Big Ten Bowl Wrap

Penn State may not have made it to a bowl game this year. But that didn't stop Fight On State analyst Marsh Creek from soaking up all the postseason action. In this piece, he offers his takes on how the Big Ten did in the bowl battles, from Purdue's sketchy performance against Arizona State in old El Paso to Michigan's classic Rose Bowl showdown with Texas.


Purdue entered the New Year's Eve Sun Bowl in El Paso, Texas, sporting the nation's 12th-ranked offense. Success was elusive, however, for one-time Heisman candidate Kyle Orton and the Boilermaker offense. Purdue gained only 13 yards in the first quarter against a quick and aggressive Arizona State defense and did not achieve a first down until early in the second quarter.

Orton did orchestrate some late game heroics, though, and for a brief moment it looked as if Purdue would find a way to pull out the win. But Arizona State, rallying behind the remarkable poise of first-time starter Sam Keller, upstaged the Boilers when Keller found Rudy Burgess for a 19-yard scoring pass with 44 seconds left to steal the win.

Orton completed 23 of 47 pass attempts for 281 yards and three touchdowns, and all American WR Taylor Stubblefield caught seven passes for 81 yards in their final collegiate start together. Purdue, trailing 20-16 with six minutes to play, looked out of it when Brandon Jones fumbled at the end of a 24-yard catch.

But Purdue earned another late-game chance when safety Bernard Pollard blocked a punt at the Arizona State 36-yard line.

Purdue had excellent field position and two minutes left to work with. Orton cashed in with completions to Stubblefield and TE Charles Davis, the latter being a six-yard touchdown that put Purdue up 23-20 with 1:14 to play.

That gave Keller just enough time to work some magic of his own. The first-time starter completed all four passes in a 30-second, 8-yard drive culminating with the touchdown to Burgess.

Arizona State piled up 573 yards from scrimmage while limiting Purdue's high-powered attack to only 370 yards.

"They had a real advantage of speed against us," Orton said. "I think they were a much faster defense than we thought going into it."


Iowa QB Drew Tate went 20 for 32 for 287 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Hawkeyes to a 30-25 win over LSU in the Capital One Bowl in Orlando Jan. 1. Tate's efforts won him game MVP honors, but critical time management mistakes down the stretch almost cost Iowa a chance at victory.

Until a late fourth-quarter JaMarcus Russell touchdown pass to Skyler Green put LSU on top for the first time in the game, the Hawkeyes had been in control. When Iowa received the ball back in the waning minutes of the game, it was do or die.

Tate started the game-ending drive with a pair of nice completions that moved the ball near midfield with more than 30 seconds left and two timeouts to spend. Incredibly, after some confusion, Iowa wound up in a situation where it was running what amounted to a hail-mary play with 11 seconds to go.

Enter Tate and fifth-year senior Warren Holloway. Holloway, Coach Kirk Ferentz's first recruit at Iowa, had never scored a touchdown in his college career. As fate would have it, however, in a play certain to be etched into Hawkeye lore right up there with Nile Kinnick, Holloway and Tate connected on a busted-coverage, 56-yard scoring play to end the game in dramatic fashion.

As has been the case all season long, Iowa overcame an inability to run the ball. The Hawkeyes turned special teams' play — a blocked punt led to a second quarter Iowa touchdown — stingy run defense of their own and Tate's magical play at quarterback into victory.

"For the game to go the way it went, with a lot of people contributing and different areas of our football team making big plays, it's just a tremendous team effort," Ferentz commented after the game.


Oklahoma State had scored 35 points on No. 2 Oklahoma and No. 4 Texas, and it had blown out bowl-eligible Colorado. But the Cowboys were no match for Ohio State in the 2004 Alamo Bowl in San Antonio Dec. 29. The Buckeyes shut down Oklahoma State in a lopsided 33-7 game.

Even without starting QB Troy Smith, the Buckeyes had little trouble with Oklahoma State. Ohio State was playing without Smith, who was suspended one week prior to the game for accepting an unspecified gift from a team booster in violation of NCAA rules.

