Monday, October 31, 2011
Weekend rewind: Big Ten
By Brian Bennett
What a crazy weekend in the Big Ten. It's worth a second look.
Team of the week: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers made an emphatic statement with their 24-3 pasting of Michigan State in Lincoln. They now control their own destiny in the Legends Division race and are the league's highest-ranked team. If they can keep playing defense like they did Saturday, look out. Honorable mention to Ohio State and Minnesota.
Braxton Miller and Ohio State pulled out a thrilling win against Wisconsin.
Game of the week: Ohio State 33, Wisconsin 29. For the second straight week, Wisconsin was involved in a thriller. For the second straight week, the Badgers didn't like the outcome. The Buckeyes, who had only three points at halftime, rallied for 30 points in the final two quarters, including the game-winning pass with 20 seconds to go. That overshadowed, for the second straight week, what had been an excellent fourth-quarter comeback by Wisconsin, which trailed 26-14 with 4:39 left but took a 29-26 lead a little more than three minutes later.
For the second straight week, Bret Bielema committed the sin that gets you beat in video-game football: scoring with too much time left. On Saturday, the Badgers left 1:18 on the clock for Ohio State, a week after giving Michigan State 1:26 to get in position for the Hail Mary. Wisconsin needs to work on taking a knee in the red zone late in games. Kidding, of course, but if Badgers fans can't laugh, they'll probably cry.
Biggest play: Braxton Miller's 40-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith for the win against Wisconsin, obviously. The true freshman somehow had the presence of mind in that situation to keep his eyes downfield while scrambling and to let the heave go just before he crossed the line of scrimmage. The Badgers' coverage broke down to leave Smith ridiculously open in the end zone, but the defense had to react to Miller's running ability. Amazingly, in the previous win against Illinois, Miller had completed only one pass for 17 yards.
Best call: Jerry Kill's decision to go for an onside kick with 8:22 left in the game against Iowa. Minnesota had just scored to cut the lead to 21-16, and Kill thought his defense needed a break. What made the call even gutsier was that walk-on kicker Jordan Wettstein was in the game in place of injured regular kicker Chris Hawthorne. But the Gophers are well-schooled on this particular play."I actually wrote a paper about how we teach it," Kill said after the game. "We've been doing that particular onside kick for 13 years. We've practiced it every day since I got here."
The Gophers gave no indication before the kick that they were going for the onside try, and Wettstein executed it perfectly. Kim Royston recovered and Minnesota went in for the winning score to notch its first Big Ten victory. Iowa was not prepared for the trickery, even though the Gophers had nothing to lose. Hawkeyes coach Kirk Ferentz called Kill's gamble "not totally surprising," yet he didn't think it was worth putting his hands team in the game at that time. In large part because of that play, the Gophers had their hands on Floyd of Rosedale after the game.
Big Man on Campus (Offense): Northwestern tight end Drake Dunsmore. He set a school record with four touchdown catchesagainst Indiana, finishing with a total of seven catches and 112 yards. Plus, Drake Dunsmore is a fun name to say. Special shoutouts to Rex Burkhead and Braxton Miller for their performances as well.
Big Man on Campus (Defense): Penn State linebacker Gerald Hodges. He earns his second straight player of the week award after recording 19 tackles, a sack, two pass breakups and a forced fumble against Illinois. Linebacker whew. It was a big week for big tackle numbers in the Big Ten. Wisconsin's Mike Taylor had 22 against Ohio State, and Michigan State's William Gholston recorded 15 stops while returning from suspension.
Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Minnesota's Jordan Wettstein. We already talked about the onside kick, and Wettstein also made a field goal in his first career attempt.
Worst hangover: Iowa fans aren't feeling that great right now, a fact made obvious as I listened to the Hawkeyes' postgame call-in show on the drive from Lincoln to Omaha on Saturday evening. (And the fact that the first caller was"Randy on a tractor" made it priceless). But Wisconsin gets the nod for the starring role in "The Hangover: Part II."
It's not just that the Badgers lost on a long pass in the final minute for the second straight week, though that certainly is a punch in the groin. And it's not just the little what-ifs that accompany each loss -- what if, for instance, Dan France doesn't recover that fumble for Michigan State, or Wisconsin doesn't let two punts get blocked or Miller takes one more step before releasing his throw ...
No the real downer in this situation is how well the season would have been set up for a Wisconsin title run. Clemson and Kansas State became the latest unbeatens to go down over the weekend, and the Alabama-LSU duel will reduce the number further. Oklahoma State still must play Oklahoma, while Stanford has to get past Oregon. It's quite possible that the Badgers would have been in prime position for spot in the BCS championship game had the past two games lasted only 59 minutes in regulation.
I know Halloween is a big event in Madison, but Badger backers must be feeling a little cursed this Oct. 31.
Strangest moment: Let's just go ahead and say the entire Illinois-Penn State game was just plain weird.
First, there was the freakish snow storm on Oct. 29 that turned Beaver Stadium into a whiteout without any help from the fans.
Then we had a game that was 0-0 until midway through the third quarter.
Penn State trailed 7-3 with three minutes left and had done nothing in the passing game. Matt McGloin was 5-for-22 for 40 yards at that point. Yet McGloin then completed four passes for 58 yards to lead the team on an 80-yard touchdown drive. Receiver Derek Moye, who wasn't supposed to play because of a broken foot, came into the game for the first time on the final drive. He made a catch and drew a pass interference penalty on fourth down.
Illinois tried to answer, but Derek Dimke's field goal attempt as time expired hit the right upright and bounced away, while students ran through the snow-packed stands and threw snowballs. Dimke hadn't missed a field goal all year.
It was all a little crazy, even to the man who earned his Division I record-breaking 409th win.
"To all the fans out there, thank you for sitting through that today,"Joe Paterno said."You've got to be nuts."