This one is a bit later than usual and for a more abbreviated schedule, but what is the Big Ten blogosphere saying about last weekend's outcomes?
Iowa 15, Michigan State 13: The Hawkeyes, perhaps the least-respected top 5 team in recent memory, won one of the best Big Ten games of the season, and MSU lost yet another game at the end. Black Heart Gold Pants:
50/50. Going into the game, with the betting line oscillating somewhere between Iowa -2 and MSU -2 (recall that HFMR called it a pick'em and nobody complained), this game was essentially a 50/50 affair. Heads, the Hawks win; tails, we crawl into an oven and have a sympathetic friend turn it to 350 degrees (you'd think as high as it can go, but broiling humans doesn't really do the trick as elegantly; the skin chars too quickly and actually let's go ahead and drop this subject now). Sure enough, for all the drama packed into the first 59 minutes and 45 seconds, it all culminated in Iowa down four points, ball on the MSU seven yard line, and one timeout. Not a gimme, certainly not impossible. 50/50.
For 58:30, we played our best defensive game of the year by being aggressive both in coverage and with pressure, and then, at the critical time of the game, we completely abandoned what had been working. Dantonio's comment last night was to the effect of, "had we brought pressure and given up a big touchdown play, everyone would be criticizing us for that too"; it'd be naïve to think that there would be no criticism if that happened, but nonetheless, I don't think that's a valid argument.
Penn State 35, Michigan 10: The Nittany Lions, who ended a nine-year losing streak against Michigan last year, won in Ann Arbor for the first time since 1996. Black Shoe Diaries:
Your eyes weren't deceiving you -- Michigan's first offensive drive against Penn State looked a lot like their first quarter performance against the Lions last year in Happy Valley. Tate Forcier and Brandon Minor led a steady, precise 70 yard touchdown drive against little resistance from the Nittany Lions. There was good reason for concern, but the afternoon quickly turned into complete domination by Penn State. It was not just a solid road win against a pretty good team. The Lions came together and produced their best showing of the season, one week after their last-best performance of 2009.
The question was whether JoePa and company would throw rock. They didn't for the most part. They came up with a gameplan that basically put Michigan's linebackers in positions where they were in single coverage mismatches and gave Clark easy throws which to his credit he made look even easier. They saw that our secondary was the straggling wildebeest of the heard and they did what you're supposed to do to straggling wildebeests. Perfect gameplan. Stevie Brown and Obi Ezeh were victimized repeatedly without a single iota of safety help. It got to the point where I and several others near me in the stands were pointing it out a solid 5 seconds before the snap, and yet no adjustments were made.
Touchdown passes are good for the soul. They're also good for sophomore quarterbacks who had yet to prove they could play consistent football against a live, non-MAC, non-Illinois defense. Terrelle Pryor was far from perfect today, but if you watched the game, you couldn't help but feel good. Yes, there were blown coverages. But there had been blown coverages before this season, and Terrelle couldn't hit the gloriously open man to save his life. Today, he did, and as sad as it may be, that's most of the progress I was looking for.
After an abysmal two weeks at Penn State and Ohio State, Minnesota is now 4-4 with 4 games remaining in the season. What are the possible outcomes for the year, and what will need to happen for each outcome to become a reality? I have plans at 3PM, so here's my 15 minute assessment:
Purdue 24, Illinois 14: IU remains the second-worst in the Big Ten thanks to the Flailing Illini, who still have not defeated a I-A opponent and who never seriously challenged Purdue. Hammer and Rails:
I don't feel like I am about to be punched in the stomach. My heart rate is actually rather normal. I am not questioning why I continue to follow this team. That all makes for a good Saturday. If you have followed Purdue much in the past five weeks, you know this is an odd feeling. Today was a pretty dull game in retrospect. Illinois got a lead (which was a stunner in and of itself). Purdue came back, built a bigger lead, then was able to cruise the rest of the way. Our offense didn't light up the scoreboard, but it didn't need it to. We ground the game out with the running game (and when was the last time we did that?). The defense seemed to be in control on all but two drives. The consistent ineptitude of Illinois' offense meant there wasn't much of a threat of them overcoming the deficit. All told, it was a business-like win.
Today we saw the latest attempt to put a "spark" into the team in Jacob Charest's college football debut. This elusive spark we keep looking for is theoretically the single thing that is holding this team back from scoring in droves and winning games. Oddly enough, at first it seemed to be working. Charest made some excellent passes to our too little used tight ends including a long shot in stride to Hubie Graham to put the Illini in 1st and goal on the 2 yard line. Moments later however, the team reverted to what we have seen all season long. Juice came back in as QB and a penalty and 3 failed attempts to score later the first half was waning and the Illini were forced to kick. In what has to be the ultimate kick in the ribs, the Illini then missed their field goal attempt, and headed into the locker room with nothing to show for their otherwise excellent drive down 14 to 7.
As for the non-conference opponents:
Syracuse 28, Akron 14: The Zips still don't have a win over a I-A opponent (too bad they don't play Illinois), but kept it reasonably respectable at the Carrier Dome.
Georgia Tech 34, Virginia 9: The Cavaliers' three-game winning streak ended in a blowout home loss to the Yellow Jackets.
Austin Peay 24, Eastern Kentucky 20: The Colonels lost their second in a row.