The Illini have faced the Big Ten's best offense and best defense in back-to-backs weeks.
They lost both games.
But the Illini were competitive against Purdue and Kyle Orton in the Big Ten opener on Sept. 25 (a 38-30 loss) and made a decent showing in their 24-7 defeat at Wisconsin.
The Illini defense has largely been awful for the past two-plus years, but Illinois was within 10 points of the Badgers at 17-7 when TE Melvin Bryant caught a three-yard TD pass from backup QB Chris Pazan with 7:29 left in the fourth quarter.
Head coach Ron Turner was hoping that his beleaguered defense could shut down the Badgers the rest of the way so his offense could attempt a miracle rally. But the Illini defense didn't come through.
Instead, the Wisconsin running game continued its domination. The Badgers not only held the ball but they added to their lead when RB Anthony Davis scored on a 31-yard run. Davis, who had been out since the first half of Wisconsin's opening game, dominated throughout. He gamed 213 yards on 27 carries and scored three times.
Once again, poor tackling was a problem for the Illini.
"At times it looked like we played pretty good defense and had a chance to get him tackled for a minimal gain, but he ran for big plays," Turner said. "He brings the dimension of the home run on every play."
Turner also bemoaned his offense's inability to play consistently. QB Jon Beutjer had a poor day and was replaced by Brad Bower and Pazan. Turner did not announce if Beutjer would play this week against Michigan State, but it's clear he needs to improve his accuracy if he is going to hold on to his job.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Chris Pazan — With Jon Beutjer ineffective against the Badgers, Pazan got a chance to operate against the tough Badger defense. He kept his poise and threw the ball accurately, completing 7-of-10 passes for 67 yards and a TD. Pazan may get future opportunities if the offense does not click.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Illini offensive line — Going into the game against the Badgers, the Illini running game had been a real positive. However the Badgers shut down the Illinois ground attack completely, holding the Illini to 42 rushing yards. C Duke Preston and RT Bucky Babcock are the leaders of this veteran group and they are going to need to bounce back in a big way at Michigan State this week.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "That was probably the best defensive front we're going to see all year. They did a great job of closing the gaps and shutting down the lanes." — Illinois RB E.B. Halsey on the Wisconsin run defense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Just the fact that the Illini stayed competitive against Purdue and Wisconsin in the past two weeks is a good sign. Illinois will not see an overwhelming offense or defense when they travel to East Lansing this week and it's important for Ron Turner to come up with an upset if this team has any chance at a respectable season. Look for the offensive line to bounce back and establish the run after a poor game against a nasty Wisconsin front.
— Give Illinois offensive coordinator Dan Roushar a cigar. He drove from Madison to Champaign, Ill., Friday night to watch his wife, Patti, give birth to their son, Dan, at 5:30 a.m. Saturday. He then returned to Madison by private plane in time for the 1 p.m. kickoff ... only to watch his unit get punished by Wisconsin's defense.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The leadership behind center was not there. Sixth-year senior QB Jon Beutjer struggled and appeared to be intimidated. He completed just 12-of-27 passes for a paltry 85 yards. That kind of anemic performance sent him to the bench against Wisconsin.
ROSTER REPORT: QB Jon Beutjer was benched after a poor game. Chris Pazan or Brad Bower may replace him at Michigan State. ... Sophomore WR Lonnie Hurst injured his right knee late in the game. Hurst will undergo an MRI exam to assess the damage.
Gerry DiNardo was fairly happy when the Hoosiers went into at halftime against Michigan. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis had just scored on a 2-yard run with six seconds to go in the second quarter and the Hoosiers had cut the Wolverines' lead to 14-7.
Indiana was hoping to build on that late touchdown in the second half and perhaps make a case for an upset. Michigan, however, would have none of that.
Grant Mason returned the second-half kickoff 97 yards to set up the Wolverines at the Indiana 3. It took four cracks, but Michael Hart stuck it into the end zone on a 1-yard run to give the Wolverines a 14-point advantage.
