Tag:Nathan Scheelhaase
Posted on: October 22, 2011 4:33 pm
Edited on: October 22, 2011 6:16 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Purdue 21, Illinois 14

Posted by Adam Jacobi

PURDUE WON. A late rally by No. 23 Illinois wasn't enough to erase a 21-0 deficit, and Purdue came up with a 21-14 upset victory. Caleb TerBush was efficient in victory, completing 16 of 25 passes for 178 yards and two touchdowns -- his best passing performance against an FBS opponent so far this season.

WHY PURDUE WON: Although it wouldn't be fair to take anything away from the Purdue defense, the truth is that Illinois blew this game. The offense was mostly flat for three quarters, Ron Zook punted from midfield or Purdue territory three times, backup QB Reilly O'Toole threw an interception deep in Purdue territory, and Illinois blew a scoring opportunity at the end of the half by throwing a lateral and struggling for yardage as the clock ran down to one second left, then spiking the ball after the clock hit 0:00 on the next snap. That's plain poor game management, and it's enough to lose a game. 

WHEN PURDUE WON: After Nathan Scheelhaase took a QB keeper in from two yards out, Illinois needed a great onside kick to keep its hopes alive. Kicker Derek Dimke's effort was fine; the ball took a high bounce and got 10 yards on the correct angle. It's just that nobody for Illinois thought to look for the ball. Justin Siller corraled the kick with nobody near him and could have taken off with it, but he was content to hit the ground and preserve possession. With only one timeout left, Illinois couldn't get the ball back from Purdue, and that was that.

WHAT PURDUE WON: This was a huge win for a Purdue team that finds itself on the edge of bowl contention this year. With the victory, Purdue finds itself at 4-3 with five games left -- four of which come against teams that were 2010 bowl teams (and are likely 2011 bowl teams). Moreover, the win over a Top 25 team is going to be huge for program morale at a time when the Boilermakers could use it the most.

WHAT ILLINOIS LOST: Not only are Illinois' hopes at a division championship basically out the window, but so is the team's spot in the Top 25 -- and so is its confidence. Whatever mojo Scheelhaase had at the beginning of the year is basically gone; even though he led the team to two late touchdown drives, those drives took up so much time that Illinois just didn't have enough time to have a chance to complete the comeback.

THAT WAS CRAZY: Everything about Illinois' offensive performance was crazy -- and not the good, fun kind. It takes an unusual coach to be at 6-2 in the Big Ten and still on the hot seat, but it appears Ron Zook might be on the verge of accepting that challenge.

Posted on: October 21, 2011 3:26 pm
 

The Saturday Meal Plan: Week 8

Posted by Tom Fornelli

The Saturday Meal Plan is a helpful guide put together for you to maximize the results of your college football diet.  Just enough to leave you feeling full, but not so much you spend your entire Sunday in the bathroom. 

We hope you've starved yourself this week because you're going to need plenty of room in your stomach to get through this week's menu, and although we can't promise you anything featuring streaking referees and fighting, we're sure you'll find these meals as fulfilling just the same.

BREAKFAST

Missouri vs. #4 Oklahoma State - FX, 12pm ET

On paper this one may not seem all that interesting, but Missouri is yet to lose at home this season, and let's not forget that the Tigers knocked off Oklahoma in Columbia last season. It's possible that the Tigers could end another school from Oklahoma's title hopes again this Saturday. Of course, it won't be easy considering the offensive firepower that the Cowboys will be bringing with them. - Tom Fornelli

#7 Clemson vs. North Carolina - ESPN, 12pm ET

Clemson survived their first trap game on the road, marching back from 18 down against Maryland to prove - for the moment - this Tigers team is for real.  Now they have a chance to return to the comfy confines of Death Valley for one last warm-up before traveling to Atlanta for arguably the toughest challenge left on the conference schedule in Georgia Tech.  North Carolina doesn't run the option, but they do have a terrific ground game led by redshirt freshman Gio Bernard.  Bernard has been sensational for the Tar Heels, and ranks third in the ACC with 109.57 yards per game.  The Tigers, on the other hand, are one of the league's worst defenses against the run. North Carolina's defense has been beaten on the perimeter this season, and their weakness in the secondary will likely be their downfall with no answer for Sammy Watkins and DeAndre "Nuke" Hopkins.  - Chip Patterson

