Big Ten: Jacob Schmidt

Big Ten lunch links

February, 28, 2012
We're a hot dog eating team with a bowling problem.
Northwestern coaches and players don't sidestep the truth about the 2010 season.

When starting quarterback Dan Persa went down with a ruptured Achilles' tendon in mid November, the Wildcats were finished. They dropped their final three games, two in blowout fashion.

"From a team confidence standpoint," coach Pat Fitzgerald said, "obviously looking back in the rear-view mirror, we got rocked to the core."

Northwestern's offense has dealt with similar personnel fluctuation this season, but the impact hasn't been quite as severe.

Persa missed the first three games and has sat out portions of three others. Northwestern has had multiple quarterbacks attempt passes in eight of its nine games. Persa's health status has been a constant topic around the program, and the Wildcats have had to deal with their best player repeatedly going in and out of the lineup. The Wildcats also have dealt with injuries at the running back position.

But the constant shuffling hasn't slowed down the offense. The Wildcats rank second in the Big Ten in total offense (435.8 ypg) and fifth in scoring (31.2 ppg). They have eclipsed 400 yards of offense in all but two games and racked up 468 yards or more in three of the last four contests. In Big Ten play alone, Northwestern leads the league in passing (284.2 ypg) and ranks second in total offense (458.7 ypg).

Three of Northwestern's four wins have come in games that Persa either didn't play or didn't finish because of injury.

"We preach around here that the next guy's got to be ready to pick up the flag and get in there and do their job," running back Jacob Schmidt told "We have confidence in all of our quarterbacks regardless of who's out there at the time. … We're definitely more used to it this year and we've shown that by the number of points we've put up."

You could argue Northwestern's offense was too Persa-focused in 2010. Persa carried the unit on his back, displaying record-setting accuracy and dual-threat ability.

When he went down, the effect was dramatic.

"He was our leader, and he was an every-down guy and made the plays that we still wondered how he made 'em," Schmidt said. "So when he did go down, it was tough to adjust. It was tough to throw some freshmen in there who didn't have the experience and really weren't leaders of the offense yet."

Redshirt freshman Evan Watkins and true freshman Kain Colter were "thrown in the deep end, so to speak, without being taught how to swim," Fitzgerald said. The results were predictable, although Colter showed some flashes in a TicketCity Bowl loss to Texas Tech.

Colter started the first three games this year, leading Northwestern to two wins, and relieved Persa in several other contests. When Persa injured his left shoulder Saturday against Nebraska, Colter came in and guided the Wildcats to a 28-25 win. Colter, who has played receiver as well as quarterback, is averaging 136.7 yards of total offense against Big Ten opponents and has accounted for nine touchdowns.

"A lot of it might go back to that we’ve used Kain at other places on the field," Schmidt said. "We know what he can do with the ball in his hands, regardless of whether he’s behind center or split out. If Dan does go down for a little bit, we know Kain is plenty capable to come in and get the job done."

The running backs follow a similar philosophy. Schmidt and true freshmen Treyvon Green have been the only healthy backs all season, as Mike Trumpy suffered a season-ending knee injury against Illinois, while Adonis Smith has missed three games with injuries.

Northwestern has had six games where multiple players recorded 10 or more carries.

"If you're No. 1 on the depth chart or No. 4 on the depth chart, you've got to be ready to get in there when you're number's called," Schmidt said. "You've got to know what to expect, you've got to study your butt off all week and prepare like you are the starter and you're going to get 20 carries and 50 plays.

"I’m incredibly confident with whatever 11 we put on the field offensively."
The first Big Ten coaches teleconference of the season took place earlier Tuesday. Given all the news and nuggets of Week 1, we're compiling notebooks for both divisions. We'll try to do these as often as possible on Tuesdays during the season.

Let's get things started with the Legends division.


