As we prepare this week, for our Big Ten Game of the Year there are some interesting situations to look at. First let's recap last week's action. Michigan State received a heavy dose of Chris Perry this past Saturday and Michigan made a strong statement in the Big Ten with a 27-20 win over their in-state rival. The Wolverines ran their workhorse RBa school-record 51 times and he amassed 219 yards on the ground. QB John Navarre also had an impressive day as he completed 17 of 31 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns. Late in the fourth quarter, it looked like the Wolverines had the game well in hand as they had a 14-point lead and were driving toward another score. But Navarre was sacked by safety Robert Flagg and the ball was recovered by defensive end Clifford Dukes, who returned it 65 yards for a touchdown and got the Spartans back in the game with 6:03 left. With no timeouts, Michigan State had one last desperation drive with a little over a minute left in the game, but that ended on a Hail Mary by Spartans QB Jeff Smoker that was intercepted in the end zone by linebacker Scott McClintock after a near catch by WR Aaron Alexander. Perry's record-setting day shattered the previous school mark for rushing attempts, which was 42. With the win, Michigan proved itself to be the leader in the race for the Big Ten title. The Wolverines now sit alone atop of the conference standings. Michigan has the week off but will play Northwestern in two weeks. But the crucial game will be Nov. 22 at home against Ohio State. A win here will likely send the Wolverines to the Rose Bowl. The Spartans, now 4-1 in conference play, are not out of the hunt yet. But they must run the table in order to keep their title hopes alive. That quest will start on Saturday on the road against Ohio State. As of this writing, there has been no line posted for this contest because of the questionable status of Buckeyes QB Craig Krenzel.
The Buckeyes kept their fans on the edge of their seats once again as they defeated Penn State, 21-20, with some late-game heroics by WR Michael Jenkins. The 6-5 receiver caught a five-yard touchdown pass from backup QB Scott McMullen with 1:35 left that sealed the victory for Ohio State and kept the Buckeyes in the running for the Big Ten title. The Nittany Lions did have a chance to get the win, but a 60-yard field goal attempt at the end of the game by kicker David Kimball fell just short. Jenkins' touchdown catch was a thing of beauty, as he was off balance and falling out of the end zone when he grabbed the winning score. The loss kept Penn State winless in the Big Ten, and increased their current losing streak to five. This is the longest Nittany Lion losing streak since Joe Paterno came to the school as an assistant coach in 1950. Buckeyes QB Krenzel once again left the game with an injury, this time in the second quarter. McMullen came in and performed well, completing 12 of 17 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns, including the game winner. Ohio State was also bolstered by the rushing efforts of Lydell Ross, who gained 110 yards on 24 carries. For Penn State, QB Zack Mills returned from a knee injury that has kept him out since September, and threw for 253 yards on 27 of 42 attempts. Mills broke the school record for career completions, as he finished the game with 405. The previous mark was held by Tony Sacca, who completed 401 passes for Penn State in the late 1980s. Penn State travels to Northwestern on Saturday. The oddsmakers have installed Penn State as a four-point favorite. I may have to lean toward the Cats, as they may be dangerous at home. Plus, they will be out for revenge after the 49-0 lashing the Nittany Lions gave them last season.
Purdue kept its title hopes alive with a 34-14 win over the Wildcats on Saturday. After a blowout loss to Michigan the week before, this game against Northwestern was just what the doctor ordered for the Boilers. The highlight of the day for Purdue was the record set by WR John Standeford, who became the most prolific receiver in Big Ten history with his four-catch, 88-yard performance. His 31-yard catch in the fourth quarter broke the record previously held byIllinois' David Williams. Standeford now has 3,418 yards during his career, the most ever in the conference. The Boilers took advantage of some Wildcat mistakes and jumped out to an early 14-0 lead, which they never relinquished. Northwestern had five fumbles in the game, four of which were recovered by Purdue. The Boilers, on the other hand, hung on to the ball all day. Purdue spread the ball around all day, as no RB or WR had more than 100 yards. RB Jared Void notched 87 yards on 20 attempts and he scored two touchdowns. QB Kyle Orton had a nice day as he completed 14 of 24 passes for 212 yards. The Boilers will be home next week against Iowa. Purdue has been listed as a three-point favorite. I feel this line is a bit short, and will go with the favorite.