From that point, the Wolverines did nothing but punish the Hoosiers. QB Chad Henne torched the Indiana secondary with two TD passes to Braylon Edwards and the game quickly got out of hand.
The Wolverines knew they had a mismatch in the secondary because Edwards was covered by freshman Tracy Porter, who simply did not have enough experience to cope with the guile and moves of Edwards. The difference in experience was not lost on Porter.
"He had four years of experience coming in and I only had four games of experience," Porter told the Indianapolis Star.
"I give him his props because he's a great athlete, but I bit on some misreads ... and he scored on two of them. I just have to see that something like that doesn't happen again."
While the Hoosiers came out on the wrong end of a 35-14 decision, they did have a victory of sorts. They did not turn the ball over once against a Michigan defense that had 19 takeaways in its first four games. If the Hoosiers can hold on to the football against the takeaway-oriented Wolverines, they should be able to hold on to it against most Big Ten opponents.
GAME BALL GOES TO: DE Victor Adeyanju — Late in the first half, Adeyanju turned the momentum in the game when he sacked Michigan QB Chad Henne and stripped him of the ball. LB Kyle Killion recovered it at the Michigan 11, and RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis was able to score shortly before halftime to pull the Hoosiers within 14-7.
KEEP AN EYE ON: P Tyson Beattie — The Hoosiers' opening drive of the game stalled deep in their own territory. On fourth down, Beattie lined up in punt formation and ran 32 yards for a first down. The play gave the Hoosiers a spark and got the crowd fired up, but the Indiana offense could not capitalize.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Tracy Porter was playing at Port Allen (La.) High School last year and I can tell you that's a lot different than playing in the Big Ten against Braylon Edwards, who may be the best receiver in America. That doesn't excuse anything, but you're going to go through some pains like that." — Indiana head coach Gerry DiNardo, on the problems his young cornerback had against Edwards in the 35-14 loss to the Wolverines.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The run defense got battered in the Big Ten-opening loss against Michigan State, but that unit bounced back against the bigger and stronger Michigan offensive front. The Hoosiers held Michigan to 93 rushing yards, and the Wolverines averaged less than 3 yards per carry.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The running game was invisible against the Wolverines. The Hoosiers hoped to take some of the pressure off of QB Matt LoVecchio with the running of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but the Indiana offensive line simply got no push against the Wolverines. Green-Ellis was held to 38 yards on 14 carries.
ROSTER REPORT: Left tackle Isaac Sowells suffered a season-ending broken right arm in practice Wednesday and center Chris Mangiero hurt his ankle the week before against Michigan State. As a result, the Hoosiers had a major shakeup on the offensive line. Left guard Adam Hines started at left tackle, and right guard Chris Jahnke moved to center. Chris Voltattorni started at left guard, and Brandon Hatcher lined up at right guard. Right tackle Justin Frye stayed in his previous spot.
After painful road losses to Arizona State and Michigan, the Hawkeyes decided not to play dead. They went out and dominated a Michigan State team that upset them in East Lansing a year ago.
Iowa registered a 38-16 victory over the Spartans and set the tone for the win with an outstanding passing game from QB Drew Tate. It's a good thing Tate found a way to complete 25-of-36 passes for 340 yards and a touchdown, because RB Jermelle Lewis went down with a major knee injury.
Lewis appeared to suffer a torn ligament in the second quarter. With Albert Young and Marcus Schnoor already done for the season, the RB chores fell to Marques Simmons, a 5-8, 202-pound junior who responded with 47 yards and two short TD runs.
But it was the sudden confidence and accuracy of Tate that commanded most of the attention.
"It was exciting," said WR Ed Hinkel. "We knew the passing game was going to have to open things up for the running game. We knew we would have to make plays and we did a good job of it."
Tate threw for more yards than any Iowa quarterback since former Hawkeye Jon Beutjer (now at Illinois) threw for 380 yards against Indiana in 2000. "Everything went well for us today," said a relieved Tate. "It was nice to be going forwards as opposed to backwards."
