Welcome to Big Ten Blast!
Everett Golson leads Notre Dame, while Denard Robinson powers Michigan
This will be a regular weekly column where we will provide some news and notes from around the conference.
Losses by Michigan State and Indiana last weekend left just three unbeaten teams in the Big Ten with Minnesota, Northwestern and Ohio State all at 3-0. Ohio State fell four spots from 12th to 16th in the AP poll after it scraped by California 35-28. Still, the Buckeyes are the highest rated Big Ten team – which has to make them the lowest rated team to lead the Big Ten in the polls in many years.
OSU coach Urban Meyer is new to the Big Ten and was asked about the conference’s early season struggles.
“It’s a long season,” Meyer said. “There are a lot of things that happen. I think there are a lot of great football teams in the Big Ten and I’m sure they will start to surface real soon.”
Meyer was asked about the stigma surrounding Big Ten football this season.
“I hear it when I turn on ESPN,” he said. “There’s one way to fix it – go win those nonconference games. It’s not because of lack of players and lack of coaching. They just have to find a way to go close the deal, and I think they will.”
This weekend will be the last tune-up for most of the Big Ten teams before conference play begins next weekend. Ten Big Ten teams will be in action this weekend with one game featuring ranked teams (No. 18 Michigan at No. 11 Notre Dame) and two others pitting BCS conference schools against one another (Syracuse at Minnesota and Temple at Penn State).
Here goes this week’s Big Ten Blast:
Big Ten Sweep For Irish?
Michigan (2-1) will renew its rivalry with Notre Dame (3-0) in a prime time game at South Bend. The Fighting Irish have been a nice surprise so far this season, including wins over Purdue and Michigan State the last two weeks. A win over UM would give ND a perfect 3-0 sweep of its Big Ten opponents this season. The Irish are off to their best start in 10 years.
“They are quicker at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball,” said UM coach Brady Hoke on the Irish. “Their linebackers flow to the ball and run well. Offensively, (George) Atkinson is a 100-meter guy. Cierre Wood is a playmaker and a guy who can hurt you. (QB Everett) Golson can hurt you with his feet. They have three tight ends everybody in the country would like to have.”
Michigan leads the all-time series with ND 23-15-1.
“This is a special week,” Hoke said. “It’s a great rivalry game for us. It’s a fun game to be a part of as a coach or as a player.”
The rivalry could be in jeopardy, though, with the announcement that Notre Dame will play as many as five ACC opponents each season.
“I think it’s a great rivalry from a national perspective,” Hoke said. “They have to take care of what they need to take care of by going into the ACC in the other sports. They have the opportunity to play competitive games (against ACC teams).”
Michigan QB Denard Robinson has had two of the biggest games in his career against Notre Dame. In 2010, he led the Wolverines to a 28-24 win at South Bend. He threw for 244 yards and one touchdown and also rushed 28 times for 258 yards and two scores, including a Notre Dame Stadium-record 87-yard touchdown run.
Last year, Michigan seemed dead in the water as it trailed ND 24-7 after three quarters. But Robinson led a furious comeback with a touchdown run and three TD passes in the fourth quarter to steal a 35-31 win. The last scoring toss – a 16-yarder to Roy Roundtree – came with two seconds left. Robinson threw for 338 yards with four touchdowns and also rushed 16 times for 108 yards and a score.
“Every year is different and every game is different,” Hoke said. “It’s been lucky for us and lucky for Michigan that he has played well late in the ballgame. You hope he shines in a lot of games. He’s the quarterback and he handles the ball a lot.
“Last year for three quarters, we did nothing on either side of the ball. Denard in the fourth quarter played well. His receivers played well. Some of the changes Al Borges made helped us offensively. We just kept fighting away.”
Click here for more coverage of Michigan from Wolverine 247.
Badgers Hope Tight Win Turns Season Around
Wisconsin has won Big Ten championships the last two seasons, but the first three weeks of this season have been somewhat turbulent. UW dropped a 10-7 decision at Oregon State, prompting UW coach Bret Bielema to fire offensive line coach Mike Markuson. Last Saturday, UW was heavily favored against visiting Utah State, but needed the Aggies to miss a last-second 37-yard field goal to preserve a 16-14 win. The narrow nature of that win has led to more skepticism about the Badgers (2-1), who host UTEP (1-2) on Saturday.
“I can’t educate the rest of the world,” Bielema said of the Utah State win. “I had to educate our players that if we didn’t play well we would have a heck of a fight on our hands. Utah State has been good for a lot of years. Our kids knew they had a battle on their hands. They responded and ultimately came out and won a game.”
