Two a good number for Buckeyes - Part 1
The Sports Xchange
NCAAF Team Report - Iowa - INSIDE SLANT
Big Ten title on Saturday. The division winners were determined the previous week. But the final weekend of the regular season still provided plenty of drama and a few surprises.
The drama: Ohio State extended its winning streak to 24 -- barely. The Buckeyes dodged a major upset at Michigan when Wolverines coach Brady Hoke elected to try for a two-point conversion after a touchdown with 32 seconds left. It failed and Ohio State escaped with a 42-41 victory in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Then, the Buckeyes' BCS championship game hopes received a miraculous boost a few hours later when Auburn scored on an improbable field goal return for a touchdown on the final play of the Iron Bowl game to knock off previously unbeaten and top-ranked Alabama.
That raises the stakes in the Big Ten championship game next weekend. If No. 2 Ohio State gets past Michigan State in Indianapolis, it could punch its ticket for the BCS national championship game, possibly against No. 1 Florida State.
The surprises: Wisconsin went into its home game against Penn State with designs on a BCS at-large berth. That proved to be premature, wishful thinking. The Badgers failed to take care of business on the field and Penn State came away with a stunning 31-24 victory.
Wisconsin likely fell behind Michigan State in the Big Ten's bowl pecking order. The Spartans moved to 11-1 and finished with an 8-0 Big Ten record after getting past Minnesota 14-3.
A win over Ohio State in the Big Ten championship game would send Michigan State to the Rose Bowl. A close loss might be enough for the Spartans to land a BCS at-large berth.
Another mild surprise turned out to be Iowa's 38-17 thumping of Nebraska on Black Friday and the meltdown of embattled Cornhuskers coach Bo Pelini. He ranted on the sideline and then went off in interviews after the game while defending his record.
Pelini stole the show from the Hawkeyes, who capped a turnaround season. Iowa went from 4-8 in 2012 to 8-4 in 2013 -- its four losses to teams with a combined 44-4 record -- and a possible Outback Bowl bid.
Only seven of the 12 Big Ten teams qualified for bowls. Minnesota and Michigan will join Ohio State, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa and Nebraska in the postseason.
Minnesota and Michigan closed out the regular season with two consecutive losses, but the outlook is very different in Minneapolis and Ann Arbor. Gophers fans are hopeful about the future and Wolverines fans are depressed after an uncharacteristic 7-5 season.
Michigan wasn't the only underachiever this season, at least according to preseason expectations. Indiana, in its third year under coach Kevin Wilson, fell short of bowl eligibility with a 5-7 record. Northwestern, which was 4-0 in September and ranked in the top 20, lost seven straight before edging Illinois on Saturday for its only Big Ten win.
The final weekend also produced some impressive individual performances.
Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde rushed for more than 200 yards for the second straight week, three Indiana backs ran for more than 100 yards against Purdue and Hoosiers quarterback Tre Roberson threw six touchdown passes.
Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner passed for 451 yards and four touchdowns against Ohio State, Purdue freshman quarterback Danny Etling threw for 485 yards and four touchdowns against Indiana, Northwestern quarterback Trevor Siemian completed 31 of 44 passes for 414 yards against Illinois and Penn State quarterback Christian Hackenberg spearheaded an upset at Wisconsin with 339 passing yards and four touchdowns.
ILLINOIS (4-8, 1-7)
Game: Northwestern 37, Illinois 34. After halting a 20-game Big Ten skid with a win at Purdue a week earlier, the Fighting Illini ended the season on a disappointing note at home in a half-empty stadium. Senior quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase set a school record with 10,634 total yards but threw a key interception in the fourth quarter with Illinois trailing 30-27. Northwestern capitalized on the turnover and scored to boost its lead to 10 points. Illinois came back with Scheelhaase's 11-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Miles Osei with 2:23 left, but Northwestern ran out the clock. Scheelhaase completed 31 of 45 passes for 307 yards and two touchdowns. Running back Josh Ferguson rushed for 110 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns, including a 55-yard score to open the second half that gave the Illini a 24-20 lead.
Takeaway: Illinois' defense gave up 500-plus yards for the fifth time in 12 games this season. Northwestern gashed the Illini for 560 total yards, with 414 yards and four touchdowns through the air. Illinois senior wide receiver Steve Hull capped his career with 13 receptions for 155 yards and a touchdown. In two seasons since Tim Beckman replaced Ron Zook as coach, the Illini are 6-18 overall and 1-15 in the Big Ten.
Next: Season completed.
