Posted on: November 13, 2010 3:37 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
When the season started, the hot seat discussion in the Big Ten centered on their either-or question of who'd get the ax first? The so-fired-already Tim Brewster at Minnesota , or the equally-fired Ron Zook at Illinois .
It turned out that the correct answer was Brewster, as the head Gopher couldn't even make it past midseason and Zook's inspired-looking new hires at both coordinators' positions got the Illini out to a surprising 5-3 start. But if you can take the Zook out of the hot seat, however, temporarily, you really can't take the hot seat out of the Zook; his Illini handed the coach-less, hapless Gophers their first Big Ten win of the season today, falling 38-34 at home.
Making the loss even more brutal was how close the Illini came to another comfortable victory, going up 34-24 with 8:14 to play in the fourth quarter on a 55-yard Mikel LeShoure touchdown run. But the Gophers answered back with a 90-yard kickoff return for a DeLeon Eskridge touchdown run just 19 seconds later, and an expertly-executed Gopher two-minute drill resulted in a second Eskridge score with just 16 seconds to play.
Let's be clear about this: Zook is probably still safe at Illinois. There won't be a long list of better candidates available for the Illini, and even after today, 2010 has still been a dramatic improvement on the program's crushingly disappointing 2009.
But Illinois has now whiffed twice on the sixth win necessary for a bowl invite, and in two eminently winnable games. Now they'll need a big road win at either Northwestern or Fresno State , or the Illini will stay home for the third straight season. Improvement on 2009 or not, weak pool of candidates or not, there's a breaking point even at Illinois, and more than ever it seems like Zook's tenure is simply determined to find out where that is.
Posted on: October 26, 2010 1:19 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2010 6:11 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
Just three weeks ago Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson was the greatest thing to ever capture college football. We were all ready to hand the sophomore the Heisman Trophy after only five games, and it is hard to blame us for feeling that way. Things Robinson was doing on the football field were just insane.
Things have changed a bit since then, however. Michigan has lost its last two games and Robinson has had to deal with being banged up, allowing Cam Newton to grab that Heisman Trophy from Robinson's grasp. Still, after having the weekend off thanks to a bye, Rich Rodriguez has proclaimed his one-man army to be totally healthy and ready to blow our minds again.
“Every guy approaches (injury) a little bit differently,” Rodriguez told the Detroit Free Press. “He’s a very tough-minded individual, a tough guy. If our guys are injured, they need to let us know and, most of the time, the trainers let us know. Some guys can tolerate a little more pain than others. Denard can tolerate a lot of pain. His issue with the last ballgame wasn’t the knee, it was the shoulder. It just needed some rest. He needed some rest and ... we got that last weekend.”
This is good news for Michigan, as they remain only a win shy of becoming bowl eligible for the first time under Rodriguez, and Penn State is a beatable opponent these days, even in Happy Valley. Illinois was able to hand the Nittany Lions a loss at Beaver Stadium earlier this year, and did so courtesy of a ground attack led by Mikel LeShoure and Nate Scheelhaase. If Scheelhaase can get 61 yards on the ground in only 8 carries, then you have to think Robinson can have the type of game that could place him back in the Heisman hunt.
Posted on: October 16, 2010 11:48 pm
Edited on: October 17, 2010 9:19 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
1. It's anybody's conference. With Wisconsin putting the finishing touches on a stunning 31-18 upset of the Ohio State Buckeyes, here are the teams that are at least tied with OSU in the Big Ten standings: Michigan State, Iowa, Purdue, and Wisconsin. Purdue is probably not going to contend for the Big Ten title, but the other three teams mentioned certainly will. Michigan State, of all the teams, must be the most ecstatic about the result in Madison; the Spartans are undefeated, the only Big Ten team who's 3-0 in the conference, and they miss Ohio State this year. But Iowa's at 2-0 in conference play, and the Spartans have to visit Iowa City in two weeks. Who would have thought back in August that MSU at Iowa could be the most pivotal contest of the Big Ten season?
