Well that four-overtime thriller up in State College was fun, wasn’t it? What a game! It was a nice way to end a very dull weekend in the Big Ten. Indiana flopped agaisnt Sparty. Nebraska was 39 seconds away from a 44-0 shutout, until Purdue finally decided to do something about it. Northwestern suffered a hangover against a physical team and it cost them big.
Michigan – Yes they lost, but it was a difficult road game. Plus, the Wolverines still control their own destiny. Michigan’s most important divisional game, Nebraska, is in Ann Arbor. Their second biggest divisional game, Michigan State, is at Spartan Stadium – a very easy road environment when compared to Beaver Stadium. Let me also remind folks that this was UM’s first real roadie of the year, not considering the trip to Connecticut’s tiny stadium. Yes Michigan has plenty of issues, but they have a boatload of talent, too. That overtime coaching, though … uff, not pretty. Week seven grade: C+
Michigan State – I’m back in with this team. The offense has shown enough growth to make me believe in them. You have to love the schedule, too. They have Michigan and at Nebraska on the docket, but they get to avoid Penn State, Ohio State and Wisconsin. Those are some nice bullets to dodge. Week seven grade: A
Nebraska – Much like MSU, they have shown enough growth with their weak unit to earn a “buy.” Big Red held a tough Illinois team to 19, and nearly shutout Purdue. Sure the Wyoming game sticks out, but the Pokes are a top 30 offense. UCLA racked up a lot of yards and points, but the Bruins are a top-10 team. Nebraska has a decent schedule with Northwestern and Sparty coming to Lincoln. Going to Ann Arbor and State College won’t be fun, but they do avoid OSU and Wisconsin. Week seven grade: A+
Ohio State – Idle
Wisconsin – Is there a better 4-2 team in the land? If not for a defensive choke (combined with the refs) they may have beaten ASU. If not for a gaffe at the end of the first half, that Buckeye game may have played out differently. The Northwestern matchup was a statement game, and now Wisconsin has a very easy Big Ten slate left. Their toughest opponent is Penn State, who travels to Madison. The Badgers could easily win out and finish 7-1 in the league. OSU has the tiebreaker, but with its depth issues, and tough games against Michigan and Penn State, the Buckeyes could collect some losses in the coming weeks. The season is far from over for the Badgers. Week seven grade: A+
Illinois – Idle
Indiana – Man, it’s two steps forward, one step back for the Hoosiers. The important thing to look at if you are Hoosiers fan is that they are just 3 wins away from a bowl. With Minnesota, Illinois and Purdue traveling to Bloomington, where IU plays a million times better than on the road, there is reason for optimism. The best short-term correction for the Hoosiers is bolstering their rushing offense. This season is too far-gone to think they can fix that awful defense, but fixing the ground game will go a long way. Against MSU, Indiana had just 92 yards (64 of which came on a single touchdown play). In the wins they have over 150 yards, with 41 or more attempts; in their losses, 118 or less yards, with fewer than 28 carries. The recipe is clear: have 35+ carries and keep things balanced so defenses can’t key into the wonderful passing game. Don’t panic and abandon the rushing attack. Week seven grade: D-
Penn State – PSU is the opposite of Indiana: they take one step back and then two forward. That’s how it goes sometimes with a young team, especially one led by a true freshman QB. I don’t think PSU fixed everything in the Michigan win, but it had to feel good for the battered program. The biggest problem with Penn State is their schedule. OSU, Nebraska and Wisconsin are left, as well as an improved Illinois club. Matching last year’s eight wins looks pretty difficult, but you can’t count this gang out yet. The Michigan game showed is a resilient, if not yet polished, product. Week seven grade: A
Iowa – Idle. If you missed it, click here and scroll down to the Iowa and Dunce sections. This is what the program has driven its fans to: insane ranting on the blogs for which they work.
Minnesota – Idle
Purdue – MSU and OSU are the next two games. Fun stuff. Penn State is also on the schedule. Yikes. Regardless of Rob Henry’s experience, Danny Etling is the future. It was smart to play him once the team started to struggle. Think this is another team that could stand to rush the ball more. 25 attempts to 35 passes by Etling, a freshman, making his first career start? Hmm. Week seven grade: F
Buy That Kid Dinner (if the NCAA allowed it)
Jeremy Langford (RB, MSU) – He didn’t have the best average, or the most yards, but he had 4 scores – good for the old Abe Lincoln – and they were very important. His 11-yard TD catch tied the game at seven. Then, his five-yard dash at the end of the half gave MSU a seven-point lead. Langford’s 2-yard push made it a 14-point game. His final score, a 32-yard scamper, regained that 14-point advantage late in the third. All told he had 109 yards on 23 carries, for 3 scores, and a lone reception for another TD.
Chris Borland (LB, Wisconsin) – Frankly you could pick Borland each and every week, but that’s just not fair to everyone else. Against Northwestern he kept a very good offense in a funk all day. He racked up eight solo tackles (10 total) and a sack. For extra measure he hit the Wildcats quarterback and broke up a pass. Not a bad day at the office.
Sam Ficken (K, PSU) – His 3 of 5 kicking may raise a few eyebrows. The fact is, his play in the overtime win was huge. Ficken’s first FG, the long of the day at 45, pushed PSU up by four. His second kick was a crucial 43-yarder, as it came in the fourth and cut the lead to 7. Coming shortly after a miss, the pressure of that kick was immense. Lastly, his kick in overtime only forced the third OT period – No big deal. He was also 4 of 4 on PATs, the last of which tied the whole affair up at 34. He wasn’t perfect, but his kicks were timely and critical to victory.
Of course let’s also give a shout out to the field goal coverage team, which had the crucial overtime block. Several Nittany Lions broke through, but Kyle Baublitz’s hand is the one that did the damage.
Dunce of the Week
Sometimes the obvious choice is the correct answer. The obvious answer here is Michigan’s overtime coaching. Possessing the ball in the first overtime, after PSU missed a field goal, Michigan ran it twice and then centered the ball. Extremely conservative. After the fumble in the third overtime, Michigan decided to kick a 33-yarder for the win. It was admittedly a chip shot, but their kicker looked rattled. He was shaken from an earlier block the miss at the end of regulation. It was only 4th and 1. As my dad has often said about football, “If you can’t pick up one yard, you don’t deserve to win.” Basically, Michigan didn’t have faith that they could make a yard, so they didn’t deserve to win.
It wasn’t just those moments, though. Over the entire overtime, Michigan attempted just five passes and a Devin Gardner scramble, for a total of six called passes. Michigan snapped the ball a total of 18 times. 33% passes isn’t balanced enough. Worse, the rushing attack didn’t work all day. UM averaged just 2.8 yards per carry on a whopping 54 rushes. College overtime rules are great because they favor the bold. How many times have we seen the winning team pass on the first play or send a major blitz to cause a pick? Very rarely does overtime favor the conservative.
As a head coach on the sideline for the 129th time in his career, Brady Hoke picked a very strange time to make rookie mistakes. The only silver lining for Maize and Blue fans is to knowing that, with all the flack Hoke has taken for that overtime mess, he’ll learn from it and move on. Wouldn’t it be therapeutic for Michigan to beat Ohio State in overtime, with Hoke drawing up a double-reverse pass to an eligible tackle buying a hotdog in the stands?