Thoughts on the early Big Ten games

October, 4, 2008
10/04/08
3:34
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg

I'm three-for-three in picks today -- never mind the scores -- so I'm feeling pretty good right now. That's more than we can say for Kirk Ferentz, Curtis Painter and the Indiana offense.

Time for some quick observations from the Big Ten's early games.

PENN STATE-PURDUE

Quarterback Daryll Clark and the sixth-ranked Nittany Lions survived their first road test of the season, which turned out to be tougher than expected. Big Ten road games have been a bugaboo for Penn State, which had been 12-20 since 2000 entering today, so any win is good. The offense showed some weaknesses in the red zone and in short-yardage situations, but the defense stood tall. Keep an eye on defensive end Aaron Maybin, a rising star in this league.

Purdue deserved better after executing its game plan -- to control the clock with the run game and the short pass. The Boilers defense continued to make plays in the red zone, but Curtis Painter just can't get over the hump against a good team. It will be interesting to see what happens with Painter, a multiple record holder who was pulled in the fourth quarter in favor of Joey Elliott, who led the team's only touchdown drive. So much for the Heisman campaign. The kicking game also is a major concern for Joe Tiller.

IOWA-MICHIGAN STATE

Big Ten purists had to love this game. It featured great running backs, powerful line play and strong defense. Michigan State survived thanks to a fourth-and-1 stop by linebacker Adam Decker, who raced unblocked through the Iowa line and dropped Greene for a loss. Greene had a big day (158 rush yards) and usually doesn't go down on the first hit, so kudos to Decker. The Spartans likely will be ranked heading into next week's matchup with undefeated Northwestern. Javon Ringer couldn't do much against Iowa's talented defensive line, but quarterback Brian Hoyer took an important step in the first half.

Iowa is a young team that simply doesn't know how to win. The Hawkeyes missed opportunities for the second straight week, failing to execute in Michigan State territory. With Greene and a tough defense, Iowa isn't a team you want to face later in the season. The key for the embattled Ferentz will be keeping the confidence high after a third straight loss by five points or fewer. I don't fault Ferentz for the fourth-and-1 call, especially with Greene in the backfield, but Iowa can't leave a linebacker unblocked.

INDIANA-MINNESOTA

On this week's Big Ten coaches' teleconference, Indiana coach Bill Lynch was asked if he expected an offensive shootout against Minnesota. "I've gotten to the point where any time you expect something like that, the exact opposite happens," he said. Lynch was right, and today's meeting at the Metrodome turned into a defensive struggle. Neither team could run the ball, and Minnesota's defense did a nice job containing Hoosiers do-it-all quarterback Kellen Lewis (18 rush yards).

Minnesota got over the hump in the Big Ten, and quarterback Adam Weber continued to limit mistakes. Indiana finally got a decent performance from its defense, which was on the field for more than 37 minutes. But when the offense and defense don't play well simultaneously, a team is stuck at 2-3 with a three-game slide.

I'll check back later from Camp Randall Stadium.

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