  • Coach Kirk Ferentz said if the Hawkeyes played a game today, A.J. Derby would serve as James Vandenberg's backup at quarterback. Derby, a fan favorite who boasts tremendous athleticism, has clearly made strides during camp to move slightly ahead of John Wienke, who Ferentz said also is improving. After so much talk about where Derby would end up playing, it seems like his future is at quarterback.
  • Ferentz said the biggest change we'll see on Iowa's defense this fall will be a larger rotation up front. Iowa typically went with a 5-man rotation the past few seasons, but after losing three linemen to the NFL draft, the Hawkeyes will rotate 6-8 players and possibly nine up front this season.
  • Jason White will get the next shot at running back behind starter Marcus Coker. Ferentz also said Iowa will use its freshmen tailbacks early in the season to get them accustomed to games. The past two seasons have shown Iowa can't take anything for granted injury-wise at running back.
  • Brady Hoke fielded several questions about the defense and not surprisingly spoke mainly about the line. He likes the depth the Wolverines have in the front four but emphasized the need to get off blocks and maintain "gap integrity" when the games begin. Got to love that football lingo.
  • Hoke gave a shout out to his boss, athletic director Dave Brandon, for allowing the Wolverines' kickers to use Michigan Stadium often during camp. The stadium not only provided a more realistic setting for the kickers, but the wind conditions in the Big House are different than on the practice fields. Hoke also praised Brendan Gibbons, who will handle field goals, saying he's "very excited about his progress."
  • I asked Spartans coach Dantonio a bit about all the co-starters on his Week 1 depth chart, and he basically said anyone listed in bold will play a lot Friday night against Youngstown State. Not only will Michigan State rotate quite a few defensive ends Friday, but the offensive line rotation also likely will be larger as the Spartans figure out spots like left tackle and center. "How they play in a game situation determines where we go from there," Dantonio said.
  • Despite four consecutive bowl appearances and a Big Ten co-championship in 2010, Michigan State remains a fairly young team. The offense boasts a mix of veterans and youth, while the defense is fairly young entering 2011. "We're a young football team with a blend of experience," Dantonio said. "We have three seniors on defense in our top 22 players, so good things should be around the corner for us."
  • Dantonio began the call by thanking everyone for their support since the passing of his father, Justin, on Sunday. He'll return home to Zanesville, Ohio, in the middle of the week for the funeral and be back for the Youngstown State game.
  • Coach Jerry Kill said he has discussed a plan for future nonconference scheduling with the university administration, although he declined to provide details. Don't expect Kill's plan to include many more openers at USC. Said Kill: "Would I like to open up with USC every year? No. I’d like to open up right here at home."
  • Kill's Week 1 depth chart is filled with true freshmen and redshirt freshmen, but he considers his entire roster freshmen because they haven't gone through a season with the coaches. The result will be a more pared down game plan for Saturday. "There's no question we have to keep things simpler," Kill said. "We can't be like we were at Northern Illinois, so we'll have to adjust."
  • Coach Bo Pelini wants to see efficiency from his offense Saturday against Chattanooga. He stressed the need to limit penalties and turnovers, and to form sustained scoring drives against the Mocs. "At the end of the day, that's what's going to determine our success, how efficient we can be," Pelini said. You can tell Nebraska's poor finish on offense at the end of the 2010 season still irks Pelini.
  • Like his brother, Carl, the Huskers defensive coordinator, Bo is excited about what the team brings back in the secondary. He singled out the preseason play of cornerback Andrew Green, who likely will start in place of the injured Alfonzo Dennard on Saturday.
  • Coach Pat Fitzgerald said the competition between running backs Mike Trumpy and Jacob Schmidt will continue through game week. Trumpy has come on strong as of late, while Schmidt's consistency has impressed the coaches. "Both guys are going to play," Fitzgerald said. "If one guy gets hot, he'll take over the role and be the bell cow."
  • Fitzgerald didn't say much about the status of quarterback Dan Persa for Saturday's game. He does, however, know what to expect from Boston College. "They will try to run it down your throats until you stop them," he said.

Big Ten lunchtime links

August, 26, 2011
Use this weekend to test your grills, buy your face paint and design your signs. From here on out, football will fill the rest of your 2011 weekends.

Big Ten scrimmage roundup

August, 22, 2011
The 2011 season is rapidly approaching, and with camps entering the home stretch around the Big Ten, several teams took to the field this weekend for scrimmages.

Four teams had media at the scrimmages and/or published statistics.

Here are a few takeaways:


Recaps: here and here

Thoughts: Although freshman Braxton Miller flashed his potential Saturday with two touchdown passes, including a 58-yarder to Chris Fields, it seems likely that senior Joe Bauserman will start the season opener at quarterback. Bauserman unofficially completed 7 of 13 passes for 120 yards with a touchdown and an interception. ... Linebacker Andrew Sweat appears ready to take the next step after recording four tackles for loss, including a sack, and a pass breakup. ... Ohio State has plenty of opportunities at receiver, and freshmen Devin Smith and Evan Spencer both made nice catches in the scrimmage. ... Linebacker Etienne Sabino, a projected starter, broke a bone in his hand during the scrimmage but expects to be back for the opener Sept. 3.


