Michigan St. looks inside to right ship
Notebook: Wisconsin continutes rebound from sluggish start
Each conference across the country features a couple of disappointing teams each season and the Big Ten is no different. Michigan State, which started the season ranked in the top 10 in several polls and as the likely favorite to get to the Rose Bowl, has shown it is anything but that in closing the first half of the season with probably the most disappointing 4-3 record.
Last week’s 19-16 double-overtime loss at home to Iowa pretty much sealed that the Spartans’ 24-year Pasadena-less run will reach its silver anniversary.
“I think we have to look at where we are as a program right now and what’s the next step for us,” head coach Mark Dantonio said. “I’m not talking about personnel, I’m talking about what we’re doing right now.”
A look at recruiting numbers as well as the names on the roster would suggest that the Green and White have underachieved. But further inspection of the team’s hard statistics, however, reveal that perhaps the answer is as simple: these Spartans aren’t as good as expecations led us to believe.
Michigan State ranks 104th in points per game with 21.0. The play of junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell has come under fire as he has posted just six touchdowns with four interceptions, and has kept MSU from throwing down field even when the team is struggling offensively.
His interception last week in double-overtime sealed the victory for the Hawkeyes.
“We’ll just have to go back and keep evaluating them [Maxwell and the passing game],” offensive coordinator Dan Roushar said. “But it’s difficult right now to say where we’re really at with it.”
For the Spartans to return to Indianapolis, they probably face the prospect of having to win out to close the season while still getting help from other teams.
A grueling upcoming month that takes them to Ann Arbor and Madison, with home dates against Northwestern and Nebraska included, could vault Michigan State to the top of the Legends Division -- or one of the most underachieving seasons in program history.
The Spartans' head coach is well aware of what lies ahead and explained how he’ll prepare his squad for the challenge.
“The message to our team is to look forward and not backwards,” Dantonio said. “We are 4-3 and need to re-evaluate where we’re at. Sometimes life is tough and not very fair.”
He spared no feelings in explaining his confidence in his players to salvage the season and get back to where they wanted to be in September.
“Our guys will rise to it and we will play hard next week. We have to get our legs back underneath us and absorb everything mentally and push through it,” Dantonio said.
“Life isn't fair; you have to deal with it and move forward.”
Illinois (2-5, 0-3 Big Ten)
• The Illini offense turned in perhaps the conference’s worst performance of 2012, gaining only 29 passing yards in their 45-0 drubbing at Michigan last week. Sophomore quarterback Reilly O’Toole led Illinois with only 25 yards on 5 of 10 passing with one interception.
• The Illini entered the season with many wondering if they could win the Leaders Division; but now most are wondering if Illinois will win another game this year. A match-up against Indiana in two weeks seems to be the best chance.
Next Game: vs. Indiana Oct. 27
Indiana (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten)
• The Hoosiers’ offense hung tough, but the defense couldn’t come up with the stop it needed, yielding 578 total yards in Indiana’s 52-49 home loss to Ohio State. Sophomore quarterback Cameron Coffman threw for 275 yards and a touchdown, but the effort went unrewarded.
• It’s clear at the midway point of the season that the Hoosiers have no problems on offense. They hung tough the last two weeks against Michigan State and the Buckeyes, but Indiana has buckled defensively when push comes to shove at the end of regulation. Indiana will close the Big Ten’s non-conference season when it visits Navy this week.
Next Game: at Navy Oct. 20
Iowa (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten)
• Sophomore running-back Mark Weisman proved to be no fluke, rushing for 116 yards, including the tying-touchdown with less than a minute to go in the Hawkeyes' 19-16 2OT victory at Michigan State. The former walk-on fullback had a big day against the best rushing defense he will see in 2012, and is starting to become noticed by the rest of the league.
• Iowa has bounced back from a disastrous non-conference slate to begin conference play 2-0 and sit tied atop the Legends Division with Michigan. The Hawkeyes’ schedule sets up favorably the next couple of weeks, and a home game against Penn State will provide a barometer of exactly where Iowa stands in the conference moving forward.
Next Game: vs. Penn State Oct. 20
Michigan (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten)
• Senior Quarterback Denard Robinson continues his record-filled season, accumulating 287 total yards and four touchdowns in the Wolverines’ 45-0 whipping of Illinois. Robinson became the fourth signal-caller in FBS history to rush for at least 4,000 yards in a career.
• Michigan has looked impressive in the opening weeks of the Big Ten season in back-to-back routs of Purdue and Illinois. Michigan has risen to the top of the Legends Division, and is the conference’s best bowl-eligible team until further notice.
Next Game: vs. vs. Michigan State Oct. 20
Michigan State (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten)
• Junior quarterback Andrew Maxwell turned in another underwhelming day on 12 of 31 passing for 179 yards and an interception in the Spartans’ 19-16 double-overtime home loss to Iowa. Maxwell’s lone interception in the second-overtime sealed Michigan State’s fate after the Hawkeyes had taken the lead on a field goal to begin the extra session.
