The Big Ten had four games last week, with two blowouts and two very interesting contests. Let’s ignore the beat-downs Ohio State and Michigan State gave Penn State and Illinois, respectively, and look at Minnesota and Iowa’s wins. Minnesota dominated that tilt with Nebraska and it makes them bowl eligible for the second straight year. Between rough play to start the year and all of coach Kill’s health issues, the players have tuned out all the distractions and rallied. As for Iowa, they sit at 5-3, with a great shot at a bowl, thanks to still having Purdue on their schedule. Wins over Northwestern, Iowa State, and Minnesota have the coaching staff slowly winning fans back over.
Michigan - Idle
Michigan State - Ah Illinois, always the cure for an offensively challenged team. The upcoming stretch (Michigan, at Nebraska) will determine if the Spartans make Indy. They don’t need to replicate the 42 points (or Connor Cook’s 15 of 16 passing with 3 scores) since their defense is the best in the league. However, both Nebraska and Michigan are averaging over 39.9 a game, so something will have to give. From there, a likely title game with Ohio State (47.3 ppg) will pose problems. If the Illinois game is the start of something new, having an improved offense in their back pocket could mean Roses. Week nine grade: A+
Ohio State - When you give a team their worst pounding in 114 years you know you’ve had a pretty good week of football. Week nine grade: A+
Wisconsin - Idle
Indiana - Idle
Iowa - Hey, hey, hey…5-2 with Purdue left means a bowl is basically a lock. Looking at the other games (Wisconsin, Michigan, at Nebraska) I see a few things working in their favor. Obviously, two home games helps. All three teams are either one-dimensional, have a horrid defense or are flawed in some other way. It’s not like Iowa will be facing Alabama, Oregon and FSU in those three games. You can see avenues towards an upset. Even if the Hawkeyes do get swept and make a bowl at 6-6, this is a team with a first year qb and a very green receiving corps. Baby-steps, people. Week nine grade: B+
Minnesota - What does it take for me to finally say kind words about the Gophers? How about looking competent in all three phases and scoring a big win? Well, they finally did just that. My favorite thing about Goldy’s win: 54 rushing attempts. That is how you bludgeon a team into submission. That is how you hold the ball for 11 more minutes than them. That is how you wear a team down physically and mentally, and seal the win. Outstanding. Love that hat on a hat football. Week nine grade: A+
Illinois – It feels like a million years ago since that win over Cincinatti, doesn’t it? The Illini were totally outclassed on both sides of the ball in another league loss. Indiana, Purdue and reeling Northwestern appear to be the best chances at stopping the bleeding. Being outscored 137-54 in their three league games shows just how far back this club is competitively. I am a worshipper at the church of “give a guy three or four years,” but Tim Beckman is now 5-14 and an astonishing 0-11 in league play. If they lose out, does 5-19, 0-16 warrant a third trip around the Beckman house of horrors? One of my favorite exercises is to compare new guys to Kirk Ferentz. Iowa worshipped at that same church and gave him time. After a 1-10 (0-8) debut, Iowa made a bowl in year three, and won the league in year four. Kirk’s second season? 3-9 (3-5). Beckman matched the three overall wins, but what gave Hawk fans hope were three league wins, including two over ranked teams. I hate blowing the whole thing up, but two years without a league win is inexcusable. I would not question the Illini for canning him. Week nine grade: F
Nebraska - With games against Michigan, Michigan State, Penn State and improved Iowa left, you can all but kiss the Big Ten title game goodbye. I know injuries, chiefly Taylor Martinez’s, have affected the Huskers, but losing at a very so-so Minnesota team is pathetic. I agree with what Bo Pelini said in his postgame interview, perhaps the players think they are better than they are. Week nine grade: D-
Northwestern - To make a bowl they need a split with Nebraska, Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois upcoming. I can see the Wildcats getting swept in those first three, because of the way they are playing and their mounting injuries. Its a shame, because we saw how good they were against Ohio State. Things just have gone sideways. It’s always a shame to have a lost season, but when you are supposed to contend, it really stings. Week nine grade: D+
Penn State - They played like it was 99 … 1899 and got hammered. We know this team’s ceiling (knocking off Michigan) so they can still possibly play spoiler. However, three turnovers and zero defense wouldn’t even cut it against a pee-wee team. As for selling them, there is no way they match last season’s eight wins, nor do I see them winning at Wisconsin – their last chance to spoil someone’s season. Week nine grade: F
Purdue - Idle
Buy That Kid Dinner (if the NCAA allowed it)
Braxton Miller (QB, OSU) - 18/24, 252 yards, 10.5 avg, 3 TD, 0 INT, 93.7 QBR. He also chipped in 2 TDs on 11 rushes, for a total 68 yards and a long of 39. I say Abe Lincoln for four scores … should I start calling five-touchdown days Cinco de Scoreos? Hmmmmm, I think that is a yes. [Editors Note: We have no idea what that means, but it’s your world, boss.]
