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Saturday, October 9, 2010
Thoughts on the early Big Ten games

By Adam Rittenberg

The first set of Big Ten games are in the books, and here are my quick thoughts:

Illinois 33, Penn State 13: Wow. I'll admit I didn't have the guts to pick Illinois today, even though I thought the Illini were capable of knocking off Penn State in Happy Valley for the first time in team history. But few could see something like this going down in JoePa's town. Illinois is undoubtedly better than we thought entering the season, and Penn State is undoubtedly worse. Ron Zook's team executed extremely well on both sides of the ball and overcame two special-teams turnovers that Penn State couldn't convert into touchdowns. Freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase picked apart a banged-up Nittany Lions defense, completing 15 of 19 passes for 151 yards and a score, and running back Mikel Leshoure continued his strong season with 119 rush yards. Penn State had too many injuries on defense to overcome, but the offense continues to be a total mess for Joe Paterno. Freshman Rob Bolden seems to be regressing, and an underachieving offensive line couldn't generate any room for the running backs. I worried that Penn State had a leadership issue entering the season, and it's showing up. The Lions are a rudder-less ship right now.

Wisconsin 41, Minnesota 23: The Badgers needed a strong response after a poor performance in East Lansing, and aside from the second quarter, they delivered it. Wisconsin produced a complete offensive performance as Scott Tolzien displayed tremendous accuracy in the pocket (17-of-23), tight end Lance Kendricks continued to look like the John Mackey Award winner and running backs John Clay and James White both eclipsed 100 rushing yards. There's no reason the Badgers can't be dominant on offense all the time, and they have to feel better about themselves heading into next week's showdown with No. 2 Ohio State. Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber threw three touchdown passes in his final chance to hoist Paul Bunyan's Axe, but he got little help from a defense that surrendered 30 first downs and 473 total yards. The run game never got going after showing a spark last week against Northwestern. It'll be a long bus ride home for Tim Brewster's crew, and at 1-5, the final six weeks of the season could resemble a slow death march.

Ohio State 38, Indiana 10: Jim Tressel called off the dogs and Indiana scored a garbage-time touchdown, but make no mistake: This was an extremely impressive performance for a Buckeyes team needing style points after last week. While Ohio State's 24-13 win against Illinois looks a lot better today after what the Illini did in Happy Valley, the Buckeyes helped themselves by torching Ben Chappell and Indiana. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor dissected the Hoosiers' secondary, tossing touchdown passes to Dane Sanzenbacher, DeVier Posey and Brandon Saine, who looks more and more like a weapon at receiver instead of running back. Ohio State ran the ball decently, but it didn't need to with all of the holes in IU's pass defense. Indiana couldn't afford turnovers and Chappell had two of them, as Buckeyes linebackers Ross Homan and Brian Rolle teamed up on an interception. The Hoosiers missed running back Darius Willis (groin) and became one-dimensional, but their problems on defense didn't give them a chance.