Purdue vs. #23 Illinois - ESPN2, 12pm ET

This game will be worth your attention. Bold statement, but it's true. Here's the deal: if Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins get their game back up, you'll want to watch, because that's the best QB-WR combination in the Big Ten. And if Scheelhaase and Jenkins get bottled up like last week, look out, because we might have an early upset on our hands, and those are a fun way to start a Saturday. See? Win-win scenario all the way. - Adam Jacobi

LUNCH

#1 LSU vs. #20 Auburn - CBS, 3:30pm ET

So Auburn has a defense with some success against LSU-style offenses, the host Tigers won't have Tyrann Mathieu or Spencer Ware, and the game's being played in bright, Death Valley-neutralizing sunlight. It's too bad Auburn is sending Clint Moseley out for his first career start at quarterback, or Gene Chizik's bunch could have made a real game of this. (if Moseley is a revelation? They still might. - Jerry Hinnen

#5 Boise State vs. Air Force - Versus, 3:30pm ET

Is there anybody left on Boise State's schedule that can knock the Broncos off? Maybe, but odds are that it won't happen this week as Air Force makes the trip up north to play on the blue turf. Still, even if Boise is likely to win this game, tuning in to see the Broncos playing a home game is seldom a choice to regret. - TF

Miami vs. #22 Georgia Tech - ESPN, 3:30pm ET

Miami turned the corner against Virginia Tech, and has been playing some of their best football of the season in the last three quarters.  But they welcome a Georgia Tech team that got beat around by Virginia last week, and will be looking for a bounce back victory.  This game is a must-win for the Yellow Jackets if they plan on competing for a Coastal Division title, and a must-win for the Hurricanes to establish some kind of momentum in a frustratingly inconsistent season.  If Miami wants to pull the upset, they need to get Lamar Miller going on offense.  A good rushing attack will keep Paul Johnson's pounding offense off the field, and after Miller was held to 29 yards against UNC last week he's due for a big game. - CP

DINNER

#2 Alabama vs. Tennessee - ESPN2, 7:15pm ET

The drama and intrigue in this edition of the "Third" Saturday in October positively abounds: can the Vols score a touchdown? Can Trent Richardson break the 200-yard mark? Will Nick Saban decline to score a final humiliating touchdown out of respect for his old assistant, Derek Dooley? Has Smokey finally been fitted for the retina-protecting dog goggles (or "doggles") required by repeated visual exposure to Dooley's pants? (The actual and inevitable outcome, that we're not so intrigued by.) - JH

Notre Dame vs. USC - NBC, 7:30pm ET

One of college football's greatest rivalries gets a bit of a twist this season. For the first time in history, Notre Dame will be playing a night game in South Bend. Can Touchdown Jesus see in the dark? Also, emerging victorious could help catapult the winner back into the rankings, and for Notre Dame a win keeps its slim BCS hopes alive. - TF

#3 Oklahoma vs. Texas Tech - ABC, 8pm ET

This game features two offenses that both come into the game averaging more than 43 points a game, so if you're looking for a shootout to spend your evening with, this will likely be your game. The question will be if Seth Doege and the Texas Tech offense can still have as much success against an Oklahoma defense that's better than any other it has faced this season. - TF

#8 Stanford vs. #25 Washington - ABC, 8pm ET

Andrew Luck and Stanford haven't played a ranked team all year but that will change with Washington rolling into Palo Alto. The Huskies, with quarterback Keith Price and running back Chris Polk, will present a test for the stiff Cardinal defense that is missing a few key defenders. Of course, Luck has to be licking his chops to face the Pac-12's worst pass defense. - Bryan Fischer

