Tag:Damario Belcher
Posted on: November 21, 2010 4:36 am
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Nov. 20)

Posted by Adam Jacobi

1. Wisconsin fans shouldn't necessarily buy tickets to Pasadena, but they should at least be pricing them. We're sure that Badger fans weren't terribly excited to see their nemeses in East Lansing complete the comeback today, leaving the Big Ten title picture still in some measure of doubt, but Ohio State 's own comeback against Iowa later that day means that barring a sensational boost in the BCS rankings for the Buckeyes, Wisconsin is one win away from the Rose Bowl. Considering Northwestern -- the Badgers' last opponent -- clearly misses injured QB Dan Persa and struggles to stop the run, the likelihood of an upset at Camp Randall seems slim. Famous last words, yes, but still.

2. Don't mention fourth quarters to Iowa fans for a while. Or do if you want to anger them. In the Hawkeyes' game against Ohio State, the Buckeyes weathered Iowa's defense for three quarters before making a heroic drive in the last few minutes of the game to take the lead and win. For the Iowa fans, it was a broken record that desperately needs to stop; in each of Iowa's four losses, the vaunted Iowa defense has given up a go-ahead touchdown with less than five minutes on the clock, at which point the Iowa offense has failed to answer under pressure. In fact, Iowa would have five losses of that exact nature if Indiana wideout Damario Belcher hadn't dropped an easy fourth-down touchdown two weeks ago. It's to the point where "small sample size" just doesn't work as an excuse anymore: the Iowa defense clearly doesn't have the juice to play for 60 minutes, and that painful fact has snuffed out the high hopes of the Hawkeye faithful in Iowa City.

3. The Spartans might not be going to the Rose Bowl, but their season's pretty special anyway. Barring an Ohio State loss to Michigan next week, Michigan State will not be going to Pasadena; the fact that MSU and OSU didn't play each other this season means that their tiebreaker would be BCS ranking, and OSU was already comfortably ahead of the Spartans even before OSU took down a ranked Iowa team while MSU struggled with very-not-ranked Purdue. Michigan State's season-ender at Penn State isn't a gimme, but even if the Spartans lose, this is still just the third time in program history that MSU has hit 10 wins on a season (1965, 1999). The Spartans have never won 11 games in a season, and they have two opportunities to do that now.

The accomplishment isn't that much of a stunner, as the Spartans looked on paper to be at worst a darkhorse contender for the league title. It's just, well, they barely ever do this, so it was hard not to wonder how MSU would screw it all up this year. But credit Mark Dantonio and his staff for keeping the team on track, even through Dantonio's heart attack and other off-field problems, and en route to its best Big Ten record its best conference record in at least 11 (and maybe 45) years.

4. Okay, so football at Wrigley can be pretty cool -- even if one of the end zones is sort of a death trap. The Big Ten got it right when it forbade Illinois and Northwestern to run offensive series toward that now-infamous east end zone at Wrigley, and when Northwestern defensive back Brian Peters took an interception to the house, he had to be tackled by teammates before hitting that wall. No, he wasn't three yards away from certain doom, and the tackle by his pals was also nice and celebratory, but still: he was only about three or four yards away from impact before being taken down as he slowed from his sprint. Running offensive plays (like fade routes) toward that wall would have been just begging for injuries -- and lawsuits.

But past that, the fans in attendance got to see a special occasion, even if Illinois absolutely worked the Wildcats. Wrigley Field is one of the most hallowed sports arenas, and to see its famed scoreboard used to show Big Ten football scores and its marquee painted purple must have been a thrill for Northwestern and Big Ten fans in Chicago. Ron Zook said he'd "absolutely" have his team play there again, and Pat Fitzgerald was equally effusive in his praise of the event. Should the two teams play their rivalry game there every year? Well, that seems like an abuse of the novelty of it all, but have you ever actually seen Memorial Stadium or Ryan Field? Not exactly cathedrals of the sport, those. It might -- just might -- be worth keeping Wrigley on the table going forward.


Posted on: November 14, 2010 2:32 am
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Nov. 13)

Posted by Adam Jacobi

1. The Iowa defense is the biggest fraud in the Big Ten. Credit must go to Dan Persa and Northwestern for their gutsy fourth-quarter comeback against the Iowa Hawkeyes, but it's time to stop lauding the Iowa defense as one of the nation's best, because it isn't -- not when the game is on the line. Iowa has given up game-winning drives -- and long, sustained ones, at that -- to three different opponents this season, and if it hadn't been for an unconscionable end zone drop by Indiana wideout Damario Belcher on 4th down last week, that total would be four, in just 10 games. It's one thing to hold lightweights like Iowa State and Eastern Illinois to just one score. It's another to get a stop when the team needs one the most, and Iowa's defense just doesn't seem capable of doing that.

