Monday, November 7, 2011
Weekend rewind: Big Ten
By Brian Bennett
Upon further review ...
Team of the week: Northwestern. In a season in which hardly any of the top contenders can win on the road, the Wildcats went into Lincoln and upset then-No. 10 Nebraska 28-25. After a rough season, including a five-game losing steak, Northwestern is back in position to make a bowl game if it can win two of its final three at home.
Dan Persa and the Wildcats are in position to become bowl eligible with at least two more wins.
Game of the week: Iowa 24, Michigan 16. Four of the five Big Ten games were in doubt until late in the fourth quarter, which was surprising given how some of the matchups looked on paper. The Iowa-Michigan game wasn't the best-played game of the day, but it had as much of an impact on the league title race as any. And the excitement level at the end was unparalleled throughout the league as Michigan had four chances from the 3-yard line to score and set up a potential two-point conversion try. Speaking of which ...
Biggest play(s): All four plays on that goal line stand were huge, but particularly the ones on second and fourth down. On second down, Junior Hemingway made an incredible adjustment on a Denard Robinson pass and appeared to catch the ball at the back of the end zone. The officials on the field ruled it incomplete, however, and the replay officials let the call stand. Hemingway certainly thought it was a catch, tweeting after the game, "I caught that 1 no If ands or buts about it!!!!" On fourth down, Robinson threw a slant to Roy Roundtree that was broken up by Iowa's B.J. Lowery, who looked like he made contact well before the ball arrived. The Wolverines didn't like either call, but Brady Hoke didn't publicly complain about either.
Bottom line: Michigan shouldn't have put itself in position to need help from the officials in the end.
Best call: Pat Fitzgerald's decision to go for it on fourth-and-one from the Nebraska 18 with 5:05 left. The Wildcats led only 21-18, so a field goal there could have put them in position to lose if the Cornhuskers answered with a touchdown. "There's no question we lost momentum," Fitzgerald said. "I just felt it was time to go for the win."
The call was perfect, too, as quarterback Kain Colter kept the ball on an option play for a four-yard gain. Northwestern went on to score a touchdown in an impressive 66-yard drive that chewed up more than seven minutes of clock and featured 13 straight running plays.
Big Men on Campus (Offense): Northwestern's Kain Colter and Wisconsin's Montee Ball. Colter led the Wildcats on three straight touchdown drives in the second half after starting quarterback Dan Persa left with an injury. Colter had 229 yards of total offense (57 rushing, 115 passing, 57 receiving) and three total touchdowns. Ball ran for a career-high 223 yards, the most by a Badgers player since 2007, on just 20 carries. He also scored three touchdowns, giving him a school-record 24 on the season. The Big Ten single-season record is 26.
Big Man on Campus (Defense): Wisconsin linebacker Chris Borland. The sophomore had 11 tackles, including 3.5 for loss, plus an interception and two forced fumbles in the win over Purdue. The Boilers had only 284 yards and no second-half points.
Big Man on Campus (Special teams): Michigan State punter Mike Sadler. The freshman placed four of his five punts inside the 20-yard line and had two downed inside the Minnesota 10-yard line with under eight minutes to play. Field position proved to be a big factor in the Spartans 31-24 win.
Worst hangover: Nebraska. The Cornhuskers were ranked No. 10 and in control of their own destiny in the Legends Division. After the stunning upset, they now need help to get to Indianapolis, and that's if they can win on the road at Penn State and Michigan, not to mention the finale against Iowa. The fact that Nebraska's offense had trouble getting going against one of the worst defenses in the league was baffling. Of course, the team that had the worst weekend in Week 11 was one that didn't play: Penn State.