Recaps: Here and here

Notes: The defense dominated the jersey scrimmage, as interception returns for touchdowns by cornerbacks Johnny Adams and Tony Lippett sparked the unit to a 78-44 win. Both Adams and Lippett stood out during spring practice, so it's a good sign they're continuing to make plays. ... It's not a huge concern, but quarterback Kirk Cousins hasn't been too sharp in scrimmages during the offseason. He had some struggles this spring and on Sunday completed just 11 of 25 passes with an interception. Backup Andrew Maxwell completed just 10 of 23 passes with two interceptions. ... While the quarterbacks had their issues on a windy day, Michigan State's rushing attack continued to look solid. Nick Hill had 85 rushing yards in the scrimmage, while Le'Veon Bell had 68 yards and Larry Caper had 66 yards. ... Linebackers Max Bullough (11 tackles) and TyQuan Hammock (nine tackles, INT) also stood out for the defense.


Recap: Here and here

Notes: Not surprisingly, the Wildcats held out most of their projected starters for Saturday's scrimmage. Among those watching were quarterback Dan Persa and Jacob Schmidt, who has surprised more than a few folks by moving into the No. 1 running back spot in camp. ... Sophomore Kain Colter has emerged as the No. 2 quarterback and led a scoring drive in the scrimmage in limited work. ... Northwestern is looking for defensive line depth and end Davon Custis might be ready to provide it. Custis, who played sparingly last season, recorded 6.5 tackles in the scrimmage. ... Sophomore receiver Venric Mark should be a playmaker this season, and he recorded a touchdown pass and 60 receiving yards on three catches during the scrimmage.


Recaps: Here and here

Notes: Illinois has been able to build much-needed wide receiver depth this month, and more evidence arrived during Saturday's scrimmage. Sophomore Darius Millines continues to draw praise from the coaches and should be a nice complement to A.J. Jenkins. ... Freshman tight end Jon Davis, who bowled over coach Ron Zook during Saturday's scrimmage, should see some field time early this season.

Big Ten afternoon roundup

August, 18, 2011
A few notes from around the league two weeks from the season kicking off in Madison.
  • Indiana coach Kevin Wilson is, if nothing else, brutally honest, and he didn't mince words today when discussing the team's quarterbacks. Asked what he's learned about his quarterbacks in camp, Wilson replied, "That we're a long way away from having a good one." Ouch. Here's more from the coach: "Either our defense is really really good, or our quarterbacks really not very good. It’s one or the other. Because we don’t get open and we don’t throw it to them, so we’re just OK. We’re not good enough. None of them. And it’s not negative. It’s not worried. They're not close to what they ought to be yet."
  • Ohio State coach Luke Fickell, meanwhile, was much less candid about his signal-callers. Senior Joe Bauserman and freshman Braxton Miller reportedly took the majority of snaps with the top offense at Thursday's practice, but Fickell didn't say whether the two have separated themselves. All four quarterbacks will participate in Saturday's jersey scrimmage. I heard last week that Kenny Guiton has looked good, but Bauserman and Miller seem to have the inside track.
  • When Northwestern opened practice last week, Mike Trumpy was the team's No. 1 running back. But things have changed since the team arrived in Kenosha, Wis., for its off-site training camp. Running backs coach Matt MacPherson tells that senior Jacob Schmidt has moved into the starting role. Schmidt's consistency in practice has stood out. "Jacob Schmidt is where he's supposed be, when he's supposed to be there, every single time," MacPherson told Rivals. Fumbles were a problem for Schmidt last year, while Trumpy ended on a strong note. Things could still change in the next two weeks, but this is an interesting development.
  • Wisconsin on Thursday released its full 2012 schedule. The Big Ten slate already had been unveiled, but the Badgers will play nonconference home games against Northern Iowa (Sept. 1), Utah State (Sept. 15) and UTEP (Sept. 22) and visit Oregon State on Sept. 8. Wisconsin opens league play at Nebraska and finishes with a home game against Ohio State and a trip to Penn State.
Beginning today, we're going to start ranking each position group in the Big Ten. These rankings will reflect the overall strength at each position, so depth matters as well as individual star power. Following each group ranking, we'll also give out our list of the top individual players at that position.

Let's start out with a look at the running back groups across the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball and James White
AP Photo/Morry GashMontee Ball and James White did a lot of celebrating last season, as the duo combined for 32 TDs.
1. Wisconsin: No surprise at the top. Even with John Clay gone and Zach Brown transferring, the Badgers are loaded at tailback. They've still got junior Montee Ball, who finished four yards shy of 1,000 last season with 18 touchdowns, along with reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year James White, who ran for 1,052 yards and 14 touchdowns. Throw in senior fullback Bradie Ewing and redshirt freshman Jeff Lewis, and the Badgers should be powerful on the ground yet again in 2011.

