Sunday, October 9, 2011
What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 6
By Adam Rittenberg and Brian Bennett
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten action.
1. Nebraska is still breathing, while Ohio State is on life support: Both teams' seasons could have turned in the final 23 minutes at Memorial Stadium, as Nebraska scored 28 unanswered points to beat Ohio State 34-27 in the largest comeback in Huskers history. Nebraska was staring at an 0-2 start in its new conference and two weeks of intense scrutiny before the furious rally. Although the Huskers have a lot to fix, they're still very much alive in the league race. Ohio State, meanwhile, can't catch a break and fell apart after starting quarterback Braxton Miller went down with an ankle injury. For a team that already has faced so much adversity, the Buckeyes will have a tough time responding from Saturday's loss.
Penn State's defense carried the day as the Nittany Lions held the Hawkeyes to just 253 yards.
2. Defense makes Penn State a contender: A never-ending quarterback competition and Joe Paterno's game-day whereabouts have dominated the spotlight in Happy Valley, but it's about time people recognize the Nittany Lions' defense. It's really, really good, perhaps even championship-level good. Penn State smothered Iowa on Saturday, keeping the Hawkeyes' high-powered attack out of the end zone. Despite losing key personnel and getting little to no help from its own offense, Penn State's defense continues to step up. Tom Bradley's unit should keep Penn State in every game -- and makes the Lions a contender in the Leaders division.
3. Michigan is a second-half team: If the stunning Notre Dame comeback didn't convince you of the Wolverines' second-half prowess, then Saturday's win over Northwestern should. Michigan trailed 24-14 at the half but outscored the Wildcats 28-0 in the final two quarters. The defense under Greg Mattison continues to make very good adjustments throughout the course of the game. Northwestern threw the kitchen sink at Michigan offensively in the first half but was stonewalled in the second half, while the Wolverines came up with two more turnovers. The Wolverines have given up only seven points in the fourth quarter all year and are outscoring opponents 141-21 after halftime. If Michigan can continue that in the second half of the season, its 6-0 start could turn into something special.
4. Scheelhaase-to-Jenkins is Big Ten's deadliest connection: The Big Ten entered the season with several dynamic quarterbacks and receivers, but one passing combination has risen above the rest. Illinois quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins are on fire, as they've been for much of the season. The two connected six times for 182 yards and scoring passes of 77 and 67 yards Saturday against Indiana, a week after Jenkins set a team record with 268 yards and three touchdowns on 12 catches against Northwestern. Jenkins has backed up his claim as the league's top receiver, and Scheelhaase is evolving into a complete quarterback in just his second season.
5. Minnesota is the nation's worst major-conference team: It might sound harsh, but there's not another major-conference squad struggling as much as the Gophers, who have lost their past two games by a combined score of 103-17. After Minnesota's encouraging season opener at USC, almost everything has gone downhill. We thought Minnesota had hit rock bottom in Ann Arbor after its 58-0 loss to Michigan. But the worst came in the first half against a mediocre Purdue team, as the Gophers fell behind 31-0 and committed three turnovers. Coach Jerry Kill is dealing with a lot of young players and veterans not used to winning, but his squad needs to compete better in games. The schedule doesn't get any easier, and it'll be a long year in Minneapolis.