Bielema was asked about the progress of the offensive line.
“There were a lot of signs that were arrows up,” he said. “We were nowhere where we needed to be, especially in the fourth quarter when we needed to get a couple of first downs to put the game away. There was a point where you saw our guys get back to where they were in the past.”
It appears that redshirt freshman Joel Stave could get the nod this week at quarterback in place of Maryland transfer Danny O’Brien, who has struggled so far this year.
“Danny O’Brien started out the season with a clean game,” Bielema said. “But, like a lot of people, he did not play very well at Oregon State. In the first half against Utah State, he had some problems with ball security again. We made a (change). We felt for us to get a win on Saturday we felt we could not turn the ball over and we had to get some things done offensively.
“They have each been in a game and felt the environment at Camp Randall. We want to put them in a position to have success and move forward.”
Tailback Montee Ball was the top returning Heisman Trophy vote getter from last season. But UW’s struggles have affected his performance as well. Ball is averaging 106.7 yards per game, which ranks him fifth-best in the Big Ten. Ball led the conference and was third nationally at 137.4 ypg last year.
Bielema said Ball has handled the situation perfectly, though.
“I had a feeling to reach out to him (on Monday),” Bielema said. “I told him in my five years of being around him, I have not been more proud of how he handled things. I know he has been frustrated and he is a competitive kid. But he has spoken when he needed to speak and acted when he needed to act. He’s grinded out yards. I think people who watch the film would appreciate the way he is grinding out every inch.”
Click here for coverage of Wisconsin from Badger 247.
Spartans Look To Bounce Back
Michigan State (2-1) fell from the ranks of the unbeaten with last week’s listless 20-3 loss at home to Notre Dame. The Spartans will look to regroup when they host Eastern Michigan (0-3) on Saturday. MSU opens Big Ten play at home next Saturday against Ohio State.
“We have always tried to focus on the task at hand,” said MSU coach Mark Dantonio. “This week, it will be all about Eastern Michigan and what we have to do to win. We are always trying to put things in perspective. From the inside, you try and gain appreciation when you win and get better when we’ve lost.
“We want to get back on the right path. We are moving forward.”
The MSU offense ground to a halt against Notre Dame. Much of the focus has been on junior QB Andrew Maxwell, who sits a distant 10th in the Big Ten in passing efficiency through three games.
“There are so many different things a quarterback is seeing from the different coverages and pressures and blitzes,” Dantonio said. “No play that we run is ever usually the same because of all the different things we see.
“The thing I have been most impressed about with Andrew is he has a very strong arm physically. He has a good hand on our offense. He is composed and resilient and he doesn’t fold under pressure. Those are the things that will bring him forward.
“He’s going into his fourth game this weekend as a starter and that’s not very many. There is a learning curve, but I have been very happy and impressed with what he’s done.”
MSU dropped from 10th to 21st in this week’s AP poll after the loss to ND. Click here for more MSU coverage from Spartan Tailgate.
Burkhead Could Return For Huskers
Nebraska (2-1) could be buoyed by the return of RB Rex Burkhead as it hosts I-AA Idaho State (1-1). Burkhead has missed the last 2-1/2 games due to a knee injury. In his place, Ameer Abdullah (367 yards, 4 TDs) has stepped forward.
“We wanted to lighten Rex’s load anyway,” NU coach Bo Pelini said. “I think we’ve been able to do that. He missed some time here, but the most backs you can have the better. And it’s not just Ameer but also Braylon Heard and Amani Cross. We have some pretty good weapons in the backfield.”
Pelini left last Saturday’s win over Arkansas State at halftime due to a health issue. But he says he is doing fine.
“I have no health issues and leave it at that,” he said. “There are no issues here. I was cleared Saturday afternoon and good to go.”
Nebraska opens Big Ten play at home against Wisconsin – a team that routed the Huskers last year in Madison – next Saturday. But Pelini wants the focus on this week’s game.
“It’s what it is every day in our program – do what you have to do every day to make yourself a better player and us a better program,” Pelini said. “The worst thing you can do is start looking ahead. Next week will come when it comes. I think our team is mature enough to understand that and have respect for our opponent.”
Nebraska moved back into the AP poll at No. 25 after the win over Arkansas State. Click here for more coverage from Huskers Illustrated.
O’Brien Happy After First PSU Win
There was some good news on the Penn State front as the Nittany Lions notched their first win for coach Bill O’Brien last Saturday against Navy (34-7). Now, PSU (1-2) will welcome in instate rival Temple (1-1), which is in its first year back in the Big East after a sojourn to the MAC.
