Posted by Adam Jacobi
1. Perhaps Denard Robinson's competition matters. Hey, we'll be the first ones to admit to falling in love with Denard Robinson's early-season performance. Sure, Michigan's opposition wasn't very good (at all), but lots of other teams were playing cupcake schedules at the same time, and nobody -- except maybe for Cam Newton -- was doing what Shoelace was doing. But Michigan State provided a pretty easy blueprint for containing Robinson: have a decent defense and don't do anything stupid with them. The Spartan defense, led as always by All-American linebacker Greg Jones, played disciplined defense against the explosive sophomore and forced him into three interceptions -- two of which came in Michigan State's end zone. Sure, Robinson ended up accounting for 301 yards (215 passing, 86 rushing), and those are good numbers, but remember: he's basically their entire offense. So while giving up 301 yards of offense to one guy isn't ideal, holding the entire team to 377 yards is much more palatable, and that's exactly what the Michigan State defense did. Next up for the Wolverines: Iowa -- and 60 more minutes of that defensive intensity.
2. Don't run up the score on Tim Brewster, please. The second-oddest thing about this week of Big Ten play was seeing Minnesota head coach Tim Brewster get into an arguing match with Wisconsin coach Bret Bielema after Wisconsin's 41-23 victory over the Golden Gophers. The oddest thing came about six minutes prior, when Bret Bielema elected to try a two-point conversion after the Badgers scored a touchdown to extend their lead to 41-16. The try failed, because not even Football God hates Minnesota that much, but Brewster certainly took it personally; the Minnesota coach said some very unprintable words to Bielema on the field, and used the word "wrong" to describe Bielema's decision about 15,000 times in his postgame press conference. Bielema said his little when-should-you-go-for-two card dictated that his team attempt the two-point conversion in that scenario. Even assuming Bielema's excuse is true, we have to wonder why Bielema didn't heed his card's advice 5:16 earlier, when his team scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to go up by 25 the first time. After John Clay's third touchdown of the game, Wisconsin led 34-9 with 11:55 to go, and Bielema kicked a harmless extra point then. Maybe, maybe Minnesota could have engineered 27 points in 11:55, but there was no chance of it happening with 6:39 left, so there's really no sense in kicking the extra point the first time but not the second. Bielema doesn't necessarily owe Brewster an apology; he's Bret Bielema, and he's kind of a jerk, and that's what he does. But at the very least, he owes Brewster and the rest of Big Ten fans an actual explanation of what the heck he was thinking going for two.
3. Penn State just isn't very good. Okay, we sort of knew coming into this season that Penn State would be taking some more lumps than usual on account of their true freshman quarterback, Rob Bolden, winning the starting job in Week 1. And sure, their 24-3 losses to Alabama and Iowa were disappointing, but not really shocking; 'Bama and the Hawkeyes are both pretty legit programs with pretty legit defenses. But 21-point losses to top-15 teams are one thing; a 20-point loss to middling Illinois is another altogether. Illinois controlled the action on both sides of the ball Saturday, shredding Penn State's vaunted front seven for 282 yards on the ground. Mikel LeShoure was a workhorse with 119 rushing yards and a 32-yard reception, and Illini QB Nathan Scheelhaase was both efficient (15-19, 151 yards, 1 TD) and mobile (eight carries, 61 yards). Meanwhile, Bolden had one of his worst starts of his nascent career, going 8-21 for 142 yards, a score, and a pretty bad pick-six to Nate Bussey that pushed Illinois' lead to 14-3. It was a freshman mistake, of course, and one he probably won't make next season and beyond. But it's that sort of thing, coupled with a general lack of special talent on the rest of the offense, that dooms the Nittany Lions when their defense isn't perfect. The Nittany Lions are 3-3 (0-2) now. Right now, it's pretty hard to guarantee they're going to a bowl this season.
4. Northwestern is also not very good. Going back to 2008, Northwestern's habit of winning games by close margins -- which is to say, playing both up and down to the competition -- has never really come back to haunt them; coming into Saturday's game the Wildcats were 14-4 in one-possession games since '08, a streak that's both remarkable and completely doomed to come back down to earth sooner or later, and that's where we find the Wildcat today. Two special teams disasters in the fourth quarter -- a blocked field goal and a poorly-kicked game-tying attempt with a minute left -- effectively kept six points off the board for the Wildcats, and a Dan Dierking rush from 7 yards out sealed the 20-17 upset for lowly Purdue. It's a bummer of a loss for the Wildcats, but the type of inexplicable upset that besets them pretty much every year. Their benchmark game is likely their next: Michigan State comes to town, and a win would put Northwestern back on the map. But it would take the Wildcats' best performance of the season, and any time the prerequisite for respectability is something a team hasn't yet shown itself to be capable of doing, odds are that the fans will go home disappointed.