INDIANA (5-7, 3-5)
Game: Indiana 56, Purdue 36. The Hoosiers' offense finished a prolific season with gaudy numbers on Saturday against its in-state rival in the Old Oaken Bucket game: 42 first downs, 692 total yards, 401 rushing yards, 16 of 18 third-down conversions and three running backs with more than 100 yards each on the ground. Quarterback Tre Roberson threw a career-best six touchdown passes -- three to wide receiver Shane Wynn -- to help Indiana to its highest point total in the 116-year history of the series. The Hoosiers opened a 49-9 lead before the Boilermakers scored four touchdowns in the final 20 minutes.
Takeaway: Indiana had a record-breaking season on offense: 463 points, 62 touchdowns and 36 touchdown passes. Against Purdue, Roberson rushed for 154 yards on 21 carries and passed for 273 yards and the six touchdowns. Running back Stephen Houston ran for 120 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries and D'Angelo Roberts finished with 113 yards on 14 carries. Wynn and wide receiver Cory Latimer each had seven catches. The Hoosiers' downfall this season was its porous defense (117th nationally in points allowed with 38.8 per game) that kept them from reaching a bowl for the first time since 2007. The Hoosiers relinquished 516 total yards against Purdue.
Next: Season completed.
IOWA (8-4, 5-3)
Game: Iowa 38, Nebraska 17. Quarterback Jake Rudock threw two touchdown passes, running back Mark Weisman ran for two scores and the Hawkeyes pulled away in the fourth quarter to win at Nebraska for the first time since 1943. Iowa converted two of Nebraska's three turnovers into touchdowns and scored after the Cornhuskers failed to pick up a first down on a fake punt. Iowa's defense held Nebraska to 89 rushing yards, the Cornhuskers' lowest output on the ground since joining the Big Ten in 2011.
Takeaway: The Hawkeyes capped their turnaround season with a convincing victory over border rival Nebraska in the Heroes Game. The win over the Cornhuskers was Iowa's first since 1981. Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz was under fire after a 4-8 season in 2012 but answered the challenge with a solid defense and an improving offense under the direction of second-year coordinator Greg Davis. What looked like a mediocre season a few weeks ago morphed into a nice finish after the Hawkeyes won their final three games. Now they await their bowl fate and possible trips to the Outback, Buffalo Wild Wings or Gator bowls.
Next: Bowl game TBA.
MICHIGAN (7-5, 3-5)
Game: Ohio State 42, Michigan 41. The Wolverines entered the game against the nation's then-No. 3 team as more than a two-touchdown underdog and nearly pulled off the upset. Michigan's offense did everything it could but convert the two-point conversion that would have tied the score in the final minute. Quarterback Devin Gardner threw for 451 yards and four touchdowns, and Michigan amassed 603 total yards and 31 first downs. But its defense could not stop Ohio State running back Carlos Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller, who rushed for 226 and 153 yards, respectively.
Takeaway: Michigan coach Brady Hoke took a gamble and went for the win with 32 seconds left in regulation. The failed two-point conversion was a decision that will be second-guessed for years to come. Still, it was a great ending to another exciting edition in the storied rivalry. "We played the game to win," Hoke simply said. Gardner, who threw the conversion pass that was intercepted by Ohio State cornerback Tyvis Powell, said, "We felt like we could win the game right there." Gardner did everything he could to win it with his arm. He ran for the game's first touchdown and rallied the Wolverines from a 35-21 deficit in the fourth quarter with scoring passes to wide receiver Drew Dileo and tight ends Jake Butt and Devin Funchess. Wide receiver Jeremy Gallon led Michigan with nine catches for 175 yards and Butt added five for 85. Defense was the Wolverines' downfall, giving up 393 rushing yards to Ohio State. A disappointing season had a bitter ending for Hoke and his team.
Next: Bowl game TBA.
MICHIGAN STATE (11-1, 8-0)
Game: Michigan State 14, Minnesota 3. The Spartans capped a perfect Big Ten regular season with a workmanlike effort on Saturday at home. As has been the case all season, the Michigan State defense dominated and the offense did what was needed to produce a victory. For the fifth time in the past six games, the Spartans held an opponent without a touchdown. Minnesota was 0 of 8 on third-down conversions, managed just to 249 total yards and had three turnovers. MSU running back Jeremy Langford surpassed 1,000 yards for the season, rushing for 134 yards on 21 carries and a first quarter touchdown. Michigan State's only other score came on a 12-yard pass from quarterback Connor Cook to wide receiver Josiah Price on the opening drive of the third quarter.