2. Bret Bielema's empathy generator is broken. Quick, name the one Big Ten coach who would run up 83 points on a conference opponent. It's probably the same one that goes for two while up by 25 with under seven minutes to play, isn't it? Why yes it is. Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema continued his quest to get every mediocre coach in the Big Ten fired with an 83-20 firebombing of Indiana in Madison. And though Bielema will again claim not to be running up the score, it's worth pointing out that Scott Tolzien was throwing passes to fellow starters Lance Kendricks and David Gilreath with a 39-point lead and under five minutes left in the third quarter. Yes, it's up to Indiana to make the stop, and Indiana never did, but in a 63-point win, it's never good to see the winning team converting a 76-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter -- regardless of whether a backup threw it. Wisconsin, we're looking at you here.

3. There's plenty of Hawkeye fans in East Lansing. The Big Ten title race is down to three one-loss teams, and as of right now, Wisconsin owns the tiebreaker for the trip to Pasadena (or if all hell really breaks loose, Glendale, but let's assume Pasadena). Of the three teams, only one -- Ohio State -- faces a ranked team down the stretch, and that's OSU's trip to Iowa next weekend. If Iowa wins, all of a sudden, Michigan State has the upper hand for the league title. Ohio State wins, and we're back to the three-team non-round-robin tiebreaker, which is BCS standing. MSU is not such a big fan of that idea: the Spartans are firmly mired at third among Big Ten teams in that department. So yes, there's still plenty of endgame drama left in the Big Ten, even if it involves two teams that are at best longshots for the title.

4. Matt McGloin has "moxie," but Ohio State has a secondary. Advantage, OSU. It's hard to believe, looking at the 38-14 final score from Columbus, but Penn State actually led the Buckeyes 14-3 at the break, and it could have been worse. PSU QB Matt McGloin threw two touchdown passes in the first half, and unlike the two he threw in the second half, the first half scores were to his own team. Yes, things sort of fell off a cliff for Penn State, and the turning point was likely late in the first half, when Joe Paterno got greedy on 4th and 1 at the OSU 20 and went for it. The Evan Royster rush failed, the Buckeye defense's heart grew three sizes, and PSU never even threatened to score for the rest of the game.

It was a sobering return to reality for Penn State fans who witnessed McGloin's dissection of the Northwestern defense last week and were entertaining dreams of McGloin as a wildly successful three (or two-and-a-half, anyway) -year starter over true freshman Rob Bolden, Joe Paterno's choice at the beginning of the season. The fact of the matter is, there's usually plenty more to turning a struggling offense around than just making a switch at quarterback, and when Bolden's got a full year of film study and practice under his belt, he's probably going to be a better quarterback than McGloin. That fact doesn't have much relevance today, which is why McGloin started at Columbus and probably will next week, but it would be extremely presumptive to look at McGloin's first two quarters at OSU and attach a tag like "the future" to him -- unless the words "clipboard holder for Rob Bolden" immediately follow.

Posted on: November 7, 2010 2:32 am
Edited on: November 7, 2010 2:58 am
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Nov. 6)

Posted by Adam Jacobi

1. Michigan doesn't do "boring." The game of the week, beyond any doubt, was Michigan's 67-65 squeaker over Illinois. The game featured 132 points scored, 1237 yards from scrimmage, 58 first downs, and 60:00 total time of possession. Okay, so the last one is normal.

Down the stretch, Michigan was led by Tate Forcier under center, as Denard Robinson was knocked out of a game once again. Forcier effectively reprised his role of "4th quarter dynamo" from 2009, proving yet again the rare value of an experienced backup quarterback. Forcier is clearly not Denard, but the fact remains that Forcier is good enough that he should be spelling Robinson periodically throughout Michigan's game regardless of Robinson's health. Michigan has two starting-quality quarterbacks, and as Robinson's accumulation of minor injuries demonstrates, they clearly need to use them! It's just up to Rich Rodriguez to use both on his own terms, rather than waiting for Robinson to get knocked out of the game first.

