Big Ten thumbs up-thumbs down for Week 10

November, 9, 2009
11/09/09
5:00
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

Thumbs up, defensive end Cameron Heyward: I should have listed him as co-Defensive Player of the Week with Illinois' Clay Nurse, and I'm glad the league acknowledged the Buckeyes' star defensive lineman. Heyward led Ohio State with a career high 11 tackles, including three for loss and two sacks. Penn State couldn't block him at all.

Thumbs down, Penn State's offensive game plan: Few teams can beat Jim Tressel at Tressel-ball -- USC did on Sept. 12, but it's a rarity -- and Penn State definitely fell into the trap against the Buckeyes. I know Penn State's offensive line isn't great this year, but you have to get a little more creative than running into the teeth of Ohio State's defense. It was a poor approach from the offensive coaching staff in this one. The Spread HD looked like a huge dud.

Thumbs up, running back Montee Ball: Ball nearly got a helmet sticker but will settle for a thumbs up after his tremendous performance in relief of John Clay (concussion) against Indiana. The true freshman rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries against Indiana.

Thumbs down, Minnesota's game preparation: The Illinois loss falls squarely on Gophers head coach Tim Brewster and his staff as Minnesota didn't show up until the second half. After jumping on Michigan State from the get-go last week, Minnesota found itself down 28-7 at halftime and fell to an Illini team that had lost starting quarterback Juice Williams to an ankle injury. The Gophers can't afford another lapse this week against South Dakota State.

Thumbs up, cornerback Terry Hawthorne: The Illinois freshman deserves a ton of credit for the team's mini-turnaround. Last week, he tracked down Michigan's Roy Roundtree at the 1-yard line, setting up a momentum-changing goal-line stand. Hawthorne set the tone against Minnesota with a 44-yard interception return for a touchdown late in the first quarter. He finished with five tackles in the game.

Thumbs down, Iowa's offensive line: I'll definitely take heat from Hawkeye Nation for this, but I know some Iowa fans agree that this unit hasn't been nearly as dominant as it was projected to be entering the season. Losing quarterback Ricky Stanzi to an ankle injury was a huge blow, but Iowa couldn't generate a consistent rushing attack against Northwestern aside from a long Brandon Wegher touchdown called back on a questionable holding penalty. Don't get me wrong, the line hasn't been bad this season, but ask yourself this: Has it met expectations?

Thumbs up, quarterback Terrelle Pryor: Pryor notched his first signature moment as the Buckeyes starting quarterback with an efficient and extremely clean performance at Beaver Stadium. He threw two touchdown passes and no interceptions and added 50 rush yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. The sophomore knew the spotlight would be on him, and he rose to the occasion.

Thumbs down, Penn State's special teams: Conservative offensive play-calling isn't a huge surprise for a Joe Paterno squad, but Penn State's season-long problems on special teams have been truly shocking. The Lions had no answer for Ohio State punt return man Ray Small and generated nothing on their own punt returns. Special teams issues have really hurt Penn State in both of its losses.

Thumbs up, cornerback David Pender and kicker Carson Wiggs: Pender has quietly been one of the Big Ten's best cornerbacks this season, leading the league in passes defended (12). But he contributed in a different way against Michigan, recovering an onside kick in the third quarter to spark the Boilermakers' comeback against Michigan. Wiggs executed the kick to perfection for Purdue.

Thumbs down, Michigan's secondary: It's the same thing every week now, as opponents seem to attack downfield at will. Purdue completed 10 passes of 10 yards or longer and three passes of 30 yards or longer against the Wolverines, including touchdown passes of 35 and 54 yards.

And, finally ...

Thumbs up, quarterbacks Mike Kafka and Dan Persa: Iowa won't get any sympathy from Northwestern when it comes to injuries. Kafka returned from a pulled hamstring after only one week and gutted it out against a very good Iowa defense despite limited mobility. Persa was effective on runs and threw a touchdown pass before injuring his throwing hand in the second half.

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