The 2nd week of Big Ten play typically doesn't tell you much about how the rest of the season will go, but this week yielded a few surprises (Illinois, Michigan State,) to go along with more expected results (Wisconsin, Ohio State trucking overmatched cellar-dwellers).
Wisconsin 41, Minnesota 23
The Badgers more or less took care of business against the rival Gophers in preparation for next week's game against the Buckeyes. It was dicey for a while though: a scoreless 2nd quarter by the potent Wisconsin offense allowed Minnesota to slowly creep back into the game, and the 14-9 halftime lead for Bret Bielema's team seemed a tad tenuous. It was not. In the second half, they brought out the good knives. John Clay and James White rushed for a pair of touchdowns, pushing the Badger advantage to 35-9. From there on out, the Wisconsin offense coasted, adding another touchdown in the fourth quarter (followed by a failed two-point attempt that riled Tim Brewster). The Gophers scored twice late but a comeback wasn't going to happen. The Gophers travel to West Lafayette next week, while the Badgers will be welcoming the Buckeyes to Madtown next Saturday night.
Illinois 33, Penn State 13
The 24-13 result that sent fully half of Buckeye nation into panic mode last week doesn't look so bad in light of the Illini decking Penn State in Happy Valley yesterday. Redshirt Freshman Nathan Scheelhaase was clearly not intimidated by the Happy Valley environment (and really, who is these days?), completing 15 of 19 passes for 155 yards, a touchdown and a goose egg in the turnover column. Mikel LaShoure and company rumbled for 282 yards on the ground, compared to just 119 the prior week against the Buckeyes. That was part of a 437-yard offensive effort; the Illini's best of the season, topping efforts against teams like Illinois State and Northern Illinois. The end result: the Illini dominated TOP, holding the ball for 38 minutes. Meanwhile, the Illini defense throttled the Penn State offense, which was held to 235 yards, 1/3rd of which came on an 80-yard touchdown against blown coverage. This win might save Ron Zook's job, as impossible as that seemed before the season. The Fighting Zooks will definitely get a tougher challenge from Michigan State next week. Meanwhile, Penn State gets a bye week to lick its wounds before traveling to Minnesota.
Purdue 20, Northwestern 17
Did anyone expect Purdue to win this game? Danny Hope and the Boilers are the consummate turnover-prone, no-defense team, while the Wildcats are the gutty, gritty, blue-collar
other adjectives to describe lily-white preppies who happen be good at football team that "just finds a way to win". Instead, it was the Boilers who emerged victorious, on the strength of a 135-yard rushing effort from back-up QB Rob Henry, which included a 67-yard scamper in the 1st quarter that set up a short touchdown run. NW was up 17-13 late in the fourth when Purdue embarked on a 14-play, 68-yard drive, taking the lead on a Dan Dierking touchdown run that gave them a 20-17 advantage. Northwestern put together a late drive to get into field goal range, but Stefan Diemos' field goal was off to the right, and the Boilers had their first conference win of 2010. Purdue comes to the Shoe in two weeks, but they get the Gophers at home on the 16th. The Wildcats get a week off before taking on Michigan State at home.
Michigan State 34, Michigan 17
The Michigan State Spartans notched the biggest win of Mark Dantonio's head coaching career by forcing two red-zone INTs of Denard Robinson that proved to be the difference. The Spartan lead ballooned to 31-10 late in the 3rd quarter on an 8-yard Larry Caper touchdown run that seemed to seal the deal. However, Michigan came back with another score, and was in position to make it a one-possession game down 31-17 before Robinson threw his 3rd pick of the afternoon, setting up a short State field goal and essentially ending all hope of a Michigan comeback. The game was closer than the score would indicate: Robinson overthrew a wide open man in the end zone on UM's field goal drive, and a missed field goal to close the first half meant Michigan left roughly 20 points right on the field, factoring in those two picks. Even so, I can't overstate just how well Sparty needed to play to win this game. In the past, this was the sort of game Michigan State teams always lost. Instead, the Spartans never turtled, never collapsed, and walked out of Ann Arbor with a win. They will likely be favored in every game on their remaining schedule outside of a trip to Iowa on the 30th. The Spartans get another test against upstart Illinois next week, while Michigan gets Iowa at home next week. Who wants to share a Big Ten title?