“It was good to get on the winning side last week,” O’Brien said. “We only get 12 opportunities and we only have nine more. There are 110,000 people coming to see us play well. We have to play well every week.”
O’Brien was asked if Big Ten coaches have told him the conference is better when Penn State is competitive.
“I know there are a lot of coaches in this conference I have respect for,” O’Brien said. “Many of those guys have reached out during the off-season and been supportive. I have great respect for this conference and the history here and the head coaches who have come before us.
“A healthy Penn State program is good for college football. That’s what we’re trying to do. We want to keep fielding competitive teams. That’s our job as the coaching staff here.”
Senior QB Matt McGloin enjoyed one of his best games against Navy, completing 13 of 21 passes for 231 yards and four touchdowns.
“Matt has made a lot of progress,” O’Brien said. “He has worked extremely hard it from day one. There are some things he is doing well. He is taking care of the football. Week to week just having a grasp of the game plan is something he needs to continue to do.”
Click here for more coverage of Penn State from Lions 247.
TerBush Guts Out Win Over EMU
Purdue coach Danny Hope said senior QB Caleb TerBush played through some painful migraine headaches in last Saturday’s 54-16 win over Eastern Michigan. TerBush completed 16 of 24 passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns in the win.
“He’s fine now,” Hope said. I was concerned about him on Friday. Migraines are excruciating pain. He put his helmet on and went out and played. That was a great demonstration of courage on his part. They are part of a past history he’s had. He hasn’t had any shots to the head that we are aware of.
“We were glad he was able to help us win the game on Saturday. But he definitely had some struggles.”
Purdue (2-1) will be idle this weekend before closing nonconference play against Marshall (1-2) next Saturday at home. Hope said he will give his team Thursday through Saturday off. The coaches held the younger players and scout team members back for a scrimmage on Monday.
“I like the time of the bye,” Hope said. “We had an intense preseason camp. We’ve had three weeks where our team has put a lot into it. I think we were becoming a tired team mentally and physically. They put a lot into it for their schoolwork and for football. It’s like working two full-time jobs.
“We will work on a lot of things. We want to get better. We will work on fundamentals.”
Increased Pressure Works For Buckeyes
Ohio State had notched just three sacks combined in its first two wins over Miami (Ohio) and Central Florida. But the Buckeyes ramped up the heat and sacked Cal’s Zach Maynard six times in last week’s all-too-close 35-28 win.
“We got very good pressure,” said Meyer, whose Buckeyes (3-0) will host UAB (0-2) on Saturday. “John Simon and Nate Williams applied a lot of pressure for us. (LB Ryan) Shazier got a sack. (CB Bradley) Roby got a sack on a pressure. We were a little bit more aggressive with the play calling. Half of the sacks were from pressure and half were from guys beating guys.
“I think that’s the balance we want. We were a little conservative to start the season. We have some decent corners and when you blitz you put some pressure on them. I think we can do that.”
One Buckeye coming into his own is sophomore WR Devin Smith. He and classmate Braxton Miller have developed quite a connection. Smith has 13 catches for 233 yards and three TDs this year. He made two huge TD grabs against Cal, including the 72-yard game-winner with just over three minutes left.
“Devin is one of the most improved players on our team,” Meyer said. “His whole demeanor and approach has changed drastically from where he was in the spring. He is still a young player. Everybody wants to expect greatness overnight. Greatness is hard. He has a long way to go.
“The one Saturday was real. He went up against a future NFL corner against Cal and caught the ball. We are very impressed with his progress.”
Despite the win, OSU dropped four spots in the AP poll to 16th. Teams that moved ahead of the Buckeyes after impressive wins last week included Kansas State, Florida, Notre Dame, Stanford and Texas. (Michigan State fell below OSU after its loss.)
A win this week will make Ohio State 4-0 to start the year for the seventh time since 2000.
Click here for more Ohio State coverage from Bucknuts.com.
Running Back Woes Continue For Iowa
Iowa moved to 2-1 with its 27-16 win over I-AA Northern Iowa last week. But the Hawkeyes lost their top two available running backs, Damon Bullock and Greg Garmon, in the win. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz isn’t sure who will be available as the Hawkeyes host Central Michigan (1-1) on Saturday.
“We’re still waiting to find out,” Ferentz said. “It’s a precarious situation for Damon Bullock. I’m not overly optimistic about him (playing this week). Greg Garmon, we will know more as the week goes on and how he performs on the field.”
Walk-on fullback Mark Weisman filled in last week, rushing for 113 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries in the win over UNI.
“I don’t know that anybody would have predicted him being over 100 yards,” Ferentz said. “But the one thing he has done is he emerged in the spring. He transferred here from Air Force. He looked like a good fullback candidate in the spring. Then he had an exceptional month of August.