The Hawkeyes jumped to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and were never threatened after that. Lewis scored on a 47-yard run early in the first quarter and then Hinkel caught a 15-yard scoring pass from Tate. The Spartans appeared overwhelmed by the onslaught and could not overcome the early surge despite 449 yards of total offense.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Drew Tate — After two sleepy offensive performances in a row, Tate bounced back with his best game of the year. The sophomore from Baytown, Texas, completed 25-of-36 passes for 340 yards and a touchdown. He threw the ball with accuracy and touch and showed that that the Hawkeyes may be able to be competitive in the Big Ten this season. He'll need to build on that performance since RB Jermelle Lewis injured his knee and is out for the rest of the season.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Clinton Solomon — Along with WR Ed Hinkel, Solomon torched the Michigan State secondary. Solomon caught four passes for 105 yards and was very effective.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was awesome watching the offense today. I loved sitting on the bench, watching those guys throw it around." — LB Chad Greenway on the outstanding performance of Tate and the passing game.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Iowa got out of the gate quickly and dictated the pace of the game. The Hawkeyes built a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and continued to punish Michigan State with an outstanding passing game throughout. After losing two games in a row, this 38-16 bounce-back win demonstrated that the Hawkeyes are not ready to be relegated to non-contender status.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The Iowa defense did not give up a lot of points or big plays, but it did give up 449 yards to the Spartans. Kirk Ferentz would like to see his defense tighten things up a bit and make opposing offenses suffer.
ROSTER REPORT: RB Jermelle Lewis tore up his right knee in the second quarter after running for 49 yards on his first three carries. Marques Simmons gets the call to run the ball from this point forward. Sam Brownlee and Champ Davis will backup Simmons. ... OG Brian Ferentz started at guard for the first time in nearly a year. Ferentz had been out after knee surgery and a staph infection.
The Wolverines have been all about causing havoc with their defense. They led the nation with 19 takeaways going into their Big Ten road opener at Indiana, and there was no reason to think this game would be much different.
However, in this game there would be no takeaways.
It would be left to QB Chad Henne and the offense to create their own momentum. That's just what happened in the first quarter when Henne threw a 40-yard TD pass to Jermaine Gonzalez.
Then the special teams took center stage. Leon Hall returned a Tyson Beattie punt 76 yards for a touchdown with 4:37 left in the second quarter, giving the Wolverines a 14-0 lead.
Michigan had a chance to take that advantage into the locker room, but Henne fumbled deep in his own territory and Indiana's BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored on a 1-yard run with six seconds to go in the first half.
The Hoosiers were hoping to start the second half with a big stop, but Michigan's Grant Mason returned the opening kickoff 97 yards to set up a short TD run by Michael Hart. That gave the Wolverines a 21-7 lead, and the Wolverines weren't challenged after that.
Michigan has had a potent return game the past two seasons, but much of that has been due to speedy Steve Breaston. He did not make the trip to Bloomington because of an undisclosed injury, so the big returns in this game were a bit surprising.
"I think the kicking game made the difference in this ball game," coach Lloyd Carr said. "Without our two returns, this is a different game."
After the special teams explosions, Henne and WR Braylon Edwards hooked up on consecutive touchdowns in the third quarter that put the game away. Both were long TD plays that showcased Edwards' outstanding receiving skills.
"Playing man-to-man, they're not going to stop Braylon Edwards deep — there's no way," Henne said. "They were good players, but they just didn't have the speed like Braylon."
With the offense and special teams now contributing big plays of their own, the Wolverines may be in a very good position to take on undefeated and explosive Minnesota at Michigan Stadium this week.
GAME BALL GOES TO: PR Leon Hall — His explosive 76-yard punt return for a score allowed Michigan to seize control against upset-minded Indiana. Hall's TD return was one of two big plays by the Michigan special teams in a five-minute span. The other was Grant Mason's 97-yard kickoff return to open the second half.