Takeaway: With the Big Ten Legends Division title secured entering the final week of the regular season, the Spartans remained hungry and on track for their matchup with Ohio State in the conference championship game next week. Michigan State is aiming for its first Rose Bowl berth since 1988 after finishing undefeated in the Big Ten for the first time since the 1965 and 1966 seasons when there were seven conference games. To get to Pasadena, the Spartans will need their defense to slow the Buckeyes' high-powered offense. More defensive gems like Saturday's and Michigan State might have a chance. "You're not going to lose many games giving up three points," Dantonio said.
Next: vs. Ohio State, Big Ten Championship Game, Dec. 7, Indianapolis
MINNESOTA (8-4, 4-4)
Game: Michigan State 14, Minnesota 3. The Gophers found out Saturday that points and yards are hard to come by against Michigan State's top-ranked defense. Minnesota's only score was a 21-yard field goal by kicker Chris Hawthorne in the second quarter. The Gophers hung with the Legends Division champion and trailed 7-3 at halftime, but Michigan State drove to a touchdown on the first possession of the third quarter and Minnesota was shut out in the second half. The Gophers' best scoring opportunity after halftime was snuffed out when quarterback Mitch Leidner lost a fumble at the Michigan State 14-yard line with 4:45 left in the game.
Takeaway: Minnesota finished the regular season with its second straight loss, but the program made significant strides in the third year under coach Jerry Kill. Despite Kill's health issues that forced him to take a medical leave, the Gophers posted eight wins and will head to a bowl game for the second straight season. Against Michigan State, the Minnesota defense held its own, giving up 324 yards and stopping the Spartans on all eight of their third-down conversions. Offensively, Minnesota's only consistent weapon against the nation's top-ranked defense was running back David Cobb, who rushed for 101 yards on 27 carries. The Gophers' passing game, ranked 116th in FBS with 141.8 yards per game, remained a liability -- two interceptions and only 125 yards against Michigan State.
Next: Bowl game TBA.
NEBRASKA (8-4, 5-3)
Game: Iowa 37, Nebraska 17. The Cornhuskers' offense ran aground against Iowa and Nebraska never led in its third home loss of the season. The team's 89 rushing yards were the fewest since it was held to 67 by Texas in the Big 12 championship game in 2009. Running back Ameer Abdullah, the Big Ten's leading rusher, also was held in check with 85 yards on 23 carries and one touchdown. Quarterback Ron Kellogg III threw for 199 yards on 19-of-37 passing but was intercepted twice. The Cornhuskers were burned by three turnovers and a questionable failed fake punt in their own territory while trailing by seven in the third quarter.
Takeaway: A season that began with high expectations ended with a lackluster performance against Iowa. The Hawkeyes' defense controlled the Nebraska offense and coach Bo Pelini was not happy about it. He received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty during the game for protesting a ruling. The fake punt decision was curious and costly, and his surly halftime and postgame interviews did not cast him in a good light. With a 57-24 record in seven seasons at Nebraska, Pelini is expected to hang onto his job, but another 8-4 record or worse and it's a good bet he will be out of a job.
Next: Bowl game TBA.
NORTHWESTERN (5-7, 1-7)
Game: Northwestern 37, Illinois 34. The Wildcats stopped a seven-game losing streak in the final game of a season that spiraled out of control after a promising 4-0 start. Quarterback Trevor Siemian was the catalyst in the season-ending win, completing 31 of 44 passes for 414 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Christian Jones was on the receiving end of 13 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns. Wide receiver Rashad Lawrence's 23-yard touchdown catch at the start of the fourth quarter gave Northwestern a 30-27 lead. The Wildcats expanded the margin to 37-27 with a 7-yard scoring pass to Jones with 8:07 left.
Takeaway: Injuries derailed Northwestern's season. The latest was versatile quarterback Kain Colter, who sat out against Illinois after taking a big hit the previous week in a loss to Michigan State. But Siemian more than compensated for Colter's absence against Illinois. The Wildcats were never really the same team after leading Ohio State at halftime and then losing by 10 points in a game that attracted national attention. They plummeted from the top 15 in the polls to a non-bowl qualifier for the first time since the 2007 season. "I'm not sure our confidence ever wavered this year," coach Pat Fitzgerald said. "I didn't sense that."
Next: Season completed.