2. Michigan State: Other than Wisconsin, the Spartans have the best collection of experience and talent in the backfield. First-team All-Big Ten performer Edwin Baker ran for 1,201 yards and 13 scores last year. Le'Veon Bell, a 237-pound bruiser, complemented him as a true freshman with 605 yards and eight scores. Larry Caper is a capable veteran, and fifth-year senior Todd Anderson starts at fullback. The Spartans are deep and versatile in their rushing attack.

3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes might have earned a higher ranking if Dan Herron were eligible to play a full season. But with Herron (1,155 yards and 16 scores in '10) suspended for the first five games, Ohio State will need some youngsters to fill his shoes. The good news is that there are plenty of talented candidates. Jaamal Berry is the leading returning rusher outside of Herron, and he averaged 8.3 yards per carry in a limited role last season. Jordan Hall and Carlos Hyde will also battle for more playing time, while redshirt freshman Rod Smith could emerge as the No. 1 tailback after an impressive offseason. Zach Boren is back at fullback. Things may be in flux in Columbus, but you can almost always count on a good running game from the Buckeyes.

[+] EnlargeNebraska's Rex Burkhead
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesJunior Rex Burkhead averaged 5.5 yards per carry last season and scored seven TDs.
4. Nebraska: The Cornhuskers led the Big 12 in rushing last season with 247.6 yards per game on the ground, good for ninth in the FBS. Leading rusher Roy Helu Jr. is gone, but junior Rex Burkhead returns after a 951-yard campaign. He will occasionally line up at receiver or take snaps in the Wildcat. The Cornhuskers lack experience behind him but are expecting big contributions from incoming freshmen Aaron Green and Amer Abdullah. ESPN Recruiting ranked Green as the No. 11 player overall in the Class of 2011.

5. Penn State: Yes, the school's all-time leading rusher has moved on, as Evan Royster graduated. But the Nittany Lions still feel confident about their running game, which should be led by sophomore Silas Redd. He ran for 461 yards and 5.7 yards per carry as a true freshman, showing a physical style. Senior Stephfon Green will be asked to take on a larger role, and Brandon Beachum is back after missing last season with a knee injury. Joe Suhey and Michael Zordich are productive players at the fullback spot.

6. Purdue: The Boilermakers' stock in this chart could go up if Ralph Bolden successfully returns from injury. So far, so good for Bolden, who was a second-team All-Big Ten performer in 2009. Rob Henry led the team in rushing last year with 547 yards, but fullback Dan Dierking graduated. Junior college transfer Akeem Shavers got a lot of carries this spring and should contribute, and Reggie Pegram also is in the mix.

7. Iowa: Running back depth is a serious issue for Kirk Ferentz and the Hawkeyes. Adam Robinson, who would have been the leading returning running back in the Big Ten in terms of yards per game, was dismissed from the team following a December arrest. Marcus Coker could emerge as a superstar, however, after starting four of Iowa's final five games as a true freshman. He was the offensive MVP of the Insight Bowl with 219 rushing yards on 33 carries and has drawn comparisons to former Doak Walker Award winner Shonn Greene. There's virtually no proven experience behind him, though, and three-year starting fullback Brett Morse is no longer around.

8. Michigan: If only we could count Denard Robinson as a running back. Brady Hoke plans to cut down on Shoelace's carries, which means the Wolverines' tailbacks will get more of a chance to shine. The question is who will step up. Senior Michael Shaw and junior Vincent Smith split time as starters last season, while Stephen Hopkins and Michael Cox are in the mix for more carries. Can celebrated recruit Justice Hayes contribute right away?

9. Illinois: Mikel Leshoure's dash to the NFL left the Illini with uncertainty at running back. Senior Jason Ford, the most likely successor, sat out much of spring ball with a hurt knee, while Troy Pollard's promising spring was cut short by a concussion. Incoming freshman Donovonn Young will get a look this fall.

10. Northwestern: Like Nebraska and Michigan, Northwestern relied on its quarterback -- in this case Dan Persa-- for a heavy chunk of the rushing yards. Mike Trumpy came on late in the year as a freshman and solidified his starting spot with a strong spring. Sophomore Adonis Smith, senior Jacob Schmidt and junior Tyris Jones will fight for carries behind him.

11. Minnesota: There was healthy competition at tailback this spring with a mixture of veterans and fresh faces. DeLeon Eskridge led the team last year with 698 rushing yards, while Duane Bennett added 529. They're being pushed by redshirt freshmen Donnell Kirkwood and Lamonte Edwards. New coach Jerry Kill will look to improve on the Gophers' paltry 3.6 yards per carry average last season. This is a group that could make a major move up the rankings.

