Michigan's misery and other Big Ten thoughts
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Sorry for the brief delay. I had to get out of the Metrodome and over to the airport. The blog has been heavy on Northwestern-Minnesota today, but it's time to look at what else has happened around the league.
Despite the league's two flagship teams (Penn State and Ohio State) on bye weeks, this might have been the most entertaining Saturday of the season. All five games were decided by a touchdown or less, four in the final minutes. Great stuff.
Not to overlook the many bright spots of the day, but it's always important to recognize historical ineptitude. That's where we begin.
The collapse is complete for head coach Rich Rodriguez and Michigan, which fell to 2-7 after today's 48-42 loss. Michigan's nation-long streak of 33 consecutive bowl appearances is over, and the program is assured of its first losing season since 1967. The Wolverines' streak of 40 years without a losing season is fourth longest all-time, behind Penn State (49, 1939-87), Nebraska (42, 1962-2003) and Notre Dame (42, 1889-1932).
Purdue's third-string quarterback Justin Siller, who spent most of the season at running back, threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the game. The Boilermakers rolled up 522 yards of offense against Michigan. I still think Rodriguez will get this program on track, but embarrassment is setting in for sure.
Credit Siller and Purdue for stepping up and rallying back today. The Boilermakers likely are out of the bowl mix, but they might have found their quarterback of the future. Siller accounted for four touchdowns, and the game-winning hook-and-lateral from Greg Orton to Desmond Tardy was pretty sweet. Joe Tiller can still call a play or two.
This was another example of how Michigan State has turned a corner behind second-year coach Mark Dantonio. The Spartans seemed on their way to a post-Michigan hangover -- they were 1-4 in games following their last six wins against the Wolverines -- and Javon Ringer did nothing against Wisconsin's defense. Dantonio admitted the team came out flat, but Michigan State showed its newfound mental toughness in the second half, erasing an 11-point deficit to win, 25-24. It helps to have a star kicker, and Brett Swenson (four field goals) certainly qualifies. Michigan State looks like a good bet for a New Year's Day bowl.
Wisconsin looked ready to take another step and salvage its season, but the fourth quarter doomed the Badgers yet again. The Badgers' rushing depth finally showed as both John Clay and P.J. Hill eclipsed 100 yards on the ground, but this defense can't finish games. Wisconsin has been outscored 66-57 in the fourth quarter this season. Next week's trip to Indiana becomes a must win for the Badgers to preserve their bowl hopes.
Speaking of must-win games, this was one for Illinois, and the Illini came through with a 27-24 victory. This team continues to be an utter mystery, but it found a way to win a sloppy game that featured six turnovers. With Juice Williams struggling and the run game nonexistent, Illinois' defense stepped up to sack Ricky Stanzi six times and limit star running back Shonn Greene. Dere Hicks' strip, scoop and score was huge and Matt Eller continued his strong season with the game-winning field goal.
The bye-week bugaboo continues for the Big Ten. Iowa's loss take the luster off next week's matchup against No. 3 Penn State, and the Hawkeyes could be scrambling for a bowl berth at 5-4. Greene continued his streak of 100-yard games, but quarterbacks need to win college football games and Stanzi came up short today. The Hawkeyes will need a huge effort from their defense and more polished play from Stanzi to hang with Penn State.
The knock on Indiana has been and always will be its defense. Today's game didn't do much to change that perception. Central Michigan torched the Hoosiers for 37 points and 522 yards, and the Chippewas didn't even have their best player available in a 37-34 win. Star quarterback Dan LeFevour sat out with a sprained ankle, but backup Brian Brunner led the charge, passing for a school-record 485 yards and four touchdowns, plus the game-winning 1-yard scoring run. Indiana linebacker Matt Mayberry did his part with four sacks, the Hoosiers defense remains far too vulnerable to deep passes.