College Football Nation: Matt Eller
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
All the news that fits, I link.
- It still sounds a bit batty, but there are some good reasons why Greg Paulus to Michigan would work, Mark Snyder writes in the Detroit Free Press. On the flip side, a quick fix doesn't help Rich Rodriguez or the Wolverines that much, Free Press blogger Jamie Samuelsen writes.
- Ohio State quarterback Terrelle Pryor is stepping up in the classroom as well as the field, Tim May writes in The Columbus Dispatch.
- Jay Valai has built a reputation for teeth-chattering hits, but the Wisconsin safety is immersed in a battle to reclaim his starting job this spring, Jeff Potrykus writes in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
- Illinois is finding some flexibility with tackles Jeff Allen and Corey Lewis, Bob Asmussen writes in The News-Gazette. Despite a successful freshman season, Illini kicker Matt Eller must win his starting job again, GateHouse News Service's John Supinie writes.
- Let them eat steak! Purdue's offensive players, that is, Mike Carmin writes in The Journal and Courier.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- Jim Tressel has to be pleased with what he has seen, for the most part.
Most of Tressel's teams at Ohio State have been defined by rushing the football, limiting turnovers and winning the special-teams battle. Ohio State is succeeding in all three areas today.
Quarterback Terrelle Pryor and running back Chris "Beanie" Wells are consistently finding running room against an Illini defense that has leveled some nice hits today and performed decently under the circumstances. Pryor is scary good, folks, and he showed his scrambling ability (35-yard run) and passing touch (20-yard scoring strike to Dane Sanzenbacher) on a masterfully executed 76-yard touchdown drive.
Last year, Illinois' Juice Williams stole the show in Columbus, but the junior quarterback has committed two turnovers, both of which led to Ohio State touchdowns. The Buckeyes are blitzing a ton, and though Illinois is moving the ball well, Williams has been forced into some tough spots.
Special teams has been arguably the biggest factor so far. Malcolm Jenkins' punt block for a safety changed the game, and Illinois had a pooch kick and a poor free kick that gave Ohio State great field position. Aside from freshman kicker Matt Eller (two field goals), Illinois has been terrible on special teams.
If Tressel has a reason to be worried, its his defense.
Illinois' no-huddle has proved very effective, and the Illini racked up 292 yards in the first half. Williams, Daniel Dufrene and Jason Ford all have found room to run, and Illinois has experimented a bit, putting Eddie McGee at quarterback for a play before bringing back Williams. Wideout Jeff Cumberland, a Columbus native, has made several nice plays.
But moving the ball between the 20s and settling for field goals won't get it done against Ohio State. Illinois needs to start finishing drives.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Sorry for the brief delay. I had to get out of the Metrodome and over to the airport. The blog has been heavy on Northwestern-Minnesota today, but it's time to look at what else has happened around the league.
Despite the league's two flagship teams (Penn State and Ohio State) on bye weeks, this might have been the most entertaining Saturday of the season. All five games were decided by a touchdown or less, four in the final minutes. Great stuff.
Not to overlook the many bright spots of the day, but it's always important to recognize historical ineptitude. That's where we begin.
The collapse is complete for head coach Rich Rodriguez and Michigan, which fell to 2-7 after today's 48-42 loss. Michigan's nation-long streak of 33 consecutive bowl appearances is over, and the program is assured of its first losing season since 1967. The Wolverines' streak of 40 years without a losing season is fourth longest all-time, behind Penn State (49, 1939-87), Nebraska (42, 1962-2003) and Notre Dame (42, 1889-1932).
Purdue's third-string quarterback Justin Siller, who spent most of the season at running back, threw for 266 yards and three touchdowns in the game. The Boilermakers rolled up 522 yards of offense against Michigan. I still think Rodriguez will get this program on track, but embarrassment is setting in for sure.
Credit Siller and Purdue for stepping up and rallying back today. The Boilermakers likely are out of the bowl mix, but they might have found their quarterback of the future. Siller accounted for four touchdowns, and the game-winning hook-and-lateral from Greg Orton to Desmond Tardy was pretty sweet. Joe Tiller can still call a play or two.
This was another example of how Michigan State has turned a corner behind second-year coach Mark Dantonio. The Spartans seemed on their way to a post-Michigan hangover -- they were 1-5 in games following their last six wins against the Wolverines -- and Javon Ringer did nothing against Wisconsin's defense. Dantonio admitted the team came out flat, but Michigan State showed its newfound mental toughness in the second half, erasing an 11-point deficit to win, 25-24. It helps to have a star kicker, and Brett Swenson (four field goals) certainly qualifies. Michigan State looks like a good bet for a New Year's Day bowl.
Wisconsin looked ready to take another step and salvage its season, but the fourth quarter doomed the Badgers yet again. The Badgers' rushing depth finally showed as both John Clay and P.J. Hill eclipsed 100 yards on the ground, but this defense can't finish games. Wisconsin has been outscored 66-57 in the fourth quarter this season. Next week's trip to Indiana becomes a must win for the Badgers to preserve their bowl hopes.
Speaking of must-win games, this was one for Illinois, and the Illini came through with a 27-24 victory. This team continues to be an utter mystery, but it found a way to win a sloppy game that featured six turnovers. With Juice Williams struggling and the run game nonexistent, Illinois' defense stepped up to sack Ricky Stanzi six times and limit star running back Shonn Greene. Dere Hicks' strip, scoop and score was huge and Matt Eller continued his strong season with the game-winning field goal.
The bye-week bugaboo continues for the Big Ten. Iowa's loss take the luster off next week's matchup against No. 3 Penn State, and the Hawkeyes could be scrambling for a bowl berth at 5-4. Greene continued his streak of 100-yard games, but quarterbacks need to win college football games and Stanzi came up short today. The Hawkeyes will need a huge effort from their defense and more polished play from Stanzi to hang with Penn State.
The knock on Indiana has been and always will be its defense. Today's game didn't do much to change that perception. Central Michigan torched the Hoosiers for 37 points and 522 yards, and the Chippewas didn't even have their best player available in a 37-34 win. Star quarterback Dan LeFevour sat out with a sprained ankle, but backup Brian Brunner led the charge, passing for a school-record 485 yards and four touchdowns, plus the game-winning 1-yard scoring run. Indiana linebacker Matt Mayberry did his part with four sacks, the Hoosiers defense remains far too vulnerable to deep passes.