KEEP AN EYE ON: QB Chad Henne — The freshman quarterback played his best ball of the season, completing 17-of-21 passes for 316 yards with three TD passes. Henne has a strong, accurate arm, but it is his poise and presence in the pocket that is most impressive to head coach Lloyd Carr.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I thought we really fought back after having a close first half. I think the difference in the game were our two huge returns with Leon Hall's punt return for a touchdown and Grant Mason's big return to start the second half." — Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Wolverines came up with a solid offensive game and a terrific effort on special teams. Leon Hall scored on a 76-yard punt return and KR Grant Mason set up another touchdown with a 97-yard return on the opening kickoff of the second half.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The Indiana defense struggles against the run, but the Hoosiers held the Wolverines to 93 rushing yards. Michigan is coming around in all phases, but the running game continues to stumble. That could be a huge problem this week against undefeated Minnesota.
ROSTER REPORT: WR-RS Steve Breaston did not make the trip to Indiana as a result of an unspecified injury. ... QB Chad Henne appeared to cement his position as the Wolverines' starter after completing 17-of-21 passes for 316 yards at Indiana. Matt Gutierrez remains sidelined with a sore shoulder.
Even though the Spartans were beaten decisively, 38-16, at Iowa, there were some positive developments.
For the second consecutive week, they put together a credible running game. Michigan State ran for 204 yards, and once again QB Drew Stanton was a big part of the ground game. He ran for 89 yards on 15 carries. Stanton also completed 29-of-54 passes for 245 yards. Stanton's grittiness impressed the Hawkeyes.
"He really stood in there and took some hits but he kept playing hard — he's a good quarterback," Iowa linebacker Chad Greenway told the Lansing State Journal.
The game would have been significantly closer if Michigan State's receivers had not been so careless. The Spartans dropped eight of Stanton's passes and ruined what could have been a solid offensive game.
"It was there," Spartan receiver Jerramy Scott said. "We should have made those plays."
But it was the defense that got under head coach John L. Smith's skin. That unit allowed Iowa QB Drew Tate to throw for 340 yards and dictate the pace of the game.
"We were bad today," Smith said after the game. "Let me clarify that. ... Gosh, there has to be a reason. Either we can't do it physically or we can't do it mentally."
Smith had good reason to be upset. The Hawkeyes came into the game as the Big Ten's weakest offensive unit.
If the defense can't step up at home against Illinois this week, Smith's team could be in for a ton of trouble the rest of the way.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Drew Stanton — He won the respect of the Hawkeyes with his toughness and edge. Stanton rushed for 89 yards and also threw for 245 yards without an interception. While the defense put Michigan State in a big hole, Stanton played hard and did not quit.
KEEP AN EYE ON: WR Terry Love — He proved to be a major threat against Iowa, with nine catches for 103 yards. The redshirt freshman from Bellwood, Ill., was able to get open against the Hawkeye defense and Stanton had no problems finding him.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're very close to being in a position where we're comfortable with this offense. I think it's only a matter of time before we get going. We've got some tremendous athletes." — QB Drew Stanton on the progress of the Spartan offense in the last two games.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Spartans once again played hard in the fourth quarter. They were able to move the ball up and down the field in the final period, and that productivity resulted in 10 points. However, by the time the final period started, the Spartans were trailing 24-6 and were no longer in good position to win the game.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The pass defense was awful against a Iowa team that had the least productive passing attack in the Big Ten coming into the game. The Spartans gave up 340 passing yards to the Hawkeyes. That area needs a lot of work before Michigan State hosts Illinois and Minnesota in the next two weeks.
ROSTER REPORT: WR Agim Shabaj did not make the trip to Iowa City because of the flu. Redshirt freshman Terry Love took his spot and caught nine passes for 103 yards. ... Junior defensive end Daryl Melvin has quit the team. The 6-foot-5, 258-pounder had made just two tackles in two games this season. ... Senior linebacker Ron Stanley left the Iowa game twice — once in the first quarter after colliding with teammate Eric Smith and again in the third quarter when he bruised an elbow.
This time, Randy Walker's team was not left to wonder what might have been.
