NCAAF Team Report - Northwestern - INSIDE SLANT
For one week at least, the Big Ten's focus shifted away from idle Ohio State to the other teams competing for division titles and national recognition.
Still, it was a good week for the Buckeyes. Though they had a bye on Saturday, they benefited from Oregon's 26-20 loss to Stanford on Thursday night, moving up to No. 3 in the BCS Standings behind Alabama and Florida State.
Ohio State (9-0) is now one loss away by either of those teams from possibly making the BCS championship game if they can remain undefeated. Its last three regular-season games are against Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.
One of the Big Ten teams that could boost Ohio State's computer ranking is Wisconsin, which hasn't lost since its Sept. 28 game in Columbus. The Badgers were one of the teams making the biggest move in the Associated Press Top 25 on Sunday, jumping four spots to No. 17 after a 27-17 victory at home over Brigham Young in a nonconference game and are No. 22 in the BCS Standings.
Wisconsin (7-2) would need two losses by Ohio State to win the Leaders Division and reach the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 7 in Indianapolis' Lucas Oil Stadium, but a BCS bowl berth is still within reach if the Badgers win out.
Michigan State (8-1) moved up a notch and is ranked No. 16 in this week's BCS Standings. The Spartans, who were idle on Saturday, travel to Lincoln, Neb., this week for a showdown against Nebraska (7-2) for the biggest game to date in the Big Ten. The winner will have the inside track to the Legends Division title and a spot in Indianapolis.
Nebraska is on the cusp of the Top 25 after coming away from Michigan with a 17-13 win on Saturday. The Cornhuskers trail Michigan State, which has never beaten Nebraska, by one game in the division.
Surprising Minnesota cracked the Top 25 for the first time since 2008 with a No. 25 ranking the coaches' poll but still remain outside the Top 25 in the BCS Standings. The Gophers ran their winning streak to four with a 24-10 victory over Penn State on Saturday.
It has been a long time since Minnesota has won four consecutive Big Ten games in one season. The last such winning streak came 40 years ago in 1973 when Tony Dungy, who went on to win a Super Bowl as coach of the Indianapolis Colts, was the starting quarterback for the Gophers. If they can make it five straight in two weeks against Wisconsin, it would be Minnesota's longest streak since 1962.
Meanwhile, Michigan (6-3) and Penn State (5-4) are headed in the opposite direction. The free-falling Wolverines' loss at home to Nebraska on Saturday was their second in a row and third in conference play.
ILLINOIS (3-6, 0-5)
Game: Indiana 52, Illinois 35. In position to end its long Big Ten losing streak, Illinois wilted in the fourth quarter on Saturday at Indiana. The score was tied 35-35 with 12:41 left in the game after Illinois lineman Corey Lewis recovered a fumble in the end zone, but the Hoosiers scored 17 points in the next seven minutes to seal the Fighting Illini's fate. Illinois produced 612 total yards, including 450 through the air by quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase, but the defense was gashed for 650 yards.
Takeaway: Simply put, Illinois and Indiana are two defenseless teams. So the game came down to which team could score more. On the first play after the Illini pulled even in the fourth quarter, the defense gave up a 75-yard touchdown run by Indiana running back Tevin Coleman. Then, on Illinois' next series, a fake punt deep in its own territory failed to produce a first down and Indiana capitalized with another score. Of the 650 yards allowed by the Illini defense, 371 were on the ground, an Indiana season high. The Illinois offense did what it could with Scheelhaase completing 38 of 57 passes for 450 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Steve Hull caught nine passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns in the Illini's 19th consecutive Big Ten loss, a school record that likely will grow next week when Ohio State invades Champaign.
Next: vs. Ohio State, Nov. 16.
INDIANA (4-5, 2-3)
Game: Indiana 52, Illinois 35. The formula for success this season for Indiana is to outscore its opponents, and it was able to do that Saturday at home against hapless Illinois. The Hoosiers' offensive juggernaut produced big plays all day, but none was bigger than a 75-yard touchdown by running back Tevin Coleman with the score tied 35-35 in the fourth quarter. Coleman and teammate Stephen Houston ran through the Illinois defense. Coleman rushed for 215 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries and Houston had 150 yards and two scores on 17 carries. Quarterback Nate Sudfeld was an efficient 20-of-27 passing for 267 yards and three touchdowns.