#16 Michigan State vs. #6 Wisconsin - ESPN, 8pm ET

This could be the Big Ten's last, best hope to see Wisconsin get knocked off before the championship game -- and MSU just lost its top DE Will Gholston to a Big Ten-mandated suspension for punching Taylor Lewan last Saturday. Whoops! The rest of the Spartan defensive front is fierce, though, and perhaps we'll finally be able to see what happens when an opponent challenges Wisconsin for all four quarters this year. Perhaps. - AJ

LATE NIGHT SNACK

Washington State vs. Oregon State - Fox Sports, 10:30pm ET

Oregon State is off to their worst start in years and Mike Riley and company are looking to turn things around while seeking revenge against a Washington State team that upset them last year and cost them a trip to a bowl game. The Cougars have been competitive in the first half of their last two games but the question is if they can finish against OSU. - BF
Posted on: October 16, 2011 3:08 am
Edited on: October 16, 2011 3:08 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 7



Posted by Adam Jacobi


WINNER: The general order of the universe as we knew it in the spring. Michigan State beat Michigan, Ohio State beat Illinois, Wisconsin beat Indiana, Iowa beat Northwestern, and Penn State beat Purdue. All normal ideas for the casual Big Ten fan during the off-season, more or less. Yet those first two results are rather surprising, because it was Michigan and Illinois coming into the week undefeated and ranked 16th or higher, not MSU or OSU. On Saturday, the Spartans and Buckeyes looked like the teams we figured they'd be coming into the year, though, and in a way so did the Wolverines and the Illini. 

Michigan State's victory was the most impressive of the week (sorry, Wisconsin), because nobody has bottled up the Michigan offense like that this year (more on the particulars in a second). After Notre Dame thwacked the Spartans in Week 3, it was fair to wonder if Michigan was also about to run up 30+ points and shut down the MSU rushing attack. Neither happened, and the Spartans are now all of a sudden back in beautiful shape for the Big Ten Legends Division race -- just like we figured before the season. 

LOSER: Those do-everything quarterbacks I was so proud of last week. So, Taylor Martinez had the week off, so he's off the hook. Denard Robinson and Nathan Scheelhaase, though? Last week, the two QBs averaged 267 yards passing, 102 yards rushing, and four TDs in their team's victories. Extrapolate those types of numbers over 12 or 13 games, and you've got a Heisman finalist.

Extrapolating single games out for a year is stupid, though, because on Saturday, those numbers dropped substantially. Scheelhaase threw for 169 yards and rushed for 49 more, while Robinson's numbers were a dismal 9-24 for 123 yards passing (one TD) and 18 rushes for 42 yards (another TD). Not surprisingly, both QB's teams lost by double digits. It's certainly fine to have a do-everything quarterback helming your offense, but that just means it's imperative that that quarterback actually puts big numbers up; if he doesn't, that team's in real trouble.

WINNER: Illinois' pass defense. Wow, the Illini held Ohio State to 17 yards on Saturday! That's quite an accomplishment! Yep, 17 yards on 1-4 passing. But wait... if the Buckeyes only passed four times for the entire game, then that means... uh-oh.

LOSER: Illinois' rush defense. Oh, there's the rest of the story. Ohio State rushed 51 times to the four passes, totalling 211 yards on the ground, and Dan Herron led the way with 113 yards in his first game back from suspension. Honestly, Illinois' effort on defense wasn't bad, and holding OSU to 4.1 yards a pop on the ground isn't really cause for panic, but this was an Illini rush defense that had been ranked ninth in the nation coming into the week, averaging 2.3 yards per carry given up. The Illini front seven had a reputation to uphold, and it didn't do a great job of it. 

WINNER: Somehow, inexplicably, Penn State. Penn State is 6-1 and on the verge of being in the Top 25. That is amazing news to anyone who has watched Penn State play, because the Nittany Lions are, at times, bafflingly bad on offense. The QB rotation between Matt McGloin and Rob Bolden continues to confound PSU fans, the rushing game comes and goes, and Penn State has now beaten the foursome of Temple, Indiana, Iowa, and Purdue by a grand total of 25 points. This team should not be 6-1, but there's no "should" column next to wins and losses.