This scenario has been a familiar one in Evanston:
Upper echelon foe comes into Evanston against upset-minded Wildcats. Northwestern plays tough for a quarter, a half, maybe three quarters. Then reality takes hold. The Wildcats lose.
That appeared to be the scenario again when undefeated and sixth-rated Ohio State came calling Saturday night. The inspired Wildcats held a 27-20 lead late in the fourth quarter, but the Buckeyes tied the game when QB Justin Zwick fired a game-tying 21-yard TD pass to Santonio Holmes with 1:54 remaining.
Surely, the Buckeyes would find a way to escape with yet another win. After all, they had beaten the Wildcats 21 straight times.
But not this time.
The Wildcats won the coin toss in overtime and elected to go on defense. Ohio State's Mike Nugent, arguably the best kicker in the country and proven in the clutch, pushed a 40-yard FG attempt wide to the right.
With the crowd of 47,130 in a frenzy, QB Brett Basanez got off a smart 21-yard run that gave the Wildcats first-and-goal. Power back Noah Herron ended the frustration with a 1-yard TD run for a 33-27 victory.
In addition to beating the Buckeyes for the first time in 33 years, the win was Northwestern's first in Evanston against Ohio State since 1958.
"You don't beat a great team like Ohio State by being lucky," Walker said.
"It goes back to establishing a confidence. We had expectations and we had a high belief in ourselves, but we still had much to prove. Then we went out and did it. It's one of the best feelings I've ever had in coaching."
Walker also tried to teach a lesson to his players in the joyous locker room after the game. He told his players that the good feeling they had of achievement and accomplishment was the result of "the hard work that had been set forth in practice."
Walker hopes his team does not get caught up in the hoopla this week and look past a supposedly "soft" opponent in Indiana. If the Wildcats continue to prepare and practice well, they should be able to handle the Hoosiers.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Brett Basanez — Not only did Basanez put up fine numbers, he clearly established himself as the leader of this team. He set up the game-winning TD in overtime with a 21-yard run. Basanez completed 24-of-44 passes for 278 yards with two TDs. He ran six times for 53 yards and never got anxious against a talented Ohio State defense.
KEEP AN EYE ON: The Northwestern front four — The unit shut down the Ohio State running game. Prior to the game, Northwestern DT Luis Castillo described the OSU offense as "mediocre." The Northwestern defense backed up those words by holding the Buckeyes to 97 rushing yards on 37 attempts.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It was like two heavyweights exchanging blows in the 15th round. We got the last one in." — Northwestern head coach Randy Walker on his team's 33-27 upset win over Ohio State.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The team's emotional status is strong and moving in the right direction. The Wildcats had lost 24 straight games to Ohio State and hadn't beaten the Buckeyes at home since 1958. While Ohio State has offensive weaknesses, the Buckeyes were still the No. 6 team in the country at the time and the victory is huge for the Northwestern program. Could it propel the Wildcats to a winning season? Head coach Randy Walker would like to think so.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The Wildcats still need to improve on both sides of the ball and limit their mistakes. Despite a great game that demonstrated impressive leadership skills, Brett Basanez threw two interceptions that gave the Buckeyes valuable momentum. The Wildcats need to concentrate on their upcoming game with Indiana and not get caught up in the hype of the big upset.
ROSTER REPORT: DB Jeff Backes registered a nice diving interception of a Justin Zwick pass in the fourth quarter and has established himself as a very solid defender. ... PK Brian Huffman may be turning things around, making field goals from 41 and 40 yards against Ohio State.
Sooner or later all streaks have to end.
After pounding Northwestern 24 straight times and not having tasted defeat at the hands of the Wildcats since 1971, Ohio State finally found out what it was like to lose to Northwestern when it suffered a 33-27 overtime defeat in Evanston.
The Buckeyes had won their first three games and were the sixth-ranked team in the country. Sure, Ohio State had been somewhat deficient offensively with QB Justin Zwick getting his feet wet, but the Buckeyes had a ferocious defense and one of the best kickers in the nation in Mike Nugent.
Most importantly, they have been almost impeccable in the clutch.