OHIO STATE (12-0, 8-0)
Game: Ohio State 42, Michigan 41. The Buckeyes rode workhorse running back Carlos Hyde and relied on the fleet feet of quarterback Braxton Miller to dodge a huge upset. Hyde's 226 rushing yards were the most against Michigan in the rivalry's illustrious history, and he became the first Ohio State back with 225 or more yards in two games during a season. Hyde broke a 35-35 tie in a back-and-forth game on a 1-yard run with 2:20 left. Miller ran 16 times for 153 yards and three touchdowns, including a 53-yard dash to the end zone in the first quarter and a 21-yarder with 1:03 left in the first half that tied the score at 21. He completed only 6 of 15 passes, but two were for touchdowns.
Takeaway: On Thanksgiving weekend, the Buckeyes were giving thanks for their good fortune at Michigan. The rivalry always is unpredictable, but Ohio State was expected to handle the Wolverines. The OSU offense produced in typical high-octane fashion with 526 yards and 42 points, but the defense proved to be a liability. Considering Michigan gained 158 total yards against Iowa, the Wolverines' 603 yards and 31 first downs were stunning. Ohio State's defensive staff, led by Luke Fickell and Everett Withers, has work to do before the Big Ten championship game. The Buckeyes could be without starting right guard Marcus Hall and reserve running back Dontre Wilson next week. Both were ejected, along with Michigan backup linebacker Royce Jenkins-Stone, after a fight broke out on the field in the first quarter.
Next: vs. Michigan State, Big Ten Championship Game, Dec. 7, Indianapolis
PENN STATE (7-5, 4-4)
Game: Penn State 31, Wisconsin 24. A 24-point underdog with no chance to play in a bowl game because of NCAA sanctions, the Nittany Lions stunned 15th-ranked Wisconsin to close out their second winning season under coach Bill O'Brien. Quarterback Christian Hackenberg capped an impressive freshman season, completing 21 of 30 passes for 339 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. Freshman Eugene Lewis caught two touchdown passes -- the last one a 59-yarder to give Penn State a 31-14 lead in the fourth quarter -- and freshman Adam Breneman had three catches for 78 yards, including a 68-yarder on the opening drive. Workhorse running back Zach Zwinak rushed for 115 yards on 22 carries.
Takeaway: Penn State's defense gave up 459 yards (339 passing) and 27 first downs but intercepted three passes by Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave. Wisconsin running backs Melvin Gordon and James White, both among the Big Ten leaders in rushing, each was held below 100 yards with 91 and 56, respectively. For the second straight season, Penn State ended its season with a win over Wisconsin. And the Nittany Lions did it on the road, where they struggled all season, and with only 60 scholarship players as a result of the sanctions from the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.
Next: Season completed.
PURDUE (1-11, 0-8)
Game: Indiana 56, Purdue 36. The Boilermakers ended a dismal season with a record-setting loss to Indiana. In losing the Old Oaken Bucket game for the first time in three years, Purdue could not stop its in-state rival in the season finale for both teams. Indiana scored on six of its first seven possessions and rolled to a 35-9 halftime lead and a 49-9 advantage in the third quarter. The Boilers yielded 692 yards in its worst loss in the series since a 52-7 shellacking in 1988.
Takeaway: The Purdue offense came alive in the second half, scoring four touchdowns in the final 20 minutes. Freshman quarterback Danny Etling threw for 485 yards and four touchdowns. Wide receiver Danny Anthrop had five receptions for 151 yards, DeAngelo Yancey caught 11 passes for 125 yards and Justin Sinz totaled nine catches for 187 yards. But it was too little too late as the Boilermakers completed one of the worst seasons in school history. Purdue did not win a Big Ten game for the first time since 1993 and its 10-game losing streak is the longest since 1906-08 when it lost 11 in a row. The defense gave up a school-record 456 points in 12 games. But first-year coach Darrell Hazell remained undaunted. "We'll work the plan and we'll be a great football team when it's all said and done," he said.
Next: Season completed.
WISCONSIN (9-3, 6-2)
Game: Penn State 31, Wisconsin 24. The Badgers' six-game winning streak ended at home with a stunning loss for the second straight year to Penn State. After taking a 14-7 lead with 5:05 left in the second quarter on a 20-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Joel Stave to wide receiver Jeff Duckworth, Wisconsin was outscored 24-0 to fall behind 31-14, and it was unable to rally in the fourth quarter. The Badgers' running attack, ranked eighth nationally with 283 yards per game, was held to 120 by Penn State's defense. For only the second time this season, neither running back Melvin Gordon nor James White reached 100 yards rushing. Stave passed 53 times, completing 29, for a season-high 339 yards but was intercepted three times. Wide receiver Jared Abbrederis caught 12 balls for 135 yards.
