Sunday, September 19, 2010
What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 3
By Adam Rittenberg
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten play ...
1. Iowa's magic runs out: Those of us who closely follow Iowa undoubtedly nodded our heads as defensive end Broderick Binns scooted into the end zone with the tying touchdown against Arizona. Indeed, we had seen this all before, and it meant good things for the Hawkeyes. But Iowa's fourth-quarter magic ran out, as Arizona quarterback Nick Foles and the Wildcats' defensive line ended Iowa's hopes of another incredible road win. Iowa's faults at offensive line and cornerback were exposed, and a new weakness, special teams, also really hurt its cause early on in Tucson. Just too much inconsistency all around. The Hawkeyes' hopes for a national title run likely are over, but they still can push Ohio State and others for the Big Ten crown.
Michigan State had reason to celebrate after coach Mark Dantonio's gutsy call in overtime.
2. Mark Dantonio is a gambler: Who would have pegged Dantonio to make the gutsiest call of the year in college football? He's not exactly the Big Ten's version of Chris Petersen, but he earned some serious cred Saturday night against Notre Dame. The Jim Tressel disciple called a fake field goal in overtime, as Aaron Bates and Charlie Gantt hooked up for the game-winning 29-yard touchdown. Dantonio's tenure had been plagued by close losses, so to pull out a tight game in this manner provides a huge lift for a Michigan State program trying to join the Big Ten's elite.
3. The Big Ten has a "special" problem: Special teams breakdowns continue to be a major story line throughout a league known for stressing the kicking game. Iowa allowed a kickoff return touchdown and handed Arizona another touchdown after getting a punt blocked, not to mention missing the potential go-ahead PAT late in the fourth quarter. Wisconsin saved itself with two special-teams plays, but the Badgers also allowed a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. Ohio State, plagued by special-teams woes all season, had a punt blocked in Saturday's romp against Ohio. Minnesota took a 14-13 third-quarter lead against USC, only to give it up 12 seconds later by allowing a kick return touchdown. Michigan's place-kicking situation is a mess. There have been some special teams highlights this year, but they've been overshadowed by a surprising trend of miscues.
4. Evan Royster is in a slump: Not exactly a revelation here, but most people thought this would be the week when Royster broke out and started to look like an All-Big Ten running back again. Royster finally reached the end zone for the first time in 2010, but he recorded only 38 yards on 11 carries in Penn State's 24-0 win against Kent State. The senior has rushed for 40 yards or fewer in each of his first three games this fall. Penn State has a young quarterback, a so-so offensive line and a reduced playbook, but other running backs seem to be having more success than Royster. Penn State simply has to get him going next week against Temple before visiting Iowa on Oct. 2.
5. Michigan should expect shootouts this year: Quarterback Denard Robinson continued his brilliance Saturday against UMass and got some help from running back Michael Shaw and wide receiver Darryl Stonum. But how much longer can Michigan win in spite of a very leaky defense? The Wolverines allowed 37 points and 439 yards to the FCS Minutemen, who would have had more if not for two costly turnovers. Michigan has been fighting a numbers game on defense for years, and the recent swell of injuries and player departures isn't helping. Upcoming opponents will continue to attack a vulnerable Wolverines secondary, putting pressure on Robinson to keep working his magic.