BY MICK MILLER
BIG TEN INSIDER
There are no more surprises, no more teams sneaking up on anyone anymore this season. Each Goliath is very aware of David and his sling. As we weed through the Big Ten season, each win becomes bigger and losses more painful. The term “bowl eligible” seems to be bandied about more than the expression “conference championship”. What it means is that the business of college football is becoming as important as taking care of business in college football. At this point in the season, the race is shaping up and those teams knowing they won’t be there at the end are angling for a spot in some show during the bowl season. So while the Godzillas are stomping through their usual streets, it’s the Geckos who are looking for insurance, and assurance, that they garner an invitation, somewhere. Let’s look at whose still in the battle, and who may have to settle.
(24) Michigan 27 Illinois 17
The Wolverines gutted out a huge win on the road to keep pace in the conference race, and kept the Illini from becoming bowl eligible for another week. Subbing for the nation’s leading rusher (and injured) Mike Hart, third-string halfback Carlos Brown carried 25 times for 113 yards while quarterback Chad Henne left the field twice, only to return to lead the Wolverines to a win over the Illini. Wide receiver Mario Manningham, whom also left the field once with an injury, caught two touchdown passes, the second from fellow receiver Adrian Arrington on a gadget play in the fourth quarter that sealed the win for Michigan, now 4-0 in conference play. The Wolverine defense held the Big Ten’s leading run offense to 137 yards and the Illini committed two crucial penalties to keep scoring drives alive for Michigan, in addition to a fumbled a fair catch in the fourth quarter, which set up Michigan’s final touchdown.
Next up: Michigan hosts Minnesota; Illinois is at home versus Ball State
Northwestern 26 Eastern Michigan 14
After 97 points in the last two contests, Wildcat quarterback C.J. Bacher threw for 361 yards and touchdown and also ran for a score as Northwestern won quietly in Detroit. Halfback Omar Conteh contributed 122 yards and a score on the ground as the team struggled early, holding a mere 13-7 lead up until the fourth quarter. Eagle freshman quarterback Kyle McMahon threw for 282 yards and ran for two scores, but threw three interceptions, foiling all plans for an upset at home. The teams matched their first half scoring in the fourth quarter as the Wildcat defense showed up and gave the offense a day off, which they’ll need when for next week when they meet the equally explosive Purdue Boilermakers.
Next up: Northwestern parades to Purdue
Purdue 31 Iowa 6
After two losses, Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter reloaded and produced 315 passing yards and three touchdown passes in a drubbing of the Hawkeyes. The Iowa defense, which rose to the occasion against Illinois in an upset, last Saturday, could not get on track versus the Boilermakers while the anemic Hawkeye offense shows no signs of life. Purdue wide receiver Dorien Bryant set a personal best with 167 yards and caught two scores for an offense that hiccupped the last two weeks itself. Iowa quarterback Jake Christensen helped make the Purdue defense look great by going 17 of 40 for 177 yards.
Next up: Purdue hosts Northwestern; Iowa invites Michigan State
Wisconsin 44 Northern Illinois 3
Another Big Ten power uses a non-conference foe to snap a two-game skid as the Badgers bowled over Northern Illinois behind halfback P.J. Hill and his 184 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Wisconsin rarely threw the ball Saturday and didn’t need to. Quarterback Tyler Donovan threw for 91 yards including a 25-yard touchdown, which would signify the end of the day’s passing production. Hill followed the scoring pass with a 72-yard touchdown run on their next offensive play and the rout was on. While the Wisconsin offense was piling up 331 rush yards, the defense was holding the Huskies to minus-13 yards and the nation’s ninth-leading rusher, Justin Anderson and his five consecutive 100-yard games, to 14 yards on 13 carries.
Next up: Wisconsin invades Indiana
Penn State 36 Indiana 31
The Nittany Lions escaped Bloomington with a win as the defense forced four second-half turnovers. Hoosier cornerback Tracy Porter muffed a punt and allowed another to roll inside the five, choosing not to fair catch, which would have given the offense one last shot at their own 35-yard line. Indiana quarterback Kellen Lewis went 30-of-48 for 315 yards and three touchdown passes, and also ran for an electrifying 56-yard touchdown with just under three minutes to go, cutting the lead to its final margin before the Porter miscue. Lewis compounded the situation with his third fumble of the game, sealing the win for Penn State on the road. The loss spoiled the Hoosiers’ bowl bid (the last in 1993, the longest drought in the Big Ten), and a record-setting performance by Indiana receiver James Hardy, who finished with 142 yards on 14 receptions and two touchdowns (a new school record of 31).
Next up: Penn State welcomes Ohio State; Indiana goes to Wisconsin
North Dakota State 27 Minnesota 21
Although played in the Metrodome in Minnesota, approximately 30,000 Bison fans erupted as the final gun sounded. Nearly upsetting the Gophers last season before losing 10-9 on a blocked field goal, the North Dakota State (roster has 33 players from Minnesota) battered their hosts for 585 total yards, including a school-record 263 rushing yards by Tyler Roehl, including a 77-yard touchdown run in the first quarter tying the game at 7-7. Bison quarterback Steve Walker complimented the running game by going 20-of-25 for 195 yards and two passing scores. The Golden Gophers struggled on offense, yet held a 21-17 lead going into the third quarter. After forcing a punt with 1:48 left, Minnesota safety Dom Barber ran into the Bison punter Mike Dragosavich, giving NDS a first down and the game.
Next Up: Minnesota migrates to Michigan
(1) Ohio State 24 Michigan State 17
It was as if the Buckeye offense wanted to make things interesting for their nation’s best defense. In the blink of an eye, a 54-yard interception return for a touchdown by MSU’s Otis Wiley followed by a 25-yard fumble return for another score by SirDarean Adams cut a 24-0 OSU lead to 10 going into the fourth quarter. On the ensuing possession, Ohio State’s Chris Wells fumbled and although the Spartans had two shots at it, they could not come up with the ball and the Buckeyes held on for the win. Wells finished with 221 yards rushing and a touchdown, but it was the defense that carried the day for the Buckeyes -- they shut down a Spartan offense that averages twice what they scored Saturday. The vaunted Spartan running game, which averaged 220 yards a game was held to 59 for the game and a total of 185 yards.
Next Up: Ohio State pedals to Penn State; Michigan State travels to Iowa
Photo Credit: Collegiate Images