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Friday, October 2, 2009
Big Ten mailblog

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com


Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg


Putting the work week to bed.

Z from Chicago writes: Adam, After watching the Ohio State game, I think that the number one problem at Illinois is the play calling. The talent is there, but the play calling never exposes it. [Arrelious] Benn is a playmaker, at some point you need to send him deep and let him make the plays that he's capable of making. They did that once against OSU right before the half and pass interference was called. Why they didn't try that again is beyond me. Also, Hoomanawanui is not being involved enough in the passing game. I know conditions were tough but I think a six year old could teach a defense to stop that stupid option play they seem to run every other down. I was wondering if you have been noticing the same things I have and what you think needs to happen for Illinois to beat Penn State and turn their season around.

Adam Rittenberg: Play-calling is a popular excuse among fans when their team struggles, but you make some good points here, Z. It seems like the vertical passing attack that defined Illinois' offense for much of last season has disappeared this year. With so many weapons to stretch the field, it has been surprising to see new offensive coordinator Mike Schultz focus more on the short routes. As my former colleague Lindsey Willhite writes this week, maybe Juice Williams needs to get back to being the thrower we saw in 2006, 2006 and part of 2007 and attack down the field. Also, I agree it's a problem with Michael Hoomanawanui only has six receptions through three games. He's too talented of a tight end not to be featured more. Illinois must go right at Penn State's untested secondary and find ways to give Williams enough time for the longer throws.


The Don Gonzo from Chicago writes: Why can't Mark Dantonio make decisions. Ray, Caper, and Winston listed as starters. This extreme lack of decisiveness is going to destroy this team and the season. I can't believe there is an "OR" in between Cousins and Nichol, when Nichol hasn't started a game yet! I wonder how long he takes to choose between paper or plastic? I bet he puts paper in the plastic. Flippin' Flip!

Adam Rittenberg: The indecisiveness in East Lansing is starting to be a problem, Don Gonzo (love typing that, btw). It's one thing to see what you have at quarterback or running back, but you can do that in spring ball and camp. The offense lacks a true identity right now. I realize both Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol are young players, but you can't worry so much about the future right now. Pick one and play him throughout an entire game. As for the running backs, you're also dealing with young players. It's a little easier to rotate two or three, but Michigan State needs decide what it wants to be on offense and who will lead the way.


Mark from Minneapolis writes: Hey Adam, love your work. Couple of questions for you. 1.) How is Penn St. still ranked in front of Iowa in the coaches poll and 2.) What do you think Iowa will do NEXT season with three great running backs coming back. I know its a good problem to have, but do you see Kirk going will all three?

Adam Rittenberg: It's a joke that Penn State remains ahead of Iowa in the Coaches Poll. I'm not sure if it's the coaches being loyal to Joe Paterno or being reluctant to move Penn State down, but Iowa has clearly been the more impressive team this season. That said, I'd echo Kirk Ferentz and say that September/early October rankings don't mean much. If Iowa keeps winning, the polls will reflect it. As for the running backs, Robinson looks like a guy who could end up as a featured back. Then again, so could Jewel Hampton. I would say Robinson and Hampton will compete for the top spot, and Brandon Wegher will be used from time to time.


Doug from Indianapolis writes: Which calls has michigan benefited from that other teams have not benefited from exactly? Show the proof where michigan has won a game based upon getting more calls in their behalf. regarding their schedule, how has it exactly been "set up well" to aid their record? is it any worse than penn states or anyone else that has scheduled "warm-up" games...like notre dame? I say that they have persevered through all the termoil football and non-football related items...don't you?

Adam Rittenberg: Totally agree on your last point, Doug. Michigan has shown a tremendous amount of poise, perseverance and maturity in fighting through the preseason turmoil. You're right that a lot of teams benefit from favorable calls, and Michigan is certainly one of them. The interception call last week could have easily been ruled as a simultaneous possession on the field, and they probably wouldn't have had enough video evidence to overturn it. Seeing all the evidence now, I think they got it right on the field, but it could have gone the other way. The calls haven't decided the game, but Michigan has been fortunate. Even Donovan Warren admitted it to me this week. And that's OK! You need a bit of good luck to win games. The schedule has also been favorable, and that's OK, too. We'll see if it has prepared Michigan to win tougher games. Penn State's slate certainly didn't help the Lions against Iowa.


Ted from Kisumu, Kenya, writes: Adam,What would it take to get you to write a weekly blurb with your last week's game projections, coupled with the results of those games, and maybe even next week's projections? It would be fun to see the outcomes -- and we won't think less of you if you don't always project correctly.Currently living in East Africa, looking for all of the Big Ten (Michigan) football information I can get.Thanks for your consideration.

Adam Rittenberg: Ted, I did a picks recap last year, and I'll try to start doing one every week. It's tough with all the news, features and other demands on my time, but I'll try to fit one in on Tuesday or Wednesday afternoon. Anything for my readers in Kenya!


Andy from Washington writes: I'm afraid I'm jinxing the Hawkeyes by writing this, but do you really think Arkansas State is going to be the team to score the first rushing touchdown against Iowa since last year's Penn State game? Otherwise, thanks for the blog and keep up the good work.

Adam Rittenberg: Iowa's streak of not allowing a rushing touchdown is really amazing, when you think about it. Arkansas State has a pretty good back in Reggie Arnold, who ties for the national lead in scoring (14 ppg). He may or may not find the end zone Saturday, but Iowa could come out a little slow after the big win last week. Should be interesting to watch.