“I don’t think anybody has worked harder than he has over that period of time.”
Click here for coverage of Iowa athletics from Voice of The Hawkeyes.
Tough Loss Steels Hoosiers’ Resolve
Indiana has an open week to dwell on what might have been after a wild 41-39 home loss to Ball State. The defeat dropped the Hoosiers to 2-1.
“I think our kids are very resilient,” said IU coach Kevin Wilson. “I think they believe in what we’re doing. I think they buy what we’re doing. I had no regrets after the game with the effort of our kids. I appreciate the direction we are going.
“We did not get the result we wanted the other day, but we are moving in a positive direction. We are getting a little bit better every day and it’s adding up.”
“I think both of them you can tell they are young,” Wilson said. “They are both very calm kids. They made some good choices. They were on target at a pretty good rate. It was unfortunate that Cam got nicked up. Nate came in. We’ve needed both of them. The more they play, the more comfortable they will be.”
Click here for coverage of IU athletics from Inside Indiana.
Early Tests Prepare Northwestern
Northwestern (3-0) is the only team in the country that has already posted three wins over opponents from BCS-aligned conferences following wins over Syracuse, Vanderbilt and Boston College. The Wildcats wrap nonconference play by hosting I-AA South Dakota.
“We found a way to win those games,” said NU coach Pat Fitzgerald. “We have not played our best football. That’s our challenge as a whole program to continue on this journey toward improvement. We are playing a lot of young guys right now. It is a fun group to coach.”
Northwestern announced plans to build a new practice facility. It will take NU from having one of the worst such facilities in the Big Ten to one of the best in the country, Fitzgerald said.
“We think it’s a game changer,” he said. “We think this will be transformational. First and foremost, it allows our student-athletes to be in a world class facility that will be unmatched in intercollegiate athletics. It will be in a premier location in college football – on the shore of Lake Michigan.
“It allows our entire student body to come together. There will be enhancements in our recreation facilities.”
Northwestern is 3-0 for the third time in five years.
High Powered Louisiana Tech Visits Illinois
Illinois (2-1) will conclude nonconference play by hosting Louisiana Tech (2-0). The Bulldogs are third nationally in scoring after scoring 56 points in each of their wins over Houston and Rice. LaTech is also fifth nationally in total offense at 603 yards per game.
“They are extremely good,” said Illinois coach Tim Beckman. “They run a lot of plays. They are very talented. They have a lot of seniors on the offensive side of the ball. They have been very successful. They are very capable of putting the ball into the end zone.
“They do a great job of running what they need to run. They aren’t complicated in what they do. They do what they do extremely well. We will have to defend it and do what we’re capable of doing to win the football game.”
Sophomore Reilly O’Toole enjoyed a big game last week as he filled in for injured starting QB Nathan Scheelhaase. O’Toole completed 26 of 31 passes for 333 yards and five touchdowns with one interception in Illinois’ 44-0 win over I-AA Charleston Southern.
“Reilly has done a great job of coming in the last two weeks,” Beckman said. “It’s a team effort. He’s been performing very well. We’re excited about how much he has progressed in one game.”
It’s unclear whether Scheelhaase (ankle) will work back in against Louisiana Tech or wait for next week’s Big Ten opener against Penn State.
Minnesota Looks For 4-0 Start
Minnesota (3-0) gutted out a 28-23 win over Western Michigan last weekend despite losing starting QB MarQueis Gray to an ankle injury. Minnesota will have a chance to move to 4-0 for the first time since 2008 as it hosts Syracuse (1-2).
“We will be in for a huge challenge this week because of the people we are playing and the skill set they have at wide receiver,” said Gophers coach Jerry Kill. “We know we will have to play well.”
Minnesota is fifth nationally in passing efficiency defense, which should help the Gophers against the explosive Orange.
Sophomore Max Shortell was 10 of 17 passing for 188 yards and three touchdowns with an interception while filling in for Gray. It’s unclear whether Gray will be available this week against Syracuse. Shortell and Gray have played well enough for Minnesota to be ranked seventh nationally in passing efficiency.
“He’s had to do that before,” Kill said of Shortell having to sub for Gray. “We went through it last year. We talk about the next person stepping up all the time. Going into this week, Max has to step it up.
“If Max plays, we won’t change our offense. We will do what it takes to beat Syracuse within our system and play to our strengths.”
* A year ago, Wisconsin led the nation in third-down conversions at nearly 55 percent. This year, the sputtering Badgers are a distant 105th nationally in that category at 31 percent.