They fully expected to come into Evanston and win.
But that did not happen. Northwestern refused to be bullied. Every time the Buckeyes threw a punch, the Wildcats responded with one of their own. In fact, Northwestern spent much of the night dictating the pace of the game and it took a dramatic Ohio State rally to send the game into an extra session.
As usual, those heroics came from WR Santonio Holmes. He caught a leaping 21-yard TD pass late in the fourth quarter to tie the score.
Ohio State has done exceedingly well in close games, almost always finding a way to win at the end. However, the tables were finally turned when Nugent pushed a 40-yard FG attempt wide right in overtime.
After that, Ohio State got suckered on a 21-yard option run by Northwestern QB Brett Basanez to set up Noah Herron's game-winning TD run.
The loss not only damaged the Buckeyes' pride, but it also started them off with an 0-1 mark in the Big Ten. They will need a huge effort to turn things around and take care of business this week against undefeated Wisconsin.
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Santonio Holmes — On a night when the Buckeyes were outhustled and outworked by a hard-trying Northwestern team, Holmes played as if he wanted to slam the door in their faces. He caught 10 passes for 99 yards, including the game-tying TD pass in the final two minutes. Holmes also returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Bobby Carpenter — His interception late in the fourth quarter gave the Buckeyes the ball as they trailed by seven points. While they were not able to convert that turnover into points, that play helped temporarily turn momentum around. Ohio State went on to tie the score on its next possession.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We didn't do the things we needed to do to win the game. In some ways, you might say I can't believe we got the chance to win it in overtime. I don't think we played that well in total." — Ohio State head coach Jim Tressel on his team's 33-27 overtime loss at Northwestern.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The practice field — Expect a very difficult week of practice for Ohio State. Head coach Jim Tressel faced his team's loss to Northwestern with admirable candor, but he could not like the lack of intensity he saw from his team. While this Ohio State team may not have the offensive talent of recent editions, the Buckeyes need to work harder and play with more effort.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The defense is normally dominant for Ohio State, but the Buckeyes gave up 444 total yards and made Brett Basanez look like an all-conference contender. Also, Justin Zwick can no longer be coddled. With one loss on the record, the redshirt sophomore needs to grow up quickly and start producing.
ROSTER REPORT: The Buckeyes did not appear to suffer any major injuries.
The Nittany Lions slowed down the Minnesota offense, but the offense couldn't get untracked. This could become a pattern.
"The bottom line is the defense is not giving up a lot of points," Penn State QB Zack Mills said a 16-7 loss at Minnesota. "It's frustrating not to be able to help them out."
Penn State held Minnesota to 288 rushing yards and 113 passing yards — not bad when you consider the Gophers still average more than 500 yards a game of offense. Minnesota scored early in the third quarter on a 19-yard run by Marion Barber, but did not get on the board again.
Penn State gave up a 64-yard run to Laurence Maroney early in the first quarter, but then held Maroney and Barber to 168 yards on 45 other attempts, a 3.7-yard average.
The Gophers were ready to taste defeat for the first time this season, but the Nittany Lion offense did not do its part.
"We didn't make a play when we needed to," Mills said. "It was the same old story."
Statistically, the performance of Penn State's much-maligned passing game was an improvement from a 16-3 loss to Wisconsin a week earlier.
Mills, playing Saturday with a partially separated right (non-throwing) shoulder, completed 24 of 46 passes for 250 yards. Those totals, however, came as a result of the Nittany Lions' inability to run the ball. Penn State managed only 21 yards on 22 carries.
GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Zack Mills — While his numbers were just OK — 24-of-46 for 250 yards with one TD and one interception — Mills deserves the honor because he came back from last week's separated shoulder to play effectively when his team desperately needed him. If a few more of his passes had not been dropped, the Nittany Lions might have pulled off a big upset.
