Big Ten play has begun, so we can begin to see which teams are going to emerge as contenders and which just rode an easy non-conference schedule. Ohio State looked like the only truly dominant team, destroying a surprisingly over-matched Illinois team, while there isn’t as much clarity with Michigan, Iowa, Penn State and the rest of the conference. Hopefully the level of competition and the closeness of the games is due to the depth and talent of the conference — we’ll just have to wait a couple more weeks to see where the rest of the teams stand.
Michigan 36, Indiana 33
A touchdown pass and interception helped Michigan escape with a victory Saturday against Indiana in a battle of previously unbeaten teams. True freshman quarterback Tate Forcier sealed the deal by tossing a 26-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Martavious Odoms in the last few minutes. Forcier, a dual-threat quarterback whose clutch impact has been felt already this season in other games, finished with 184 yards passing and two touchdowns, adding another score on a run. The Wolverine offense focused on the run, taking it to the ground 50 times for a combined 149 yards and three touchdowns, led by senior running back Carlos Brown. Indiana, believed by many to not stand a chance in the game, led for most of the contest and nearly came away with an upset. Freshman running back Darius Willis exploded onto the scene with 152 yards rushing and two touchdowns on only 16 carries, including an 85-yard scamper. Junior quarterback Ben Chappell threw for 270 yards but could not find the end zone this week. Michigan will be the favorite again next week when it takes on in-state rival Michigan State, while Indiana will get another chance at a huge upset against Ohio State. Did this game show that Michigan is still flawed or that the Hoosiers are for real? The next few weeks should shed some light.
Wisconsin 38, Michigan State 30
Wisconsin held off Michigan State after leading for most of the game behind the impressive play of junior quarterback Scott Tolzien. Tolzien launched the football for 243 yards and four touchdowns, showing the potential Badger fans had hoped for. Sophomore star halfback John Clay bounced back from a poor performance last week with 142 yards on the ground and a touchdown on 32 carries. His longest carry was only 18 yards, showing his consistency. The Spartans continued to sputter on the ground, failing to gain over 100 yards yet again. The sophomore quarterback competition between Kirk Cousins and Keith Nichol reopened with both passing for approximately 200 yards and two touchdowns. Nichol, however, did it on just more than one-third of the passing attempts that Cousins had. The two quarterbacks did have trouble holding onto the ball, though, giving the Badgers three interceptions on the day. Wisconsin continues to roll with its undefeated season and has a good shot at 5-0 after Minnesota next week, while Michigan State’s season is severely in jeopardy because a 1-4 start is quite possible after a showdown with Michigan.
Ohio State 30, Illinois 0
What happened? The question is still ringing through the heads of Fighting Illini offense, which was initially regarded as one of the most explosive in the Big Ten. Senior quarterback Juice Williams only threw for 77 yards but managed to toss two interceptions, and his backup, sophomore Eddie McGee, barely managed to hit double-digits in passing yards and was still able to throw an interception despite only throwing four passes. No Illinois player ran for more than 25 yards, although Williams had 15 attempts. Junior wide receiver Arrelious Benn, considered one of the best in the country, continued his early season struggles with only 33 yards receiving. Meanwhile, the Buckeye offense had a field day, especially on the ground. The team combined for 236 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, and sophomore quarterback Terrelle Pryor added a touchdown through the air as well. Ohio State should continue to roll, with no currently ranked team on the schedule until November. On the other hand, Illinois could be in for another thrashing next week against Penn State and is already looking at a 1-2 record to start the season.
Iowa 21, Penn State 10
For the second straight year, Iowa upset Penn State, crushing the Nittany Lions’ national championship hopes. The Hawkeyes did it with old-fashioned football, led by a ferocious defense, fundamentally sound special teams and solid rushing attack. The defense forced three interceptions out of Penn State senior quarterback Daryll Clark, including one by senior linebacker Pat Angerer that set up a score that put the game away. The Hawkeyes defense added a safety and a pivotal 53-yard blocked punt return for a touchdown by junior defensive lineman Adrian Clayborn. Offensively, Iowa’s freshman running backs Adam Robinson and Brandon Wegher combined for 161 yards and a touchdown on the ground, pounding the Penn State defense. The one bright spot for Penn State was a 79-yard pass from Clark to sophomore wide receiver Chaz Powell to start the game. Powell finished with 96 receiving yards. The Nittany Lions have a shot at redemption next week against Illinois, while Iowa gets a cupcake in Arkansas State before resuming Big Ten play against Michigan.
Notre Dame 24, Purdue 21
Notre Dame beat a Big Ten team for the second week in a row Saturday, escaping an upset bid by the Boilermakers. Junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen was the hero for the Irish, playing through a turf toe injury to lead the offense to a last-minute touchdown. The Heisman candidate finished with a mediocre 171 yards and one touchdown on the day, but his pass to sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph was the story of the game. The Notre Dame rushing attack led the way with 167 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, but the defense was exploited by senior quarterback Joey Elliott. Elliott finished with 289 yards and three touchdowns through the air, while sophomore running back Robert Bolden has cooled off from his hot start, rushing for only 67 yards without a score. Junior wide receiver Keith Smith was the main target for Elliott, catching 11 balls for 136 yards and a touchdown. No other receiver went over 38 yards on the day. Purdue, which has started slow with a 1-3 record, hosts the Northwestern Wildcats next Saturday. Hopefully their poor luck continues.