Takeaway: Indiana needed a win to keep its faint bowl hopes alive. The Hoosiers' chances don't look good to reach the requisite six wins for bowl eligibility, though, with trips to Wisconsin and Ohio State the next two weeks. If they fall short, a defense that gave up 612 yards to Illinois, which entered the game ranked 70th in FBS in total offense, will be to blame. The Hoosiers can't fault an offense that has scored no fewer than 28 points in a game this season and rolled to a season-high 650 total yards against the Illini. One of the big contributors was wide receiver Cody Latimer with a career-high 11 receptions for 189 yards and three touchdowns.
Next: at Wisconsin, Nov. 16.
IOWA (6-4, 3-3)
Game: Iowa 34, Purdue 14. Sophomore running back Jordan Canzeri had a career day with 165 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries to lead Iowa's 318-yard rushing effort against lowly Purdue. Canzeri's performance was unexpected considering he entered the game with 173 rushing yards all season. Teammate Damon Bullock added 85 yards on 10 carries. Iowa's rushing yards and its 509 total yards were season highs. The Hawkeyes dominated the first half with 250 yards but led just 14-7 at halftime. In the second half, Iowa took control and led 38-7 before giving up a meaningless late touchdown.
Takeaway: The Hawkeyes are bowl eligible after their sixth win of the season. Iowa sat out the postseason last year when it slipped to a 4-8 record -- its first losing season since 2006. Quarterback Jake Rudock returned after leaving last week's loss to Wisconsin with a minor injury. He connected on 12 of 20 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns. One was a 22-yarder to wide receiver Kevonte Martin-Manley in the second quarter and the other was a 3-yarder to tight end Jake Duzey in the fourth quarter. Iowa's defense permitted only 53 rushing yards by Purdue. A bye week is next for the Hawkeyes, followed by season-ending games against Michigan and Nebraska.
Next: vs. Michigan, Nov. 23.
MICHIGAN (6-3, 2-3)
Game: Nebraska 17, Michigan 13. Losing at home for the first time in Brady Hoke's third season as coach, Michigan had no running game for the second straight week and failed to hold a late lead against Nebraska. After going ahead 13-10 on a 40-yard Brendan Gibbons field goal with 8:08 left, the Wolverines gave up a touchdown pass by Nebraska's Tommy Armstrong Jr. with 2:03 remaining and lost for the third time in their past four games. Michigan finished with minus-21 rushing yards and just 175 total yards.
Takeaway: A month ago, Michigan was sitting at 5-0 and appeared well positioned to be a contender entering Big Ten play. Since then, the Wolverines have completely lost it. The past two weeks were train wrecks for an offense that literally went backward with a combined minus-69 rushing yards and only 19 points. Michigan fell behind Nebraska 10-0 in the first quarter but rallied to tie it at 10 in the third quarter on a 5-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Devin Gardner to tight end Devin Funchess. After Gibbons' field goal was set up by a Nebraska fumble, the defense was not able to keep the Cornhuskers from driving 75 yards in six minutes to the winning score. The loss effectively ended any Michigan hopes for a Legends Division title. Hoke was quick to blame himself. "I've got to do a better job coaching," he said.
Next: vs. Northwestern, Nov. 16.
MICHIGAN STATE (8-1, 5-0)
Next: at Nebraska, Nov. 16.
MINNESOTA (8-2, 4-2)
Game: Minnesota 24, Penn State 10. The surprising run of success continued for Minnesota with Saturday's win at home over Penn State. The Gophers did all of their scoring in the first half and shut out the Nittany Lions after halftime to secure their fourth straight Big Ten victory. The catalysts were quarterback Philip Nelson -- who passed for 186 yards and a touchdown and ran for a score -- and running back David Cobb with 139 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown.
Takeaway: The last time Minnesota reached eight or more wins was 2003 when it went 10-3. And the Gophers are still in the picture for the Legends Division title. They have a week off before finishing against rival Wisconsin and division-leading Michigan State. Minnesota has made its impressive run without coach Jerry Kill on the sideline. He watched again Saturday from the press box as he slowly returns to work after taking a medical leave to deal with his epilepsy. The Gophers weren't flashy in the win, but the defense yielded only a first-half touchdown and field goal while limiting Penn State freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the Big Ten's leading passer, to 163 yards through the air. Three of Minnesota's scoring drives in the first half covered 96, 74 and 70 yards.
Next: vs. Wisconsin, Nov. 23.
NEBRASKA (7-2, 4-1)
Game: Nebraska 17, Michigan 13. Quarterback Tommy Armstrong Jr., starting again in place of injured senior Taylor Martinez, calmly led Nebraska to the winning touchdown with 2:03 left on Saturday at Michigan. Armstrong capped the six-minute, 75-yard march with a left-handed, 5-yard shovel pass to running back Ameer Abdullah. The drive was kept alive with Armstrong's 26-yard pass to wide receiver Kenny Bell on a fourth-and-2. Abdullah was a workhorse, rushing for 105 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, in a game largely dominated by the defense.
