- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let's look back before a very quick look ahead.
Team of the Week: Michigan State. The Spartans put the final stamp on a special season by winning at Penn State for the first time since 1965. The victory gave Michigan State a share of the Big Ten championship for the first time since 1990. Michigan State took control of the game early behind quarterback Kirk Cousins, running back Edwin Baker and a stout defense, and held on late to prevail 28-22. Minnesota and Indiana both deserve mentions as well for winning rivalry games and earning the right to do this and this.
Biggest play: Two defensive plays propelled Minnesota and Indiana to wins Saturday. Gophers cornerback Troy Stoudermire stripped the ball from Iowa's Marcus Coker late in the fourth quarter, which led to Minnesota running out the clock to preserve a 27-24 victory. Indiana linebacker Jeff Thomas picked off a Rob Henry pass in overtime, allowing the Hoosiers to drive for the game-winning field goal. Michigan State's recovery of an onside kick after Penn State had cut its deficit to six points also stands out.
Specialist spotlight: Indiana freshman Mitch Ewald came up big against Purdue with two field goals, the first to send the game into overtime and the second to win it in the extra session. Minnesota's Eric Ellestad went 2-for-2 on field goals and recovered his own onside kick against Iowa, helping the Gophers jump out to a 10-0 lead. Ohio State's Jordan Hall prevented Michigan from gaining any momentum with an 85-yard kick return for a touchdown midway through the second quarter. Northwestern's Venric Mark had a 94-yard kick return for a touchdown against Wisconsin, and his 273 return yards mark the second-highest single-game total in Big Ten history. Ohio State's Devin Barclay went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts. The day featured good punting performances from Purdue's Cody Webster (56-yard average, three inside the 20-yard line), Iowa's Ryan Donahue (47.5-yard average, two inside the 20-yard line), Michigan State's Aaron Bates (46.5-yard average, two inside the 20-yard line) and Wisconsin's Brad Nortman (39.6-yard average, four inside the 20-yard line).
Filling the void: A quick shoutout to Jeff Horton, who did a very good job in a very difficult situation at Minnesota as interim coach. Horton kept the team focused despite the midseason firing of head coach Tim Brewster, and the Gophers ended the year with two solid wins against Illinois and Iowa. Although Minnesota will bring in a new coach, I would hope Horton gets consideration to remain on the staff. Otherwise, I'm sure he'll latch on elsewhere.
Game balls (given to players on winning or losing teams not recognized in helmet stickers)
Ohio State defensive end Nathan Williams: Williams ended the regular season on a very strong note with 2.5 tackles for loss, a sack, a fumble recovery and two pass breakups as Ohio State held Michigan scoreless in the second half.
Indiana receiver Tandon Doss: Doss recorded three touchdown catches for the second multi-touchdown game of his career. He added 18 rushing yards on two carries and had 117 yards on six kickoff returns with a long of 30 yards.
Indiana linebacker Jeff Thomas: In addition to the interception in overtime, Thomas recorded three tackles for loss against Purdue.
Michigan State cornerback Chris L. Rucker: The senior recorded three pass breakups, a forced fumble and five tackles for a playmaking secondary in the win against Penn State.
Purdue linebacker Jason Werner: Werner finished his college career by recording 3.5 tackles for loss and eight total tackles in the overtime loss to Indiana.
Minnesota running backs DeLeon Eskridge and Duane Bennett: The Gophers backfield tandem finished an up-and-down season on a good note, combining for 158 rush yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries in the win against Iowa.
Wisconsin safety Jay Valai: Valai recorded six tackles with a forced fumble and an interception as the Badgers recorded seven takeaways in the rout of Northwestern.
Michigan defensive end Ryan Van Bergen: It was another rough day for the Wolverines' defense, but Van Bergen did his part with three tackles for loss, a sack and five total tackles.
There's only one Big Ten game on the docket this week and it comes to you Friday night on ESPN2.
Illinois (6-5) at Fresno State (7-4): The Illini can secure their first winning season since 2007 and possibly earn a berth to a Florida bowl with a victory. Fresno State typically plays very well at home, but has dropped games to Nevada and Hawaii on its home turf. The Bulldogs won last year's contest in Champaign 53-52 after one of the wildest plays you'll ever see, a two-point conversion by Fresno State offensive lineman Devan Cunningham following a tipped pass. Illinois' Mikel Leshoure rushed for 184 yards and two touchdowns against Fresno State last year and comes off of a 330-yard rushing performance at Wrigley Field.