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Big Ten Breakdown Week One

   by ASA - 09/05/2006

The Big Ten Conference started on a very positive note, going 11-0 en route to becoming the only league to go undefeated in college football’s opening weekend. And the Big Ten not only won, it won big, outscoring its opponents by a combined 405-148. The Big Ten did most of its damage against the Mid-American Conference, going 6-0 and highlighted by top-ranked Ohio State’s 35-12 downing of Northern Illinois.

The Illini introduced a trio of solid running backs and integrated their future starting quarterback into the offense in their 42-17 pasting of Eastern Illinois. Pierre Thomas, Jr. (15 carries for 126 yards), E.B. Halsey (11 for 82) and Rashard Mendenhall (10 for 75) combined for 283 of Illinois’ 345 yards rushing and five touchdowns to lead the way. Heralded freshman quarterback Juice Williams saw some action in relief of starter Tim Brasic and did fairly well, completing two passes for 25 yards and scrambling four times for 26 yards.

Williams could become the full-time starter by midseason if precedent is any indication. When head coach Ron Zook was at Florida, he inserted then freshman QB Chris Leak – who remains Florida’s starter today – into the starting lineup by the fifth game of the season. Williams possesses the exact skill set Zook seeks in his quarterback, which could lead to his inclusion in the starting lineup in the near future.

Illinois faces a much more difficult task next week as it travels to play Rutgers in a rematch of last season’s opener. Rutgers defeated North Carolina 21-16 in its opener and boasts one of the top running attacks in the nation. The Illini won last year’s battle, rallying from a 27-7 deficit to win 33-30 in overtime.

The Hoosiers ended a six-game losing streak dating back to last year with a 39-20 win over Western Michigan but received a scare when starting quarterback Blake Powers had to leave the game midway through the third quarter. Powers is expected to return to practice during the week and will start next week against Ball State if everything goes well.

Indiana received scoring plays from all three units, with cornerback Chris Phillips returning an interception for a touchdown and Tracy Porter returning a punt for six. The Hoosiers were especially encouraged by their defensive effort as they held the Broncos to just 289 yards after allowing more than 40 points in each of their last five games a year ago.

The Hoosiers will look to make it 17 consecutive wins over MAC programs when they travel to Ball State this weekend. The Cardinals opened their season with a 38-20 victory over fellow MAC school Eastern Michigan.

The Hawkeyes held Montana to just 144 yards of total offense in picking up a 41-7 blowout victory but will have some errors to correct before next week’s matchup with Syracuse. Iowa christened nine new starters with the inexperience showing at times, as the young wideouts dropped a handful of passes and the team committed eight penalties.

Standout QB Drew Tate overcame the dropped balls to complete 15 of 28 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns. The Hawkeyes were without defensive end and returning sack leader Kenny Iwebema, as he was suspended for violating team rules. He is expected back for next week’s game at Syracuse.

The Orange struggled in their 21-10 loss to Wake Forest, accumulating only 136 yards of total offense. Syracuse was one of college football’s weakest teams last year (1-10 SU) and should make for an easy opponent.

Tailback Mike Hart looks to be fully recovered from an injury-plagued 2005 season as he powered his way to 146 of Michigan’s 246 rushing yards in the Wolverines’ 27-7 win over Vanderbilt. Michigan has changed over to a zone-blocking scheme – the system popularized by the Denver Broncos – in the running game and it worked well enough to overcome a poor outing from QB Chad Henne.

The Wolverine defense was in midseason form as it pressured Vandy quarterback Chris Nickson into six sacks and two fumbles. Michigan held the Commodores to just 171 yards on offense, marking the first time since 2003 that the Wolverines held an opponent under 200 yards.

Michigan stays in-state when it hosts Central Michigan next week. The Chippewas put forth a valiant effort before falling 27-20 to Boston College in their opener. The Wolverines will be using the game as a tune-up before they square off against Notre Dame in Week 3.

Michigan State
The Spartans came away from the opening weekend with a 27-17 win over Idaho but it was far from an impressive performance. Michigan State was 29.5-point favorites and the game remained up in the air until the final moments. Quarterback Drew Stanton carried the offense as the O-line struggled against an undersized Idaho defensive line. The Spartan offensive line, which outweighed the Idaho defensive line by an average of over 50 pounds, didn’t give Stanton much protection and failed to provide running lanes until late in the game.

Stanton overcame the poor blocking, completing 16 of 25 passes for 225 yards and scrambling eight times for 55 yards. Many of his rushing yards came when the protection broke down and he was forced to make a play.