12. Indiana: New Hoosiers coach Kevin Wilson has a challenge in figuring out this group. Three of the top candidates for the starting tailback job, Darius Willis, Antonio Banks and Xavier Whitaker, all suffered season-ending knee injuries in 2010 and missed spring practice. IU's leading rusher last season finished with just 352 yards. Nick Turner and Matt Perez got the bulk of the reps in the spring. Perhaps Wilson's high-tempo offense will improve the stats for Indiana ball carriers.
Northwestern has issued its post-spring depth chart after wrapping up its practice session Saturday with the spring exhibition.

A few notes and observations:
  • Sophomore Mike Trumpy is listed as the starting running back, a position where Northwestern needs much more production in 2011. Coordinator Mick McCall wanted a No. 1 back to emerge this spring, and Trumpy really seems like the best option. He played better as the 2010 season went along before fracturing his wrist against Illinois. Senior Jacob Schmidt and sophomore Adonis Smith are listed as co-backups. I'm a little surprised not to see Tyris Jones' name on the two-deep.
  • Although the reserve quarterbacks took all the reps this spring, there's still no answer about who will back up Dan Persa this fall. Kain Colter, Trevor Siemian and Evan Watkins all are listed as co-backups. Colter would be my choice, but he still has to prove more to the staff.
  • Receivers Charles Brown and Mike Jensen both helped their cause this spring. Brown is listed as a starter with Jensen as his backup. Sophomore Rashad Lawrence, the most impressive of the three true freshmen wideouts who played in 2010, also is listed as a starter.
  • Guard Doug Bartels, who missed spring ball following shoulder surgery, will compete with Neal Deiters for a starting job this summer. Bartels started every game in 2009 and the first three last fall.
  • Defensive linemen Tyler Scott and Niko Mafuli both drew praise from the coaches this spring, and both players now are listed as co-starters at their respective positions. Scott will compete with returning starter Kevin Watt, while Mafuli and Brian Arnfelt will compete to fill a vacancy.
  • As expected, Jervain Matthews is listed as a starting cornerback, a job he secured this spring. Redshirt freshman Ibraheim Campbell moved into a backup role after impressing the staff in practice.
  • The competition at kicker will continue into the fall -- and possibly all the way until game week -- as Jeff Budzien and Steve Flaherty are listed as co-starters.

Northwestern also announced its Sept. 17 game at Army will kick off at 3:30 p.m. ET and be televised by CBS Sports Network.

Northwestern injury report

November, 18, 2010
Northwestern has issued its official injury report for Saturday's game against Illinois at Wrigley Field.


Northwestern injury report

October, 28, 2010
Northwestern has issued its official injury report for Saturday's road game against Indiana.

  • RB Scott Concannon, hip
  • LB Roderick Goodlow, knee (out for season)
  • OL Evan Luxenburg, knee

Schmidt is the new name here as he deals with an ankle injury he suffered after fumbling the ball near the Michigan State goal line in the first half of last week's game. The junior left and did not return. Starting tight end Drake Dunsmore (ankle) was a game-time decision last week and ended up playing against the Spartans, though he didn't look 100 percent. Quarterback Dan Persa and kicker Stefan Demos both were banged up a bit after last week's game, but they're good to go for Saturday.
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Michigan State is fortunate to be down only 10-0 right now.

After an Edwin Baker fumble, Northwestern was poised to score a second touchdown as it lined up for first-and-goal from the Spartans' 1. But an opportunistic Spartans defense came up big again, forcing its 21st takeaway of the season, a Jacob Schmidt fumble recovered by Johnny Adams.

Northwestern's defense continued to play tough, forcing a punt, and the Wildcats converted good field position into a Stefan Demos field goal. They still have to feel a little unsatisfied after another turnover near the goal line, a season-long problem.

Schmidt likely won't return after suffering an ankle injury on the play where he fumbled.

Northwestern injury report

October, 21, 2010
Northwestern has issued its official injury report for Saturday's home game against No. 7 Michigan State.

  • RB Scott Concannon, groin
  • LB Roderick Goodlow, knee (out for season)
  • Evan Luxenburg, knee

Concannon is the only new name on the report, although he has missed two of Northwestern's past three games and hasn't recorded a carry since Week 3 against Rice. Northwestern will continue to lean on Jacob Schmidt and Mike Trumpy to spark a struggling rushing attack. Overall, the Wildcats remain very fortunate on the injury front heading into what will be a much more challenging second half of the season.
It's time to look back at Saturday's action before peeking ahead at Week 7 in the Big Ten.