2. Denard Robinson is most certainly mortal. It's not as Denard Robinson was a non-factor against the Iowa Hawkeyes today: Robinson racked up 204 yards of total offense in about 35 minutes of work. But for the third time this season, Shoelace left a game with an injury, and for the second time, that injury shelved him for the rest of the game. One of the most remarkable things about Robinson's production thus far is the sheer heft of Robinson's workload. Yes, he can't lead the nation in rushing and throw for over 200 yards without either throwing or rushing on the vast majority of Michigan's snaps. But that's an incredibly difficult thing to do, and now we're seeing some evidence that it's just not sustainable -- especially now that Robinson's not facing cupcake defenses like Massachusetts or Notre Dame (I kid, ND, I kid). Thanks to a bye week, Robinson has two weeks to recover before his next start, at Penn State. Does Tate Forcier still gets some snaps in relief at Beaver Stadium? Should he?
3. Wisconsin's rushing game is alive and well. Coming into today, John Clay was having a pretty good season, but considering Wisconsin's opposition, Clay wasn't looking dominant. That changed this week, when the big junior running back was running untouched through giant rushing lanes against Ohio State. That's not entirely surprising, but if Iowa doesn't have the best defensive line in the conference, then Ohio State surely must, and that Buckeye front four was absolutely gouged today. So if the Badgers can run all over Ohio State, they can probably run all over everybody left on their schedule. Again, the only remaining great defensive line on Wisconsin's schedule is Iowa, and that game's coming up this week. That should be just a little fun to watch.
4. Congratulations to Penn State, who did not lose this week. Technically, it didn't play, but any iota of good news is welcome in Happy Valley these days.
5. Don't be that surprised if Illinois runs the table from here on out. It would be foolish to look at Illinois and see just another .500 team. Illinois' three losses are to still-undefeated Missouri, still-undefeated Michigan State, and only-recently-defeated Ohio State. In every one of those games, Illinois was competitive into the fourth quarter. And guess what: Illinois doesn't have any games against ranked competition left. Nathan Scheelhaase and Mikel LeShoure are growing as a QB-RB tandem week to week, and the toughest opponent left on the Illini schedule is, oh, let's say Northwestern. Illinois may be 3-3 today, but it may be 8-4 (or even better) before you know it.
6. The Tim Brewster farewell tour's going to be hard to watch. Fans of comedy in college football are going to lose an important ally this season, as Minnesota informed the world that Tim Brewster's not coming back next season. It's a shame, really, but it's only surprising insofar as Brewster hasn't been asked to clean out his office right now instead. Minnesota's got some decent athleticism, especially on the edges, so if that talent gets in the hands of a decent coach (MIKE LEACH MIKE LEACH MIKE LEACH DO ITTTTTTT), that program up north might wake up and make some noise next season. But only if Minnesota hires Leach.
Posted on: October 10, 2010 3:38 am
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.
Posted on: October 9, 2010 2:23 pm
Posted by Adam Jacobi
Happy Valley? No no, not today. Penn State is hosting Illinois this afternoon, and the Illini are positively rude guests. Illinois leads 30-13, having just completed a 41-yard field goal.
There's been no gimmick to Illinois' success; they're just grinding out drive after drive, primarily on the ground. Mikel LeShoure topped 100 yards early in the third quarter, and Nathan Scheelhaase has been efficient on the ground and through the air.
Meanwhile, Penn State has only four first downs to Illinois' 19, and Rob Bolden just isn't effective enough as a passer to get Illinois' defense to stop keying on Evan Royster; Royster's dinged up and at only 35 rushing yards after three quarters.
If Illinois hangs on, perhaps this won't be considered an upset after the year's over; Penn State's just not very good, and it wouldn't be a terrible surprise to see both teams at 3-5 in the conference when it's all said and done. For now, though, yes, the Upset Alerts tag rides again.