Justin Zwick completed 17 of 27 passes despite a recurring mild hamstring pull. No problem; Every time Zwick had to leave the game Ted Ginn would enter as the emergency backup at QB and prove he could outrun the Oklahoma State defense even though everyone knew he wasn't going to be throwing the ball.

Ginn, using the game as a bit of a personal showcase of his amazing speed, caught six passes for 78 yards and rushed for another 51 yards and a touchdown. "I try to make something out of nothing if I get trapped," the freshman said. "You always got to keep your feet moving. You're always moving forward — that's what we've been taught."

If Ginn's exploits were the storyline for the Ohio State offense, domination was the theme on defense.

Oklahoma State RB Vernand Morency entered the game as one of the nation's leading rushers, but a punishing Ohio State front seven limited him to 24 yards on eight attempts.

Oklahoma State quarterback Donovan Woods completed 15 of 34 passes for 137 yards and rushed for another 80 yards. On the first series, however, Woods underthrew receiver Chijuan Mack and the pass was picked off by Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter.

After an Buckeye field goal by Mike Nugent, on the ensuing drive Woods uncharacteristically dropped the ball without being hit. Joel Penton recovered for the Buckeyes, leading to a 35 yard field goal to up the score to 13-0.

From there the Bucks were able to put the game into cruise control. The lead went all the way to 33-0 before Oklahoma State finally got on the board with its only score midway through the fourth quarter, a four-yard touchdown run by Shawn Willis.


Eight-ranked Georgia defeated No. 16 Wisconsin by a 24-21 count in the Outback Bowl in Tampa Jan. 1, but the close final score was not indicative of how the game played out.

Wisconsin picked up a pair of Mike Allen field goals early to take a 6-3 lead, but a holding penalty wiped out a long interception return, depriving the Badgers of building on that edge. It was all Georgia after that until late in the game.

David Greene, the winningest QB in NCAA history, sandwiched an 18-yard scoring toss to Fred Gibson and a 24-yarder to Jeremy Thomas around the halftime break to get Georgia out to a 17-6 lead. A 29-yard jaunt by Thomas Brown stretched the advantage to 24-6 as the Bulldogs threatened to blow Wisconsin out of the game.

A 19-yard touchdown pass from John Stocco to Darrin Charles brought Wisconsin closer at 24-13, but the Badgers stalled until Andy Crooks intercepted David Greene for an 11-yard touchdown late in the game. A two-point attempt was converted — Stocco pass to Jonathan Orr — and the Badgers were suddenly breathing new life.

The excitement for Wisconsin was short lived, however, as Georgia moved the ball to the Wisconsin 5-yard line before taking a knee to run out the clock.

Stocco managed only 12 completions on 27 attempts for 170 yards. Worse for Badger fans, their normally strong running game was stifled by a stingy Bulldog defense. Star tailback Anthony Davis was held to 79 yards on 21 carries.

Stocco was sacked seven times, three of them coming at the hands of Lombardi Award-winner David Pollack. Pollack also forced a Stocco fumble inside the Georgia 10 midway through the third quarter on his way to winning Outback Bowl MVP honors.

Wisconsin finished with a three-game losing streak after beginning the season 9-0. But losses to Michigan State and Iowa by a combined 79-21 margin cost the Badgers a share of the Big Ten title and a spot in the Rose Bowl.

"I don't think we played particularly well," said Wisconsin coach Barry Alvarez. He didn't like the execution on offense or defense.

Or special teams.

And there was nothing remotely special about the way the Badgers played in their final three games.

"You like to win — that's what you try to do," Alvarez said. "I'm pleased with a lot of things and I'm disappointed with a lot of things."

On swallowing the three season-ending losses, UW cornerback Scott Starks conceded, "It is a bit difficult to do. But I'm a half-full kind of guy, so I'm always going to think about the nine wins and try to put the three losses in the back of my mind."

Freshman middle linebacker Andy Crooks probably summed it up best: "We didn't finish like we would have liked."


The Music City Bowl in Nashville Dec. 31 was a classic case of the immovable object, the Alabama run defense, meeting the irresistible force, the Minnesota rushing attack.

Consider this one a win for the irresistible force.

Alabama entered the game sporting the nation's second-ranked defense. The Tide were so strong this year that no running back gained 100 yards on them. Alabama even held Auburn to 79 yards rushing in the regular-season finale.