[+] EnlargeNathan Scheelhaase
AP Photo/Keith SrakocicNathan Scheelhaase played well in Happy Valley as Illinois made history.
Team of the week: Illinois. The Fighting Illini made history in more than one way Saturday at Penn State. They recorded their first win in Happy Valley and handed Penn State its worst Homecoming loss (33-13) in Joe Paterno's 45 years as head coach. After giving Ohio State a scare in Week 5, Illinois continued to deliver on defense, stuffing Penn State in the red zone and getting a huge lift from Nate Bussey's pick-six. Vic Koenning's defense held Penn State to season lows in first downs (7), total yards (235), third-down conversions (2-for-14) and time of possession (21:48). Illinois redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase showed impressive growth in his first road Big Ten start and capitalized on a banged-up Penn State defense. Michigan State and Purdue merit mentions for road wins.

Best game: Purdue at Northwestern. Not many choices here as four of the five Big Ten games were decided by 17 points or more. At least the Boilers and Wildcats provided some fourth-quarter drama. Down 17-13, Purdue mounted a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive that featured two third-down conversions and a fourth-down touchdown run by Dan Dierking to give his team the lead with 3:54 left. Northwestern quickly moved the ball into Purdue territory and appeared set up for the game-winning touchdown when Jacob Schmidt dashed inside the 5-yard line on third-and-5. But a holding penalty negated the run and Northwestern had to settle for a potential game-tying field-goal attempt, which senior Stefan Demos missed badly. The banged-up Boilers left Evanston with a confidence-boosting win.

Biggest play: Not a clear choice this week. Purdue made several big plays to win its Big Ten opener, including Dierking's 7-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-inches and Kawann Short's field-goal block early in the fourth quarter. Bussey's pick-six against Penn State was huge for Illinois, and Michigan State set the tone for a big second half at Michigan with a 41-yard touchdown pass from Kirk Cousins to Mark Dell early in the third quarter. Cousins got the ball away just before absorbing a hit and made a perfect throw to Dell for the score.

Specialist spotlight: Illinois kicker Derek Dimke gets the nod this week after going 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts at Penn State, connecting from 50, 41, 37 and 31 yards away. His 50-yarder put Illinois up 17-10 in the second quarter, and he closed the half with a 31-yarder. Dimke became the first Illinois kicker to make four field goals in a game since 2006. Several Big Ten punters had good days Saturday, including Michigan State's Aaron Bates (45-yard average, two punts inside the 20), Penn State's Anthony Fera (6 points, 44-yard average) and Purdue's Cody Webster (6 punts, 47.7-yard average).

Most talked-about call: Bret Bielema's decision to attempt a two-point conversion with Wisconsin leading Minnesota 41-16 midway through the fourth quarter. Bielema claimed he was following the coaches' guide on when to go for two, but Minnesota coach Tim Brewster and many others saw it as an attempt to run up the score. Brewster might not get a chance for revenge in the rivalry, but you can bet Minnesota's underclassmen will remember what happened.

Game balls:

  • Illinois LB Nate Bussey: Bussey made an athletic play to record a 16-yard interception return for a touchdown against Penn State and tied his career high with eight tackles in the victory.
  • Purdue's defense: Hard to give this to only one player, so the Boilers' defenders will have to share after an outstanding effort at Northwestern. Some notables include linebacker Joe Holland (12 tackles, 2 TFLs, 1 sack), tackle Kawann Short (8 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 sack, 1 blocked kick, 1 pass breakup) and safety Logan Link (6 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup). Ryan Kerrigan had a sack and created a ton of problems for Northwestern.
  • Michigan State S Trenton Robinson: Robinson came up big on the opening drive against Michigan, recording a touchdown-saving tackle on Michael Shaw and then intercepting a Denard Robinson pass in the end zone. The much-hyped Spartans junior finished with seven tackles and a pass breakup in the win.
  • Michigan State QB Kirk Cousins: Cousins has been brilliant in his last six quarters of football and dissected Michigan for 284 pass yards on 18 of 25 attempts with a touchdown and no interceptions.
  • Ohio State WR DeVier Posey: Somewhat overshadowed by fellow receiver Dane Sanzenbacher this year, Posey led Ohio State in both receptions (8) and receiving yards (103) in Saturday's blowout win against Indiana. He hauled in a 17-yard touchdown pass from Terrelle Pryor in the second quarter.
  • Wisconsin LB Mike Taylor: Taylor recorded a career-high three tackles for loss against Minnesota and finished with seven stops in the game.

OK, now let's take a quick look at Week 7.