Iowa Linebacking Corps - Christian Kirksey, Anthony Hitchens and James Morris were at it again. The trio has combined for nearly 900 tackles in their careers, and have been an absolute joy to watch. Against Northwestern, a team that has given Iowa – and this trio – fits, each of them put in terrific games as the Hawkeyes held the Wildcats to just 10 points. Here were their individual days:
-Kirksey: 12 tackles, 4 solo
-Hitchens: 9 tackles, 6 solo, 1 sack, 1 tackle for a loss, 1 forced fumble
-Morris: 8 tackles, 4 solo, 2 sacks, .5 tackle for a loss, 1 fumble recovery
Honestly, the entire defense deserves applause, as Tanner Miller (S), Drew Ott (DL) and John Lowdermilk (S) also had tremendous days. What a complete team performance.
Minnesota’s kicking game – Another joint award, this time for the men with the big legs. Chris Hawthorne was perfect on the day, hitting both field goal attempts, with a long of 45. He was 4/4 on PATs for a combined total of 10 points in Minnesota’s 11-point stunner over Nebraska. Punter Peter Mortell put two of his five kicks inside the 20, and averaged 35 yards a kick with a long of 43. Minnesota played well in all three phases of the game, but special teams is often the margin between victory and defeat, especially for underdogs. The Gophers’ special teams unit stepped up big to help their squad.
Dunce of the Week
Nebraska’s play calling left a pretty bitter taste in my mouth, and I’m not even a Cornhusker fan. I can’t imagine how apoplectic a real Nebraska fan is right now. First of all Ameer Abdullah averaged 8.7 yards a carry for 165 yards on 19 carries. Even with a first half fumble, that is one heck of a day. How does he not get more carries? He had just 9 in the final thirty minutes of the game. There was a crucial drive, six minutes into the third, when Nebraska had just given up a touchdown to go down 11. The drive was a three and out, all incomplete passes. Minnesota would tack on another field goal after those wasted plays. Abdullah has to get the rock right there.
Another point of confusion is Kenny Bell. The wideout is a beast, yet only caught three passes on a measly seven targets? He had 42 of his 45 receiving yards on one play so the other two passes were garbage short routes. Bell is a pretty solid 6’1”, 185 and close enough to being a burner to be a kick return man. We’ve seen him stretch the field before, so why was he handcuffed by his own coaches and quarterback? Credit Minnesota with a wonderful game plan, especially offensively, but the Husker play calling and execution was, at best, baffling and, at worst, negligent. Negligent coaching staffs don’t last too long, especially at a hungry program like Nebraska. Bo and his staff need to be on their toes the rest of the way.
Bonus DotW to Illinois for banning Nathan Scheelhaase’s dad from campus for one year, following an altercation at the last game. They did get the memo that Scheelhaase is a senior, right? The ban effectively lasts for just a few games. It actually sounds like they did pops a favor. Sitting through speech after speech at graduations is a pain. Suffering through Illinois football games is also a pain. If anything, Illinois should have punished him by making it mandatory for him to attend all of next year’s games.