The latest victory is a 23-18 decision over hapless Purdue, a game that should have been tied in the 4th quarter at 20-all if Purdue hadn't missed a PAT then missed a 2-point conversion to make up for the missed kick. Now, to be fair, Purdue never led, PSU never let Purdue manage so much as a first down after the game was 20-18, and the game ended with Penn State up 5 and taking knees inside the Boilermaker 10 yard line, but it was still another ugly, wretched affair all around. And yet just like the 4-point win over Temple and the 6-point win over Indiana, Penn State just did all it needed for the victory, and nothing more. Hey, a win's a win.

LOSER: Mark Dantonio's reputation as a disciplinarian. It seems like every season, fans are treated to anecdotes about what a great coach Mark Dantonio is, and how high his standards of player discipline are. "Zero tolerance" are his words, not ours. And it also seems like every season, there's an instance of Dantonio basically punting on discipline with his star players, like with Chris L. Rucker rejoining the team immediately after serving an 8-day jail sentence, or B.J. Cunningham taking part in a massive brawl on campus and missing one game as a result.

With that in mind, then, it's really not surprising to see star DE Will Gholston allowed to stay in a game after he punched Michigan OL Taylor Lewan (who, to be fair, had been holding Gholston's head on the ground earlier in the play). It was Gholston's second personal foul of the afternoon, with the first being a combination of a late hit and a face mask on Denard Robinson. The Big Ten may very well intervene and keep Gholston out for next week's game against Wisconsin, but the fact that Dantonio kept Gholston in the game after both incidents speaks far, far louder than Dantonio's claims of "zero tolerance."

WINNER: The Iowa athletic department. Before today's game, the fans at Kinnick Stadium were all given two-sided cards for one of those old-fashioned card stunts. The end result was really, really cool, and don't be surprised to see more of this type of thing around college football stadiums nationwide in the next few years or so. 

LOSER: Iowa's Northwestern demons. For years, the Hawkeyes have struggled mightily against Northwestern, sometimes even at the expense of BCS bowl dreams.  All in all, coming into today, Iowa had lost five of its last six against the Wildcats -- and the last four losses featured double-digit Hawkeye leads.

So when Iowa ran up a 17-0 lead on Saturday, then watched the Wildcats string together drive after drive to tie the game up at 17-17, it was only natural for Hawkeye fans to think, "here we go again." Fortunately for the home crowd, Iowa responded with 17 straight points of its own, and held on for the 41-31 victory. The win pushes Iowa to 4-2 (1-1) on the year, and with Michigan, Michigan State, and Nebraska all looming on the schedule, this win was crucial to the Hawkeyes' hopes for securing another winning season.


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Posted on: October 15, 2011 7:04 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Ohio State 17, Illinois 7

Posted by Adam Jacobi

OHIO STATE WON. Reports of Ohio State's demise were premature, as the Buckeyes came away with a big win over No. 16 Illinois, 17-7. The Buckeyes took advantage of two Illinois turnovers for short fields and turned them into touchdowns, and a late Illinois interception killed a promising drive.

WHY OHIO STATE WON: Ohio State didn't actually do a whole lot on offense, gaining just 229 yards and 14 first downs, but the Buckeyes made clutch plays when they mattered. Courtney Roby picked Nathan Scheelhaase off on the second play of the 3rd quarter and took the ball back to the Illini 12, and Dan Herron would score on the very next play. On the second play of the fourth quarter, A.J. Jenkins fumbled, and Storm Klein was there for the recovery. Three plays later, touchdown pass from Braxton Miller to Jake Stoneburner -- more on that later -- and that was all the offense the Buckeyes would need.

WHEN OHIO STATE WON: With the score 17-7 late in the fourth quarter and Illinois facing a 4th and 2 in the OSU red zone, Ron Zook eschewed the easy three points in front of him and had his charges go for it. The play was botched, OSU took over, and never gave the ball back.