Takeaway: Nebraska coach Bo Pelini was impressed with his team's character and determination as it battled through some injuries to pull out a win in the Big House. "We're a little short-handed right now," Pelini said, "but the character on that football team showed. They just fought until the end. The way they played, they played with passion. Guys rose to the occasion." The defense sacked Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner seven times. The Wolverines' minus-21 yards rushing were the fewest the Cornhuskers had allowed since 2001 against Troy State. One of the defense's biggest stops came in the fourth quarter after Nebraska freshman Jordan Westerkamp -- the hero of the last-second win over Northwestern a week earlier -- fumbled a punt that was recovered by Michigan at the Nebraska 26-yard line. But the Wolverines were held without a first down and settled for a Brendan Gibbons field goal that gave Michigan a 13-10 lead and Nebraska a chance to score the winning touchdown on the ensuing drive.
Next: vs. Michigan State, Nov. 16.
NORTHWESTERN (4-5, 0-5)
Next: vs. Michigan, Nov. 16.
OHIO STATE (9-0, 5-0)
Next: at Illinois, Nov. 16.
PENN STATE (5-4, 2-3)
Game: Minnesota 24, Penn State 10. Running back Bill Belton lost a fumble on Penn State's first play Saturday against Minnesota and the game went downhill from there for the Nittany Lions. Penn State fell behind 10-0 in the first quarter and could never catch up, losing to Minnesota for the first time since 2004. The Nittany Lions, who were shut out in the second half, had a chance to pull within seven points twice in the fourth quarter, but one long drive ended on downs at the Minnesota 12-yard line and another was halted when freshman quarterback Christian Hackenberg fumbled on second-and-goal at the 2.
Takeaway: The grim face of coach Bill O'Brien in the postgame news conference reflected Penn State's pain after the loss at Minnesota. O'Brien shielded his players from the media after the game and, frankly, there was not much to discuss after the Nittany Lions failed to score in the final 33 minutes as they fell to 0-3 on the road in Big Ten play. Hackenberg (14-of-25 passing, 163 yards) faced pressure much of the game that limited his effectiveness. Seven of his completions went to standout wide receiver Allen Robinson, who broke Bobby Engram's school record for receiving yards in a season with 1,106. After Belton's game-opening fumble, Penn State went with running back Zach Zwinak, who rushed for 150 yards on 26 carries and its lone touchdown.
Next: vs. Purdue, Nov. 16.
PURDUE (1-8, 0-5)
Game: Iowa 38, Purdue 14. After being shut out in its past two games, Purdue finally put points on the scoreboard Saturday in the second quarter against Iowa, briefly tying the score at 7, before the Hawkeyes pulled away in the second half. In losing their seventh straight game, the Boilermakers were held to 266 total yards (just 53 on the ground) and gave up 509.
Takeaway: For Purdue, the victory was getting into the end zone for the first time in a month -- albeit with a little help from Iowa. The Boilermakers had a short field after a Hawkeyes special-teams blunder and capitalized with a 2-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Danny Etling to fullback Kurt Freytag. They added a score in the final minute in garbage time after the outcome was long decided. Etling completed 15 of 28 passes for 145 yards. Purdue has not beaten an FBS team this season and has scored just 31 points in five Big Ten games, but there could be a glimmer of hope with their final three games against lower-tier opponents Penn State, Illinois and Indiana.
Next: at Penn State, Nov. 16.
WISCONSIN (7-2, 4-1)
Game: Wisconsin 27, Brigham Young 17. A rare November nonconference game was no problem for Wisconsin, which relied on its ground and pound attack to throttle visiting Brigham Young on Saturday. The Badgers ground up the Cougars' defense with its two-headed monster at running back. Senior James White rushed for 147 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries and sophomore Melvin Gordon carried 19 times for 86 yards. Wisconsin's defense, led by the return of injured linebacker Chris Borland, pounded BYU with its physical Big Ten style, allowing only three points in the first half and putting pressure on the Cougars all day.