Illinois (3-2, 1-1 Big Ten) at No. 13 Michigan State (6-0, 2-0): In most years, this would be a classic trap game for Michigan State, which comes off of two emotion-charged victories against ranked opponents. This Spartans team seems much more grounded and mentally tough. Still, Illinois' improved defense and strong running game provides a good test. Two the Big Ten's best running backs match up with Michigan State's Edwin Baker and Illinois' Mikel Leshoure.

Minnesota (1-5, 0-2) at Purdue (3-2, 1-0): What looked like the Basement Bowl before Saturday night suddenly becomes an opportunity for Purdue to start 2-0 in league play. Freshman quarterback Rob Henry tries to gash a Minnesota defense that allows 196.3 rush yards a game, last in the Big Ten. Minnesota has won back-to-back games in the series and needs a victory in the worst way Saturday.

Arkansas State (2-4) at Indiana (3-2): After back-to-back losses, Indiana should get well against an Arkansas State team that ranks 88th nationally against the pass (237.7 ypg). That said, the Hoosiers shouldn't overlook a Red Wolves team that can throw the ball with talented sophomore Ryan Aplin and has been in every game since a season-opening 26-point loss to Auburn. Indiana needs to get its defense in order before resuming Big Ten play at Illinois.

No. 15 Iowa (4-1, 1-0) at Michigan (5-1, 1-1): Extra prep time usually translates to Iowa success, and the Hawkeyes have had two weeks to prepare for Denard Robinson after shutting down Penn State. Robinson ran for 49 yards and a touchdown against the Hawkeyes last year, and he'll provide a good test for Adrian Clayborn and the defense. Look for Iowa quarterback Ricky Stanzi to attack Michigan's shaky secondary down the field with Derrell Johnson-Koulianos.

No. 1 Ohio State (6-0, 2-0) at No. 18 Wisconsin (5-1, 1-1): All eyes will be on Madison as Ohio State tries to take a big step toward the national championship game against a Wisconsin team that is 40-4 at home since the start of the 2004 season. Wisconsin's home dominance is offset by Ohio State's brilliant play in Big Ten road games under Jim Tressel. Ohio State boasts the more accomplished defense, but Wisconsin can be the Big Ten's best offense when hitting on all cylinders.

Bye: Northwestern (5-1, 1-1), Penn State (3-3, 0-2)

Thoughts on Purdue's big road win

October, 9, 2010
How about them Boilers? What an effort from a banged-up Purdue team Saturday night against Northwestern.

Some quick thoughts:

Purdue 20, Northwestern 17: Sometimes, a bye week comes at the perfect time, and it certainly did for Purdue. Ravaged by injuries on offense and down to its third-team quarterback, the Boilers went on the road and beat an undefeated Northwestern team just asking for a loss.

Redshirt freshman Rob Henry showed impressive poise in his first career start, but the real story was a Boilermakers' defense that kept Dan Persa and the Wildcats out of the end zone.

Although Northwestern did a decent job on Ryan Kerrigan most of the night, others stepped up. This is a demoralizing result for Northwestern, which had all the advantages heading into the game. But let's face it: Northwestern didn't deserve to be 6-0, not with its penalties and its inconsistent rushing game and its continued special-teams mishaps.

The Wildcats appeared to be going in for the game-winning touchdown after a great call on third-and 4, but a holding penalty on veteran center Ben Burkett negated a long Jacob Schmidt run. That set up Stefan Demos' second missed field goal of the fourth quarter. Demos, a preseason Lou Groza Award candidate, is having a nightmarish senior season. Northwestern was flagged eight times for 60 yards, continuing a disturbing trend. You get what you deserve in football, and Pat Fitzgerald's team had this coming. Northwestern has a bye week to sort itself out.

What to watch in the Big Ten: Week 5

September, 30, 2010
Conference play finally kicks off this week, and here are 10 things to track on Saturday.

1. John Clay vs. Greg Jones: The Big Ten's top running back (Clay) goes up against the league's top linebacker (Jones) in a matchup football purists will love. Clay has rushed for 253 yards and two touchdowns in two career games against Michigan State, while Jones has recorded 27 tackles in those matchups. After limiting Clay's carries a bit during nonconference play, Wisconsin likely will feed him a lot at Spartan Stadium, particularly in the second half. If Jones and the Spartans defense keep Clay in check, they'll have a good chance to win.