WHAT OHIO STATE WON: If you want to talk about "finding a way to win," this game is a prime example. OSU was struggling on offense even more than Illinois was, but the Buckeyes forced the Illini into multiple mistakes without making many of their own, and that was enough to swing the game. More than that, OSU avoided a three-game losing streak in conference play, though the two losses will likely keep the Buckeyes out of the conference title game unless all hell breaks loose in the Leaders Division.

WHAT ILLINOIS LOST: Gone is the perfect record and the lofty ranking, as the Illini will likely tumble from No. 16 when Sunday rolls around. Nathan Scheelhaase had his worst day of the year, gaining just five yards per pass and 3.1 yards a pop on the ground while giving the ball away twice. Illinois can still salvage a division title by winning out, but that doesn't seem terribly likely.

THAT WAS CRAZY: So, that touchdown pass we mentioned earlier? That was all Braxton Miller did through the air. No, seriously, that was it. Miller's final passing stats: 1-4, 17 yards, 1 TD, and he played the entire game at QB. All in all, OSU rushed on 51 of its plays, and passed on just those four. Hey, we said OSU was going to need to rely on its ground game. 

Posted on: October 9, 2011 5:00 am
 

Big Ten Winners and Losers: Week 6



Posted by Adam Jacobi


A handy recap of who really won and who really lost that you won't find in the box score.

WINNER: Nebraska's season

Ignore the fact that 4-2, all things considered, isn't a terrible record; for No. 14 Nebraska, dropping the Ohio State game would have been a backbreaker for a season that started with realistic Rose Bowl aspirations -- especially with OSU looking like an unusually easy victory coming into Saturday. Instead, the Buckeyes opened up a 27-6 lead and seemed to be putting the final nail in the coffin of Nebraska's reputation as a Big Ten contender before the Huskers pulled off their largest comeback in program history on the back of Rex Burkhead (pictured above, finding plenty of comfort in the middle of OSU's rush defense). Now the Huskers are 5-1, and more importantly, only have one loss on their Big Ten slate instead of starting out 0-2. This season still might not end up in the Rose Bowl -- in fact it probably won't -- but sheerly by dodging the bullet on Saturday, Nebraska was a big, big winner.

LOSER: Joe Bauserman, yet again

It's not entirely fair to pin Ohio State's collapse on Joe Bauserman; the backup QB came into the game in the second half cold, and Nebraska had already begun its fight back at that point. And yet, the score was 27-13 OSU when Bauserman came in for an injured Braxton Miller on a 3rd and 8, and the score was 34-27 Nebraska by the time Bauserman put the finishing touches on his 1-10, 17-yard, 1 INT magnum opus. In the last four weeks -- the only games in which OSU has faced BCS conference competition this season -- Bauserman's stats are a terrifying 12-40, 144 yards, 1 TD, and 1 INT. That's a 63.49 passer rating, which is reprehensible. Oh, and not only is Bauserman going to play for as long as Braxton Miller's hurt, he's also the quarterback Luke Fickell tabbed to start the season for the Buckeyes. Enjoy, OSU!

WINNER: Do-everything QBs in the Big Ten

Nathan Scheelhaase, Taylor Martinez, and Denard Robinson may all be vying for the Second Team All-Big Ten role behind Wisconsin dreamboat Russell Wilson, but all three QBs put on an absolute show on Saturday. Scheelhaase had 210 yards passing, 88 yards rushing, and 4 combined TDs for Illinois in a win at Indiana. Martinez had his best passing performance of the year against a tough Ohio State defense, going 16-22 for 192 yards passing and rushing for 102 more yards; he accounted for three of Nebraska's four TDs. Robinson's numbers were the gaudiest: 325 yards passing, 117 yards on 25 rushes, and four total TDs in Michigan's 42-24 win over Northwestern. Even Braxton Miller had 95 yards passing and 91 yards rushing before he was forced to leave the game. Conference play will sort out this hierarchy, but it's fantastic to see such a breadth of dynamic talent at QB.