Thus, the only game that Michigan has participated in that didn't result in at least 50 total points was its season-opening 30-10 win over Connecticut; since then, whenever Michigan takes the gridiron, the points fly; on average, a Michigan game features almost 73 points per game. In fact, after today's circus act, Michigan leads the Big Ten in both points per game and points allowed per game. Is it "good football"? Lord, no. Is it exciting? Of course. If that's the role Michigan is destined to play under Rich Rodriguez, it's certainly a step down for the Wolverines, but it's not necessarily worse for the conference as a whole.

2. The road is awful hard. It don't take no guff. No. 9 Wisconsin went on the road to Purdue and trailed until the second half. No. 16 Iowa went to Indiana and needed a horrific dropped touchdown on 4th down (more on this later) to escape with an 18-13 win. Northwestern blew a 21-0 lead at Happy Valley, Minnesota got smacked by Michigan State, and Illinois couldn't win in Ann Arbor even after scoring 65 points.

All of which is to say, winning on the road in the Big Ten is still really difficult. It's something to keep in mind when prognosticating the Rose Bowl berth endgame. Regardless of how good the four teams at the top of the conference are, odds are that at least one (and probably more) will go down on the road yet this season, and we shouldn't be surprised when it happens.

3. Nothing's really changed at the top. Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Iowa all won, and we're still waiting on a score from Ohio State and Brigham Young East (we assume that's what BYE stands for). The tiebreakers remain exactly the same, then, with the only difference being that there is now one fewer game for the first three teams mentioned to lose. With a finite -- and indeed, extremely limited -- amount of games to play, the passage of one week without a dropoff from the top four is in and of itself important, even if the stipulations and situations themselves don't change. Perhaps this isn't something to "have learned," per se , but for the top of the conference, the maintenance of the status quo is still meaningful.

4. Penn State's offense might actually exist. When Northwestern went up 21-0 on a sensational Drake Dunsmore* touchdown late in the first half, it would have been perfectly logical to assume that the Penn State offensive attack, led by former walk-on Matt McGloin, didn't have much of a shot to make up the deficit. After all, it would have tied the largest deficit a Joe Paterno-coached Penn State team had ever made up in his previous 399 victories, and that's a lot of victories.

But of course, Penn State did exactly that, scoring the final 35 points of the game to win 35-21. McGloin poured in four touchdown passes, but the real heroes were on PSU's oft-maligned offensive line; the front five paved enough holes to let both Evan Royster and Silas Redd top 100 rushing yards on the day, and McGloin's 225 passing yards simply wouldn't have happened if he had faced the pressure that regular starter Rob Bolden has become used to in this, his freshman season. Imagine that: when given time and space to operate, a previous all-conference honoree once again looked like an all-conference player, and a walk-on quarterback was able to execute to the best of his ability.

5. One quiet moment for Damario Belcher. We mentioned this play in passing earlier, but it's worth mentioning in more detail; with less than 30 seconds on the clock and the Hoosiers facing a 4th and 10 at the Iowa 18, Indiana QB Ben Chappell found wideout Damario Belcher open in the middle of the end zone. Belcher, already the team's leading receiver on the game with seven catches for 50 yards, made an athletic move to catch the ball with nobody on him and got both hands on it, leading most in the stadium to assume Indiana had scored the putative winning touchdown.

Alas, as an eagle-eyed referee (and several optimistic Iowa players) noticed, Belcher bobbled the pass and never controlled it before the ball hit the ground and rolled away ineffectually, making the play nothing more than a drive-killing incomplete pass. Indiana challenged, but it was an easy confirmation for replay officials; it clearly was not a catch. Iowa knelt on the ball, and just like that, Indiana lost on a play Belcher makes probably 90-95% of the time.

Again, this isn't strictly something to learn, but it's something important to remember: Belcher's a human being, and he doesn't need anybody to remind him that he screwed the game-winning play up. There's likely nobody in the world -- like, at all -- who feels worse about the loss than he does. So to anybody who finds it necessary to complain that Belcher "sucks" or is "stupid" or "needs to get his damn head in the game" or whatever arbitrary derogatory remark they think applies to Belcher, one piece of advice: save it. Just don't add to the crapfest that guy's season already became, and strike a note for civility instead. Granted, Indiana football fans aren't generally known to be nasty or otherwise unreasonable to begin with or anything, but still: let's all keep our heads screwed on about this game and this 20-year-old kid playing it.

*Did you know: Drake Dunsmore is a second-generation college football player. His father is Pat Dunsmore, a star tight end who was drafted in the fourth round by the Chicago Bears in 1983 and played two seasons with the team. And where did Pat Dunsmore go to school? Yep: Drake University.

 
 
 
 
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