Iowa was the lucky team that got the honor of playing Illinois this past weekend. And like many others have before them, the Hawkeyes came up with a big win, 41-10, over the hapless Illini. Iowa dominated all three aspects of the game: offense, defense and special teams. They got scores through the air, on the ground, from their defense and from their kicking game. Hawkeye's QB Nathan Chandler led the way, as he threw for 243 yards and one touchdown on 14 of 23 passing. RB Fred Russell, who was pulled from the game in the third quarter, joined in for 94 yards on 23 attempts and two scores. Iowa's defensive touchdown came in third quarter when Matt Roth sacked Illinois QB Dustin Ward and Bob Sanders scooped it up and ran 3 yards for a touchdown, putting the Hawkeyes up 27-0. Russell's performance lifted him over 1,000 yards for the year.
Iowa's first drive was one of the wildest things I have ever seen in college football. The drive spanned 73 yards in 18 plays but there were five penalties so Iowa lined up to snap the ball 23 times. Illinois didn't even get the ball on offense until 9:06 had already elapsed in the first quarter.
Illinois will face Indiana on Saturday in what looks to be a battle for the basement in the Big Ten. There has been no line posted for the game, as Illinois is running out of healthy QBs. The Hoosiers were once again embarrassed, this time by Minnesota as the Golden Gophers logged a 55-7 win. When viewing this game, it was easy to see what the Minnesota game plan involved. They planned on running the ball early and often. The Golden Gopher RB duo of Laurence Maroney and Marion Barber III combined for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Minnesota actually got rushing touchdowns from five different runners, and the backfield combined for 435 yards on the ground, which is the fourth best in school history. The Gophers got off to a quick start as they scored early in the first quarter on a 22-yard fumble return. Hoosiers QB Graeme McFarland, who was replacing injured Matt LoVecchio, was sacked by strong safety Justin Fraley. Then safety John Pawielski scooped up the ball and ran for the score. Once the Gophers got ahead on the scoreboard, it was all about the ground game, and just about everyone got involved. Maroney was the leading ground gainer for the day, as he racked up 164 yards on 18 attempts. Barber added 107 yards on 17 carries and fullback Thomas Tapeh rushed for 65 yards on 14 attempts and two touchdowns. Gophers QB Asad Abdul-Khaliq didn't need to do much because of the dominance of the running game. The Big Ten leader in passing efficiency completed 9 of 13 passes for only 66 yards and one touchdown. The signal caller didn't seem to mind as his workhorse runners did all the work. The Gophers will be home on Saturday against the Wisconsin Badgers and the Axe will go to the victor. Badgers QB Jim Sorgi will be back behind center for this game. Minnesota has been installed as a seven-point favorite. This game, dog or the favorite, could end up at the top of my selection list this weekend. Big Ten Game of the Year? Not only do I love that game in the Big Ten but there are two other games that definitely have caught my interest. I'm sure both of them will end up on our selection card.
I will continue to take the stand that Ohio State is not #6 in the country and will soon run out of gas. I realize, in most cases, you create your own luck. Once again the 'Buckeyes' used their lucky charm in pulling off the victory against Penn State. Ohio State has three tough games remaining on their schedule. They catch Michigan State at a good time, for the Spartans will probably be emotionally down after that defeat by arch-rival, Michigan. After this week the Buckeyes play Purdue and Michigan. There's a good chance they could lose both.
I'm sure no one cares, but one of the big games in the Big Ten is between Illinois and Indiana, both fighting to stay out of the cellar. Both teams have had a terrible year. The Hoosiers fans have been used to this pattern, however the Illini backers haven't. A couple years ago the Illini were fighting for a top bowl game. I'm sure both teams are considering this game as their bowl game. That's it for this week.
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