LOSER: Timid 4th down playcallers

Indiana kicked a field goal on 4th and goal from the 3 with a 4-point deficit. Iowa punted from Penn State's 33-yard line down 6-3. Ohio State punted from Nebraska's 32-yard line with a late 27-20 lead. What do all these decisions have in common? They were all unnecessarily conservative, and they all backfired. Indiana immediately gave up a touchdown drive, Iowa's punt led to a 90-yard Penn State drive that mercifully ended in an end zone interception (but still wore down the Iowa defense), and Ohio State would never see its lead again after Nebraska responded with a touchdown drive. Yes, the field position is important, but the points battle is the real one that matters, and all three of these teams did themselves a disservice by not even attempting to maximize their opportunities.

WINNER: Penn State's defense

In a stat that will undoubtedly become a trivial relic by the end of the season, Iowa came into this week's game against Penn State with the Big Ten's most prolific passing attack, averaging 281 yards a game under QB James Vandenberg. Penn State bottled that attack up beautifully, limiting Vandenberg to 169 yards on 17/34 passing with two interceptions and a lost fumble on a sack. More importantly, the Nittany Lions allowed only a field goal in a 13-3 victory. delighting a partisan PSU crowd that was hungry for a Penn State win over the nemesis Hawkeyes.

LOSER: Rob Bolden Fan Club president Joe Paterno

There is truly no reason for Rob Bolden to be starting anymore, yet start he does, week in and week out. Bolden's passer efficiency is out of the NCAA's top 100; Matt McGloin's was 42nd nationwide coming into the game. McGloin was far better against Iowa, hitting pass after pass in tight windows while Bolden's best gains came on tipped balls -- his biggest completion ricocheted off of an unsuspecting referee's leg, for crying out loud. Nobody at Penn State outside of the coaching staff knows why Bolden plays so much, yet he does, and he's probably going to ride his 3/7, 31 yard performance to another starting week unless Joe Paterno puts an end to this farce of a quarterback battle and just gives the job to McGloin already.

WINNER: Ron Zook's mojo

Imagine, if you will: Team X is ranked and undefeated, and playing at outmatched-but-feisty Team Y. Team Y takes the opening kick to the house, then makes a stop and turns it into a field goal for a 10-0 lead. At this point, one would assume that if Team X had a good coach, he would have his charges weather this storm and not panic, and if Team X's coach was a raving lunatic, then this was an upset in the making. Well, Team X is obviously Illinois, Team Y is obviously Indiana, the Team X head coach is obviously Ron Zook, and his team responded admirably to the adversity by turning the game into a 41-20 rout. Illinois is now 6-0. It could be 9-0 heading into the Michigan game. Ron Zook is doing all this. This is the reality you must accept.

LOSER: Whoever had to watch Minnesota-Purdue

One Husker blogger tabbed this matchup "the game that fun forgot" on Saturday morning, and while that's not a fair assessment of a game that ends up featuing 62 points scored, it's not quite that far off from this game either. Now. Purdue is not good at football. Not even in a young and sneaky and what if they put it all together sense. Just not good. Purdue also opened up a 45-3 lead on Minnesota en route to a 45-17 win, and we're left to wonder just what level of football the Gophers actually belong in (hint: not FBS!). And yet, there were still only 589 total yards combined in this game; even the PSU-Iowa eye-clawer, by comparison, had 648 total yards from scrimmage. Purdue and Minnesota can't even put on a blowout correctly! Just a mess all the way through here, and there are probably plenty more such messes that await fans of both these teams this season.
Posted on: October 8, 2011 6:14 pm
Edited on: October 8, 2011 6:16 pm
 

QUICK HITS: Illinois 41, Indiana 20

Posted by Adam Jacobi

ILLINOIS WON. 19th-ranked Illinois spotted Indiana an early 10-0 lead, then overpowered the Hoosiers en route to an easy 41-20 victory. 