• The Spartans suffered their third home loss after entering the season without a setback in East Lansing since 2009. Michigan State dropped two games back in the Legends Division race and faces a gauntlet the next several weeks, beginning with a trip to Ann Arbor for a date with Michigan this Saturday.
Next Game: at Michigan Oct. 20
Minnesota (4-2, 0-2 Big Ten)
• The Golden Gopher defense did a stellar job on the afternoon, holding Northwestern to 67 passing yards, but faltered late in a 21-13 home loss last week. Senior quarterback MarQueis Gray returned from injury to rush for 86 yards and a score, but in the end it wasn’t enough.
• Head coach Jerry Kill suffered a seizure following the game, but was released from the hospital the next day and is not expected to miss any time.
• Minnesota has tumbled back to reality after a hot start to the year, losing consecutive games to open the conference season. The rest of the season doesn’t set up favorably for the Gophers, leaving the Maroon and Gold little margin for error in reaching the six-win plateau and bowl eligibility.
Next Game: at Wisconsin Oct. 20
Nebraska (4-2, 1-1 Big Ten)
• Coming out of a bye-week, the Cornhuskers rank fifth in the country in rushing yards (292.0 per game) and eighth in points (43.7 per game). The ground game got a big boost with the return of senior running back Rex Burkhead two weeks ago in the team’s loss at Ohio State.
• The next three weeks will define Nebraska’s season as visits to Northwestern and Michigan State sandwiched by a home date with Michigan. Nebraska is looking to avenge a shocking 28-25 home loss to the Wildcats when it visits Ryan Field in a Legends Division contest Saturday.
Next Game: at Northwestern Oct. 20
Northwestern (6-1, 2-1 Big Ten)
• Junior running back Venric Mark had a career day, rushing for 182 yards on 20 carries and two touchdowns, the longest a 48-yard scamper to put the game out of reach in the Wildcats’ 21-13 road win at Minnesota. Mark’s performance was the best day on the ground by a Northwestern payer since Mike Kafka ran for 217 yards in 2008.
• The Wildcats rebounded from a disappointing finish in Happy Valley to keep their chase for the Legends Division title afloat. Northwestern plays divisional opponents in each of the next four weeks, starting with Nebraska, which fell to Northwestern in Lincoln last season.
Next Game: vs. Nebraska Oct. 20
No. 8 Ohio State (7-0, 3-0 Big Ten)
• Sophomore quarterback Braxton Miller continues his transformation into one of the country’s most prolific leaders, throwing for 211 yards and rushing for 156 while scoring three touchdowns in the Buckeyes’ 52-49 victory at Indiana. It was the third consecutive game of 100-plus yards on the ground for Miller who helped his team become the first ranked squad in the nation to seven victories.
• Ohio State’s offense has remained unstoppable, but the same cannot be said about the defense. The Buckeyes allowed 481 total yards, and were unable to put the game away, despite being staked to multiple double-digit leads throughout the second half. Ohio State continues its run when it hosts struggling Purdue at the Horseshoe.
Next Game: vs. Purdue Oct. 20
Penn State (4-2, 2-0 Big Ten)
• The story for the Nittany Lions coming out of the bye week is the rise of the defensive unit with ranks 15th in the country, allowing an average of 16 points per game.
• Senior quarterback Matt McGloin had a first half to remember as well, throwing for 1,499 yards and 12 touchdowns in contrast to only a pair of interceptions.
• Penn State has been one of the conference’s most improved teams, especially following an 0-2 start, and has rattled off four consecutive victories including a furious rally against Northwestern two weeks ago. The Nittany Lions head to Iowa City for a road contest to kick off the second half of the slate.
Next Game: at Iowa Oct. 20
Purdue (3-3, 0-2 Big Ten)
• The Boilermaker defense was allowed 645 yards -- 247 to Wisconsin running back Montee Ball alone -- in the team’s 38-14 home loss to the Badgers. Not much went right for Purdue, which posted only 252 yards of total offense on the day.
• Purdue squandered a golden opportunity to take control of the Leaders Division race, and instead fell two games behind the Badgers. The Boilermakers must win the rest of their games this season for any hopes of reaching Indianapolis. Making that task tougher: they face the Big Ten’s best team Saturday at Ohio State.
Next Game: at Ohio State Oct. 20
Wisconsin (5-2, 2-1 Big Ten)
• Senior running back Montee Ball rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns in the Badgers’ 38-14 win against Purdue. Ball’s third score of the day vaulted him past former Wisconsin great Ron Dayne for the Big Ten and school career record in rushing touchdowns with 72.
• Wisconsin’s victory helped it toward its goal of getting back to Indianapolis as the Badgers now own the tie-breaker with both Purdue and Illinois. Wisconsin’s schedule sets up favorably as it gets Ohio State and Michigan State in Madison, as well as Minnesota this week.
Next Game: vs. Minnesotao Oct. 20