Chicago Colleges: Dan Herron

Weekend rewind: Big Ten

October, 17, 2011
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?

[+] EnlargeSilas Redd
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar 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.

Final: Ohio State 17, Illinois 7

October, 15, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Ohio State isn't dead yet.

After months of disappointment on and off the field, the Buckeyes earned the right to lift their arms in victory. Behind a suffocating defense and the triumphant return of top running back Dan Herron, Ohio State beat No. 16 Illinois 17-7 for its first Big Ten win. The Illini lost for the first time this season after living on the edge for several weeks.

Ohio State coach Luke Fickell deserves a lot of credit for keeping the team focused and united after the collapse at Nebraska. Fickell undoubtedly will be thrilled with his defense, which bounced back with an impressive performance against Nathan Scheelhaase, A.J. Jenkins and one of the Big Ten's most dangerous offenses. The win wasn't pretty to many, but Fickell, as a longtime defense coach, had to be loving it.

Behind several defensive standouts -- DT Johnathan Hankins, DL John Simon, S Tyler Moeller, CB Bradley Roby, CB Travis Howard -- Ohio State kept Illinois off the scoreboard for more than 53 minutes. The Buckeyes forced three second-half takeaways, converting the first two into touchdowns.

Quarterback Braxton Miller didn't complete a pass until the fourth quarter -- he connected for a 17-yard touchdown on his first attempt -- but Ohio State limited mistakes on offense and received a terrific performance from Herron.

Now the Buckeyes head into a much-needed bye before their showdown against Wisconsin.

I'll have much more from Memorial Stadium, so don't go anywhere ...

Halftime update: Buckeyes lead 3-0

October, 15, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A quick update at halftime from Memorial Stadium, where both defenses have dominated play. Ohio State leads No. 16 Illinois 3-0.

Stat of the half: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller didn't attempt a pass until midway through the second quarter and finished the half 0-for-3 passing. He was sacked four times.

Best player in the half: Several defenders stood out for both teams, but Jonathan Brown was an absolute beast in his return from suspension. The Illinois linebacker recorded 11 tackles, including 2.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks. Illinois DE Whitney Mercilus (2 TFLs, 1.5 sacks) and Ohio State DT Johnathan Hankins (3 tackles, 1 TFL) also were terrific.

What Ohio State needs to do in the second half: Unlike last week at Nebraska, the Buckeyes' tackling has been extremely sound, and Illinois has had a tough time stretching the field. Ohio State must continue to keep Illini star WR A.J. Jenkins in check (3 receptions, 27 yards) and force QB Nathan Scheelhaase to look elsewhere. It's clearly a defensive struggle, so Ohio State must make Illinois work for its points. On offense, running backs Dan Herron (70 rush yards) and Jordan Hall (43 rush yards) have been terrific, but Miller must provide some passing threat or Illinois will load up.

What Illinois needs to do in the second half: Make Miller beat them through the air. He has really struggled so far, and Illinois' constant pressure on the pocket is a big reason why. The Illini needs to prevent big runs by Herron and Hall and force Ohio State to mount a sustained drive. On offense, accelerating the tempo might be a good idea against a fundamentally sound Ohio State defense. Coordinator Paul Petrino tried to do so late in the half, but Illinois never got in a rhythm on offense.

Ohio State-Illinois pregame notes

October, 15, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A few notes from warm-ups as Ohio State and Illinois are about to get started here at Memorial Stadium.
  • Ohio State's quarterback rotation started off with Braxton Miller, Joe Bauserman, Kenny Guiton and Taylor Graham. But Guiton worked a good amount with the second-team offense. We'll see if Bauserman gets the first shot behind Miller, or if it will be Guiton.
  • I didn't see Illinois wide receiver Darius Millines in warm-ups. He's expected to miss another game with a foot injury.
  • Miller seemed to be moving around well. He'll get a boost from having Dan Herron back in the lineup.

It's game day at Memorial Stadium

October, 15, 2011
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Greetings from central Illinois, where today the 16th-ranked Fighting Illini try to maintain their undefeated record against a desperate Ohio State team. The teams are playing for the Illibuck, which Ohio State has retained since 2008.

Ohio State leads the series 63-30-4 and holds a 34-12 edge in Champaign.

It's a beautiful day for football, as the skies are clear and there's a slight chill in the air. The wind could be a factor as it's blowing at a decent clip to the southeast. A good atmosphere around the stadium today, as Illinois fans are understandably excited about their team, which is off to its best start since 1951.

Illinois is the undefeated team, but most of the pressure rests with Ohio State today. The Buckeyes are trying to avoid dropping below .500 this late in the year for the first time since 1988, the team's last losing season. With Wisconsin coming to Columbus on Oct. 29, Ohio State wants to avoid going 0-for-October. An offense that performed well for two and a half quarters at Nebraska regains the services of senior running back Dan Herron, who returns from suspension. It will be interesting to see how Herron is used among Ohio State's other backs (Carlos Hyde, Jordan Hall).

Braxton Miller's health will be a big storyline today. The Buckeyes freshman will start at quarterback after leaving the Nebraska game with a sprained right ankle. The sprain doesn't appear too severe, but how it affects his mobility remains to be seen. Illinois defensive coordinator Vic Koenning has been effectively aggressive and creative all season. He'll look for ways to put Miller under pressure, and Ohio State will need a strong performance from its line and its backs in protection.

The Illinois offense comes in with a lot of confidence, as quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and wide receiver A.J. Jenkins both are playing at an All-Big Ten level. Ohio State's defense needs to rebound after being steamrolled by Nebraska in the final 23 minutes in Lincoln. It's important for Illinois to develop weapons other than Jenkins, whether it's through the run game or with the pass. Darius Millines, the team's No. 2 receiver, will be a game-time decision after missing the past two games with a foot injury.

Illinois has shown impressive resilience this season, fighting through mistakes to get wins. But the Illini need to be careful against an Ohio State team with its back against the wall.

Much more to come throughout the day, so don't go anywhere.