- Adam Rittenberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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Let's take a look back at a pivotal weekend in the Big Ten before peeking ahead to Week 8.
Team of the Week: Wisconsin. Through the first six weeks, Wisconsin provided little evidence to suggest it could knock off the nation's No. 1 team. But the Badgers put it all together in impressive fashion Saturday night against Ohio State. For the first time in recent memory, Ohio State's defense got humbled by a Big Ten opponent as Wisconsin's offensive line steamrolled the Buckeyes, creating huge running lanes for both John Clay and James White. Although the Buckeyes rallied in the third quarter and the early fourth, Wisconsin was too powerful on offense and received enough stops from J.J. Watt and the defense to keep Terrelle Pryor and the Ohio State attack in check. Wisconsin overcame its big-game bugaboo and now hits the road for a huge rivalry game against No. 15 Iowa.
Best game: Ohio State at Wisconsin. The atmosphere at Camp Randall Stadium was absolutely electric, and the game began with a bang as Wisconsin's David Gilreath returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown. Wisconsin and Ohio State were mirror images in the first and third quarters, as each team dominated play and put together extensive touchdown drives (19 plays, 89 yards for Wisconsin; 19 plays, 94 yards for Ohio State). The Buckeyes had all the momentum as they closed to within three points early in the fourth quarter, but Wisconsin answered with the defining drive of its season, marching 73 yards in 10 plays and mixing up the play calls perfectly. The Iowa-Michigan game also brought some drama as Michigan rallied behind Tate Forcier, and Indiana-Arkansas State turned into a shootout.
Biggest play: We go back to Madison, as Wisconsin faced third-and-3 from its own 34-yard line early in the fourth quarter after Ohio State had rallied to within three points. Rather than pound away with the run game, Wisconsin took to the air and Scott Tolzien fired a bullet to receiver Nick Toon near the east sideline for a 20-yard gain. The Badgers didn't face another third down on the drive and went on to score a touchdown. "Huge catch in a crucial point of the game," Toon said. "But that's my job." Iowa faced a similar situation against Michigan, up 35-28 in the fourth quarter but facing third-and-9 from its own 41. Ricky Stanzi found Marvin McNutt for 17 yards, and the Hawkeyes went on to score.
Specialist spotlight: Michigan State kicker Dan Conroy really is starting to blossom as the successor to superstar Brett Swenson. Conroy went 4-for-4 on field-goal attempts against Illinois, connecting from 37, 34, 32 and 18 yards. The Spartans really needed him on a day when the offense struggled for stretches. Indiana kicker Mitch Ewald also had an impressive performance in relief of the injured Nick Freeland. Ewald went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts, including a 46-yarder in the fourth quarter. Gilreath doesn't technically qualify as a specialist, but his return against Ohio State is notable. It marked Wisconsin's first kick return touchdown since Lee Evans in 2000, and the team's longest since Aaron Stecker's 100-yarder against Minnesota in 1995.
Most futile call: Making my way through the Camp Randall Stadium concourse to Wisconsin's media room Saturday night, I kept hearing the public-address announcer pleading with the Wisconsin students and other Badgers fans not to rush the field. Um, good luck with that one. I understand the safety issue and the past problems at Camp Randall, but you're just not going to keep people off the field when their team has just defeated No. 1.
Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt: Watt tormented Ohio State's offensive line all night and recorded three tackles for loss and two sacks of Pryor. It felt like he had four or five sacks with all the trouble he caused. Watt also was credited with a quarterback hurry and has a team-leading 11.5 tackles for loss this year.
Indiana WRs Damarlo Belcher and Tandon Doss: The Hoosiers' star tandem combined for 14 receptions, 224 yards and two touchdowns in the win against Arkansas State. Belcher and Doss became the first Indiana wideouts to both eclipse 100 yards in a game since Ray Fisher and James Hardy in 2007.
Michigan State LB Greg Jones: The senior is well on his way to another All-America type season for Michigan State. He recorded a season-high 14 tackles to go along with a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in Saturday's win against Illinois. Jones has led MSU in tackles in 27 of the past 33 games.
Ohio State WR Dane Sanzenbacher: If there's a tougher wide receiver in America, feel free to send me his name because Sanzenbacher is my pick, hands down. Sanzenbacher never shies away from contact and making gutsy catches. He had six of them for 94 yards against Wisconsin. Sanzenbacher is playing like a first-team All-Big Ten receiver.
Iowa WR Derrell Johnson-Koulianos: DJK became Iowa's all-time leading receiver Saturday after recording four receptions for 70 yards and three touchdowns. He now has seven touchdown receptions this season. DJK, who added a 40-yard kick return against Michigan, should share the game ball with quarterback Ricky Stanzi, who continues to put up Heisman-caliber numbers (17-for-24 passing, 248 pass yards, 3 TDs).
Purdue QB Rob Henry: The young fella looks like a winner, folks. Henry accounted for four touchdowns (3 rush, 1 pass) against Minnesota and completed more than twice as many passes (13) on just two more attempts (20) than he did the previous week at Northwestern.
Illinois DL Corey Liuget: It's always notable when a defensive lineman leads the team in tackles, and Liuget had another big performance Saturday at Michigan State. The junior recorded 11 tackles, one for loss, and two quarterback hurries as Illinois limited the Spartans' rushing attack.
OK, enough with Week 7. Let's take a quick look at Week 8.
No. 7 Michigan State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten) at Northwestern (5-1, 1-1): The Spartans are 7-0 for the first time since 1966, but they have yet to win a game outside the state of Michigan. They head to Evanston and face a Northwestern team coming off of a bye week. Michigan State's playmaking defense has recorded 12 interceptions this fall; Northwestern quarterback Dan Persa has thrown only two in 177 pass attempts.
Penn State (3-3, 0-2) at Minnesota (1-6, 0-3): Interim coach Jeff Horton leads Minnesota for the first time against a Penn State team coming off of a much-needed bye week. It will be interesting to see if Penn State can regroup a bit and get its offense going against a Gophers defense that allows a Big Ten-high 31.7 points a game. Gophers quarterback Adam Weber takes aim at a Penn State defense missing several starters because of injury.
Purdue (4-2, 2-0) at No. 10 Ohio State (6-1, 2-1): Purdue is one of those teams that always plays Ohio State tough, but the Buckeyes might have steam coming out of their ears for this one. Ohio State won't overlook Purdue again after last year's loss in West Lafayette, and the Buckeyes are doubly mad after stumbling last week at Wisconsin. Henry is 2-0 as Purdue's starter, but he'll be tested at The Shoe.
Indiana (4-2, 0-2) at Illinois (3-3, 1-2): Illinois has gotten through the toughest stretch of its season, but it still needs three more wins to become bowl eligible. Indiana notched its only Big Ten victory against the Illini last year and has really struggled to get over the hump in league play. Ben Chappell and Indiana's high-powered pass attack goes up against an improved Illinois defense.
No. 13 Wisconsin (6-1, 2-1) at No. 15 Iowa (5-1, 2-0): Two rivals with a lot of similarities meet in a showcase game at Kinnick Stadium. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema recorded the signature win he needed against Ohio State, but he also must show he can beat elite teams away from Camp Randall Stadium. Bielema heads back to his alma mater and faces an Iowa team that begins a stretch of marquee matchups on its home field.
Bye: Michigan (5-2, 1-2)