KEEP AN EYE ON: TE Isaac Smolko — He caught a six-yard TD pass from Mills in the third quarter that got the Nittany Lions back in the game.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't have to teach you how to fight. I have to teach you how to win the game." — Penn State head coach Joe Paterno to his players after the loss at Minnesota.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The Penn State receivers have struggled to make plays this year and head coach Joe Paterno is tired of watching his players drop passes. As a result, he gave true freshman Mark Rubin an opportunity to play against Minnesota, and he responded with six catches for 60 yards. Rubin should get additional opportunities this week against Purdue.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The Nittany Lions have a habit of allowing their opponents to score on the opening drive of the second half. That continued against Minnesota, when they gave up an 11-play, 78-yard Minnesota drive that pushed the Gopher lead to 16-0.
ROSTER REPORT: Michael Robinson, Penn State's leading receiver and backup quarterback, did not play but made the trip with the team. He had a serious concussion a week earlier against Wisconsin. ... Rodney Kinlaw and Austin Scott returned kickoffs against Minnesota.
Not only is Kyle Orton's Heisman campaign picking up some serious steam following a 41-16 win over Notre Dame, but the Boilermakers, now ranked ninth, have the look of a BCS contender.
The Irish were expected to provide a major test because they were coming off three solid efforts in wins over Michigan, Michigan State and Washington. Orton and the Purdue offense were certainly rolling coming into this game, but the Notre Dame defense appeared to be significantly better than anything they had seen this season.
Well ... so much for that.
The Boilermakers came out decisively. Special teams scored the first touchdown of the game when Jerome Brooks returned a kickoff 100 yards in the first quarter. Purdue's only other first-half touchdown came on Orton's 2-yard pass to defensive end Rob Ninkovich — yes, defensive end — with 1:03 left in the first half.
That play gave Purdue a 20-3 edge at the break and the Boilermakers put the game away early in the third.
Stuck deep in his own territory at the 3, Orton dropped back into his end zone and lobbed a perfect pass to superb WR Taylor Stubblefield, who was being covered by defensive back Dwight Ellick. The pass hit Stubblefield in the hands, in stride, and he had no problems bringing it in and racing for the score as Ellick lost his balance and tumbled to the ground.
That was basically the beginning of the end for Notre Dame. The win was the Boilermakers' first in South Bend since 1974 and sent a message through the Big Ten, and perhaps the nation, that the Boilermakers are for real.
Orton had another wonderful day, completing 21-of-31 passes for 385 yards with four TD passes. Orton has thrown 17 TD passes through Purdue's first four games ... with no interceptions.
"He has complete command of their system," Notre Dame coach Tyrone Willingham said. "He made some pretty big plays."
On the negative side, Purdue's defense gave up quite a bit of yardage to Notre Dame QB Brady Quinn — he completed 26-of-46 for 432 yards — but the Boilermakers did a good job of keeping the Irish off the scoreboard. Purdue had stretched the lead to 27-3 before the Irish found the end zone.
GAME BALL GOES TO: WR Taylor Stubblefield — The case could easily be made to give yet another game ball to Kyle Orton — four TD passes — but Stubblefield is deserving, too. He caught seven balls for 181 yards and two scores against the Irish, including a record 97-yarder early in the third quarter that slammed the door on the Irish and ensured Purdue's first win in Notre Dame Stadium since 1974.
KEEP AN EYE ON: RS Jerome Brooks — Notre Dame needed a perfect game on defense and special teams if they were going to stop the Purdue express. Brooks made sure that didn't happen with his 100-yard return for a touchdown in the first quarter.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I basically just threw it up and told him to go get it. He got it and broke a tackle and was gone." — Orton on the 97-yard TD pass he threw to Stubblefield that broke open the game in the third quarter.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: Notre Dame was, by far, Purdue's most impressive opponent, but the Boilermakers walked into South Bend and took apart the Irish. The best thing about this offense might be its poise, decision-making and grip on the ball; Purdue has yet to commit a turnover.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: The pass defense gave up 460 yards, but defensive coordinator Brock Spack was not the least bit upset. The victory was the only thing that mattered to him, since he had been trying to win at Notre Dame since he was an 18-year-old Boilermaker linebacker in 1980. Spack bear-hugged everyone he could find associated with Purdue and then made good on his pregame promise to shave his trademark mustache if the Boilermakers won at Notre Dame. "My wife is going to hate me, but that's the way it goes," Spack told the Indianapolis Star. "She doesn't like this."
