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Football Mon Nov 22 2010

Big Ten Football Monday: The Weekend That Was

b10logo.jpgWhile Chicagoans watched Mikel Leshoure and the Fighting Illini pummel Northwestern at Wrigley Field, the best teams in the Big Ten stayed alive in the championship race, sending us into the season's final week with a three-way tie for first place.

We've got all the details on big wins by Ohio State, Wisconsin and Michigan State as we review The Weekend That Was in Big Ten football.

Best win -- Ohio State 20, Iowa 17

Best Bachman Turner Overdrive* -- Wisconsin 48, Michigan 28

Et cetera -- Michigan State 35, Purdue 31 ... Illinois 48, Northwestern 27 ... Penn State 41, Indiana 24.

Sitting this one out -- Minnesota

Best Charley Steiner** -- Mikel Leshoure, Illinois

leshoure.jpegI think the junior tailback deserves our weekly MVP award after rushing 33 times for 330 yards -- the most in Illini history; the fifth-most in Big Ten history; and the most by any FBS player since the first week of the 2008 season.

Leshoure and the Illinois offensive line dominated Northwestern from the start. The first play from scrimmage was a 32-yard run, followed by a 30-yard run and a 4-yard run, the first of Leshoure's two touchdowns.

He set up another touchdown with a 70-yard run in the second quarter, and went 62 yards on the Illini's first drive of the fourth quarter. They scored a few plays later, boosting their lead to 41-24 with 9:49 left.

Surpassing Robert Holcombe's 1996 Illinois record of 315 rushing yards, Leshoure upped his season rushing average to 124.6 yards, sixth in FBS.

He wasn't alone, either; with quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase and backup tailback Jason Ford nearly reaching triple digits as well, the Illini totaled 519 rushing yards, their most since setting a program record with 562 in 1944.

So yeah, it was a pretty good day.

Best final drive -- Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State

Alternately deified and vilified on seemingly a weekly basis, Pryor kept the Buckeyes tied for first in the conference standings by leading one of the biggest drives of his college career for a win at Iowa.

Ohio State trailed by four points with 6:05 left when Pryor and his mates took over at their own 24-yard line. As usual, it wasn't a thing of beauty, but the gifted junior got it done, covering the 76 yards to paydirt in 12 plays.

The drive's crowning glory was Pryor's 14-yard run on fourth-and-10 from midfield, just after DeVier Posey had dropped an easy touchdown pass on third down. Pryor connected with Dane Sanzenbacher for 24 yards to the 2-yard line, and Dan Herron punched it in two plays later with 1:47 left.

Surprisingly unimportant -- John Clay, Wisconsin

Clay is a tremendous athlete, but the star performances submitted in his absence by James White, Montee Ball and the Wisconsin offensive line point to the inanity of reflexively installing quarterbacks and running backs as preseason Heisman candidates based largely on fame. Success in football is nearly always a team effort, as the Badgers have ably displayed in consecutive weeks against the two worst defenses in the Big Ten.

After hanging 83 points on Indiana last week, Wisconsin ran for 357 yards in a rousing win at Michigan, breaking a five-game losing streak at the Big House.

Best special teams play -- Denicos Allen, Michigan State

Allen's late punt block stood as perhaps the most electric play in a 22-point fourth quarter that pushed the Spartans past visiting Purdue. Johnny Adams recovered at the 3-yard line and Kirk Cousins punched in the go-ahead touchdown with 4:32 left.

Most patriotic -- Ricky Stanzi, Iowa

The Hawkeyes quarterback loves his country and hates hippies. ("Those people are the people who don't like America.")

What is this, 1970? Maybe Stanzi should worry less about the culture war and more about his declining quarterback rating. This is why I don't listen to the reactionary political opinions of 23-year-olds.

Credit where it's due -- Denard Robinson, Michigan

We've had our differences -- in the sense that I'm "mind-numbingly ignorant" and he has no idea who I am -- but you can't overlook Robinson's aggregate totals this season. He gained 360 yards on 47 touches against Wisconsin, breaking the FBS season record for QB rushing yards and becoming the first NCAA player with at least 1,500 rushing yards and 1,500 passing yards in a season.

Unfortunately, Rich Rodriguez is prohibited from teaching any Michigan player how to tackle or executive basic defensive skills unless they pass a graduate class in the complexities of his super-awesome 3-3-5 gimmick defense. Come on, man, just coach 'em up a little.


Worth watching -- Michigan at Ohio State ... Michigan State at Penn State ... Northwestern at Wisconsin.

Also -- Indiana at Purdue ... Iowa at Minnesota.

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

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