Sunday, October 2, 2011
What we learned in the Big Ten: Week 5
By Adam Rittenberg
Five lessons from the week that was in Big Ten football.
1. Wisconsin has Big Ten's best team and the league's best player: Not a huge revelation, but we needed to see Wisconsin and Russell Wilson against some decent competition. Nebraska came calling Saturday night, and Wilson and his Badgers teammates rudely welcomed the Huskers to their new league. Wisconsin piled up 48 points and 486 yards on Nebraska, leaving coach Bo Pelini to say he was "embarrassed" by his team's defensive effort. The Big Ten isn't a great conference this season, but it has a great team in Wisconsin, which has few potential stumbling blocks left on its regular-season schedule. Wilson, meanwhile, put himself right in the Heisman Trophy discussion with a near spotless performance, dazzling the crowd with both his arm and his legs.
A.J. Jenkins had 12 catches for 268 yards and 3 touchdowns in Illinois' close win over Northwestern.
2.Illinois is hard to kill: The Fighting Illini remain a flawed team prone to some mind-numbing mistakes, but they're also a team that has learned how to win. For the third consecutive week they made enough plays at critical points to prevail with a victory. After the defense fueled wins against Arizona State and Western Michigan, the offense stepped up in the second half against Northwestern. Wide receiver A.J. Jenkins turned in a record-setting performance and quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase grew up a bit as Illinois twice rallied from deficits to win 38-35. The Illini must start limiting turnovers and penalties, which will eventually prove costly, but they have shown plenty of fight so far this season. With an extremely favorable schedule, Illinois should continue to rack up wins.
3. Ohio State's offensive problems run deep: Some Buckeyes fans were hopeful that freshman quarterback Braxton Miller would solve the team's inability to move the ball against good defenses. Miller looked like a true freshman against Michigan State, which got in his face and put him in a phone booth to limit his running abilities. Joe Bauserman actually outplayed Miller while coming on in relief in the fourth quarter, possibly creating some controversy there. Buckeyes fans now must hope the return of running back Dan Herron, receiver DeVier Posey and Mike Adams will turn things around. They should help, but the truth is Ohio State is limited at quarterback and will be hard pressed to change that this month against Nebraska, Illinois and Wisconsin. Unless the defense and special teams come through in a big way, this team is going to continue to struggle.
4. The Michigan schools can play a little D: It's not a major shock to see Michigan State stifling opposing offenses, although the Spartans did lose two standout linebackers (Greg Jones and Eric Gordon) from the 2010 team. Still, coordinator Pat Narduzzi has his group playing at a very high level, as Michigan State fell 10 seconds short of becoming the first team since 1982 to shut out Ohio State in Columbus. The bigger surprise is Michigan, which couldn't get much worse on defense but clearly has made strides under coach Brady Hoke and coordinator Greg Mattison. Michigan on Saturday recorded its first shutout since 2007, its first shutout against a Big Ten opponent since 2001. Aside from the wild Notre Dame game, Michigan has allowed just 20 points this season.
5. Penn State's offense remains messy: This was the perfect day for Penn State's offense to break out, build confidence and maybe, just maybe, get clarity at the quarterback spot. The Lions faced an Indiana team coming off of a horrendous defensive performance at North Texas and ranked 95th nationally against the run. But rather than take a step forward, Penn State backslid for much of the game. The Lions failed to score a touchdown on five red zone opportunities, twice committing turnovers in the red zone. Quarterback Matthew McGloin outplayed Rob Bolden, but not by much, and the offensive line was inconsistent. Penn State needs to figure things out before facing Iowa next week in a game that could chart the course for the rest of the season.