Michigan State stays home to play non-conference foe Eastern Michigan this week. Eastern totaled 435 yards of offense against Ball State last week but its defense struggled in a 38-20 loss.

The starting running back job at Minnesota was unknown until the opening possession. Freshman E.J. Jones earned the starting nod but didn’t last long as he was forced to leave the game with an injury. But linebacker-turned-tailback Alex Daniels, along with Amir Pinnix, evoked memories of last year’s tandem of Laurence Maroney and Gary Russell, albeit against a very poor Kent State team.

Daniels ran 24 times for 155 yards and three touchdowns while Pinnix carried the ball 15 times for 114 yards and a score. The Gophers ran for 322 yards total and added another 146 yards through the air. Minnesota is fourth in the nation in rushing through the first week.

The Gophers had perhaps the Big Ten’s most impressive win with their 44-0 shutout of Kent State. Minnesota will face a much tougher task this weekend as it travels to play California. Cal is coming off a tough 35-18 loss to Tennessee but is the toughest non-conference opponent in the Glen Mason era at Minnesota.

The Wildcats earned a 21-3 over Miami (OH) in an emotional weekend. Both Northwestern and Miami honored former head coach Randy Walker but the visiting Wildcats came away with the win in a defensive struggle. Northwestern debuted a 3-4 defense that worked well, holding the RedHawks to just 247 yards and a 2-for-12 third-down success rate. The Wildcats also returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.

Redshirt freshman quarterback Mike Kafka struggled in the game’s scoreless opening half, but performed better in the closing half. He finished 13 of 17 for 106 yards and a score and ran 17 times for 89 yards.

Northwestern will kick off its home slate next weekend when it hosts Division I-AA New Hampshire next weekend. New Hampshire won’t necessarily be a pushover, though, as it is widely considered the best Division I-AA squad.

Ohio State
The Buckeyes stormed out to a 28-0 lead and never looked back in posting a 35-12 win over Northern Illinois. Ohio State looked every bit the top team in the country in the opening 20 minutes behind Troy Smith and Ted Ginn, Jr. but tapered off as the game went on. Smith threw three touchdowns in the first quarter and Ginn caught two of those touchdown passes less than two minutes apart.

Not everything was perfect for the Buckeyes as they allowed nearly 350 yards on defense and lost the turnover battle. Husky running back Garrett Wolfe ran all over Ohio State with 285 yards of total offense. The Buckeyes will need to work out their defensive deficiencies before this weekend’s rematch with Texas. The Longhorns and new QB Colt McCoy looked good in their 56-7 win over North Texas and will look to defend their home turf against the Buckeyes.

Penn State
Anthony Morelli had a strong debut as the Penn State quarterback, throwing for over 200 yards and three touchdowns in leading the Nittany Lions to a 34-16 win over defending MAC champion Akron. The Penn State offensive line, which has four new starters, struggled, though, as the Lions rushed for only 76 yards, with 42 coming on a reverse. Starting running back Tony Hunt ran for just 36 yards on 14 carries.

Penn State’s secondary played well in its opener, which bodes well for its trip to Notre Dame this weekend. The secondary picked off two passes and tackled well all game. The Lions will need a repeat performance from the defensive backfield against Notre Dame if they are to come away with a win.

The Boilermakers may have put 60 points of their own on the board but they also gave up 35 points and nearly 400 yards of offense to Division I-AA Indiana State. Sophomore QB Curtis Painter looked good for the most part, throwing for 261 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow sophomore Kory Sheets ran the ball well, going for 128 yards and three touchdowns.

The defensive lapses overshadowed the efforts of the offense, though. Indiana State ran the ball for 152 yards and threw for 235 yards. The Sycamores consistently ran underneath routes against Purdue and the Boilermakers failed to recognize it or stop it. Purdue received further bad news about the secondary when it found out starting strong safety Torri Williams will most likely be lost for the season.

The Bret Bielema era started off on a good note as the Badgers downed Bowling Green 35-14 on the road. Wisconsin also appears to have found an ample replacement for running back Brian Calhoun. Freshman P.J. Hill, Jr. – a back in the Ron Dayne mold – got the start and rushed for 130 yards. Starting QB John Stocco, who has been nursing an injury, was in the starting lineup and played well, throwing for a score and running for another.

The Badgers had a difficult time containing the Bowling Green running attack, though, as they allowed 219 yards on the ground, including 158 from the quarterback position. Wisconsin will need to improve its play against the run if it is to compete in the Big Ten.

Wisconsin will host Division I-AA Western Illinois this weekend. Western Illinois head coach Don Patterson knows what he’s going up against as he spent 20 years as an assistant coach at Iowa.

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