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Football Wed Nov 03 2010

Big Ten Football Monday: The Weekend That Was

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We don't care what day it is. We're talking about The Weekend That Was in Big Ten football -- about Iowa's roaring win against previously unbeaten Michigan State; and Penn State's unencumbered run through the woeful Michigan defense; and the delightful new quarterback at Illinois.

But not about Notre Dame, because they're awful on and off the field.

Best win -- Iowa 37, Michigan State 6

Best Bachman Turner Overdrive* -- Illinois 44, Purdue 10

Et cetera -- Penn State 41, Michigan 31 ... Ohio State 52, Minnesota 10 ... Northwestern 20, Indiana 17.

Sitting this one out -- Wisconsin

Best Charley Steiner** -- Adam Robinson, Iowa

iowa robinson.jpgJohn Clay, Evan Royster, Dan Herron and Mikel Leshoure got more preseason attention, but Robinson has been as good as any running back in the Big Ten this season, his first as a full-time starter. The redshirt sophomore ranks third in the conference with 100.8 rushing yards per game, and he had as big a hand as any Hawkeye in Saturday's blowout of Michigan State.

Robinson rushed for 69 yards and a touchdown, caught a 32-yard touchdown pass -- the first of his career -- and had a great day helping keep quarterback Ricky Stanzi fresh and clean in the pocket. As Iowa's linemen took control on both sides of the ball, Robinson's two second-quarter touchdowns helped turn the Hawkeyes' strong start into a yawning 30-0 lead at halftime.

Best lateral -- Tyler Sash, Iowa

While Robinson did a little of everything and Stanzi decisively outplayed Kirk Cousins at quarterback, it was Sash, Iowa's all-Big Ten safety, who made the play of the day.

Working at the Iowa 41 in the dwindling seconds of the first quarter, Michigan State kept a running back and a tight end in to block, sending out three receivers against six Hawkeyes in coverage. Sash turned the unfavorable ratio to his advantage, drifting to his right to help cornerback Micah Hyde cover B.J. Cunningham. Cousins served up a duck -- his second of three interceptions -- and Sash plucked it easily at the 28-yard line.

Then, the real genius: Sash started up the field and had the presence of mind, as Cunningham closed in, to lateral the ball to Hyde. The cornerback reversed field and took it the rest of the way down the left sideline before diving to the pylon for a touchdown. The 72-yard play and ensuing extra point gave Iowa a 17-0 lead and firm control of the weekend's biggest game.

Biggest mystery -- Michigan's defense

Not a mystery in the sense that we don't know what it is. It's horrible. But why is it so horrible, with Rich Rodriguez now in his third season? Finding 11 guys who can play a mildly cohesive scheme and hit people in the mouth shouldn't be this hard.

Yet the Wolverines are allowing 30 points per game, second-worst in the Big Ten. They are last in the conference in allowing 440.2 yards per game, 290.5 passing yards per game and 184 first downs. Their average time of possession (27:47) is last as well -- a figure that reflects the quick-strike capability of Denard Robinson & Co. but also the defense's inability to get off the field. (Opponents are converting 44.8 percent of third downs, third-worst behind hapless Minnesota and Purdue.)

We saw all this in its naked glory Saturday night at Penn State, as Evan Royster looked like an all-star running back for the first time all season and Matt McGloin looked like the second coming of Kerry Collins. And with the PSU defense hanging in there against Robinson -- 191 rushing yards and 7.1 per carry, plus three touchdowns, but few big plays -- Michigan didn't have enough to dig out of a 28-10 halftime hole.

Best dark horse -- Illinois

Ron Zook's Illini are officially awake from their two-year slumber, thanks largely to redshirt freshman quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and a ferocious defense led by linebacker Martez Wilson. With a second straight blowout win in their collective pocket, they improved to 5-3, with the only losses coming against Ohio State, Michigan State and Missouri, three teams with a combined 23-3 record.

Saturday against spiraling Purdue -- come on, people, you knew better than to get excited about wins against Northwestern and Minnesota! -- Illinois had a 37-0 lead before the visitors finally got on the board in the fourth quarter. Scheelhaase completed 16 of 20 passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns; and ran 21 times for 118 yards. Not bad for a rookie.

NEXT WEEK

Worth watching -- Northwestern at Penn State ... Illinois at Michigan.

Also -- Wisconsin at Purdue ... Iowa at Indiana ... Minnesota at Michigan State.

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

 
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