Takeaway: The Badgers welcomed back linebacker Chris Borland, who sat out last week's game against Iowa with a hamstring issue. He showed no lingering signs of the injury in a 13-tackle, two-sack day. The defense held BYU, which was averaging more than 500 yards per game, to 370 -- and 174 of those came in the fourth quarter when the Cougars played catch-up. "The kids played extremely hard," Wisconsin coach Gary Andersen said. "I thought that was maybe overall our best team victory of the season as far as just every aspect of the game -- offense, defense, special teams -- being a factor in a positive way." Wisconsin built a 17-3 halftime lead and extended it to 20-3 early in the third quarter. White scored the Badgers' final touchdown -- his third of the day -- on a 14-yard run early in the fourth quarter. White surpassed 100 rushing yards for the sixth time this season.
Next: vs. Indiana, Nov. 16.
NCAAF Team Report - Northwestern - NOTES, QUOTES
--James White has shared carries and the spotlight with Montee Ball, John Clay and now Melvin Gordon during his career at Wisconsin, but the senior running back proved he need not take a back seat of any of them.
White rushed for 147 yards, added six catches for 47 yards and scored three touchdowns in Saturday's 27-17 victory over Brigham Young. He ranks fourth in the Big Ten in rushing yards this season with 951 yards and has 3,500 yards and 46 touchdowns on the ground during his college career.
"I'm just trying to be as versatile as possible out there," White said. "Be sharp on pass protection. Be a viable option in the receiving game and don't miss any cuts as a running back. I'm trying to play as complete as possible."
--Maybe there's a good reason why Michigan's offense has struggled the past few games.
Nebraska defensive end Randy Gregory said Saturday after the Cornhuskers' 17-13 win at Michigan that the Wolverines' plays were predictable based on their formations. That could explain Michigan's minus-21 yards rushing.
"This is rare," Nebraska defensive line coach Rick Kaczenski said, according to the Omaha World-Herald. "This'll never happen again. I'll probably be in this another 20 years or so, and I guarantee -- that won't happen again, especially against Michigan. Our guys were in the right spots. That's the best we've played since I've been a part of Nebraska."
Gardner finished with three sacks of Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner, the Big Ten's total offense leader.
"I could tell: We were getting in his head," Gregory said of Gardner. "Every now and then, he'd be on the ground longer than he should be. Even after the game, he was just kind of out of it. You take him out of the game, you take their whole offense out of the game."
-- Minnesota knows something about converting on third and fourth down while reeling off four straight Big Ten victories.
The Gophers were 4 of 4 on fourth downs Saturday in their 24-10 win over Penn State, boosting their success rate this season to 11 of 14. On third down, they were 9 of 17, which reflects their season average.
Coach Jerry Kill said the offense practices plays in tough situations rather than specifically for fourth downs.
"Offensively, we have six or eight fourth-down calls, and we believe in them," Kill said, according to the St. Paul Pioneer-Press. "Our philosophy is we are going to be an aggressive football team. We also have to be smart. The scoreboard has a lot to do with it."
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Whoever questions our toughness, they can shove it. I look in those guys' eyes in the huddle and they're tough guys and they're going out and fighting for me, so I don't care what any of you or whoever said that says." -- Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner after the Wolverines' 17-13 loss to Nebraska on Saturday.
NCAAF Team Report - Northwestern - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 11 IN THE BIG TEN:
1. Nebraska keeps finding ways to win. After the Cornhuskers lost at Minnesota on Oct. 26, it looked as though their season would nosedive. But they miraculously beat Northwestern with a last-second desperation pass and then scored with 2:03 left on Saturday at Michigan for a 17-13 victory. Now they play host to Michigan State with a possible Big Ten championship game berth at stake.
2. Minnesota's mojo is real. The Gophers handled Penn State on Saturday for their fourth straight win since coach Jerry Kill took a leave of absence to handle his medical issues. Kill has certainly provided inspiration, but the players also are performing on the field in all phases.
3. Michigan can't run the ball a lick. Two straight games with negative rushing yards have left the Wolverines in a funk. The offensive line can't seem to protect quarterback Devin Gardner, who was sacked seven times by Nebraska on Saturday. With games remaining at Northwestern and Iowa and at home against Ohio State, Michigan will have to work hard for another win this season.
4. Wisconsin is playing as well as anyone outside of Ohio State in the Big Ten. The Badgers were dominating in Saturday's win over Brigham Young, and they're just a blown call at Arizona State and a seven-point loss to the Buckeyes from being unbeaten. Whether they have a shot at a BCS bowl game remains to be seen.
5. Iowa has not reached the level it enjoyed four years ago when it went to a BCS bowl, but the Hawkeyes took a step toward restoring respectability after last year's 4-8 season with a win at Purdue at Saturday that made them bowl eligible. Now they hope to finish strong after a bye week with games against Michigan and Nebraska.