battled extremely hard and got another masterpiece from Eric Decker (140 receiving yards, 1 TD), but Adam Weber couldn't make enough clutch plays for the win. His interception on that screen pass really turned momentum.
Northwestern 27, Purdue 21: This is the type of game that could doom Purdue's season and breathe new life into Northwestern's year. Purdue completely dominated the first 20 minutes of this one, scoring three quick touchdowns against a Wildcats defense that once again had breakdowns in tackling. But then the Boilers showed why they're 1-3 (now 1-4), committing three turnovers in what seemed like a blink of an eyelash to let the Wildcats back in the game. Purdue ended up with six giveaways in the loss. The turnovers fueled Northwestern's defense, which deserves a ton of credit for keeping its poise and getting key stops down the stretch. Wildcats quarterback Mike Kafka might have lacked the silly stats of his last two starts, but he led the game-winning touchdown drive. The coaches finally let him loose in the red zone and he made plays with his feet after NU wasted chances for more points. Huge win for the Wildcats, who got tremendous special-teams play. Devastating loss for Danny Hope and the Boilers.
Iowa 24, Arkansas State 21: Iowa fans talked a lot of trash this week about how their team should be ranked higher. Well, this performance certainly won't help. The Hawkeyes did what they needed to early and took command behind two Ricky Stanzi touchdown passes. But things just seemed to get stale after the first quarter, and Arkansas State crept back in behind quarterback Corey Leonard. This time, Stanzi made his first-half blunder after halftime, as the Red Wolves returned an interception for a touchdown. Iowa's defense once again clamped down against the run, but this wasn't the convincing performance the Hawkeyes hoped for coming off the Penn State win. Not entirely unexpected. Great game for Iowa wide receiver Marvin McNutt (121 receiving yards, 2 TDs).