Takeaway: Wisconsin had designs on an at-large BCS bowl berth, but those dreams disintegrated with the loss to Penn State. "That's not going to happen and so we'll move forward. Such is life," first-year Badgers coach Gary Andersen said. "The way we played today and the way I coached them, obviously, we don't deserve to have that opportunity. It's gone now." Wisconsin's bowl destination will be determined by the outcome of the Big Ten championship game.
Next: Bowl game TBA.
NCAAF Team Report - Iowa - NOTES, QUOTES
--For the first time since the 2002 season, two teams went through the Big Ten schedule undefeated. Ohio State and Michigan State won the Leaders and Legends divisions, respectively, with 8-0 records.
In 2002, before the Big Ten split into divisions, Ohio State and Iowa tied at the top of the standings with 8-0 records. The Buckeyes went on to claim the national championship with a win over Miami. Iowa also landed in a BCS bowl, going to the Orange and losing to USC to finish 11-2 overall.
--Ohio State players were nearing Columbus during the ride home from Michigan on Saturday night when the buses began to shake. The Buckeyes had just watched Auburn upend Alabama and were going crazy.
Auburn's victory opened the door for Ohio State to play in the BCS national championship game with a win over Michigan State next week in the Big Ten championship game. That's assuming the Buckeyes remain No. 2 in the season-ending BCS standings next week.
"We were all just huddled around the TVs," junior cornerback Bradley Roby said, according to ESPN.com. "And I think (safety) Christian Bryant or (linebacker) Ryan Shazier, they were like, 'Watch, they're going to return this field goal for a touchdown.' Sure enough, it happened.
"Everybody was jumping around, it was crazy, pandemonium."
--Penn State wide receiver Allen Robinson capped one of the best seasons in Big Ten history with eight catches for 122 yards in a 31-24 victory at Wisconsin on Saturday.
Robinson, a junior, finished the season with 97 receptions for 1,432 yards. His catches rank fourth in Big Ten history and were the highest total since Michigan's Braylon Edwards also had 97 in 2004. Robinson's yardage total also was fourth best in the conference for a season and the most since Wisconsin's Lee Evans and Michigan State's Charles Rogers in 2001.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If they want to fire me, go ahead. I believe in what I've done. I don't apologize to you. I don't apologize to anybody, myself or this staff. My record, our record since I've been here, speaks for itself. And this program is heading in a good direction." -- Nebraska coach Bo Pelini after the Cornhuskers' 38-17 loss to Iowa on Friday.
NCAAF Team Report - Iowa - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
FIVE BIGGEST TAKEAWAYS FROM WEEK 14 IN THE BIG TEN:
1. Ohio State was a missed two-point conversion from its perfect season going up in flames against a team that was struggling mightily. But the Buckeyes survived Michigan's fourth-quarter comeback to keep their 24-game winning streak and BCS championship hopes intact heading into the Big Ten title game against Michigan State next week.
2. Despite athletic director Shawn Eichorst's expression of support, Nebraska coach Bo Pelini's job security is in question after the 38-17 loss to Iowa on Friday. The seventh-year coach was defiant after the game, saying his record speaks for itself. The Cornhuskers are 57-24 under Pelini, but 8-4 seasons fall short of expectations at Nebraska and patience could be running thin among Big Red fans.
3. Wisconsin took itself out of contention for a Bowl Championship Series at-large bowl berth with a 31-24 loss to Wisconsin at home. The Badgers had won six in a row and were rising in the rankings before they were blindsided by the heavy-underdog Nittany Lions. The surprising result ended the debate about the second-best team (Wisconsin or Michigan State) in the Big Ten behind Ohio State.
4. Michigan State cemented its status as the best program in the state of Michigan. Not only have the Spartans dominated Michigan in recent years, but MSU's 14-3 victory over Minnesota on Saturday gave Mark Dantonio-coached teams 11 wins for the third time in the past four seasons. And for the second time in three years, the Spartans will play in the Big Ten championship game. If Michigan State loses to Ohio State on Saturday night, it still has a good shot at a BCS game.
5. Ohio State might have the best 1-2 backfield combination in the country with running back Carlos Hyde and quarterback Braxton Miller. No two backs are playing better. Hyde has 1,290 yards rushing and averages 7.8 yards per carry after missing the Buckeyes' first three games because of a suspension. Miller bounced back from an early season knee injury and would be a primary Heisman Trophy contender with a full season under his belt. Miller has thrown for 1,759 yards and 21 touchdowns with five interceptions and rushed for 891 yards and eight touchdowns.