“Any time you compare seasons, you’re going down a road that doesn’t do you any good,” UW’s Bielema said. “All we can worry about is this year’s team. It’s a new set of dynamics. We have new players in new positions.
“But for us to succeed, we will have to have third down success. We have to line up, get everybody on the same page and execute.”
* Indiana coach Kevin Wilson was asked how he will approach the bye week Saturday and whether he will watch his team’s next opponent Northwestern more closely.
“You get to watch a lot of games and get to almost be a fan,” Wilson said. “I won’t just watch Northwestern. There are some great games this weekend. There are some great Big Ten games. I look forward to seeing them play. I guess I will be a coach, but I will also be a bit of a fan.”
* Minnesota has discounted some tickets as low as $10 to get TCF Bank Stadium filled up for its big game with Syracuse Saturday night.
“Saturday night here in the Twin Cities, it is a great atmosphere to play in,” Kill said.
* The Penn State-Temple rivalry has largely been one-sided with PSU owning a 37-3-1 edge over its instate neighbor from Philadelphia.
“Those are always great rivalries for college football,” said PSU’s O’Brien. “I was involved in the Georgia-Georgia Tech game. We ended up three years in a row beating Georgia. At Duke, it was Duke and North Carolina. Penn State playing Temple has gone on a long time and is a really good rivalry.”
PSU has won 29 straight in the rivalry, dating to a tie in 1950. PSU’s last loss to Temple was in 1941, a 14-0 defeat at Philly. O’Brien was asked if there is any pressure to maintain that long winning streak?
“We don’t talk about streaks like that. Every game is different. This is an important game against a good Temple team.”
* Two Big Ten players – Michigan’s Patrick Omameh and Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead – were among the 11 FBS players named to 2012 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team. That team recognizes players for their community involvement.
* Weekly award winners from the Big Ten included:
Offensive Player of the Week: Ohio State QB Braxton Miller (324 yards total offense, five touchdowns vs. California).
Defensive Player of the Week: Penn State LB Michael Mauti (12 tackles, two TFLs vs. Navy).
Special Teams Player of the Week: Northwestern kicker Jeff Budzien (five field goals vs. Boston College).
Big Ten Standings
Ohio State (3-0, 0-0)
Indiana (2-1, 0-0)
Illinois (2-1, 0-0)
Purdue (2-1, 0-0)
Wisconsin (2-1, 0-0)
Penn State (1-2, 0-0)
Northwestern (3-0, 0-0)
Minnesota (3-0, 0-0)
Michigan State (2-1, 0-0)
Iowa (2-1, 0-0)
Nebraska (2-1, 0-0)
Michigan (2-1, 0-0)
Sept. 15 Games
Ohio State (12) 35, California 28
Nebraska 42, Arkansas State 13
Illinois 44, Charleston Southern 0
Purdue 54, Eastern Michigan 16
Minnesota 28, Western Michigan 23
Northwestern 22, Boston College 13
Michigan (17) 63, Massachusetts 13
Penn State 34, Navy 7
Iowa 27, Northern Iowa 16
Ball State 41, Indiana 39
Wisconsin 16, Utah State 14
Notre Dame (20) 20, Michigan State (10) 3
Sept. 22 Games (All times Eastern)
UTEP at Wisconsin, noon, (ESPN2)
UAB at Ohio State (16), noon (Big Ten Network)
Central Michigan at Iowa, noon (Big Ten Network)
Temple at Penn State, 3:30 p.m. (ABC regional; ESPN2 outer market)
Idaho State at Nebraska (25), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
South Dakota at Northwestern, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Eastern Michigan at Michigan State (21), 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Michigan (18) at Notre Dame (11), 7:30 p.m. (NBC)
Syracuse at Minnesota, 8 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Louisiana Tech at Illinois, 8 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Idle: Indiana, Purdue
Sept. 29 Games
Penn State at Illinois, noon (ESPN or ESPN2)
Minnesota at Iowa, noon (ESPN or ESPN2)
Indiana at Northwestern, noon (Big Ten Network)
Ohio State at Michigan State, 3:30 p.m. (ABC)
Marshall at Purdue, 3:30 p.m. (Big Ten Network)
Wisconsin at Nebraska, 8 p.m. (ABC)
On Thursday, I made my picks for Week 3.
I ended up 18-9 straight-up and was 14-11 against-the-spread. For the year, I am now 61-21 SU and 40-34 ATS.
In Big Ten games, I was 10-2 straight-up and also 5-5 ATS. Through three weeks, I am 29-7 straight-up and 15-15 ATS.
Stay tuned this week for our Picks for week 4 on Thursday and a Chat either Thursday or Friday.