WHY ILLINOIS WON: Indiana has a crippling dearth of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and that was evident today as Illinois racked up 523 yards of offense in a balanced attack, overwhelming the Hoosiers over the course of the game. Nathan Scheelhaase threw for 210 yards and three touchdowns in the winning effort, and he also rushed for 88 yards and another score. Indiana simply had no answer for Scheelhaase on Saturday.

WHEN ILLINOIS WON: On a 4th and goal from the 3 yard line and having just seen its lead turn into a 14-10 deficit, Indiana trotted out kicker Mitch Ewald for the chip shot field goal. It was good, Illinois maintained its lead, and the Hoosiers were never heard from again.

WHAT ILLINOIS WON: The Illini are now bowl eligible, running their record to 6-0 on the season heading into a key matchup with Ohio State next week. It also has a claim on the best QB-WR combo in the conference with the Nathan Scheelhaase-A.J. Jenkins tandem running wild on the competition. And the defense? Not too shabby. Yep, Ron Zook's having a two-thumbs-up season all around, and he's not afraid to tell the world about it.

WHAT INDIANA LOST: This wasn't really a winnable game for Indiana, all things considered; the Hoosiers just don't have that kind of talent yet. At the very least, though, it got to experience life with a lead in Big Ten play -- and to see what kind of effort it takes to maintain that lead against an offensive attack like the Illini's. So this was more of a "teaching moment" than a moral victory -- as if such a thing could exist in a 21-point loss.

THAT WAS CRAZY: Scheelhaase completed 12 passes: six to Jenkins, six to the rest of the team. Jenkins' six catches were for 182 yards and two scores; the rest of the team managed 28 yards and one score. A.J. Jenkins IS the Illinois downfield attack, and he's awfully good at his job.
Posted on: October 2, 2011 4:26 am
Edited on: October 2, 2011 12:07 pm
 

What I learned from the Big Ten (Oct. 1)



Posted by Adam Jacobi

1. Wisconsin should probably go undefeated this year. Seventh-ranked Wisconsin faced its first stiff test of the season, as No. 8 Nebraska came to town for a night game at Camp Randall in the Big Ten opener for both schools. Wisconsin treated Nebraska like just another speed bump, crushing the Huskers 48-17 in a game that saw the Badgers outscore Nebraska 41-3 in the last 33 minutes of play. It was equal parts savage, brilliant, and awe-inspiring -- the type of game that only great teams play.

Wisconsin's slate from here on out is heavy on intriguing road games, but if Nebraska can't even keep the game within 30 points, what hope would Ohio State or Illinois or anybody else left on the schedule have of winning a game against the Badgers? Russell Wilson can basically do whatever he wants on offense, and with a duo of tailbacks like Montee Ball and James White behind him, the Wisconsin attack is basically as complete as offenses can get.

So yes, Wisconsin should go undefeated this year. That would be quite welcome, especially if it ends in a game against whoever takes the SEC between LSU and Alabama. Would the SEC team win? Possibly. Plausibly. Probably. I'd sure like to see that determined on the field of play, and doubtless so would Wisconsin fans.

2. That team that just got wrecked by 31 points is still probably going to win its division. I don't know what's more infuriating -- that Nebraska has underperformed so badly in every game this season that they're probably just plain average as a whole, or that this average Nebraska team is still a favorite to win the Legends Division. Michigan's on a roll but has a nasty back half of the schedule, Michigan State has a brutal schedule and only managed 10 points against the Ohio State defense, Northwestern has major defensive issues to work out, Iowa struggles mightily against mobile quarterbacks while playing in a division full of them, and Minnesota... no.

Of course, the actual most likely result of this traffic jam of mediocrity is five teams tied at 4-4 and Minnesota eating paste at 0-8. This is the result I will be openly rooting for. because nothing would be funnier than Jim Delany taking a look at that situation, taking a look at Wisconsin, and then just canceling the First Ever Big Ten Championship Game and just handing the Rose Bowl to Wisconsin. And nobody would think that was the wrong thing to do.