Enter Minnesota's fabulous tandem of Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney.

Minnesota fell behind 7-0 early when Barber fumbled on the second play of the game and tried to pick the ball up instead of falling on it. It led to a short Tide scoring pass. But Gophers reeled off 17 unanswered points to take command of the game.

Barber III gouged Alabama for 204 yards and a touchdown while stable mate Maroney rode the Tide for another 109 yards.

The Golden Gophers (7-5) ran for over 300 yards in overcoming three turnovers — including two by Barber — on their first three drives. Still, they nearly gave the game away in the fourth quarter.

After Rhis Lloyd missed a fourth-quarter field goal try, the Gophers were pinned deep in their own territory, where they smartly decided to take a safety to make it 20-16 rather than have to punt the ball out of their own end zone.

Still, Alabama returned the free kick to the Minnesota 48-yard line and four completions by QB Spencer Pennington later the Tide were on the verge of getting into the end zone. But Minnesota held on downs before running out the clock.

Speaking of his dynamic duo at tailback, Minnesota coach Glen Mason knew where to hand out the praises after the game. "They're a duo, and they're both going to come at you. They must be pretty good, I guess."


The Rose Bowl story line was a simple one. This was a New Year's Day match up of two of the most storied programs in college football — Texas and Michigan.

The game itself wasn't a whole lot more complicated. The story here was the inability of the Michigan defense to stop electrifying Texas QB Vincent Young. The Longhorn signal caller simply overwhelmed Michigan defenders, leading Texas to a thrilling, come-from-behind 38-37 victory.

The only matchup in Southern California more lopsided than Young vs. the Michigan defense might have be the pastry chef down at the Morton's Steakhouse on Figueroa Street in Los Angeles vs. the toast.

Young was a human highlight reel in this game, but others stood out as well.

Michigan return man Steve Breaston repeatedly brought back kicks to midfield or beyond, five of them in fact. Breaston racked up 221 return yards in total. You'd think the Texas staff would eventually kick the ball away from him, but that never happened.

Running back Mike Hart showed why he'll be a force in the Big Ten until the day he leaves. True, his 83 yards don't stand out like the triple digit totals posted by some other backs this bowl season, but the way he gained those yards was a joy to watch. This true freshman combined quickness, vision and balance into a truly dynamic running style.

Braylon Edwards was his normal NFL All-Pro quality WR playing against mere mortals. He wound up with 109 yards on 10 receptions, three of them going for touchdowns.

Wyomissing, Pa., native Chad Henne became the first true freshman QB to ever start in the Rose Bowl. And he showed why he belonged completing 18 of 34 passes for 227 yards and four touchdowns.

But it was Young who was the real star on this day. In addition to throwing for 180 yards and one touchdown, Young ran for 200 more yards. It was those running yards that simply killed Michigan. Every time Texas needed a first down, Young got it.

Young's best efforts came on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown scampers in leading Texas back from a 10-point deficit.

And when Garret Rivas put Michigan back up by 37-35 with his third field goal late in the game and Michigan needed to stop Young just one time, the Wolverines couldn't.

Young methodically drove Texas into the Michigan red zone where Longhorn coach Mack Brown put the game on the line with a Dusty Magnum 37-yard field goal attempt. When Magnum converted on the final play of the game the epic Rose Bowl was finally settled in favor of Texas.

The fact that Michigan was even in a position to win the game was a testament to Breaston and Edwards. One for his phenomenal open field running ability in the return game, the other to a pass-catching wizardry rarely seen outside the lines of NFL stadiums.

But Young was sensational. Nobody should run for 200 yards, four touchdowns and almost 10 yards per carry against a good defense. Texas is good, but seven teams held the Longhorns to fewer than 38 points this season, including Kansas, Missouri and Rice.

Three times in the final quarter of this game, however, Michigan's defense stepped on the field with a lead. And each time the Wolverines caved in.

From the Michigan perspective, Coach Lloyd Carr hit the nail on the head in his postgame remarks: "We have to play better defensively. That's something we need to address in the off-season. We have a lot of outstanding players, a lot of guys that have the ability to do great things. But you can't win championships if you don't play good defense."

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