[+] EnlargeJohn Clay
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireWisconsin's John Clay has rushed for 501 yards and six touchdowns this season.
2. Roles reverse for Hawkeyes, Lions: Iowa's recent dominance against Penn State is well known, as the Hawkeyes have claimed seven of the teams' last eight meetings. Unranked Iowa teams have knocked off top 5 Penn State squads in each of the last two seasons. This time, Penn State is the acknowledged underdog heading to Kinnick Stadium. Iowa has the senior quarterback (Ricky Stanzi) and the more accomplished team, but it also has the pressure to win. Penn State certainly boasts the talent to shock the Hawkeyes.

3. Fireworks in Bloomington: Expect a ton of points in the Michigan-Indiana game, as quarterbacks Denard Robinson and Ben Chappell lead potent offenses against shaky defenses at Memorial Stadium. Robinson will play after suffering a bruised left knee against Bowling Green, and he faces an Indiana defense that ranks 10th in the league against the run (177 ypg). Chappell leads the Big Ten and ranks 10th nationally in passing (296.7 ypg). He and his talented receiving corps face the Big Ten's worst pass defense in Michigan (264.8 ypg allowed). This could easily become a basketball score.

4. Improved Illini defense tested: All the early signs point to some genuine improvement with an Illinois defense that finished last in the league in both points allowed and yards allowed in 2009. But as coach Ron Zook said this week, "This will be the first major, major test." Ohio State's Terrelle Pryor leads the nation's No. 8 offense into Champaign on Saturday, and Illinois will be challenged to slow down the Heisman Trophy candidate, who accounted for six touchdowns (4 pass, 1 rush, 1 receiving) last week. To have any shot, the Illini need continued playmaking from defensive backs Travon Bellamy, Tavon Wilson and Justin Green.

5. Gophers on life support: There's little joy in Minneapolis about the Golden Gophers after a 1-3 start that includes three consecutive home losses. Despite coach Tim Brewster's perpetual positivity, players are aware of the gloom on the outside. Minnesota really needs something good to happen early in Saturday's Big Ten opener against Northwestern. If things start to go bad, the boos likely will rain down and it's hard to imagine the team turning things around. Minnesota really could use some big plays to lift the mood in TCF Bank Stadium.

6. Clayborn digs in: Penn State hasn't forgotten what Adrian Clayborn did last September at Beaver Stadium. Lions left tackle Quinn Barham put a picture of Clayborn on his cell phone as a reminder of what he'd face this fall. But Clayborn has been relatively quiet this season, as constant double teams have limited him to 15 tackles and no sacks through the first four games. Clayborn is due for a big night and he'll set his sights on Penn State freshman quarterback Rob Bolden. Penn State has protected Bolden well, allowing only one sack, but the Lions are shorthanded after losing right tackle Lou Eliades to a season-ending torn ACL.

7. Dantonio begins his return: Michigan State's Mark Dantonio will be in the coaches' booth Saturday at Spartan Stadium less than two weeks after suffering a mild heart attack and undergoing surgery. Dantonio said Tuesday that offensive coordinator Don Treadwell will continue to handle head-coaching duties as needed, as Dantonio eases into his full-time role again. "Guys are really excited to see him around," Greg Jones told me. "You feel like the tempo's picking up even more. Guys are going to really, really feel his presence more than they did last week."

8. Northwestern turns to Trumpy: Northwestern has been looking for an answer at running back for a year and a half. As good as quarterback Dan Persa has been, the Wildcats need a legit ground game to join the Big Ten's elite this fall. After Arby Fields' early struggles, Northwestern will turn to redshirt freshman Mike Trumpy, who provided a boost with 53 second-half rush yards last week against Central Michigan. Trumpy and Jacob Schmidt were elevated to co-starters on the depth chart, as Northwestern faces a Minnesota team that allowed Northern Illinois' Chad Spann to run wild (223 yards) last wek.

9. Cousins, Tolzien in crunch time: Both Michigan State and Wisconsin are run-first teams boasting a multitude of capable backs, but I really believe Saturday's game comes down to which quarterback makes plays in the fourth quarter. Both Kirk Cousins and Scott Tolzien have played well the last two weeks, combining for 998 pass yards with eight touchdowns and only one interception. Cousins needs to prove himself in the clutch, while Tolzien looks for a signature road win in a place where Wisconsin has struggled. He'll get top receiver Nick Toon back from a toe injury.

10. Buckeyes need answers at RB: Perhaps Buckeyes fans are nitpicking, or maybe they have a point about Brandon Saine and Dan Herron. Either way, Ohio State fans want to see more production out of the veteran running backs, or increased opportunities for dynamic redshirt freshman Jaamal Berry, who has 15 carries for 177 rush yards (11.8 ypc) this season. Coach Jim Tressel is loyal to his veteran players, and it will be interesting to watch what he does if Saine and Herron start slow against Illinois.