Monday, October 17, 2011
Weekend rewind: Big Ten
By Brian Bennett
Bring it back, come rewind. I bring it back all the time:
Team of the week: Michigan State. The Spartans notched their fourth consecutive victory against chief rival Michigan, sending their seniors out without ever having lost to the Wolverines. They also became the new Legends Division favorites with another intimidating defensive performance. Can they keep it up this week against Wisconsin?
Silas Redd and Penn State found a way to hold off Purdue.
Best game: Penn State 23, Purdue 18. Week 7 didn't feature many fantastic finishes, but this game remained interesting until the final couple of minutes. The Nittany Lions could never quite put away the Boilermakers and benefited from a missed field goal, botched PAT and failed two-point conversion try. Purdue's final chance to win the game was snuffed out by a Nate Stupar interception. Maybe not the prettiest game -- Penn State's never are -- but it had the most tense moments.
Biggest play: Isaiah Lewis' 39-yard interception return for a touchdown against Michigan with 4:31 left in the game. That gave Michigan State a 28-14 lead that would hold up as the final score and extinguished Denard Robinson's Heisman Trophy campaign. And Lewis wasn't shy after the game. "We knew already he wasn't a good passer," Lewis said of Robinson. "Our DBs were looking for interceptions." They only got one, but it was a big one.
Best call: Ohio State fans might criticize offensive coordinator Jim Bollman for his conservative philosophy, but getting back to Woody Hayes football got the Buckeyes back on the winning track. Ohio State ran 55 offensive plays on Saturday at Illinois and only threw the ball four times. Braxton Miller attempted just one pass in the second half -- and it went for a touchdown. With windy conditions all over the Big Ten, Bollman banked on his offensive line and the return of running back Dan Herron to get the job done while the defense held down the fort. That was good enough for a 17-7 win that ensured Ohio State won't go 0-for-October.
Big Man on Campus (Offense): Wisconsin running back Montee Ball. The junior ran for 142 yards on 14 carries against Indiana, including touchdown runs of 45, 35, and 54 yards. He also had some fun by throwing a 25-yard touchdown pass to quarterback Russell Wilson on a trick play. Ball now has 32 total touchdowns in his past 12 games. And let's not forget Ball's prescient NLCS prediction last week.
Big Man on Campus (Defense): Ohio State defensive tackle John Simon. The junior made a career-high eight tackles in the win against Illinois, including two sacks and four total tackles for loss as the Buckeyes allowed just seven points. Are there any defensive tackles in America playing better than Simon, Michigan State's Jerel Worthy and Penn State's Devon Still right now?
Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Penn State's Anthony Fera. The Nittany Lions' punter/kicker converted on his three field-goal attempts despite heavy wind gusts, and placed three punts inside the Purdue 20. The last one was a 69-yarder that Penn State downed at the Boilermakers 2-yard line with 2:36 left in the game.
Worst hangover: Northwestern. The Wildcats are now 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the Big Ten. They couldn't beat Iowa, a team which they had held the upper hand against in recent years. They sure couldn't stop Iowa as the Hawkeyes rolled up 24 points once Northwestern tied the score at 17 in the third quarter. Pat Fitzgerald's team still gets to play Indiana, Minnesota and Rice this season, so some more wins should come. But gaining bowl eligibility for a fifth straight year is no guarantee.
Best scene: Props to Iowa fans, who not only pulled off a neat-looking "stripe the stadium" black-and-gold color scheme at Kinnick Stadium but also used card stunts to honor both America and America's farmers. You can see it in this excellent time-lapse video by the Cedar Rapids Gazette's Brian Ray and also in this YouTube video. I can't even fathom the coordination that goes into that type of thing (what if too many people in one section had to go to the bathroom, for instance?). It was all very cool.