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Doc's Big Ten News and Notes by Max
Upsets were commonplace during the past week of action in the Big Ten Conference. The last unbeaten team fell and that puts the Michigan Wolverines in the drivers seat. Other teams finished their season up in disastrous fashion and will be left to wait and see if a postseason berth awaits them. Yes, I am talking about the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
There were bright spots in the conference as Penn State ended their six game losing streak and picked up their first conference win of the season. Will the 'Fire Joe Pa' chants settle down for a week? I doubt it! The following will recap the action and look ahead to next week, where numerous rivals will square off against one another.
Michigan remains the only undefeated team in the conference and after an early struggle, it pulled away to win this game convincingly. Michael Hart dominated on the ground, rushing for 151 yards and a season high three touchdowns. He got the Wolverines on the board early in the second quarter with a breakaway 34-yard run. Michigan could not put the Cats away as Northwestern quickly answered with a 68-yard touchdown run by Noah Herron. This cut the deficit to one point and then Northwestern would go in the tank giving up 28 unanswered points. This included two touchdown passes and a Steve Breaston 67-yard punt return for six. With this victory Michigan clinched a share of the Big Ten Title and is one game away from a birth in the Rose Bowl. Northwestern needs to win the remaining two games on the schedule to be bowl eligible and that will be a tough task.
Next up for the Wolverines is their annual battle with the Buckeyes. The early tout has them as a seven-point favorite and on paper that does not appear to be enough points because of the difference in talent. But anything can happen in a rivalry game and expect the Bucks to be ready for the contest. Northwestern will host Illinois and come in as a ten-point favorite. I may consider playing the over in this contest since both teams can throw the ball.
The Badgers saw their perfect season blow up right in front of their faces as they went down to the Spartans, 49-14. The Badgers had numerous chances in the first half but failed to capitalize on two important occasions. The first was executing a punt with the score tied. Travis Key recovered the blocked kick in the end zone for a Spartan touchdown and a 14-7 lead. Both teams would then score touchdowns and the Badgers appeared to tie the score late in the second quarter when Anthony Davis leaped over the top of the pile but was not awarded a touchdown. The officials marked him just short and replay did not overturn the decision.
The whole state is wondering why they chose not to give the ball to FB Matt Bernstein on fourth and goal but I really do not have a problem with the play call. It is hard for me to question giving the ball to your best player and really your only playmaker on offense. The Badgers never recovered from the play and State went for the kill early with an onsides kick to open the second half. They recovered it and Drew Stanton entered the game and that was all that she wrote. This team can go places if he can stay healthy and they need to win their final two games in order to go bowling.
Next up for the Badgers is a trip to Iowa City and they go from undefeated to underdog in only a week's time. The Hawks come in as a two-point favorite and it will be interesting to see how the Badgers respond. Can a one-dimensional team challenge this Wisconsin defense? I think we have the answer. State closes out the Big Ten season with a game against Penn State. State comes in as a seven-point favorite and I wonder if they will continue with their Jekyll and Hyde performances. This is the hardest team to handicap.
Another upset occurred at the Metrodome as Minnesota went down for the first time this season at home. Obviously this team has thrown in the towel and Gopher fans can book their reservations for Detroit and the Motor City Bowl. This is the most disappointing team in the conference and with this much talent I wonder what Coach Glen Mason's future holds. Why he decided to play for a 51-yard field goal is beyond me. The kick was not even close and since that would not have gotten us a cover, I am glad that it sailed wide left. Iowa deserves some credit for turning their season around and do not look now, but they are one home win away from possibly grabbing a share of the Big Ten title. This team still cannot run the ball, but finds a way to get the job done and Kirk Ferentz is an elite coach who will be getting offers from the NFL in the future.
Minnesota's defense is finally being exposed as the weak link on the team. Their front seven is undersized and they have been manhandled for three straight weeks against teams with mediocre offenses. Hawk QB Drew Tate threw for 333 yards and two long touchdowns of 60 and 41 yards. Laurence Maroney had a great day on the ground rushing for 156 yards and three touchdowns. Minnesota cut the deficit to two points but settling for that long of kick was the wrong decision and it cost them the game.
Iowa would lose the tiebreaker to Michigan so they cannot go to the Rose Bowl even if they beat Wisconsin. The Hawks have dominated the Badgers at home and are catching them off of a devastating loss.
Ohio State made a valiant comeback but fell short against Purdue giving us a win on our top six-unit play. Kyle Orton came in to lead his team to a much-needed victory and Dustin Keller caught the go-ahead touchdown pass with just two minutes remaining. Boy did we need that touchdown instead of a chip shot field goal. The Bucks responded well despite the controversy surrounding them this week and had a chance to tie before their playmaker, Ted Ginn Jr. tipped a pass right into the arms of Stanford Kegler, thus ending the game.