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Football Mon Sep 13 2010

Big Ten Football: The Weekend That Was

b10logo.jpgOhio State hounded Miami into madness, Penn State folded at Alabama and the nation saw the birth of a new college football star in Denard Robinson, whose historic day at Notre Dame Stadium nonetheless left me curiously unmoved.

Come along as we review The Weekend That Was in Big Ten football (plus Notre Dame because those bastards own half of Chicago).

Best win -- Ohio State 36, Miami 24

Best Bachman Turner Overdrive* -- Iowa 35, Iowa State 7

Et cetera -- Michigan 28, Notre Dame 24 ... Alabama 24, Penn State 3 ... Purdue 31, Western Illinois 21 ... South Dakota 41, Minnesota 38 ... Michigan State 30, Florida Atlantic 17 ... Wisconsin 27, San Jose State 14 ... Northwestern 37, Illinois State 3 ... Illinois 35, Southern Illinois 3.

Sitting this one out -- Indiana

Best Charley Steiner** -- Denard Robinson, Michigan

denard robinson.jpegA week shy of his 20th birthday, Michigan's new quarterback is possibly the best waterbug athlete in college football, a genuinely terrifying opponent for any defense. He skewered Notre Dame for 502 offensive yards -- 244 yards and one touchdown on 24-of-40 passing; and 258 yards and two touchdowns on 28 rushes -- and continued to lay absolute waste to Blue's offensive record book.

On the game-winning drive, begun at his own 28-yard line with 3:41 left, Robinson rushed 6 times for 17 yards and completed 5 of 6 passes for 55 yards. It was a remarkable performance against a Fighting Irish team that was on the cusp of surviving his one-man onslaught and posting a comeback win of its own.

Yet for all that, I find Denard Robinson so far a curiously uninteresting athlete to watch. For all his otherworldly physical gifts, he seems thus far a product of Rich Rodriguez's effective but inelegant zone-read offense. It's like watching high school football and it bores me, even when Robinson finds a crease and zooms the length of the field -- as he did, memorably, on an 87-yard touchdown run shortly before halftime.

But does it win games? Yes, sir -- and for Michigan fans pining for a return of glories past, that's all that matters.

Best caveat -- Dayne Crist, Notre Dame

For all Robinson's heroics, the Irish might well have won the game if Crist, their starting quarterback, hadn't missed most of the first half after bonking his head on the opening series. Wearing Brady Quinn's old No. 10 jersey, Crist was easily the best passer in the game.

Maybe I was just starved for quality quarterback play after watching Robinson and ND backups Tommy Rees and Nate Montana fling the ball around casually, but I couldn't get enough of Crist's composed, professional effort. Upon returning in the third quarter, he threw a 53-yard touchdown pass on his second play: a dart to D.J. Jones streaking down the right side, with just enough power to get it past the reach of a late-arriving safety.

Crist also had the afternoon's most impressive play, a 95-yard touchdown pass that gave the Irish a late 24-21 lead -- and unfortunately, left too much time on the clock for Robinson and the Wolverines. Dropping back into his own end zone, Crist -- a first-year starter, mind you -- surveyed his options with apparent calm before stepping forward to hit tight end Kyle Rudolph on a seam route down the right hash. It was a perfect throw, caught by Rudolph in stride at the Notre Dame 45, just beyond safety Cameron Gordon, and a moment later, it was the second-longest pass in school history.

Making their own breaks -- Ohio State

School histories are of dubious relevance when you're talking about 19- and 20-year-old college athletes, but given their respective histories, was anyone surprised to see Miami alternate big plays and critical errors or see Ohio State clinically take advantage of those mistakes?

To wit: Miami receiver Travis Benjamin caused a pair of interceptions by Chimdi Chekwa in the first half -- first mistaking a passing play for a running play, and then letting a pass bounce through his hands -- but in between, he returned a punt for a touchdown.

Jacory Harris was at times the unluckiest man in town with the way his receivers were mucking things up, but the last of his four interceptions was a back-breaker. The Hurricanes had third-and-goal on the opening drive of the second half, threatening to cut into Ohio State's 26-17 lead, when Harris lost sight of defensive lineman Cameron Heyward dropping into coverage on a zone blitz. He threw the ball over the middle, right to the big man, who took it back 80 yards the other way.

Best fourth-down conversion -- Dante Warren, South Dakota

The Minnesota defense allowed big plays all day and quarterback Adam Weber fumbled twice on runs, but the coup de grace in South Dakota's upset win came from Warren, a redshirt junior and first-year starter who starred at Saint Viator in Arlington Heights.

Leading 34-31 with 7:40 left, Warren had USD at fourth-and-1 on the Minnesota 36-yard line. All the action went left, faking a tailback run, but Warren kept the ball and rolled right, racing around Mike Rallis, the outside linebacker who had gone for the fake and gotten sucked down inside. With a great block downfield from wide receiver Dustin Nowotny, Warren raced down the right sideline for a touchdown and a 10-point cushion, enough to survive the Gophers' final rally attempt.

Most Pyrrhic victory -- Purdue

New quarterback Robert Marve played better, but his top target, Keith Smith, suffered a serious knee injury. Smith, a senior who caught 91 passes for 1,100 yards last season, went down on a receiver screen pass early in the fourth quarter. Western Illinois cornerback Kieron James, 40 pounds lighter than the 225-pound Smith, went low to take him out and caught Smith just as he planted his right foot. The knee buckled sideways in a rather gruesome fashion. It did not look good.

(If you're scoring at home, the concussion suffered by Wisconsin's David Gilreath on a punt return was more frightening -- he was out cold before he hit the ground.)

Out of their league -- Penn State

The Nittany Lions weren't expected to hold up especially well at No. 1 Alabama, and they largely didn't. We'll see how the Penn State defense and its all-new linebacking corps hold up against Big Ten competition, but the defending champions pretty much mauled them in the first half. Things improved after halftime, but the Lions turned it over three times in scoring territory.

Rob Bolden: Not bad for a true freshman quarterback -- the first to start an opener under Joe Paterno.

Saddest victory -- Iowa State

No, not an actual victory; the Hawkeyes had their way yet again in the Cy-Hawk rivalry. But kudos to the hapless Cyclones for scoring their first touchdown against Iowa since 2006, a garbage-time score with 1:51 left. Baby steps, guys.


Worth watching -- Arizona State at Wisconsin ... Iowa at Arizona ... Notre Dame at Michigan State ... USC at Minnesota.

Also -- UMass at Michigan ... Ohio at Ohio State ... Kent State at Penn State ... Northern Illinois at Illinois ... Ball State at Purdue ... Indiana at Western Kentucky ... Northwestern at Rice.

* Bachman Turner Overdrive: "Taking care of business"
** Charley Steiner: "Follow me to freedom"

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BeyondTheMargin / September 13, 2010 3:13 PM

Purdue's offense looked anemic against ND and lesser opponent WIU. Without Smith, it will be even more challenging to generate points against the league's more stingy defenses. It looks like the Boilers will have another challenging season, much like last year.

BeyondTheMargin / September 13, 2010 3:14 PM

Purdue's offense looked anemic against ND and lesser opponent WIU. Without Smith, it will be even more challenging to generate points against the league's more stingy defenses. It looks like the Boilers will have another challenging season, much like last year.

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