Sunday, November 21, 2010
What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 12
By Adam Rittenberg
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.
1. Wisconsin is the Big Ten's best team: It's not merely that both Ohio State and Michigan State struggled on Saturday. Wisconsin is one of the nation's hottest teams after winning its sixth consecutive game, all but one by 13 points or more. The offense looks unstoppable as a massive line, a heady quarterback, some decent receivers and the nation's deepest group of running backs is simply steamrolling opponents. Everything has come together for the Badgers since the Michigan State loss on Oct. 2, and they will be a very dangerous team in whatever BCS bowl they go to in January.
Terrelle Pryor stepped up late in the fourth quarter as Ohio State barely beat out Iowa.
2. Terrelle Pryor can be a clutch quarterback: The Ohio State junior hasn't been great against strong competition this year, and he struggled through the first three quarters at Iowa. His second interception resulted in Iowa taking a 17-10 lead with 11:53 left. But with his back to the wall, Pryor responded and led two scoring drives in the closing minutes. His best moment came when he picked up his teammate DeVier Posey after Posey dropped a wide-open touchdown pass. On the next play, fourth-and-10 no less, Pryor scrambled for 14 yards. Pryor finished with 78 rushing yards on 15 attempts as Ohio State kept its streak of Big Ten titles alive and became the first team in league history to win 10 or more games in six consecutive seasons.
3. Special teams has saved Michigan State: Not exactly a new lesson here, but one that was reinforced Saturday against Purdue. Denicos Allen's blocked punt late in the fourth quarter allowed Michigan State to complete a furious fourth-quarter rally and keep its Rose Bowl hopes alive. Where would Michigan State be without "Little Giants," "Mousetrap" and Allen's block? Special teams has been such a big story line this season in the Big Ten, and no team has benefited more than the Spartans, who will need to play a lot better next week in State College.
4. Illinois' rushing attack is scary good: Wisconsin's stable of backs and Denard Robinson have hogged the Big Ten rushing spotlight this season, but Illinois can run the football a little bit, too. Illini junior Mikel Leshoure has been the Big Ten's most consistent back this season, and he turned in a huge performance at Wrigley Field. Leshoure set a single-game team record with 330 rush yards -- the fifth-highest total in Big Ten history -- and Illinois finished with 519 rush yards, its highest total since 1944. Illinois had 224 rush yards in the first quarter and 303 by halftime. Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has done a tremendous job with this unit, which has averaged 46.8 points in its last five games.
5. Iowa's fourth-quarter mojo is totally gone: The most surprising thing about Iowa's disappointing season is that the very quality that defined the Hawkeyes in 2009 has totally vanished. After being so clutch and winning so many close games last fall, Iowa has blown fourth-quarter leads in all three of its Big Ten losses (Wisconsin, Northwestern, Ohio State) and allowed late touchdowns in all four of its defeats. Whether it's a defense that can't finish, an offense that can't execute or issues managing the clock, Iowa can trace its shortcomings this season to the final minutes of games.