3. Whatever you thought about the quarterback situation at Ohio State, I assure you, it's actually worse. Joe Bauserman was Ohio State's leading passer on Saturday, and if that doesn't sound troubling, please consider that Bauserman didn't enter the game until early in the fourth quarter, and he threw for all of 87 yards. Starter Braxton Miller, meanwhile, passed for 56 yards (not just on one drive, for the entire game), lost 27 on the ground, and led the OSU offense to all of six first downs in the first three quarters. The Buckeye faithful were booing early and often in this game, and while they generally weren't booing Miller himself, it certainly stands to reason that the mood at the 'Shoe would have been far more jovial if Terrelle Pryor had still been under center.

It didn't help that the Michigan State defensive front was teeing off on Miller, and generally overwhelming the Buckeye offensive line in the process, but it's just shocking that Ohio State could have such a dearth of production at the quarterback position like this. Miller's got talent, but is in no way game-ready, whereas Bauserman looks like someone who just doesn't belong on a two-deep of a BCS-level team. This is a personnel problem for Luke Fickell and Ohio State, and personnel problems like these don't generally solve themselves mid-season.

4. At this rate, Illinois might actually enjoy endgame pressure. Illinois is 5-0 for the first time in 60 years, and it's doing so at the expense of the cardiac health of Ron Zook and all the Illini fans. For the third straight week, Illinois won a game by three points, and for the third straight week, it needed to take the lead late in the fourth quarter and hang on for dear life. This week's victim was Northwestern, who capitalized on a Jason Ford fumble and drove for a go-ahead score with 75 seconds left ... only to see Nathan Scheelhaase and A.J. Jenkins drive the ball down the field with ease and punch the ball in for the game-winning score with 13 seconds left. 

It's too early to start making assumptions about Illinois' postseason fate as yet, because if the Illini keep getting into these 50-50 late-game situations, the odds are pretty low that they'll keep winning them consistently. And with games like home dates with Ohio State and Michigan -- not to mention a road match at Penn State -- still on the schedule, Illinois probably isn't even near done with the close contests yet this season. But perhaps it does, and perhaps the games won't be close, and perhaps Ron Zook -- he of the hottest seat in the Big Ten six weeks ago -- has another 10-win season up his sleeve just yet. Perhaps. We're at least on the right road for that to happen, at least.

5. Pssst... Michigan might be legitimate. Maybe. As long as Minnesota keeps proving itself to be far more MAC-worthy than BCS conference-caliber, it's going to be useless to read much into a team's performance beating the Gophers -- even the final score is 58-0. And yes, Michigan started 5-0 last year too and that season still ended with Rich Rodriguez fired. That's all true. The problem, though, is that Michigan started 5-0 in 1997 and it just so happened to finish 12-0 and win a national championship, and most teams that start 5-0 don't end up giving up the most points in program history and firing their coach.

So while it's easy to just say "But 2010" whenever someone mentions the fact that Michigan is still undefeated, there's one difference that's crucial to point out: the defense is showing up too. Last season, Michigan gave up over 25 points per game in its first five games. This year? 10.2. Yes, it's relevant that 31 points came against Notre Dame in a game the Wolverines had zero business winning and 20 came against tomato cans like Eastern Michigan and Minnesota, but consider that Michigan also spanked Western Michigan 34-10, and that's a Broncos team that came up just shy in a 23-20 loss at Illinois and just took a 38-31 win at Connecticut. So yes, given the context we've got, Michigan is not just pulling a 2010.

I still don't think Michigan survives that brutal November that awaits, and it's possible that with Dan Persa and Kirk Cousins looming as opposing quarterbacks in the next two games, Michigan might take a 5-2 (1-2) record into its bye week. But 6-1 (2-1) is more likely now, and being undefeated through seven games is definitely on the table. That's good news in Ann Arbor, especially when everyone else in the Legends division is staring at major problems that need fixing. But that's a topic best left for November; for now, Michigan would do well to focus on the next game in front of it.
Posted on: October 2, 2011 4:22 am
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