ROSTER REPORT: Purdue defensive end Anthony Spencer had two tackles for loss and a forced fumble before suffering a high ankle sprain late in the first half. He says he will play at Penn State this week. ... Jerod Void suffered a shoulder injury in the first quarter, but he came back and split time with Brandon Jones at running back.
The Badgers now have an offense to go along with their Big Ten-leading defense.
Thanks to the return of RB Anthony Davis, the Badgers now have a strong (and speedy) ground game that makes them a worthy contender for the Big Ten title.
Nobody is going to confuse the Wisconsin offense with the explosive units sported by Minnesota and Purdue, but the Badgers don't need that kind of firepower since they have a defense that has allowed only 26 points in five games.
Wisconsin has ripped off five straight wins to start the season and head coach Barry Alvarez knows his team is in position to improve now that Davis has come back from the eye injury he suffered in the opener. In Wisconsin's 24-7 win over the Illini, Davis carried 27 times for 213 yards and scored all three of Wisconsin's touchdowns.
Davis led a Badger ground game that gained 258 yards and ripped big holes through the yielding Illinois defense. He seemed relieved that he could get back in the groove so quickly.
"The main thing I was focusing on was relaxing and not trying too hard," Davis told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
"Like I said, I just wanted to let the game come to me. Eventually, I just got lost in the game and I didn't think about rust and I didn't think about how many carries I had, nothing. I just let the game come to me and things worked out well."
Davis ran with explosive quickness. He showed the power to get into and out of small holes and then the speed to run by defenders. He certainly makes the Badgers a much more dangerous offensive team.
"This performance should certainly validate how important, critical and special he is," Wisconsin offensive coordinator Brian White said. "It was a lot easier to call a game when you know you have the capability every four or five carries to go for 20 or 30 or 40 yards at a time."
Davis' return comes at a crucial time. The Badgers go on the road to face Ohio State this week and then travel to Purdue the following Saturday. Sweeping those two road games would make the Badgers the favorites to win the Big Ten since they get Minnesota at home and don't have to play Michigan.
GAME BALL GOES TO: RB Anthony Davis — This spectacularly talented senior came back from an eye injury suffered in the season-opener to dominate against an overmatched Illinois defense. He had 27 carries for 213 yards and three touchdowns. The Badgers were glad to see AD back in uniform and recapture his top form. If he can continue to play like this consistently, the Badgers have a chance for a memorable year. Davis has had five 200-yard games in his career.
KEEP AN EYE ON: LB Dontez Sanders — The Badgers have a boatload of talent on the defensive side of the ball, and Sanders was dominant against Illinois. Sanders punished Illinois with 13 tackles.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "The O-line, it's a lot of communication and it's a lot of knowing who is around you and knowing where they're going to be on every play. And to be able to have a guy in there who has been through the wars, been through the battles, it's huge." — Wisconsin right tackle Joe Thomas, to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, on having Davis back in the lineup for the first time since the Sept. 4 opener vs. Central Florida.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
LOOKING GOOD: The running game is now back on track with Anthony Davis running and Matt Bernstein doing the blocking. Davis ran for 213 yards vs. Illinois and looked great. However, he'll face a much tougher front seven when the Badgers go to Columbus this week.
STILL NEEDS SOME WORK: Even with the return of Davis, QB John Stocco was just 9-of-20 for 99 yards. The Badgers were able to overwhelm a mediocre Illinois team, but when they face the top-level teams in the conference they will almost certainly need a bit more from the passing game. Stocco has good receivers in Owen Daniels, Jonathan Orr and Brandon Williams, so he needs to step up and deliver.
ROSTER REPORT: Right tackle Mike Lorenz did not play against Illinois as a result of a foot injury. Joe Thomas took his place and performed well.
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